The problem with single use plastic and how to avoid it

Many of us were taught as children to leave places cleaner than we found them. Yet, as adults, many of us have forgotten this fundamental rule when it comes to the planet. There’s no more important category of waste to reduce than single use plastic.

plastic water bottle

Single-use plastic includes products like bags, bottles, cups, and straws. It’s pretty much any plastic item that’s made for temporary use.

Although we might not think much of it when we buy bottles of our favorite drink or accept plastic bags when we’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, these choices have a serious impact on the health of our planet and ourselves.

Why is single-use plastic bad?

First, single-use plastic is not a controlled issue found in specific areas. Due to their light weight, plastic items can travel great distances by the wind alone, having a far greater reach of contamination than their size would indicate. Just the manufacturing process of plastic is a huge source of pollution to the environment.

This material involves the usage of a large amount of fossil fuels, namely crude oil, for creation and transportation. Animals also mistake single use plastic as food and can choke or become fatally ill from toxins — such as BPA, flame retardants, and PVC — as well as from other chemicals it soaks up.

If they’re not eaten, these plastic products can ensnare wildlife and end their lives by immobilizing or strangling them. Don’t think you won’t be affected by the interaction of animals and single-use plastic either; according to the Center for Biological Diversity, fish consume thousands of tons of plastic annually.

Plastic in Animals

Animals are eating plastic. And if we eat those animals, we’re eating plastic.

This contamination doesn’t go away when these fish are consumed by other animals either. The fish dinner you have this week could contain traces of last month’s grocery bags along with the chemicals associated with them. What’s even more unappetizing is the prediction made by the Plastic Pollution Coalition that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean in 2050.

By then, you might as well rummage through the recycling bin if you’re craving the taste of seafood.

Even if you abstain from eating meat, we are still haunted by the effects of plastic since all of us are born into this world already contaminated by the substance.

Some of the maladies linked to plastic exposure include: birth defects, cancer, and endocrine disruption — which can lead to a whole host of other problems for your body. Your chances of developing these ailments and experiencing other issues like water shortages only worsen if you live by a plastic manufacturing plant as well.

Lastly, single use plastic doesn’t biodegrade, ever. Instead, it breaks apart into smaller pieces, never truly deteriorating. With 30 million tons of plastic discarded each year in America, there’s hardly a single place on earth that doesn’t know the touch of single use plastic.

20 Ways to Reduce Single-Use Plastic

As the executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program, Achim Steiner, “there is simply zero justification for manufacturing [plastic bags] anymore, anywhere.” Although this was said years ago about plastic bags, this statement still rings true today for all single use plastic.

We truly don’t need plastic to have fulfilling lives, and our planet certainly doesn’t either.

While recycling is a big part of keeping our environment safe and clean, reducing consumption is more impactful.

Here are 20 ways you can say no to plastic and yes to a healthier and cleaner earth.

Stop buying bottled water

Avoid buying bottled drinks when you’re thirsty. Instead, drink from water fountains or take a reusable, non-plastic water bottle with you and fill it with your favorite drink before leaving home.

Commercial bottled water can actually be tap water. Dasani contains salt and potassium chloride which is also used in fertilizer and lethal injections. And any bottled water can contain microplastics.

At home, your best option is to filter your drinking water and drink from a glass or reusable cup.

Bring your own bag

Some states have already banned plastic bags and many companies are encouraging customers to bring their own as well. So skip the plastic shopping and produce bags the next time you run errands.

Use reusable bags instead made out of a cloth or alternative material, whether it be tote bags or just a backpack.

Use your own coffee mug or thermos

The next time you go to your local coffee shop, have them fill your own reusable mug or thermos. You can easily refuse the plastic cups, lids, and stirrers most cafes provide their customers.

Buy bulk or choose products with less packaging

Whenever you’re out shopping, make sure to avoid products with excessive plastic packaging. Find alternatives that come in boxes or another environmentally friendly material.

Buy food in bulk

If you are able, purchase food and other products from bulk bins. The great thing about bulk stores is the foregoing of plastic packaging that can be found on the same food items in different stores.

Remember to bring your own reusable bags or containers to further reduce your plastic consumption

Give up gum

Find different ways to freshen your breath other than chewing gum. Not only does gum usually come in excessive plastic packaging, it’s actually made with plastic as well. So if plastic isn’t included in your diet, it’s best to leave that stick of gum unchewed.

Skip the straw

Paper straws don’t make the greatest user experience. So why not just skip the straw when you can? If you absolutely need one, make sure to bring your own reusable straw.

Pack your own lunch

Ditch the plastic bags, wraps, and containers when preparing your lunch. Not only is it greener, packing a lunch in reusable containers can save you $400 a year.

Sandwich bags and plastic wrap add to the enormous amounts already in landfills. Buy a stainless steel, ceramic, or glass container to store your food for the day.

Bring your own leftover containers

Start following the BYOC policy: Bring Your Own Container. When you go out to eat, place leftovers and takeout food in your own reusable container instead of a restaurant’s complementary plastic or styrofoam one.

Or choose restaurants that use paper or cardboard to-go boxes, bags, and cups. These typically don’t take very long to break down and are certainly a greener alternative to plastic or styrofoam.

Skip the plastic cutlery or choose chopsticks

Also refuse plastic silverware from restaurants. Keep a set of travel silverware in your bag or car so you can dine plastic-free no matter where you are. Chopsticks are also a better option than plastic.

Sometimes I still end up with a few of those plastic bags of fork, knife, and napkin. I keep those in my car in case I get a salad or burrito bowl and need a fork.

Make your own cleaning products

Consider making your own cleaners instead of purchasing them in an endless stream of plastic bottles. Homemade cleaning supplies are a lot safer for the environment as well as for animals and people. Plus, you’ll reduce the amount of plastic bottles you’ll have to throw away by storing your cleaning liquids in reusable containers.

Limit packaged or frozen foods

Even if the outer packaging is a box, there’s usually a plastic bag inside. Many frozen foods come in plastic containers. Even the ones that come in cardboard boxes are lined with plastic. So to limit your single-use plastic waste, it’s best to avoid the freezer aisle when possible.

Ditch disposable razors

Ok, so these aren’t exactly single use, but we can go through a whole lot of them over the course of a lifetime. When purchasing razors, buy one with replaceable blades like the Zomchi or Leaf instead of disposable plastic razors. Buying a razor you can sharpen yourself is another viable option.

Switch to cloth diapers

If you’re a parent, consider making the switch to cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. It’s great for the environment and your bank account, too.

Shop online wisely

Some online stores use beyond excessive plastic packaging and styrofoam for even the smallest of items. However, you don’t have to cut out online shopping completely. Look for stores that implement environment-friendly practices like only shipping with repurposed packaging.

Shop locally

Whenever possible, shop locally. Local bakeries, dairies, and farmers markets all offer foods and beverages you can find at the store, but without the plastic wrappers and containers.

Just make sure you have reusable bags with you and get your milk in glass bottles you can return.

Return containers from fruits, berries, veggies, or eggs

At my local farmers market, many foods are arranged in corrugate or plastic containers. As soon as I pay for them, I empty the container into my own bag and return it. For something like eggs, I save the empty carton and (try to remember to) bring it next time to return so the egg supplier can reuse it.

Don’t buy plastic lighters

Disposable plastic lighters also make up a portion of plastic waste. So the next time you need a little fire, use matches or a refillable metal lighter instead.

Choose sustainable clothing

Even your clothing could contain plastic. Materials such as polyester, spandex, and nylon are all made out of plastic synthetic materials. When washed, these clothes release the chemicals from the plastic, eventually making its way to our water supply.

Next time you shop for clothes, choose ones made from organic fabrics such as cotton, hemp, and wool. And look for brands that don’t ship their clothing in individual plastic bags.

Incorporating just a few of these tips will help make a difference in our world’s plastic waste problem.

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