Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Plastic waste has gotten out of control. You might have heard of the self-made plastic island that is floating around the ocean. That island, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is now 3x the size of France. 90% of this is plastic, and because of this, the island is continuing to grow.
The biggest contributor to the plastic problem is the use of single-use plastics. These short-lived items have a long time being decomposed (around 1000 years). While all these facts seem daunting, there IS something we can be doing to help combat these growing numbers.
Any environmentalist or eco-friendly advocate knows of the 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. So many people just focus on the Recycle aspect of this motto, but don't do the other two. Especially in regards to plastic waste, recycling just isn't enough. Under half of all recycled plastic are made into new items. Since the plastic problem stems from single-use plastics that often can't be recycled, we aren't doing a lot to help the problem through just recycling.
That is why reducing our plastic waste and reusing items is key in fighting plastic pollution. By making easy reusable shifts and swaps in our items and lives, we can greatly reduce the amount of plastic we are producing.
Needing some guidance? Here are the top plastics to avoid and their eco-friendly swaps.
Plastic Water Bottle
BEFORE | Even if you think that you're doing your part by recycling that plastic bottle, the truth is that only about 7% of all plastic bottles get recycled. Most just end up in landfills. And those paper coffee cups that you get on your way to work in the morning? Nope, those can't be recycled either. The plastic lining on the inside of the cup permits it from being recycled.
AFTER | Switching from disposable cups/bottles to a reusable type saves just over 200 bottles a year from ending up in landfills...and that's just from one person! There are a variety of shapes, sizes, and looks for reusable bottles nowadays.
I like Klean Kanteen. They are a company that does a lot for the planet, from installing water fill up stations at public spaces to switching to a carbon neutral manufacturing facility. They have a ton of different bottle options, from classic water bottles to sippy cups and tumblers. I prefer stainless steel insulated canteens because I can also use them for keeping beverages warm, such as my morning coffee.
BEFORE | I get it, plastic ziplock bags are super convenient for storing leftovers and transporting food, but these also litter our oceans and take tens of thousands of years to breakdown. There are so many alternatives to plastic ziplock today.
AFTER | Reusable containers are a great switch for storing food, and silicone baggies and reusable wraps are great for snacks and sandwiches. I personally use both the silicone baggies and wax wraps. For wax wraps, there isn't much difference in which brand you get. I have a bunch from different companies and they all work great.
For my silicone baggies however, I use Stasher. I love these bags because they can be put in the dishwasher, microwave, oven, and freezer, making them super multi-function. They also have an easier seal to close, which has been a challenge I've found with other brands.
BEFORE | Okay, this is probably the grossest thing that ends up in our landfills and oceans. Like I really don't like to think of someone else's sanitary pad washing up on shore while I'm enjoying a tropical vacation in Hawaii, but this is the sad truth.
In one woman's lifetime of menstruating, she will use 11,000 tampons/pads. And if you use tampons, you've got more problems then just how much waste they produce (about 22 tampon wrappers in one menstrual cycle just FYI). Tampons are often contain chemicals that our body is absorbing when we use them. Plus there is Toxic Shock Syndrome if we forget or leave them in too long.
AFTER | So if you're used to sticking something up your hoo-hah, Menstrual Cups are your new best friend. Seriously, I was skeptical when first using them, but they're great. They are generally leak-proof, better for the environment and our bodies, plus you can keep them in longer. Hooray! I have a Lena cup which I love.
BEFORE | You've probably heard something recently in the media about how awful plastic straws are for the environment. And that's no fake news. Each day in America over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used. These end up in our landfills and oceans and are polluting the planet.
AFTER | Ditching the straws all together would be a great solution, but for those who still enjoy sipping their beverages, reusable straws are your perfect swap. Have one in your bag or car for when you go out to eat so it is with you during those dire times. There are multiple straw types, from bamboo to glass. For me, I like metal straws because they hold up better for me. I got a pack of four, so I can always have one at hand when I need it.
BEFORE | In the United States alone, over 100 million plastic utensils are used every day. These tiny plastics pollute our oceans and waterways, harm wildlife, and degrade our natural environment. And if the plastic cutlery wasn't bad enough, most are packaged in additional single use plastic that adds to the massive heaps and mountains of waste this planet already has.
AFTER | While you could carry your metal spoon and fork around with you, I prefer a set of reusable bamboo ones. I'm a fan of getting the whole set of utensils. This way, I won't be struggling with my spork or mini utensil set. I like the bamboo options since I do a lot of traveling. This means I can easily take them through security checks and have them with me wherever I go.
Plastic Grocery Bags
BEFORE | Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags per year. Since plastic uses oil, this equates to 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. Not only is this a huge waste of a nonrenewable resource, but plastic bags amount for a lot of waste. Plastic grocery bags are on average, used for only 12 minutes yet stay in our landfills for centuries.
AFTER | Switch to reusable grocery bags to help save the planet. There are so many options and styles to choose from. While many reusable bags are made from synthetic material, I personally don't like these because this material contains plastic. That's why I use Colony Co. Their bags are made with natural materials and come in a variety of options, from produce bags to bags for your bulk goods.
BEFORE | We've all done it. You buy a container of soup or get takeout from your favorite restaurant. Afterwards you have a nice little container. Why not reuse it? You may be thinking that you're doing your part in saving the planet by reusing this for your food leftovers, but I hate to break it to you...you're not.
These containers are still made up of plastic. Since they are easy to make (and throw away), they don't have a very long shelf life in homes. Most of the time you can't wash these in the dishwasher or heat things up in them. No worries, recycling will save the day right? Wrong. Recycled plastic containers need to add new plastics in the mix in order to produce a new usable plastic container. Plus with plastic containers, you usually have other types of plastic involved that can't be recycled, such as the cap rings, plastic packaging, and labels. Even your store bought plastic Tupperware isn't so great and still has these same issues as well.
AFTER | Unlike plastic containers, glass and metal ones can be recycled indefinitely without loosing the quality of the product. This means that no new material needs to be added in the recycling process in order to 'reuse' a glass jar or metal can. I like ECOlunchbox and their stainless steel containers. These weight less than glass, so I can bring them on picnics and when I travel.
By implementing these easy solutions, you are lessening your carbon footprint and leaving a more positive impact on the planet. Leave me a comment showing off your eco-swap swag and other tips to help raise more awareness on this plastic problem!
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