I can’t imagine anyone anywhere not feeling disturbed by a sight like the image below. With nearly 8 billion people on this planet, and growing, the earth’s ecology is under attack by trapped greenhouse gases above and human garbage in our waterways, oceans, and landfills.
One of the most damaging influences on our air, water, and soil quality and sustainability is from the manufacturing, use, and disposal of plastic.
The headlines are full of news about plastic: which products are banned, what can really be recycled, and most tragically, the amount of plastic in our oceans.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2018. I can’t even picture what that amount of plastic would look like, let alone how to stop it. And despite so many calls to limit plastic use and production, we’re on track for at least as much plastic to enter our oceans this year, too.
Plastic has become so prevalent in our lives that it’s entering the fossil record, leading some to call this the Plastic Age. In the face of complex issues like our dependence on plastic, what do we do?
While we can call on our representatives, governments, and favorite retail companies to enact change on a larger scale, it’s up to each one of us to make small changes that, collectively, will have a big impact.
With that in mind, here are 25 easy ways that you can reduce plastic use in your daily life.
1) Buy in Bulk: At many grocery stores, you can bring reusable containers to stock up on grains, beans, spices, herbs, popcorn, and more.
2) Reusable Sandwich Bags: Silicone or cloth bags are becoming increasingly available as alternatives to thin plastic. They can easily be washed and reused.
3) Buy Produce with No Packaging: Our fruits and veggies are often packaged in ways that use a lot of plastic wrap or Styrofoam. Choose options that use no or minimal packaging.
4) Bring Reusable Bags: Even if you’re opting for package-free produce, you may be grabbing a thin plastic bag to transport those foods home. These bags are so thin they’re only good for one use. Instead, look for net or mesh bags that can be reused. And always remember your reusable grocery bags, too!
5) Use Less Plastic Wrap: Choose beeswax wrap or silicone covers that can be reused.
6) Buy a Reusable Coffee Pod: Coffee pods may be convenient, but they’re difficult to recycle. Purchase a reusable version to enjoy your morning coffee without the waste.
7) BYOC (Bring Your Own Cutlery): Some of the most dangerous plastic items for sea creatures are plastic utensils. To avoid using them, carry a set of durable metal or bamboo cutlery around with you. It can be washed and reused for many meals to come.
8) Bring Your Own Tumbler: Single use coffee cups are coated in a layer of plastic that makes them unable to be recycled—and, that plastic can break down and enter our bodies. Many coffee shops now offer discounts for those who bring their own mugs for coffee.
9) Buy a Reusable Water Bottle: The numbers show that about 70% of plastic bottles never get recycled. Avoid bottled water entirely by investing in a quality reusable metal water bottle. It’ll keep your drinks cooler for longer and can be used for years.
10) Bring a Reusable Container to Restaurants: Let’s face it—restaurant portions are often way more than we can (or maybe should) eat at once. While it’s good to bring food home rather than letting it go to waste, you can make your meal greener by bringing a reusable container along for leftovers. That way you can avoid the single-use Styrofoam or plastic containers many restaurants give out.
11) Stop with the Straws: Banning straws has gotten the most attention of any plastic reducing initiative. Opt not to use straws whenever possible. When eating out, as your server to “hold the straw” and carry along a reusable metal or silicone straw if you enjoy using them.
12) Cone, no Cup: You can still scream for ice cream but choose a cone over a cup. The cone will disappear in minutes, while the cups will remain in a landfill for centuries.
13) Choose Bar Soap Over Liquid: Bar soap uses less packaging than liquid. When it comes in a box, that packaging is more likely to be recycled.
14) Check Your Personal Care Products: Many wellness products, like toothpaste or face scrubs, contain plastics. Take a look at the ingredients list next time you shop, and avoid products containing polyethylene or polypropylene.
15) Choose Natural Fabrics: Clothing made from natural materials like cotton, linen, hemp, and wool are more sustainable than synthetic fabrics and can hold up better over time. And, when washed, synthetic fabrics release tiny microfibers of plastic. They’re rarely filtered out of the water that’s returned to waterways, contributing to the microplastic problem.
16) Shop Used: Whether clothing, furniture, or other goods, buy used whenever possible.
17) Razor with Replaceable Blades: While the blades on a disposable razor tend to wear out fast, the handle is often perfectly good—yet it all ends up in the trash. Look for a higher quality razor, one that makes it easy to sharpen and replace the blades.
18) Choose Clear: If you can’t avoid buying something packaged in plastic, choose clear bottles if possible. They are more likely to be recycled.
19) Bamboo Toothbrushes: Toothbrushes are mostly made of plastic and are designed to be replaced every few months. Bamboo alternatives are biodegradable.
20) Refuse Receipts: Many receipts are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Avoid getting a receipt for a purchase whenever possible.
21) Cotton Swabs: Choose swabs with paper rods over those that use plastic.
22) Which Wine?: While many wines are bottled with a “cork”, many of those corks are actually made of plastic composites. Do some research to find wines that are bottled with 100% cork.
23) Reusable Mop Pads: Many pads for sweeper mops contain synthetic fibers. Try making your own reusable version out of old cloth.
24) Research Recycling Programs: Crayola has a program to recycle old markers, Staples to recycle ink cartridges. Now Lego is starting an initiative to accept unwanted Legos, clean and repackage them, and donate them to nonprofits and classrooms. Before tossing an item, do a bit of research to see if an eco-friendlier option is available.
25) Recycle Plastic Bags: Plastic bags are difficult to recycle, and few facilities accept them. However, some do. If you have bags hanging around, find a nearby location to drop them off.
This may be a long list, but it’s far from exhaustive. I encourage you to dig deeper and take a good look at all the places plastic appears in your life. Each time you go to make a purchase, consider whether you really need that item. Is a reusable alternative possible? How can you remind yourself to bring along your reusable containers?
We’re at a point where our actions regarding our planet are the most critical they’ve ever been. Each of us has a role to play. While we may not all be in a position to enact large-scale change, we can make lifestyle choices that we feel good about, that are also good for our planet.