5 Single-Use Plastic Items To Stop Using And Easy Solutions

It's time to cut down our dependence on single-use plastic items. But what are the alternatives? They're easier than you think. See our list.

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

plastic waste - 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

plastic waste - 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

plastic

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

Plastic bag floating in the ocean wrapped around a sea turtle.

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.

Infographic showing how long it takes for certain materials to decompose.
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Deborah Tukua

Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.

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Theresa S Maupin

Many do not know that plastic changes the taste of food. I have been in the grocery business for 35 years and when the Manufacturers changed from glass containers to plastic, it changed the taste of the food. Especially Tomato Juice, Pasta sauce, or any items with tomato base. I also quit using plastic for storage and went back to glass containers. Washes easier and food stays fresher longer. Small changes make a difference!

Dean B

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”
If it takes 500 years to break down how can your body absorb the chemicals so fast? Seems mutually exclusive.

V Jacquelyn Crowell

I get my groceries delivered in plastic bags. I don’t have the money to purchase reusable bags every time I get groceries, usually once a month. What can I do to rectify this?

Kelly Holtsclaw

You might ask them to pack them in paper bags. My local store looked at me like I had 2 heads the first time I asked, but the baggers ultimately said they liked them better because they could stack things and get more items in the bags. Now they keep them on hand.

V Jacquelyn Crowell

Jacquelyn Crowell

Harriet Douglass

We use the plastic store bags to hold dog poop when walking our pup. What’s the substitute supposed to be there???

Susan Higgins

Hi Harriet, they do make compostable dog poop bags – check out Chewy.com!

Kortney

When you think of the first popular bottled water, which brand comes to mind? Evian, perhaps?

What does Evian spell backwards? A coincidence, I’m sure, but wow!

Su

Is this even news?. Hasn’t everybody been doing this since the 80’s? Where do yo think your trash goes? Get small… don’t make trash. Don’t be trash. That is all..

Susan Higgins

Su it’s clear that people need reminding. That garbage patch out in the ocean hasn’t gotten any smaller.

Beverly Jauron

Great advice we need to put into action.

Joe

People need to STOP telling me what to do. You want to stop using plastic that’s fine. I enjoy my K cups, my plastic straws, my Styrofoam cups and plastic grocery bags.

Susan Higgins

Joe, no one is telling you what to do. If this is something you want to do, we offer advice. If you chose not to, that’s completely up to you. This is America and you can make your own choices. Do we want to preserve this planet for future generations? Yes. So just as we might suggest to stop doing something if it’s harming your health, so we suggest for the health of the planet.

Felipe J.

Thank you! Good set of reminders. One sad note here, a company in USA was recycling the plastic bags used for grocery. Now that bags are in ocean, may not be recyclable. Recycling turned bags into yard borders and small pipes for drip systems.

Jamie

All those wipe that say they are flushable, they clog the drains and sewer systems. The don’t dissolve like toilet paper. Cost was over $200 to have drain unplugged and it was two of the “flushable wipes” that snagged inside a pipe and started the backup and not draining.

History Nut

I grew up in the 50s & 60s when most everything was reusable. The rise of “disposables” has both good and bad aspects. The good is related to sanitation and food safety. The bad is the disposal of the waste. Most of the waste used to end up in informal “dumps” which most small towns had. They did make great ‘playgrounds’ for us kids which may be why we grew up with strong immune systems! Now, most urban trash ends in regulated, controlled ‘land fills’. It sure would be nice if that trash could be processed into base components in a non-polluting minimal energy process. However, the problem is not really material based but behavioral based. Too many people have become litterers. If the trash was disposed of properly to be cycled in our waste systems it would be much less of a problem. ‘Modern’ generations just ‘throw it out’ without regard for others. We need to reinstate the enforcement of littering laws. Start giving the slobs of society hefty fines and their behavior will change and pollution will be reduced.

My pet peeve is the proliferation of bottled water. We had reusable water bottles when I was a kid. They were called canteens. I still have them. I have home water filters not because the water company doesn’t do its job but because I have worked on my own plumbing and know that the “last mile” is my problem.

Chris

How about all the gloves you now see all over

Jamie

Right on Chris. I see them as well as masks discarded on the streets/expressway

Debbie Manning

Why aren’t diapers on this list??

TT

I reuse all my plastic grocery bags. Mostly for the trash, as our garbage p/u people require all trash to be contained in plastic bags. So why buy plastic trash bags when I can use these ?

Susan Higgins

Excellent, TT! Every little bit helps.

Dinah Leach

We compost wet garbage but no type of meat or animal fat. To that we periodically add grass/weed cuttings and dead leaves. It all makes a wonderful compost.
The other trash gets burned except for metal or any plastic etc. and since we live in the country, burning is permitted all the time.

Kristin Decker

I take a tote bag with me when I walk to the grocery store to replace their plastic bags. I have used the same tote bag for groceries for the past 50+ years and I make many trips to the store since I have to carry the tote home loaded with the groceries I buy so it can’t be too heavy.

JRog

You rock Kristin thanks for sharing. I’d like to see that tote bag you use, it should go into the Earth Day Hall of Fame !

Malarky

I use a granny cart and only have to do grocery shopping once a week

Kate Johnson

I am happy to use recyclable bags for bringing groceries home. It is the other end of the stream that I am in a quandary about. I haven’t come up with a solution for getting rid of garbage (especially wet kitchen garbage and private bathroom garbage). Does anyone have any suggestions?

William Hall

If you can’t compost kitchen waste, how about a garbage disposal unit. Plumbed into your kitchen sink, grinds up the trash and flushes it into the sewage system.

Georgia Barker

That’s a great idea IF you’re not on a private septic system.

Dan

A plumber told me that “garbage” disposal’s should be re-named. They are only ment for small scraps NOT GARBAGE!
The garbage will clog the pipes.
Worm composters work well & are fun for the kids, & to use for fishing, ; )

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