7 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic In Your Daily Life
You already know that disposable or not, plastic is one of the most environmentally damaging materials on the planet. You’re fully aware of its impact on our environment, health and carbon footprint. And of course, you want to stop using plastic.
But let’s face it: it certainly ain’t easy.
Especially when it seems that everywhere you look, there is plastic – plastic packaging, plastic bags, plastic car parts, plastic toys, and the list goes on.
No wonder it’s contaminating our oceans at the rate of around 8 million metric tons per year. And it’s not surprising that production of plastics in the first 10 years of this century is already surpassing that of the entire past century.
The presence of plastic looms large.
And there’s just little old you. And little old me. Up against a giant avalanche of plastic which is constantly offered to us as a quick and convenient solution to, well, everything.
To refuse takes so much work. So much effort and planning…but does it really?
Actually, cutting down on plastic is not that hard at all. Sure, you may not be able to completely excise it from your life. But there are several small steps you can take that are easy to do and have a huge impact on the amount of plastic you use in your daily life.
Here’s 7 simple ways to gently ween yourself from plastics – without suffering withdrawal symptoms!
Reusable grocery bags
According to the United States EPA, between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used and disposed of worldwide each year, which is obviously a huge and unnecessary waste.
However, being wasteful is only the tip of the ecological iceberg when it comes to plastic bags, since they also account for the deaths of around 200 varieties of sea life, including fish, birds, mammals and turtles.
Add to this the fact that it costs more to recycle plastic bags than it does to produce new ones, and it is easy to see what an environmental disaster the use of disposable plastic shopping bags is.
And all you need to stop the cycle? Reusable shopping bags.
By simply investing in reusable shopping bags, you can help ease these statistics, as well as save yourself a little money along the way, since most stores offer a small discount for you to use your own bags.
And yes, the forgetting happens – which is the main reason most of us use disposable plastic bags in the first place.
An easy way to keep yourself covered most times is to store a super light ’emergency’ grocery bag like the ChicoBag in your purse as well as several compactable bags in your car like BagPodz, which offers an awesome, convenient system.
Even if you forget your reusable bags, there is nothing wrong with using disposable bags more than once, which are perfectly functional whether you have taken a few oranges home in them or not.
Sure, it is better to spend a small amount on reusable bags (and some stores even offer freebies with their logo on them), but every disposable bag you don’t use is one more not being produced – or being disposed of in the environment.
Insist on eco-friendly packaging
Want to get the attention of companies who insist on using plastic bubble wrap or Styrofoam packing peanuts to ship their products? Stop buying from them!
Even though Styrofoam and plastic are reusable as packing materials, most of it still ends up in landfills and waterways, which is not good for the environment, water supplies, or food supplies (and by the way, did you know that both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer both refer to styrene a “possible human carcinogen?”).
Telling companies that you will be happy to return to them as a customer once they change their environmentally-damaging ways is a great way to encourage them to switch over to one of the many biodegradable options available, including starch peanuts, PaperNuts, or even just good-old wadded up newspaper – recycled, of course!
Most companies are concerned with their bottom line above all else, so by letting them know that your money will stay in your pocket until they stop the use of environmentally-damaging packing materials, they are more likely to listen and change their ways.
Skip the bottled water
Oh the convenience of being able to grab a cold bottle of purified water to take with you wherever you go—and then simply discard the bottle when it’s done!
But did you know that of the approximately 30 billion plastic water bottles used in the United Stated each year, only about 20% (at best) end up being recycled? Or that it takes around 3-times the amount of water to produce a bottle than it does to fill it?
And this is in addition to the toxins and BPA’s which leach out of the plastic and into the water, making it a less-than-healthy choice for you and your family.
By making a small investment in a glass, BPA-free plastic, stainless steel or ceramic reusable water bottle which can be conveniently refilled with filtered water, you can not only avoid contaminating our environment, but also reduce the carbon footprint of producing something which requires so much oil (about 67 million barrels of oil each year to produce, pump, transport and refrigerate), as well as avoid the endocrine disruption, weight gain, cancer and other health issues associated with plastic toxins.
Oof. That’s a lot of impact for such a small bottle.
Reusable produce and sandwich bags
Small bags are everywhere in our society, and the fewer of them you use, the fewer of them end up being discarded. Not only are there plenty of cloth, silicone – and yes, reusable plastic – options available, you can also use wax paper wrap, or even just a good old brown paper bag for your sandwiches and other lunch items.
Plus, there are convenient, washable, reusable produce bags for you to take with you the next time you visit the grocery store or farmer’s market. In fact, with so many reusable options available, why would you want to continue throwing money away on disposable bags? The cost does add up!
Bring your own coffee cup
A personal coffee cup made of glass, stainless steel, or even bamboo is not only an ecologically sound way to keep plastic coffee cups and lids out of the environment, using one will also keep your coffee warmer, make it less apt to spill, and can be pretty cool looking to boot!
Most coffee shops also knock the cost of providing you with a cup off the price of your coffee, and many will only charge you for a smaller coffee, no matter the size of your reusable cup, so savings do add up.
Say “No” to Straws
Do you really need that straw in your drink? Or for that matter, do you need a lid for your paper cup? When we consider that over 500 million plastic straws are used in the US daily – of which virtually none are recycled – we really need to ask ourselves…why?
By letting your waiters, waitresses and counter people know that there is no need for them to put a straw in your drink, you can do your part in reducing the number of straws thrown away each day – which, by the way, are enough to circumvent the earth 2.5 times, were they connected end-to-end.
And, if you do need a straw for any reason, why not reuse it? They are washable, and there is no reason for you to need a new one each time, since they don’t exactly wear out!
Plus, this is a lovely excuse to go ahead and gift yourself a gorgeous glass straw.
Reuse, recycle, and repurpose
Sometimes, try as we might, we simply end up with things made of plastic, most of which are “disposable” – or are they?
Some of plastic’s advantages are its durability and wash-ability, so even though an item is considered “disposable,” it is still likely that you can wash and use it again.
For instance, plastic shopping, produce and sandwich bags are all fine to use over and over, so long as they are clean and functional. Even plastic zip-ties can be used more than once, and plastic cups, silverware and plates are easy to wash and store for your next picnic.
And, have you considered using plastics for things other than their intended purpose? Yes, it is true – drink cups work great for starting seedlings, and plastic lids can be used as finger paint containers, or even as pieces of an art project.
And, there are any number of things to use pen tubes, yogurt containers and water bottles for – just use your imagination, and you will be surprised at the many uses you can come up with.
Lamps made from honey bear bottles? Sure, why not! And, even if you simply cannot think of anything more you can do with it, most plastic is recyclable, which not only prevents it from going into the environment, but creates jobs, reduces our reliance on oil, and reduces the need for new landfills as well.
So, with enough plastic already in the ocean to create a land mass large enough to be named its own country, action needs to be taken, and the sooner the better.
Even if you are not concerned with the destruction of wildlife, the creation of dead-zones in the ocean, and the overall unsightliness of plastic trash in our world, there is still your health and the health of your family to be concerned with, since plastic is full of toxic chemicals (cancer, anyone?).
So next time you go to the grocery store, consider either reusing the same bags you were provided on your last visit there, or better yet, get reusable bags to keep in the car to use over-and-over again.
And when you are at the coffee shop, even though that lid you are tossing may seem like a paltry addition to the landfill, consider how many other coffee patrons are passing through and doing the same thing – it adds up fast.
And, if nothing else, reuse, recycle, and repurpose – every bit helps!