Plastic is everywhere, and it’s very difficult to avoid. But it takes up a substantial amount of space in landfills and is at the center of several environmental sustainability conversations at the moment. And single-use plastic, usually used for packaging, is taking most of that heat.
According to Environment Monitoring Solutions, about 50% of plastic is single-use and includes plastic water bottles, packaging and grocery bags. Every year, about 8.8 million tons of plastic waste floats into the ocean, says National Geographic.
While plastic waste is a pollutant and is putting animal and human health at risk, it‘s not the only environmental problem that plastic poses. The production of plastic is a leading cause of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, with more than 90% of plastic production coming from fossil fuel resources.
The key is to reduce the production of plastic as much as it is to ensure we reuse, recycle or dispose of it responsibly. If we can all minimize how much plastic we use every day it can lead to a decrease in the need for plastic production – which will have a positive knock-on effect for the environment.
Here are a few tips to reduce your plastic use and replace it with more sustainable alternatives:
1. Rethink that delivery
Most deliveries from online purchases come wrapped in plastic packaging – often much more than is necessary. To minimize this, instead of purchasing one thing at a time, try to fill your cart with a few more (not all at the same time if you can’t afford it!) and wait to check out when you can get one big box from your favorite store instead of a lot of small ones. Or single items packaged in big boxes surrounded by plastic. You can also try giving buying brand new items that are wrapped in plastic a skip and see if you can find second-hand, rented, borrowed or shared versions – it will save you money and save the environment a bit of added pressure too.
2. Research, then recycle
Recycling seems like the obvious and responsible way to dispose of your used plastic, but even the best intentions could have inadvertent negative outcomes. That’s because not all plastics are recyclable and can’t all be grouped together in the same recycling bins. It’s best to find out what kind of plastic your local recycling plant is able to accept and then only drop those plastics off there. It will require you to do your sorting at home but will prevent those pieces that they can't recycle from ending up in the bin.
3. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle)
You’ve definitely heard this one before. One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use is to buy a reusable, BPA-free water bottle. As plastic water bottles make up a large portion of the single-use plastic waste, the more people who switch to reusable water bottles will ease this burden. While it is possible to refill plastic water bottles, it is not always safe to reuse them due to these single-use bottles leaching chemicals and bacteria growing in them over time.
4. Cones instead of cups
This is a fun one. Don’t let caring for the environment stop you from enjoying a scoop of your favorite flavor. While some ice cream shops might offer you a plastic cup for your purchase, opt for a cone instead. There won’t be any waste as you’ll eat it all. If you opt for a cup, make sure it is a paper cup and you use wooden or metal utensils.
5. Bag it
Carry a reusable bag – be it a canvas tote or a store-branded shopping bag – when you go shopping. This is not just for grocery shopping, but for all retail stores that make use of plastic shopping bags. While these can sometimes be a bit bulky, you can find smaller ones that fold into their own pouches that you can throw into your handbag or backpack when you’re out and about.
6. Let the Frozen go
While they can be really convenient – particularly on weeknights, after work, when you just have not had a moment to think about dinner – the packaging that store-bought frozen meals comes in is usually cardboard and plastic. The cardboard for the box or sleeve the meal comes in, and the plastic for everything else. Trying to meal prep ahead of time (and storing meals in glass or stainless steel containers) is a great way to reduce your plastic consumption.
7. Go for glass
Try to switch from using plastic containers and bottles for the storage of your food products in the pantry or fridge. When you’ve used a jar (coffee jar, jam jar or anything in between), rinse it out and save it to use for storage of leftovers instead of plastic containers or plastic wrap. By saving these containers, you’ll be minimizing the waste (even if it is recyclable) from your household, saving on money from buying more containers or plastic wrap, and also decreasing your plastic consumption on the whole.
The plastic diet
Give the Plastic Health Coalition’s plastic waste calculator for more tips on how to cut plastic consumption down and out of your life – you’ll be doing yourself, your family and the Earth a service!