10 Plastic Items You Can Give Up Right Now

Woman loading her groceries into her trunk in reusable shopping bags

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So much of the plastic we use is completely unnecessary; give up these items and you won't even miss them.

Plastic is so pervasive in our lives that it can be hard to understand just what a problem it presents. Without belaboring the point in too many words, consider this:

We produce over 380 million metric tons of plastic every year. Which is a less painful way of saying we make over 837,000,000,000 pounds of plastic every year. Half of the total amount of plastics produced from 1950 through 2015 was made since 2004.

Plastic is one of the most enduring materials we make. The amount of time it takes for plastics to degrade varies considerably depending on the conditions and composition of the plastic. For example, an HDPE milk container can take up to 500 years to degrade on land, and 116 years to degrade in the marine environment. 50 percent of the plastic we produce is used once and then thrown away. Eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.

Facts like this are plentiful, but you get the idea. So, a call to arms. Here are some very easy things to give up in order to curb your contribution to the problem.

1. Coffee cup lids

Giving up take-out coffee cups all together is ideal, but at the very least, give up the lid (and the sleeve and stir stick while you’re at it). A reusable coffee cup is the way to go, but if you’re getting coffee without one, skip the wasteful accessories.

2. Things in plastic when there’s a paper option

Think eggs in a paper carton instead of ones in clamshell packaging, toilet paper wrapped in paper rather than plastic, anything in a box instead of a bag.

3. Straws

Well we are now in Peak War On Straws, which is a great thing! (Even if some people are loving to hate it.) Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States. Why? Are we too lazy or uncoordinated to lift a drink to our mouth and tilt our head back? Some people may have physical issues that require the use of a straw, that’s fine, but for the rest of us, drop the single-use straws already.

4. Packaged produce

Select produce that doesn’t come encased in plastic. Read this if you need convincing: 7 reasons to ditch packaged salads

5. Plastic produce bags

Bring reusable produce bags to the market, use paper bags, bring your own jars, or skip a bag altogether and just put loose produce in your basket.

6. Plastic shopping bags

Fortunately, planet-smothering animal-killing plastic bags are under increasing scrutiny, but there’s been pushback with many states and localities banning plastic bag bans. Reusable shopping totes are easy, just get in the habit of using them. If you shop by car or cart, do like Katherine does and use shopping boxes.

7. Plastic wrap

Instead opt for glass jars, glass food containers, aluminum foil (not the best, but which can be used over and over and recycled), oilcloth, parchment paper, fabric bowl covers (think shower caps), stainless steel food containers, a bowl with a plate on top.

8. Ziploc bags

See #7

9. Party plastic

Instead of buying plastic cups, plates, and silverware for every party you have, consider investing in a “party set” of second-hand glasses, ceramic plates and silverware that you can keep in a milk crate in a closet and bring out when entertaining.

10. Water bottles

Plastic water bottles have been the bad poster children for plastic waste for ages, but still we persist in the nonsensical practice of buying water in plastic bottles. A quarter of American households buy bottled water. We need to just stop. And the solution (a reusable water bottle) couldn't be easier.

So that's a start. This list is by no means exhaustive; if you have suggestions for other easy-to-give-up items, add them in the comments.

View Article Sources
  1. Geyer, Roland et al. "Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made." Science Advances, vol 3, no. 7, 2017, p. e1700782., doi:10.1126/sciadv.1700782

  2. Chamas, Ali et al. "Degradation Rates of Plastics in the Environment." ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, vol. 8, no. 9, 2020, pp. 3494-3511., doi:10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b06635

  3. "Marine Plastics." Smithsonian.

  4. "A Guide to Plastic in the Ocean." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  5. "Be Straw Free Campaign: Frequently Asked Questions." Eco Cycle.

  6. Onufrak, Stephen, et al. "Acquisition of Bottled Water Among US Households." Current Developments In Nutrition, vol 4, no. Supplement_2, 2020, pp. 1468-1468., doi:10.1093/cdn/nzaa061_096