Plastic grocery bags and other single-use plastics are clogging the oceans, harming wildlife and infiltrating our food chain. “National Geographic” reports that we produce about 448 million tons of plastic every year, and close to 40 percent of that is disposable. Around the world and around the United States, municipalities are responding to the growing plastic crisis by restricting its use, including single-use plastic bags, styrofoam containers and plastic straws. As a consumer, you can do your part by cutting your ties to plastic in any way you can. Here are five easy ways to cut plastic out of your life.
Commit to Using Eco Bags
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that we use between one and five trillion single-use plastic bags daily worldwide, but recycle only about 1 percent. The rest end up either in landfills or, eventually, in waterways and the ocean. This is one place where individual habits can make a real impact—the average U.S. family takes home up to 1,500 plastic grocery bags every year. Stash some reusable shopping bags, preferably made from organic materials, in your car or by your front door, and pack your groceries in them instead of single-use plastic bags.
Choose Clothing Made From Natural Fibers
Plastic clothing? You may not realize it, but a lot of the clothing you wear is made with plastic fibers, which begs the question, “What is plastic, anyway?” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines plastic as “any of numerous organic synthetic or processed materials that are mostly thermoplastic or thermosetting polymers of high molecular weight and that can be made into objects, films, or filaments.” This includes nylon, polyester and many other common fabrics. What to wear instead? Cotton, linen, wool and silk are options, of course. More recently, a number of companies, such as Oshən are experimenting with fibers made from bamboo, one of the fastest growing and most sustainable plants in the world. High-quality bamboo fabric feels like silk and has the qualities associated with natural fibers—excellent insulation and wicking properties, for example.
Take Your Water Bottle With You
Bottled water is convenient, but plastic water bottles are a big problem. “Forbes” magazine reports that people buy more than a million plastic bottles per minute worldwide, and only recycle about 9 percent. That leaves 910,000 bottles every single minute to make their way into the ecosystem. While many manufacturers have reduced the amount of plastic in each bottle, you can reduce your own use even further by choosing to reusable water bottles. The same holds true for coffee to-go cups, which are often made of styrofoam or have a thin plastic film. Carry a travel coffee mug with you. There are some super fashionable to-go cups on the market, including collapsible ones that fit into your purse or briefcase when you’re not using them.
Stop Using Plastic Utensils
When you order your food to go, restaurants often include a plastic fork, knife and spoon, probably wrapped in a thin cellophane bag. You can make it a practice to say no to plastic utensils when you place your order. If you’re eating at home, use your own silverware, and keep a set of eating utensils at your workplace for those days when you’re eating at your desk. Take it to the next level with a set of carry-along eating utensils—chopsticks included—that you can keep with you for day trips and afternoons at the park. While you’re at it, invest in a reusable metal straw and skip the plastic straws, too.
Choose Cardboard Over Plastic
Plastic milk jugs and juice bottles present the same problem as plastic water bottles, but there’s an easy solution to those, too. In some cities, you can order milk and other products from a local dairy, delivered to your home in recyclable, reusable glass bottles. If that’s not an option, choose wax-coated cardboard containers, which biodegrade far more quickly and are less damaging to the environment.
Finally, individual consumer actions make a difference, but they’re only part of the solution. Take time to educate yourself on how your community handles plastics and plastic pollution, and get involved to help make a difference on a bigger scale.
In the early 1980s, Deb Powers helped her city organize and kick off its first drop-off recycling program. In the years since, she has written about recycling, waste and green energy for numerous environmental blogs and websites.