11 easy ways to reduce your plastic waste today

decorated tiffins
© Margaret Badore. Decorated tiffins.

Maybe you’re not ready to break up with plastic altogether, but there are some low-hanging fruit that can make a big difference in reducing the amount of disposable plastic in your life.

Although recycling can help reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills, waterways and ecosystems, only a few types of plastics can be recycled by most municipal governments. The fraction that does get recycled still requires a lot of energy and water which just isn’t a good proposition when it comes to single-use items. Plastic garbage that ends up in landfills and oceans take hundreds of years to degrade, and there’s increasing concern about the toxins they release into the environment.

But in our modern lives, plastic surrounds us and cutting it out can seem daunting. Below are some super easy ways to get started.

1. Bring your own shopping bag

The usefulness of these thin and easily ripped bags is extremely limited, yet according to one estimate, somewhere between five billion and one trillion plastic bags are used each year around the world. Although free to shoppers, these bags have a high environmental cost and are one of the most ubiquitous forms of garbage. Bringing your own plastic bag is common but good environmental advice, such good advice that some governments implemented policies to encourage more people to do it. Disposable shopping bags have been banned in a number of cities, like San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

In addition to bigger carryall bags, you can further reduce waste by bringing your own reusable produce bags or skipping them entirely.

2. Stop buying bottled water

Unless there’s some kind of contamination crisis, plastic water bottles are an easy target for reducing waste. Instead, keep a refillable bottle handy.

3. Bring your own thermos to the coffee shop

Speaking of refillable, bringing your own thermos for to-go coffee is another way to reduce your plastic footprint. Disposable coffee cups might look like paper but they’re usually lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic resin. In theory these materials can be recycled, but most places lack the infrastructure to do so. Then there are lids, stirrers, and coffee vendors that still use polystyrene foam cups—which can all be avoided with your own mug.

4. Choose cardboard over plastic bottles and bags

Generally speaking, it’s easier to recycle cardboard than plastic, plus paper products tend to biodegrade more easily without adding a lot of weight to the product the way glass or aluminum can. So, when you have the choice, pick pasta in the box instead of pasta in a bag, or detergent in the box instead of the bottle. Even better would be to check for companies that source their cardboard sustainably or have a strong stance on deforestation.

5. Say no to straws

Whether for home use or when you’re ordering a drink at a bar or restaurant, plastic straws are often a single-use item that's just not necessary.

6. Get the plastic off your face

body washes that contain plastic© 5 Gyres Much of the plastic that’s polluting the oceans is microplastics, tiny chunks that are next to impossible to filter out. These plastics can come from bigger items breaking down, but they are also commonly added to consumer products like face wash and toothpaste. These little beads are intended to be exfoliators, but many wastewater treatment facilities aren’t able to stop them. There are many biodegradable alternatives, so avoid items with “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” on the ingredients list or consider making your own.

7. Skip the disposable razor

Instead of tossing a plastic razor in the trash every month, consider switching to a razor that lets your replace just the blade or even a straight razor.

8. Switch from disposable diapers to cloth

If you’ve got a young baby, you know how many diapers can end up in the trash each day. TreeHugger writers are pretty big fans of the the reusable cloth option, read Michael Graham Richard’s experience with them as a new dad and Katherine Martinko’s recommended brands.

9. Make your period waste-free

There are a number of non-disposable options out there to cut down on period waste, from the Diva Cup, to the Ruby Cup to DIY-with-pride reusable pads. All these choices reduce incredible amount of packaging that most pads and tampons are encased in. If you’re not in a situation where giving up tampons is an option, consider skipping brands with plastic applicators.

10. Re-think your food storage

Plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers are worth re-evaluating. Instead of sandwich baggies, why not pack a bento box or a cute tiffin (shown at the top of this post) for lunch? Instead of throwing away plastic zipper bags or wrapping things in Saran wrap, why not use jars or glass containers in the fridge? When it comes to carryout, these types of containers be used instead of disposable ones—although it can definitely take a bit of courage and some explaining to help your local restaurants to understand.

11. Shop in bulk

For many households, the majority of plastic waste is generated in the kitchen. So one of the best ways to reduce the packaging waste madness is to bring your own bags and containers and stock up on bulk foods. Shopping with jars is a great option, and keep your eye out for brands with refilling stations, like Ariston oils and Common Good cleaners.

Was all of this too easy? Are you already taking these steps and looking for ways to reduce waste in your life even more? Then check out more of our stories about Zero Waste living!

Tags: Plastic Bags | Plastics | Recycling | Waste

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