By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that plastic is terrible for the environment. It’s everywhere, and as of this year, we’re producing almost 360 million tons of plastic waste a year. Since plastic isn’t going anywhere, we as the consumer have to start being more mindful of our own plastic use. It’s hard to totally eliminate using plastic, but there are multiple ways we can reduce our plastic use, which we will cover in this article.
Tips to Reduce Plastic When Shopping
1. Use Reusable Shopping Bags
At this point, nearly everyone has been given a reusable shopping bag or a canvas tote. This recent ‘swag’ trend is also a great reminder to avoid using plastic grocery bags, which are often made from virgin, unrecyclable plastic. Not only do reusable bags reduce plastic waste, but they’re also stronger and they carry more items.
Using reusable bags will also save you money. In many states, you will pay a fee for each plastic bag that is used. This small fee can add up during a shopping trip and over the year, you may be paying over $30 just to continue using a less efficient bag.
Start your collection of reusable shopping bags now… Your state or local city may follow in the footsteps of other states or municipalities and ban single-use plastic bags entirely!
NOTE: Recent studies show that reusable bags do not transmit the spread of COVID any more (and possibly less) than plastic bags!
2. Remember Reusable Produce Bags
Though reusable shopping bags have become a mainstay in the shopping experience, there haven’t been as many crackdowns in policy on the use of produce bags. Though the material is quite similar, the market has been slower to adapt.
Instead of waiting for policy and regulation to keep up, get ahead and invest in some reusable produce bags. Consider getting a few different sizes and try to find some that are transparent enough to read a produce sticker from the outside. Check out this article to learn more: 7 of the Best Reusable Produce Bags.
TIP: Just like your reusable shopping bags, remember to wash these every so often! If you are worried about forgetting them, remember to store the unused produce bags inside your reusable shopping bags and keep them in your car or near your front door!
3. Avoid Synthetic Fabrics in New Clothing
Fabrics like polyester and polypropylene are petroleum-based, meaning that they’re largely made from plastic. When washed, these fabrics slowly breakdown and release microplastics into the wastewater. These small particles typically end up in the oceans polluting the water and slowly poisoning the wildlife.
In addition to animals in the ocean, microplastics are also very dangerous to humans. Research shows that humans consume thousands of microplastic particles by eating products, including seafood, that contain dangerous levels of small plastic waste. Additional research has found that these microplastics can also be inhaled due to their small size.
Avoiding the existing microplastic is a challenge, it is important to reduce each individual’s contribution to the problem. When shopping for clothing, check the label of materials. Prioritize products that contain natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Not only will you be reducing your microplastic pollution, but you’ll also be investing in clothing that is more durable and generally higher quality.
TIP: If you have products that contain synthetic fibers, don’t put them into the dryer! This is where they breakdown and where many of the microplastics are released.
4. Buy Fresh Instead of Frozen
Picture the frozen vegetable section of the grocery store. The first image that comes to mind is probably a sea of plastic bags, colorfully labeled to entice buyers. Now picture the fresh produce section. This is also a sea of color, but instead of plastic wrapping, the color comes from the produce itself.
When possible, purchase fresh produce in reusable produce bags or in no packaging at all. This produce is typically healthier and also comes with less waste. If you must purchase frozen items, prioritize paper packaging which is more likely to be recyclable. Before assuming, read the packaging – some of the paper packaging is coated in plastic or wax and cannot be recycled.
Tips to Reduce Plastic At Home
5. Use a Carbonated Water Machine for Reusable Soda Bottles
If you are a soda or seltzer water drinker, you probably realize how quickly the plastic bottles or aluminum cans stack up at home. Hopefully you are able to recycle the extra bottles, but recycling them is still not as sustainable as avoiding their use altogether.
Instead of purchasing a large pack of these bottled products, consider investing in a Soda Stream or similar carbonated water machine. These machines come with bottles that can be washed and reused. The tubes full of carbonation last a long time and can be reused or recycled at local drop-off points. Flavoring the carbonated water is simple and often, the machines come with recommended flavors. Many people also soak fruit or flavor the water with other healthy items.
6. Avoid Chewing Gum
Chewing gum is chewing plastic. Though gum was originally made from natural-based products and flavoring, most large-scale gum is made from a recipe that includes plastic. Not only is this habit bad for your health, but it is also a polluter.
If you have a gum habit, consider a natural version, which is biodegradable and sustainably packaged. Try other gum-like products that provide the same satisfaction, but completely disintegrate, like a mint or hard candy.
7. Research Before Recycling
Unfortunately, recycling can be confusing. Some products are only recyclable in certain municipalities or regions and some may seem recyclable but may not be.
Before making assumptions about what you can and cannot recycle, just take a look at the packaging. Often, the bottom of the packaging is marked with a number, which corresponds to a specific policy in your area. If you’re not home and have some recycling, read the signage on the points of disposal. Most of the time, they’re clearly marked with what can and cannot be recycled.
Be mindful about “compostable ware!” Though these products often feel and look similar to recyclables, they are meant to be sent to a composting facility or can otherwise be sent to the landfill, where they will breakdown more quickly than plastic.
For more quick and easy recycling tips, be sure to check out 8 Must-Know Tips to Recycle Correctly!
8. Use Reusable Containers instead of Ziplock Bags
If you have versatile containers in multiple sizes and shapes, there is really no need to even have Ziploc bags at home. Generally, this collection grows over time and is often built from random sets of containers over time.
Though this collection is great to have for a stockpile, it is also important to be intentional about your food storage. Prioritizing healthy food storage will reduce food waste, promote healthier habits, and save you money. When considering what type of container set to purchase, research the materials.
If you microwave a lot of food, consider porcelain or glass that can withstand high temperatures and will not leach harmful chemicals into your food. Containers that are clear will also be easier to identify in the refrigerator, which will help you avoid food waste.
Also consider aluminum or other stainless steel containers that are easy to sanitize, durable, and are often made from recycled materials. One you begin to use a more durable, less harmful set of containers, you will find yourself avoiding the plastic ware that is more harmful for your health and the environment.
Reducing Plastic When Out of the House
9. Research Restaurants Before Ordering Take Out
Not all takeout containers are created equal. As sustainability becomes more ingrained in corporate responsibility, many local restaurants and national restaurant chains are making sustainable changes to their packaging.
If you are considering ordering a to-go salad, for example, see if the restaurant has a reusable bowl program. Often, many vendors will incentivize customers to bring their own bowl or buy into a program to avoid single-use waste. Other food vendors only provide compostableware that, though still wasteful, may be less harmful than similar petroleum-based products.
When placing a to-go order over the phone, by a website, or on a mobile app, there is usually a place to customize the order. If there is not a specific question about forgoing the plastic silverware or single use condiment packets, you can always tell them that you don’t want it!
A simple ‘no plastic utensils’ note will reduce plastic waste and will save the restaurant money! As restaurants see these notes from customers more and more, they may begin to shift their habits and cater to the market by either forgoing plastic utensils all together, or assuming that customers don’t want them, instead of assuming that they do.
10. Bring Your Own Reusable Silverware and Napkin
It’s not always easy to plan out your whole day, predict where you’re going, or anticipate where you can order lunch. If you drive, remember to keep a set of reusable silverware and a cloth napkin in your car. This will allow you to be ready for a meal on the road, a takeout lunch between work meetings, or a quick picnic on a nice day. The cloth napkin may also be handy for an accidental spill or other needs!
You may also have a tote bag, gym bag, or briefcase that can hold a small silverware set and napkin. This simple tip can help reduce plastic waste, but can also be a really convenient trick for eating on the go!
We hope these tips gave you a few ideas to help you cut down on your daily plastic use! It might seem overwhelming at first, but even making a few of these easy changes will help you reduce your plastic use, which is something to feel good about! Small steps do make a difference.
What tips do you have to cut down on plastic use? Please share your favorites in the comments below.