10 easy things you can do to reduce single-use plastics
Updated: May 27
Plastics ... it’s nearly impossible to eliminate them from our everyday lives. Think about it, what’s the first thing you do in the morning? Do you kick start your day with coffee brewed by a plastic-coated coffee maker? How many times a day do you reach for your handy plastic-lined refrigerator for cold food or drinks? We take these modern conveniences for granted, don't we? It’s hard to imagine life without them.
But, what about the many disposable items we also use every day that are causing problems for the environment? Labeled single-use plastics, these are the many cheap plastic items that are intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Some examples are plastic bags, plastic straws, soft drink bottles, coffee stirrers, water bottles and a wide variety of convenience food packaging. Widely overused by today's consumers, these handy items may make life easier, but they are not sustainable - simply meaning they cannot easily be maintained without causing severe ecological damage.
Alternative choices to single-use plastics do exist. We just have to train ourselves to make the right choices.
But you might ask…
I recycle. Why is it a problem?
First of all, single-use plastic is a petroleum based product and is not biodegradable. Because it does not break down, much of the plastic produced cannot be recycled. And, if not buried in a landfill, it can get into our oceans.
I don’t live near the ocean. How does my plastic end up in the ocean?
Here’s the deal. Plastic is as light as a feather. A slight wind gust can whisk away a water bottle, grocery bag or plastic straw into a waterway, river, or body of water and finds its way into the ocean. Because of its chemical make-up, after several years single-use plastics decompose into tiny particles, releasing toxic chemicals - the additives used to shape and harden the plastic during the manufacturing process. Eventually, these toxic particles can easily make their way into our food and water supply.
So, how do we go about making better choices? First, we need to change our way of thinking. Second, in order to make a change that will endure, we need to start practical. Here are the 10 easiest things we all can do:
1) Carry a reusable shopping bag, everywhere!
Say “no” to paper or plastic at the grocery store. This is one of the easiest things we can do to reduce single-use plastics. Some states are eliminating the free plastic bag and are charging a tax or fee for them.
Because of this, reusable grocery bags have become more common. It’s super easy to make the switch, but the hard part is remembering to bring them with you. That’s why I keep a few of these bad boys in my purse, coat pocket and car’s glove box. They fit in a compact pouch AND I can load all my groceries into 3 bags and make only one trip from the car to the kitchen. Pick up a 3-bag set from OceanBlue Co. available at Amazon!
2) Quit your bottled water habit
The bottled water segment has grown to a whopping $18.5 billion dollar industry in recent years, thanks to our obsession with their grab ‘n go convenience. But there are many serous reasons to stop this bad habit – but I’ll be brief. You see, water bottles can take over 1,000
years to biodegrade, which is causing our landfills to overflow. In the US alone, we use over 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR. And only about 27% of those are recycled. And, if that’s not enough, consider the 50 million barrels of fossil fuel used annually to create plastic water bottles - plus the emissions released in transporting them to the stores that sell them. Is that enough to start carrying a reusable drinking container? It is for me.
3) Stop using plastic straws!
I'll admit, this one is tough. We sit down in a restaurant and they magically appear on the table or in our drinks. We simply need to speak up before they make their way to the table. Why is this important? In the U.S. alone, we use over 500 million straws daily. And take into consideration that these little guys aren’t recyclable anyway, we can easily conclude that straws suck!
4) Don’t use plastic produce bags
Really? Do we need to separate the apples from the avocados? Are they going to start a gang war in the trunk on the way home from the grocery store? Seriously though, I get it. If they’re lose in the bottom of the bag, your fruit may get bruised or smashed. But is a plastic bag really going to keep that from happening? If you are compelled to bag loose produce items, bring a mesh bag to contain them. OceanBlue Co. includes mesh produce bags with a 3-bag set of reusable grocery bags.
5) Stop using plastic forks and knives
Refuse take-out and drive-thru plastics, especially plastic utensils. If you're picking up dinner on the way home, you have your own utensils - right? Then forget "Forky" and his little pals. Are you on your way back to the office to dine al-desko? Then keep a set of utensils at your desk. Now if you’re into dashboard-dining - meaning you like to eat in your car. Well, if that seems to happen often, keep a spare set in the glove box or your car's console.
6) Choose cans over plastic bottles
Aluminum cans are recycled at a higher rate than plastic which makes them less likely to end up in a landfill or the ocean. Why do you think RedBull is only distributed in cans? It's not ideal, but it is the better ecological option when you consider aluminum cans are typically made from a high percentage of recycled materials.
7) Use bar soap instead of liquid soap
Most people are under the impression that sharing a bar of soap is less sanitary than sharing a bottle of liquid soap. But consider this: bar soap gets rinsed off every time you use it. Now think about the plastic pump on your liquid soap - when does it every get washed off? Does that help you with your decision?
8) Say “no” to Solo cups
Are you heading to a party at a friend’s house? Bring your own cup or reusable container. Yeah, your friend may have a stack of plastic cups handy for you to consume the libations. But the chemical bond that makes plastic cups so durable, also makes them resistant to decomposing. Bring your favorite insulated drinking cup - I don't go anywhere without my Yeti tumbler. The big advantage is, when you set your cup down in a sea of red Solo cups, you’ll know exactly which one is yours.
9) Forget about frozen foods
Most frozen foods are smothered in plastic. Some are even packaged with a thin plastic microwavable tray. I know - they are a convenience, but you can make better choices if you plan ahead or pick up a fresh sandwich instead.
10) Take 10 minutes to sit down and eat.
Most fast food and casual dining chains use sustainable options when you dine in. Yet when you take out is where the single-use plastics come flowing out of the woodwork. By dining in, everybody wins. You get to eat is while it’s fresh, keep the french fries off the floor of your car – and restaurants can save on all that extra packaging. Don’t forget your utensils!
There’s more that you can do but start simple and grow your list with the things you can sustain.
Consider the health benefits of ditching plastics
There are many chemical additives in the plastic products we use every day. A few of these widely used chemicals are known to be toxic. Like we said, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate plastics, but we can do our best to reduce exposure to these chemicals found in common household plastics.
Stop and think
The easiest way to reduce your use of single-use plastics is to consider your alternatives. Is there another choice you can make? And is it even necessary? Small changes you can make now will add up in a lifetime! Make deliberate decisions every day with your shopping, consumption, and even disposal to reduce your single-use plastics footprint. And ask yourself, #DoYouReallyNeedThat