It's Scary How Quickly Convenience Items Become Trash

Even one plastic-free day can keep tons of plastic garbage from landing in our landfills or worse, polluting our environment. . (Photo: cgdeaw/Shutterstock)

One clean water group is getting ahead of the trash problem. They are focusing on reducing the amount of litter that ends up on city streets so that it never has the opportunity to become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

As part of those efforts, the organization Clean Water Action conducted a litter audit. Community groups went around to the California cities of Oakland, Richmond, San Jose and south San Francisco and collected trash on the streets. They then figured out where the trash originated. About 49 percent of the trash on the street was from fast-food restaurants. About 11 percent was from convenience stores. The remaining trash came from grocery stores, retail stores, coffee shops and other places.

So a full 60 percent of the trash comes from places where convenience is king. I suppose finding a trash can or a recycling bin for these items is too inconvenient for many people who need the convenience of fast food. While the trash did originate at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, it didn’t hop on the ground all by itself. People did that.

How can this be avoided? The answer is easy. Don’t throw trash on the ground. But, I suggest you go a step further and don't take things you'll never use more than once that will end up as trash — in a can or on the street. Much of the trash found on the ground were items like unused straws and clean paper napkins. Other items, like disposable beverage cups, are easy to avoid taking. Here's what you can do:

  • Don’t take more napkins, straws, utensils, etc. than you need. If you’re buying food for three people, take only three napkins.
  • Tell the person who's packaging your food what you do and don’t need for napkins, utensils, straws and condiments.
  • If you’re taking your convenience food home to be eaten, you can use your own utensils, napkins and even condiments.
  • Say no to the bag. Take a look at the trash can right outside a convenience store. It’s full of bags from the store. People buy an item. It gets put in a bag. They leave the store. Take the item out and put the bag directly in the trash. It’s mind-boggling. Don’t take the bag in the first place.
  • Take reusable coffee mugs to your coffee house or convenience store every time you get coffee to go.

If you do end up receiving unwanted extras with your convenience items that you aren’t going to use, don’t trash them unused. Save them for another time when you can use them. I save plastic utensils and paper napkins and put them in a pouch on the side of our cooler to use at the pool. I also can use these items for the boys’ lunches on school trip days when they must bring a lunch that's completely disposable.