Eliminating single-use plastic is easier said than done.
Plastic is creating problems all over the world. It’s in our oceans much more than we thought, and there are even islands in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans created from the amount of plastics we throw away.
Governments, like the European Parliament and Canada, have moved to ban single-use plastics or restrict plastic use in trade. And while the Oregon legislature has voted to ban them, the rest of the US is still behind on the movement.
To have a lasting impact, governments and corporations will likely have to make restricting plastic use a priority. But individuals do have some power. So how do you limit your plastic use without your government telling you to? Here are some ways.
Reusable bags > Plastic bags
Plastic bags are one of the most ingrained products in American daily life. Not only are they one of the leading culprits of plastic waste, they also significantly damage biodiversity — sea turtles and other creatures can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, often leading to death. Even if you don’t care about turtles, you should know that plastic bags are made from fossil fuels, which present their own environmental issues.
Reusable bags are good, but in the chaos of getting out the door, they can be easily forgotten at home. And what if you have too many groceries and not enough reusable bags?
The easiest solution is to keep reusable bags in your car, so you’ll always have them on hand. If you need extras, opt for paper bags instead of plastic — they’re sturdier, hold more items, are recyclable and aren’t made from fossil fuels.
One reusable water bottle, instead of hundreds of plastic bottles
Bottled water is cheap and convenient but spend 30 seconds looking at the amount of plastic bottles that end up in our oceans, and you’ll never feel comfortable drinking from them again.
To avoid plastic water bottles, invest in a metal or glass bottle. You can find some at almost any store for less than $10, and it’s easy to refill them with tap or filtered water. The drawback is if you lose it, you’re out of a water bottle. So, don’t lose it. Or, if you lose things frequently, maybe don’t buy an expensive one.
Reusable mugs will make your mornings way more sustainable
While you’re picking up a reusable bottle, grab a reusable mug.
Think about your daily cup of coffee or tea. You have the cup itself plus the plastic top, so your coffee doesn’t spill in your car — a valid concern. And then there’s the carboard sleeve so you don’t burn your hand.
That’s three pieces of trash, not including the stirrer if you take your coffee with milk and sugar. Imagine doing that every day for a month or even a year.
Some people may think a mug and a bulky water bottle are a lot to add to your daily load. But if you carry a bag into work, you probably have space for these extra things. If space is really at a premium, there are collapsible mugs and water bottles you can buy.
It might be inconvenient now. But think about how much more inconvenient it will be later, when those mountains of trash are closer to home.
Bring your own containers to restaurants. It’s not weird.
If you are eating at a restaurant, you might have leftovers and if you take them home, the restaurant will probably give you a plastic container. The worst part is, restaurants often give you the flimsy ones that don’t hold up for a second use.
What’s an environmentally conscious person to do?
Keeping a cheap reusable container in your car is an easy fix. If you have leftovers, you can just scoop them in and politely tell the waiter that, no, you don’t need a box. And if someone gives you a weird look, you can send them this article.
The problem comes when ordering takeout. Some restaurants, for sanitation reasons, won’t allow customers to bring their own containers. There’s no simple workaround for that scenario, but there’s no harm in asking anyway.
Pack better lunches
We all try to save money by bringing our lunches to work. But do you really need your peanuts in one plastic sandwich bag, and your crackers in another? Do you really need a plastic fork rather than a metal fork?
For some, it might be a bit of a hassle to pack everything in individual containers. But snack-size containers are readily available at most grocery stores and are cheaper in the long run than buying new plastic bags. If you prefer bags, consider reusing those sandwich bags, which are often like new even after a few uses.
Do you really need plastic-wrapped vegetables?
One of the biggest perpetrators of single-use plastics is the kitchen. In most grocery stores, produce is either sold in a bag or covered in plastic wrap.
Sometimes the consumer is left with no choice, but when there is, opt for no plastic if you can. This is the easiest way we can reduce plastic in our homes and takes minimal effort on our end. Yes, picking out those individual apples can be tedious. But spending an extra minute in the produce aisle never hurt anybody.