14 ideas to reduce plastic use
And protect our waterways
Only nine percent of plastic in the United States gets recycled, for a variety of reasons. Many people are justifiably confused over what’s accepted curbside. For some types of plastic, the market demand for post-consumer recyclables just isn’t there (in Amherst, for example, the recycling program now only accepts number one and two items, which eliminates the majority of plastic containers from yogurt to cream cheese to takeout from Wegmans). And other types—like packaging, straws, and takeout coffee cups—simply can’t be recycled at all. Clearly, plastic pollution isn’t a problem we can recycle our way out of.
That said, curbing our individual plastic consumption doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive, or “one more thing” to worry about. Alexis Oltmer, an eco-artist and activist, advocates for simple swaps and lifestyle changes that can add up to a big impact and inspire others to do the same.
“If we purchase fewer plastic containers or plastic toothbrushes or plastic straws or polyester-fibered clothing,” she says, “then that’s going to send a message to industry and corporations, and they’ll have to change.”
Here are fourteen ideas to get started:
• Use what you already own. Don’t throw away plastic Tupperware and utensils. Use them—many, many times—and opt for a greener alternative in the future.
• Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are purchased every minute around the globe—adding up to more than 111 billion a year, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Instead, opt for reusable water bottles and commuter mugs for hot beverages.
• Refuse plastic straws and cutlery with takeout or at restaurants.
• Keep a mug and cutlery at work to avoid disposable versions in the breakroom.
• Bring lunch in reusable containers rather than use plastic sandwich bags or takeout containers that go in the trash.
• When you do get plastic takeout containers, extend their life by washing and saving them to send leftovers home with dinner party guests, which also prevents food waste.
• Forty percent of all plastic produced is packaging that’s used once and tossed out, according to data from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Consider what ends up in your grocery bag each week and explore plastic-free alternatives.
• Napkins and paper towels are wrapped in plastic so avoid plastic and save money by investing in cloth napkins and using rags for cleaning.
• Consider bar soap and shampoo over plastic bottles.
• To avoid plastic bags and packaging in the produce section, keep single items loose and stock up reusable, natural-fiber mesh bags. Better still, shop your neighborhood farmers market, where veggies are not stocked in plastic clamshells.
• To start shifting away from synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon, check labels to see if a plastic-based textile is necessary for performance (in undergarments or athletic wear, for example) or used to cut costs.
• As of March 1, when New York’s plastic bag law went into effect, any store that collects sales tax will be banned from giving customers single-use plastic bags, with exceptions for such things as raw meat and fish, bulk items, prescriptions, dry cleaning, and restaurant carryout. You can still get paper bags but, instead, save resources—and money in stores like Aldi, Wegmans, and Target—by stashing reusable bags in your car.
• Gift experiences rather than stuff to cut down on packaging and wrapping paper, which is sold wrapped in plastic and not universally accepted for recycling.
• If there isn’t a plastic-free alternative or one is cost-prohibitive, look for products with recycled content, which helps generate demand for recyclables.
Read more fighting plastic pollution here.