Plastic is such a prevalent part of our everyday lives that it’s impossible to avoid. Foods are packaged in it, most cleaning supplies are in plastic containers, lunch boxes, and jewelry.
An estimated 33.6 million tons of plastic is thrown away in the U.S. alone. The sad news about that is, even though most plastic is recyclable, only 6.5 percent of it is actually recycled and some plastic can’t be recycled at all!
But, even though plastic is virtually everywhere, there are ways to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Don’t worry! It’s much easier than you think. Here are 10 simple ways to do it:
Avoid plastic bottled water
Bottled water is the biggest plastic culprit. An estimated 50 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the U.S. last year.
With the recycling rate in the U.S. at about 23%, that means 38 billion plastic water bottles wound up in the dump. These plastic bottles won’t ever be recycled into something new, which is a real bummer! And since some plastic takes up to 1000 years to biodegrade and that’s definitely not ideal for the planet!
Don’t buy the worst plastic containers
Not all plastics are created equal. And, the toxins contained in plastic can leach into the food that is stored or microwaved in them. If you look at the bottom or side of a plastic container, you will see a triangle made of arrows with a number inside ranging from 1 – 7. This does not necessarily mean that the plastic is recyclable!
The number actually represents the type of plastic used in the container. The ones to ALWAYS avoid are:
#3 – this plastic contains Polyvinyl Chloride. This is an incredibly toxic plastic that contains deadly additives like lead (yes, LEAD) and phthalates. This type of plastic is found in most plastic wraps, peanut butter containers, children’s toys and some squeeze bottles.
#6 – this number indicates the the plastic contains styrene. Styrene is incredibly toxic to the brain and nervous system. It’s used in disposable dishes, take-out containers, styrofoam and plastic cutlery.
#7 – this is the polycarbonate/other category of plastic. This plastic contains bisphenol A and is used in most metal food cans as a liner. It’s also found in sippy cups, juice and ketchup containers and sports drink bottles.
A lot of the food we eat and drink, the condiments we consume and items used by children fall into one of the these three categories. Avoid them!
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk uses much less packaging and can be stored at home in glass containers. Most specialty stores have offered foods in bulk for years and some supermarkets are finally joining in.
Buying in bulk also saves money and trips to the grocery store. So, you save time, gas and money by buying in bulk! Win, win, win! This article has some good tips on buying in bulk.
Use non-plastic containers
Plastic containers are cheap but often not the most durable containers, and they’re difficult to recycle too. Instead, use stainless steel or non-BPA plastic, reusable bottles and travel mugs. There are some glass options for storage containers that have lids to store leftovers. Pack your lunch in a mason jar or Bento box.
Bring a takeout container
It is becoming increasingly common for restaurants to carry paper takeout containers, but many still use styrofoam. Did you know that styrofoam is a type of plastic? Styrofoam, or polystyrene, is a plastic invented by the Dow Chemical Company in 1941 and is often used as a container for transporting food.
Unfortunately, like all plastics, it won’t biodegrade and can cause serious issues if introduced to the environment. Consider bringing your own container from home if you expect to have leftovers from a trip to a local restaurant!
Choose alternatives to store-bought cleaner
Using something as simple as baking soda and vinegar can be just as effective as single-use plastic-contained cleaners on the market! You can find vinegar packed in glass jugs and baking soda comes in a nice, neat little carboard box.
Both of these environmentally friendly products can be used to disinfect, scour, and wash dishes. Apple cider vinegar (organic please) and baking soda can be used in place of shampoo and conditioner.
Bring your own reusable straw
It seems like plastic straws are everywhere. You can find them in restaurants, coffee shops, tea houses; the list goes on. More than 500 million straws are used every day in the United States alone, and most of them aren’t able to be recycled. This means that they find their way into landfills and, unfortunately, sometimes the natural environment too.
Drinking from straws can be satisfying, and fortunately there is a solution: reusable straws. There are numerous metal and bamboo straws on the market that can help you cut down on plastic straw waste!
Say no to single-use plastic cutlery
Sometimes reducing your plastic footprint is as simple as changing a few habits. Like bringing your own reusable straw, packing a couple pieces of silverware when you go out to eat can help reduce your need for plastic silverware.
Many sit-down restaurants will have non-plastic cutlery, but hole-in-the-wall and food truck style restaurants that lack proper cleaning facilities may opt to offer plastic instead of having to clean silverware.