Plastic seems to be inescapable these days – it’s hard to believe that before the 1960s, it wasn’t widely used!
Of course, plastic is a useful material that’s sturdy and easy to clean – but often it’s just not needed, especially in packaging.
Plastic is a manmade product, and nature is doing its best to adapt to it, but there’s just so much of it. There are approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans alone.
Why is it Important to Reduce Plastic?
Plastic pollutes water, it builds up in our bodies, and animals mistake it for food, causing them to starve to death. But it is entirely possible to have a functional society that uses less plastic and to make sure that the plastic we use doesn’t end up as pollution.
Not every form of plastic is easily recyclable, and there isn’t yet a popular method to break down plastic pollutants. So here are some tips to reduce the usage of plastic in your own life:
20 Ways to Reduce Plastic:
- Use washable, reusable silicone baggies (like these, available at amazon) instead of single-use plastic baggies. Alternatively, cloth bags or beeswax-coated cloth wraps work just as well for storing sandwiches, or for covering food or drinks in the refrigerator.
- Buy pet toys and accessories made of canvas, natural rubber, or hemp instead of plastic. Harry Barker has been making eco-friendly dog supplies since 1997! Plus, the jury’s still out whether pets absorb toxins from plastic chew toys – even more reason to avoid plastic altogether. DIY pet toys are a cheap option as well – sometimes all a dog wants is an old sock! And cats are well-known to get hours of joy out of simple cardboard boxes. Consider using old feather pillows as pet beds instead of store-bought beds stuffed with plastic-based filler.
- Opt for wooden pencils over mechanical. The plastic pencil parts and plastic packaging of the lead refills add up. Try out these pencils made of reused newspapers! Pens always contain plastic, so be sure to purchase ones made out of recycled materials. But before buying any new pens or pencils, inspect your house, car, and desk. That pen you accidentally took from the bank may still be full of ink at the bottom of a drawer!
- Get that plastic out of your hair! Terra Ties and Kooshoo make 100% biodegradable hair ties. Etsy has lots of eco-friendly hair accessories available, or you can get crafty with some ribbon and make your own.
- Did you know acrylic paints are made of plastic? Acrylic is a type of plastic! But it is possible, and fun, to mix your own paints using nature’s dyes and powders. Mix water with dirt to make brown, beet juice to make purple, and turmeric to make orange. Add a binding agent, like egg yolks, to make the paint stick. Be careful, as these pigments stain. Adding vinegar will make the colors more vivid.
In Your Community
- Pick up plastic litter when you see it outside, especially at the beach. It is estimated that the weight of plastic will exceed the weight of fish in our oceans by 2050. Plastic beach toys like inflatable rafts, shovels, pails, chairs, and umbrellas easily blow into the water – that’s out of our control. What is in our control is what we bring to the beach. Choose beach toys and accessories made from bamboo, a lightweight and compostable material.
- Initiate a competition in your school or workplace to reduce plastic use, like “Plastic-Free February.” For example, every person who doesn’t use plastic in their lunch gets a point. Kids are quite competitive, and challenging one grade or homeroom to use less plastic than another will instill good habits at an early age. In the workplace, it’ll raise company awareness of the issue, and perhaps lead to more sustainable commitments from the higher-ups.
- According to the United Nations, only about 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. We can and must do better! Get familiar with your locality’s rules for plastic curbside recycling, and make sure you’re recycling properly. Be aware of which plastics are harder to recycle than others: #1 and #2 can be placed in curbside recycling. Plastics with a #3 – #7 imprinted on them may require additional research and effort. Check to see what your county accepts.
- Have some plastic appliances, garden supplies, or kids’ toys that are cluttering up your home? Let your plastic items be reused by donating them to your local thrift shop or selling them at a yard sale. Maybe a local college student could use your old microwave.
- Buy local. So much plastic is used in packaging – an estimated 40 million tons in 2020 alone. If what you need is available at a store near you, don’t place an online order. Just pick it up, and skip the bag at the register if you can carry it yourself.
Shopping & On the Go
- Plastic hides in our clothes in the form of elastic, polyester, spandex, nylon, lycra, faux fur, even vegan leather (if it contains polyurethane). Shop 100% organic cotton as much as you can. And if you just have gotta have a certain fashion item, consider thrifting it or shopping vintage.
- Be mindful of packaging. Use paper stuffing or biodegradable packing peanuts instead of bubble wrap. Seek food brands with minimal packaging at the grocery store or those that use reusable/recyclable/compostable packaging, such as glass. Does your meal delivery service use recyclable packaging? Green Chef uses a recyclable insulation material to keep food cool and fresh.
- Use reusable or compostable utensils, plates, and cups for picnics or on-the-go eating. Amazon has some great bamboo options, with 100% plastic-free packaging!
- Americans go through an estimated 100 billion plastic bags per year! Know how many barrels of oil are needed to make them all? 12 million! Store reusable cloth shopping bags and a mug in your car so that you’re always prepared for a last-minute grocery shopping trip or coffee run. (Keep in mind that Starbucks does not clean personal reusable cups for customers at this time, and does not accept them in the drive-thru.)
- If you’re planning to take fast food directly home when you go through the drive-thru, ask the cashier not to include plastic utensils. Consider also keeping some clean reusable cutlery in the car, for road trips or those days when eating in your car just feels right.
- Get honest with yourself about your plastic usage by calculating your plastic footprint here. See where you use plastic the most in your daily life – if you can shift to a more sustainable material there – do it! If it feels too big to tackle, start smaller, and work your way there. Build good habits every month.
- Be aware of everything that plastic is in, from latex gloves to skincare products, to glitter, to vinyl records! The list is endless, but don’t get overwhelmed. Commit to reducing plastic in just one part of your life to start. Don’t give up if you find yourself relying more on plastic than you want to, and reward yourself for developing good habits.
- Get in the habit of using products made of glass, ceramics, bamboo, thrift materials, paper, cloth, stainless steel, and recycled plastic instead of single-use plastics. Silicone is a good plastic substitute, especially for kitchen and bathroom items. It’s extremely durable, and unlike plastic, it doesn’t release toxins when burned. From straws to toothbrushes, every product you normally use plastic for has a more sustainable alternative.
- It’s easy enough to pick up litter off the street, but because we live on land, we don’t see just how much plastic pollutes our oceans. Often, our litter gets washed away into waterways, and it’s out of sight, out of mind. The reality is, 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Donate to Plastic Oceans or the Plastic Ocean Project to help end plastic pollution in our oceans.
- Get your friends and family on board too! It’s vital that the generations before and after us are all on the same page regarding plastic reduction. That’s how real, long-term progress is made.
Final Thoughts on How to Reduce Plastic Use
Which plastic reduction habits do you see yourself adopting? Since large corporations put plastic in the products that we rely upon, it’s difficult for individuals to avoid plastic.
But technology evolves fast, and hopefully soon, methods to break down plastic pollutants will become popular and affordable.
And soon, individuals won’t have to shoulder the burden of avoiding plastic, because corporations will choose more sustainable materials.
In the meantime, incorporating even a few of these tips will help form good habits and help create a cleaner, more natural world.
Related content: What Plastics are Recyclable by Symbol & Number?
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