Plastic. It has been around since 1869 and was originally created as a substitute for dwindling natural materials such as ivory or tortoiseshell. But sadly, it is now a threat to our natural world. It has evolved from a durable, reusable “miracle material,” designed to last forever, to a single-use disposable item. Everywhere you look, there are plastic containers, straws, bags, and packaging that gets used once and then discarded. The problem? The material “lasts forever.” As a result, plastic is polluting our oceans and earth. We need to reduce our dependence on single-serve plastic items. But how?
Here’s a list of alternatives to five plastic-waste culprits that could easily be cut out (or at least used less) in our daily lives:
1. Plastic Drinking Straws
FACT: Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day.
Say “no thanks” to plastic straws when ordering beverages.* Take it a step further by enlisting the help of local restaurants, encouraging servers or managers to change their policy—by simply asking customers if they’d like a straw first before setting them on the table on in drinks saves them money as well. Tote your own reusable stainless steel, glass, or silicone drinking straw, which are a better choice to reduce trash.
2. Bottled Water
FACT: Around 1,500 plastic water bottles are discarded every second.
Buy water in glass bottles instead of plastic—they do exist!. Glass is recyclable and preserves the integrity and taste of water better than plastic. And it’s healthier for you. Drinking filtered tap water is the most affordable and least wasteful option. Pitcher, tabletop, and under-sink water filter systems are available. Use insulated stainless steel and BPA-free plastic bottles are both ideal choices.
3. Coffee Pods and Capsules
FACT: 10 billion pods are tossed into North American landfills each year.
Disposable coffee pods and capsules create unnecessary trash. These popular, single-serve pods are made of complex multi-layered plastic or aluminum and are not biodegradable or recyclable. If you own a single-serve coffee machine, simply use a refillable stainless steel or mesh pod. You’ll save money and reduce waste. A more convenient yet still-ecological option is to purchase single-use, 100%-biodegradable, disposable filter pods. They are sold in packs of 50 and are often economically priced.
4. Polystyrene (Styrofoam™) Cups and Plastic Lids
FACT: It is estimated that it takes over 500 years for Styrofoam to break down.
Taking hot beverages to go often means using a Styrofoam cup and a plastic lid. The problem is, not only do these items produce lots of waste, but your body absorbs the chemicals at an alarmingly rapid rate. Studies have linked styrene to neurological damage, reproductive issues, and cancers
Bring a reusable beverage container when you purchase coffee to go.*
5. Plastic Grocery Bags
FACT: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be three times the size of France.
Discarded plastic produce and grocery bags are some of the biggest culprits of pollution, clogging drains, and hurting marine animals.
Simply buy fresh produce loose instead of using a separate plastic bag. Or purchase a washable mesh produce bag, a muslin or cotton cloth bag, or repurpose a mesh laundry bag. Instead of using disposable grocery bags, bring reusable fabric totes to the market or use empty cardboard boxes to load your groceries and transport them home. Another option is to keep a cooler in your car. Unload your groceries from the cart directly into the cooler. When plastic bags are the only option, save and recycle, or reuse them.
Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Pearls of Garden Wisdom: Time-Saving Tips and Techniques from a Country Home, Pearls of Country Wisdom: Hints from a Small Town on Keeping Garden and Home, and Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. Tukua has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.