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. While recycling is a big part of keeping our environment safe and clean, reducing consumption is more impactful. And there’s no more important category of waste to reduce than single-use plastic.
Single-use plastic includes products such as straws, bags, and bottles; 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 ask for 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.
What’s the big deal about single-use plastic?
Apparently, a lot. 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.
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, stated in 2009, “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.
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.
Skip the straw
When your order a drink, say no to the straw. If you absolutely need one, make sure to bring your own reusable straw.
Bring your own reusable cup or bottle
The next time you go to your local coffee shop, have them fill your own reusable mug or thermos. We’re fans of the Hydro Flask tumbler collection. You can easily refuse the plastic cups, lids, and stirrers most cafes provide their customers.
Bring your own reusable grocery bags
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.
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, too
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 consumption of this material.
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.
Pack an eco-friendly 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. You’ll just be adding to the already enormous landfills each time you throw away sandwich bags and plastic wrap. Consider purchasing a stainless steel, ceramic, or glass container to hold your food for the day.
Bring your own takeout 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.
Turn down the plastic silverware
Also refuse plastic cutlery from restaurants. Keep a set of travel silverware in your bag or car so you can dine plastic-free no matter where you are.
Make your own cleaning products
Consider making your own cleaners instead of purchasing them. 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.
Avoid packaged / frozen foods
Although many of us appreciate the convenience of frozen food, our planet doesn’t. Most 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 as much as possible.
Switch to cloth diapers
If you’re a parent or guardian of an infant, then consider making the switch to cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. It’s great for the environment and your bank account, too.
Ditch disposable razors
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.
Get picky about online shopping
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.
Dispose of electronics properly
Don’t throw broken television sets or computers in the garbage. Discarded electronics make up a large portion of the plastic waste found on Earth. So try repairing broken appliances or hold off on replacing ones that work with the latest upgrade. Make sure you dispose of them properly and delete any personal information before doing so.
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 or recycle food containers
If given plastic containers for food from grocery stores or your farmers market, simply return them once you place your produce in your reusable bags.
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.
Buy 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. So the next time you shop for clothes, choose ones made from organic fabrics such as cotton, hemp, and wool.
Even just incorporating a few of these tips will help make a difference in our world’s plastic waste problem.