Did you know that nearly every single piece of plastic ever made still exists? Unfortunately, plastic is not biodegradable. Some of it gets recycled, some of it is incinerated, but most of it ends up in landfills or polluting the environment. Although some plastic products are useful, most of the plastic we use on a day-to-day basis is referred to as “single-use plastic”, which is any plastic product that we use once then throw away.
Some examples of single-use plastics include: shopping bags, water/soda bottles, utensils, straws, coffee cups/tops, and take-out/to-go containers. After being used just once, these products end up in landfill or in the environment, where, over hundreds of years, they slowly break down into smaller and smaller pieces. These plastic products leech harmful chemicals and are often ingested by wildlife. The good news is that most single-use plastic items can be completely avoided with a little planning and a few simple lifestyle changes. Here are five ways to reduce our consumption of single-use plastic.
- B.Y.O-Bag: I once heard someone joke that the state flower of New York is the plastic bag since they are all over the place. In my neighborhood, I’ve seen them stuck in trees, blowing across the street, or spilling out of trash cans. Although some countries, states, and cities have implemented legislature to ban plastic bags, we are still using way too many. The simple solution is to BYOB. Reusable bags are a staple of any eco-friendly household. They are sold in most grocery stores or you can find hundreds of options online. Look for ones made from eco-friendly material, such as organic cotton, hemp, or recycled burlap. Keep them in your car or somewhere else you won’t forget them. Take them anywhere you think you may need a bag: grocery stores, department stores, farmer’s markets, etc. Some places even offer a discount for bringing your own bag!
- Consider Your Coffee Cup: I live in a busy neighborhood with lots of shops, restaurants, and cafes. When the public trash cans fill up, the thing that is most often spilling over the rim are to-go coffee cups. It seems that “drink-cessorizing” has become the cool thing to do these days, as nearly everyone I see walking around is carrying a to-go coffee cup. In my opinion, nothing’s cooler than being eco-friendly, so drink-cessorize with your own reusable, to-go coffee mug. Ideally, choose one that is not plastic (these can leach chemicals when exposed to heat). Stainless steel or ceramic are your best options. I love my insulated, stainless steel, Klean Kanteen bottle. I take it everywhere with me—we’re like peas and carrots.
- B.Y.(H2O)-Bottle: Have you ever been to an airport where they have a water bottle refilling station next to the bubbler (I’m originally from Wisconsin, so yes, they’re called bubblers)? How cool are those! If you haven’t experienced the pure joy that comes from filling up your reusable water bottle and watching the tally of spared plastic bottles increase, you’re missing out. It’s like getting a high-five from Mother Earth herself. Compared to bottled water, tap water is free, often contains less pollutants, and is far better for the environment. Once again, I love my Klean Kanteen stainless steel bottle (no, I don’t get promo money from Klean Kanteen, I just think they make good products). Invest in a stainless steel water bottle and don’t leave home without it!
- Utilize Utensils from Home: I worked at a hospital in college and would eat lunch or dinner in the cafeteria. Without thinking, I would order my food, pay at the register, then pick up a plastic fork and go eat. I used a new plastic fork every time I ate there. Looking back, my inner-hippie cries a little knowing that all those plastic forks are still floating around the environment somewhere, when, with a little bit of planning, I could have avoided using every single one of them. Since that job, and after watching a few plastic-is-terrible documentaries on Netflix, I’ve made a point to always bring utensils from home. I’ve also started bringing my own spork (an underrated utensil, by the way) with me if I’m getting food to-go, or am eating somewhere that only has plastic utensils. Think of the times and places you use plastic utensils and plan to bring your own next time, and the time after that, and after that. Soon enough, it will just be second nature.
- Straws – Just Say No: There are some things you just can’t “un-see”. For me, one of these things was a video of a plastic straw being (painfully) pulled out of the nostril of a sea turtle by a group of scientists on a research boat. Plastic straws are one of those overlooked items that we use all the time, yet have no real need for. Since watching that video, I’ve avoided straws like the plague. I never willingly take one, I ask for my drinks without them, and I’ve bought some glass and stainless steel straws for home. It may seem like a small change, but that’s the point. It’s something we can all start doing today. Plus, it may save a sea turtle’s life. So, the next time you order a drink, just say no (to the straw).
Single-use plastics are ubiquitous in our modern environment and we have unconsciously become accustom to them. However, with a little planning and a few reusable products, we can reduce the amount we use significantly. Make a conscious effort to bring your own bag, coffee mug, water bottle, and utensils. If you don’t own these products, consider them a long-term investment. I’ve owned many of my reusable items for years and plan to continue using them for years to come. Any measure you make towards using less single-use plastic is a small victory for the environment. The goal is not to be perfect (although you can try), but to strive for continuous improvement. If you need some motivation, or want to learn more about the negative effect plastic has on our environment, check out these documentaries (link).
“There is no such thing as “away”. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard