By now you are probably pretty familiar with the negative effects plastic has on both our bodies and our planet. Exposure to BPA from everyday plastic items has been found to be detrimental to our health (including reproductive disorders and heart disease). Plastic in our oceans also affects marine life and human health – we look at you, Great Pacific garbage spots. Oh, and did you hear microplastic raining down from the sky? I’m not going to ruin the punch line, but rest assured you won’t find it amusing. Figuring out how to reduce plastic use is only part of a bigger, more complicated puzzle. It’s a good start, however.
Whether you are motivated to keep your own health in tip-top shape or feel inspired to reduce plastic pollution on our planet (or both!), The first step is to lower our reliance on plastic.
The material made only became popular in the 1960s – so how did we buy and store our leftovers before that time? Everything from food containers to baby bottles is made out of plastic these days. What to do if we want to reduce plastic waste in our daily life? It turns out that it’s actually easier than you’d think.
1 of 3Photo by Emilee Kunas
1. Own Up
The first step in changing our plastic habits is to recognize the role each of us plays in causing pollution. Nobody likes it when tons of plastic pollute our oceans, but when you do how often do you realize that the coffee cup lids or floating bag you see could be yours?
I know, I know. You would never throw your trash in the creek and always be after you on the beach. Unfortunately, even if you throw your plastic items in the trash, you’re sending them to the landfill where they can be blown or flushed into our streams and pollute our oceans. Enter Nat Geo’s picture of a baby sea turtle chewing on a bottle cap.
2 of 3Photo by Molly Culver
2. Make free
We know that knowing exactly how to get rid of your trash can be confusing – especially when it comes to certain plastic practices. That’s why the easiest way to reduce your plastic waste is to cut down on plastic usage. To do this, you need to cut it out of your everyday life as much as possible. These everyday items are some of the biggest plastic pollutants and the easiest to get rid of.
- Plastic bags. Unfortunately these are not recyclable. So keep using and using whatever you currently own until it is time to toss them in the trash.
- Disposable coffee cups. Used paper cups cannot be recycled because they are dirty. Throw these in the compost or in the trash, rinse the plastic lid, and recycle it.
- plastic bottle. Rinse them out and throw them in the trash.
- Plastic food containers and Tupperware. The same as above!
- Plastic utensils. Plastic forks, knives and spoons can be rinsed and recycled. I’m trying to better tell restaurants that I don’t need plastic items in my take away order, but it can be difficult to remember!
- Plastic bags and shopping bags. In Austin, these bags, along with any type of plastic wrap (like the one your paper towels are wrapped in), can be recycled at designated drop-off points. I collect these items and take them for recycling every week or two.
Now that you’ve figured out how to reduce your plastic usage, here are some rules of thumb to remember as you move forward:
- Never put your recyclables in garbage bags. Garbage bags are not recyclable and will result in your entire collection going to a landfill.
- Always rinse out your plastics.
- Hard plastics are recyclable. Soft plastics such as bags and cling film are usually only specified in your city.
- Not sure how to dispose of something? This website makes it super easy to search for household items and instantly find out what to do with them. Takes less time than logging into Instagram folks!
3 of 3Photo by Kristen Kilpatrick
After you’ve phased out your plastics, there are a few things you may need. Today’s environmentally conscious market makes it easy to find an environmentally friendly alternative for almost any product. Here are some of our favorites:
- Food warehouse
- Beeswax wrap. I’ve been using these for 7 months and loved having them in my kitchen. The sheets come in a variety of sizes and can be folded to contain products or snacks like a plastic bag, or they can be taped onto the top of any bowl or bowl and used in place of cling film.
- Reusable silicone bags. Can’t you break away from this baggie life? Reusable silicone bags are for you and yes they are dishwasher safe!
- Glass food containers. For everything in between, Pyrex lidded containers are the way to go.
- Water bottles
- Glass water bottles. There are many out there but we love the bkr!
- If you don’t have filtered water in your fridge or faucet, we love The Pure Company’s water decanter for our domestic water source.
- Shopping bags
- You have roughly a million reusable shopping bags. Use it!
- Bags made from mesh products are a great addition to your shopping spree. I find it a little awkward to carry them back and forth from the store at times, and generally I just carry most of my fruits and vegetables out without a grocery bag.
This post was originally published on August 27, 2020 and has been updated since then.