The numbers quantifying plastic consumption are almost too massive to comprehend:
- Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.1
- Producing just one plastic bottle requires 22 gallons of water.2
- More than 1 million plastic bags—each with an average lifespan of a mere 15 minutes—are used every minute.3
- Perhaps the scariest concept to wrap one’s head around is that plastics never fully biodegrade as other substances do. Instead, over a period of up to 1,000 years, they are simply broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, lingering in the environment as microplastics, infiltrating marine and terrestrial ecosystems alike.4
In my opinion this all boils down to two important points: 1) the earth’s wellbeing is at the mercy of our unsustainable human habits, and 2) taking action and responsibility on a personal level can have an enormous impact.
Many people these days talk about leading a zero waste lifestyle. While that is an admirable goal and an even more admirable achievement, cutting down on plastic dependency begins with small adjustments to your everyday habits.
Here are a few places to start:
Say No to Styrofoam
- The take-out/fast food industry opens up an exciting way to cut down on disposable utensils and containers. While every restaurant might not be willing to oblige, bringing your own Tupperware for take-out meals renders unsustainable materials like Styrofoam and plastic obsolete. Invest in a small set of reusable utensils and keep them in your everyday backpack or purse so that you have them on hand and don’t have to remember to pack them with you. Now you just have to remember to ask your take-out or drive-through attendant to leave out the plastic spoon or straw (it might sound silly, but leaving a post-it note on your dashboard to help you remember can be quite effective)!
Cook More Meals at Home
- As simple as it may sound, one of the best ways to cut down on your plastic consumption is to make more foods at home. The snack world especially holds huge potential to cut down on plastic wrapping. Things like cookies/brownies, hummus, popcorn and granola bars all come wrapped in single use wrappers and are very easy to make—and get creative with—in the comfort of your own kitchen. Better still is that by opting to create your own snacks, you can control exactly what goes into your food, thereby doing your health a favor as well!
Reusable Bags for Produce & Bulk Items
- Many people are tuned into the fact that bringing reusable bags to the grocery store is a new norm. Once you enter a supermarket though, you have to concentrate and plan to further diminish your plastic dependence. One easy way to do this is to opt out of using the thin clear plastic bags for your loose produce like apples, broccoli, cilantro or bell peppers. There are plenty of alternative reusable produce bags available, or you can simply let them roam free in your grocery bag until they make it to your house—they’ll be ok, I promise!
- Similarly, take advantage of the bulk foods section of your grocery store—if they have one—as much as you can. Bring ziplock bags (these don’t require accounting for the weight of your vessel) or containers from home to refill with grains, baking staples or trail mix ingredients; then re-use that ziplock again and again.
DIY Cleaning Products
- From sloshing harmful chemicals down the drain, to creating huge amounts of waste, the act of cleaning can take an enormous toll on the environment. But don’t lose hope, there are ways to be part of the solution! Buy a few glass spray bottles, invest in some large bulk containers of white vinegar and you’re well on your way to using drastically less plastic to keep your household items and areas clean. There are a plethora of recipes out there to try.
Did Someone Say Farmer's Market?
- Of course, farmers markets during the summer season (or if you’re lucky, all year round!) offer a fantastic way to reduce waste as almost nothing you will find there is packaged in plastic. Another more challenging but fantastically rewarding option is to try growing some of your own food! Start with a small potted indoor planter. I would recommend lettuces as they are ready to harvest in a relatively short amount of time, offer a plentiful harvest throughout the summer and are almost never available at the grocery store without some iteration of plastic packaging.
It’s easy to have the mentality of ‘But these things are already packaged in plastic, so why does it matter if I simply buy them’, or ‘They already manufactured this plastic bag, it’s out in the world, why difference does it make if I just use it?’. Instead, think about what would happen if everyone started opting out of using the plastic items that were already out there—they would become superfluous and manufacturing more of them would no longer be required. Individually, each of us holds enormous power to make a difference. So go forth, lead by example, arm yourself with a jug of vinegar and a set of bamboo utensils, and help change the world!
Cohen, Julie. "An Ocean of Plastic." The Current. 12 February 2015. https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/014985/ocean-plastic
- "The Hidden Water in Everyday Products." 1 July 2017. https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/the-hidden-water-in-everyday-products/
- "The Facts." Plastic Oceans. https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/
- "10 Facts About Single Use Plastic Bags." Center for Biological Diversity. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/sustainability/plastic_bag_facts.html