In the United States, 32 million tons of plastic waste is thrown out every single year, holy crap! What’s worse is that this waste doesn’t just disappear. Plastic doesn’t compost, it can either leach dangerous chemicals such as phthalates, BPA, and flame retardants into the ground or it can turn into microscopic bits of plastic (called microplastics!) that are a nightmare for the environment; they’re actually worse than larger pieces of plastic.
The problems associated with plastic start immediately with the extraction of the raw materials that make up plastic. Non-renewable fossil fuels, like natural gas and crude oil, are brought blasted out of the ground to be used as the building blocks of plastics. Extracting oil and natural gas requires intense amounts of energy and releases carbon dioxide and other noxious chemicals into the air and the surrounding landscapes.
Luckily for most of us living in the United States, we are given a chance to recycle those plastics when we are done with them, but we aren’t recycling nearly enough of it yet. In 2015, the U.S. only recycled 19.5% of the plastics that we generated throughout the year. Additionally, due to the Chinese “Green Wall”, many American recyclers are having a harder time selling their collected recycled materials, moving much of that material into landfills because the value of the recycled waste is slowly degrading. In order to help be a better global citizen, what you can do is avoid using plastics little by little. Here are 6 tips you can use to help ditch plastic!
1: Plan a plastic-free grocery store trip…
On your next weekly grocery haul, pay attention to how much waste exists within the store—you will be surprised. You’ll start to notice that there is plastic wrapping around most products, especially pre-portioned ingredients or produce. Now challenge yourself to come up with some creative ways to reduce the waste coming from your shopping trip!
The best ways to reduce plastic waste and get the most for your money is to buy in bulk. Many items that you already buy such as beans, grains, nuts, peanut butter, snacks and candies, and much more can be purchased in bulk. By bringing your own containers to the store, you won’t end up wasting the single-use plastics that normally come with those items.
Want another helpful tip? Most of the time when you purchase chicken, bacon, or other meat products they come in a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. Instead, you can go directly to the butcher and usually get your meat wrapped in parchment paper instead! This meat is of higher quality and usually has significantly less pesticides and fillers that are needed to keep the meat fresh in plastic packaging.
When you are in the produce section getting your greens, onions, potatoes, and anything else that isn’t pre-packaged, use a reusable produce bag or convert some old t-shirts into bags. This way you can keep all your fresh produce together without wasting those small green bags they have in the produce section. Many people do not know that keeping your produce in plastic bags and containers actually causes the fruit to mold faster.
Lastly, when you are finished getting your weekly supply of goodies, treats, and other assorted items, make sure to say “no” to the single-use plastics at checkout by bringing your own reusable bags, or if you don’t have some yet, ask for paper bags that can be recycled once you are done using them. This is an easy way to get rid of some single-use plastic that you otherwise might use every single week.
2: Stop buying plastic microbeads…
Some plastics are so small you won’t be able to see them, or you may not even know they are in your products already! These little buggers are called microbeads, which are teeny tiny plastic pieces, usually two millimeters or less, that are made of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA0 or nylon (aka all plastic). We don’t really understand why, but many companies have added these to all sorts of products! Face wash, acne treatments, toothpaste, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and many more products.
The consequences of these microbeads goes beyond their mysterious purpose in your products. After you use them in the shower or head into the water after applying sunscreen, the tiny bits of plastic wash off and enter our waterways and oceans. These microbeads are so small that even wastewater treatment plants can’t filter them out. This is concerning because it leads to large amounts of small plastic heading to marine ecosystems downstream from us. From there, marine animals will start to consume the tiny plastics, voluntary or involuntary, and the plastic will congeal inside of them. Unfortunately it gets worse, as small fish consume microplastics, they will eventually be eaten by bigger fish, and the plastic will begin to bioaccumulate. By the time that humans consume these fish, there is a high probability that the microplastics are inside of the fish we eat too! In fact a study conducted by Current Environmental Health Reports in 2016, discovered that 90% of the seafood imported to the U.S. came from areas of the world that have poor waste management practices and plastic pollution.
Thankfully for us and for the planet, many companies and even governments are investing in the future by creating limitations for microbeads in our products. Check out this website to make sure the products you use don’t contain microbeads!
3: Use reusable food packaging…
Think about what you do with your leftover food when you don’t cook or eat it all? Many people turn to saran wrap or single-use plastic bags that you can zip up and put in the fridge or freezer. These options may be convenient, but they create lots of household plastic waste. Luckily for you, we have some great strategies to ditch plastic in favor of much more sustainable alternatives. Adjusting the way that you store your leftovers, practice meal prep, and pack your school lunches can drastically change how much plastic waste comes out of your home. You can make sure to keep saran wrap out of your life by purchasing a reusable beeswax wrap that can last up to a year and is compostable! Are you fed up with restaurants giving you large styrofoam containers to take home your leftovers? To avoid this dilemma, just bring your own toxin-free stainless steel container instead. You can even keep extra containers in the car/purse for unplanned meals that you need to store. This way you will be prepared in whatever situation comes your way to choose the sustainable option. Make sure that when you are at home, you have all the reusable containers you need to be ready to go when taking food on the go or putting away your leftovers from dinner that night. Planning ahead can help you to prevent huge amounts of plastic waste from going to the trash!
4: Refuse single-use…
You have probably heard a lot about the war against single-use plastic straws in the recent years. That’s because 500 million plastic straws are used and wasted each and every day. Let’s work to be part of the solution rather than the problem by using reusable straws instead of single use plastic ones. Start by bringing your own water bottle or coffee container with you and make sure you grab your own reusable straws along the way. This will go a long way to help keep plastic out of the landfill!
Check out our top seven products that will take you from single-use to reusable here!
5: Stop wearing plastic…
Plastic truly is everywhere—in fact, about 60% of all clothes are made of synthetic fabrics like polyester. You probably own and wear some without even knowing it. Polyester is made from small threads of plastic that are woven together like normal threads, but the main problem comes with continued use and washing. When polyester is washed it can release non-biodegradable microplastics into the water, similar to microbeads found in personal care products. The problems that come from microbeads and their effect on ecosystems and humans are very similar to the microplastics that are released from plastic clothing.
A study by the IUCN found that 35% of microplastic pollution comes from synthetic textiles being washed; that’s a whole bunch of unnecessary microplastic in our environments! Next time you are looking for new clothes try to purchase from ethical companies that use natural fibers instead of synthetic. Or you can use a Cora ball which helps to trap the microplastics before they head down your drain and into the environment!
6: Switch to recycled content, biodegradable or plant-based “plastics”…
Just like most things, not all plastics are created equal. Some types of plastics can be recycled, while others cannot. Much of this distinction depends on your local recycling facility and the types of plastics that they will accept. There are going to be situations where you might need to use single-use products and there is nothing you can do to avoid that, so don’t beat yourself up when this happens. Thankfully there are a bunch of companies that see consumers need for plastic alternatives and are therefore making creative solutions to give you the convenience of single-use plastic that you love, without the harmful side effects that you hate. Bioplastics are infiltrating the industry, from biodegradable trash bags made from plant resins to plant-based toothbrush bristles, and even non-toxic children’s building blocks made from sugarcane resin. What do we think about them? Compostable and biodegradable bioplastics are a great alternative when produced the right way… but always try to look for a plastic-free or reusable options first before making that choice. Remember the age-old saying: reduce, reuse, recycle!
We do think it is important to include recycled content plastic, because it is better than virgin plastic, and it creates a system that makes our waste into a valuable resource rather than something to be thrown into a landfill. We have already created tons of plastic waste already, so why not use that to create more products?
How have you gotten rid of plastics in your life? Comment below!
And to make your grocery trips more sustainable, visit EarthHero.com.
Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.