Looking for small things you can do that can create a big impact for our environment? Eliminating single use plastics from your life is a perfect place to start. Why? For starters, plastic pollution is a tremendous problem. Our oceans are brimming with plastic waste… plastic that never disappears but breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces (micro-plastic) which are nearly impossible to get rid of and cause a myriad of significant ecological issues.
But it’s also a problem that can be fixed with individual consciousness and actions. If every person made small, simple changes, we would dramatically reduce our plastic pollution.
By now most of us have seen the photos of dead birds filled with plastic. But just in case you haven’t, here’s one more.
Over 1 million birds die every year from ingestion or entanglement in plastic. And according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, over 100,000 marine mammals are killed by plastic pollution annually as well. Just a couple of months ago a beached whale in Norway had to be euthanized due to the 30 plastic bags and other garbage that had filled its stomach.
According to Eco Watch, we currently dump the equivalent of one garbage truck per day into the ocean every minute. And that there’s enough plastic thrown away to circle our poor Mama Earth four times.
It’s now predicted that by 2025 there will be 8 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans, equivalent to 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world. And by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Let that sink in…. it’s not only disgusting but heartbreaking and infuriating. We are literally TRASHING our planet due to convenience and ignorance.
This plastic isn’t just in the form of strangling bags, bottles, or large, visible chunks. Plastic breaks down into micro plastic, teeny tiny fragments of plastic that literally get everywhere. These plastics choke animals, absorb toxins, release BPA into the seawater. The plastic is eaten by fish, which then gets eaten by us, which means we’re also eating plastic. So our beaches and oceans are trashed, our parks are littered, our streams are polluted. And we’re ingesting toxic garbage.
“Personally, watching my baby run around butt naked on a hot beach is a dream come true. but if we don’t reduce our waste and clean up our act, what will our babies’ babies be playing in?”
The most infuriating but also good thing? It’s completely avoidable!!! Plastic is in our everyday life. And a lot of it is made into wonderful products. But single use is totally avoidable for most people living in the USA.
Here are 10 easy ways to reduce your use of single use plastics and eco-friendly alternatives you can use instead.
1. Switch to reusable sandwich bags
Can you believe the average American uses over 500 sandwich bags per year?? And while they can be reusable to a certain extent, they can only take so many rinses before they need to hit the trash. The good news is there’s a simple and very handy solution. Reusable sandwich baggies! We love the ReZip from Blue Avocado 4-Piece Essential Set which includes four bags in a variety of sizes for all your snacking and lunchtime needs. These are perfect for taking to work, traveling, and hiking. We also keep one filled with kiddo snacks in the diaper bag at all times! Rumor has it our Founding Mama even gave these to everyone she knows for Christmas gifts last year…
2. Stop Using Saran Wrap
And start using Bee’s Wrap! All the convenience of saran wrap (which has really proved its value since having kids) without the waste! And that awkward stick-to-everything-you-dont-want-it-to-ness. Bee’s Wrap is made from organic cotton and sustainably harvested bees wax. It’s washable and, according to the manufacturer, can last up to a year with proper handling. We’ve used it, it works, it’s awesome. Did we mention it comes in great prints?
3. Get a Reusable Water Bottle
It’s a little surprising when we see people sipping artisanal bottled water then tossing the plastic bottle in the trash. It’s not only ironic, it’s a little dumbfounding considering the plethora of reusable water bottles on the market. Our favorite for on-the-go is the mighty Hydroflask. They claim they keep your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot and they’ve got that right. We once left our bottle under the Hawaiian sun for 4 hours and returned to find our H2O nice and chilly, ice still in tact.
4. Say No to (plastic) Straws
Straws have a way of just appearing in your drink. Ice tea? Long straw. Cocktail? Two tiny straws. Rarely are they asked for. But even more rarely are they asked NOT for. It’s a proactive step that requires actually stopping and thinking about the fact a straw is likely to appear in front of you after you asked for a water at a restaurant. And once one is put in your beverage, taking it out and not using it really doesn’t make a positive impact (although we have done it out of guilt). And to be honest, straws are pretty convenient. So why are they a big deal? Well, in the US alone we use about 500 million straws daily. And these puppies ain’t recycled.
So how do you cut the straw out of your life? Assume that you’re going to be served one in every single drink someone gives you and do your damndest to refuse it before it gets put in your drink. This will be hard to remember, but if every time you forget to do this you look at your straw and say “oh sh** I don’t want that!” it will eventually sink in and become habitual to ask for your drinks sans straw. Now what if you actually really like straws?? (me). You’re in luck. There are great options that aren’t those paper straws that disintegrate in you lemonade before you have a sip. There’s glass straws like these from Strawsome or stainless steel like these from Onyx. Either way, you’ll be sipping sustainably.
5. Bring Your Own Bags (everywhere)
Duh, right? But look around the grocery store the next time you’re there, think about what you do when you forget your bags in the car or at home, and think outside of the grocery store. Tons of people are still schlepping their groceries home in plastic bags. Even the best intentioned of us find ourselves in a bag conundrum at times. (“Can I carry it all to the car in my hands without dropping everything? Or do I just use the damn bag? I’ll reuse it for something, I promise!”) Now think about all the places plastic bags are used OUTSIDE of the grocery store. Target, the mall, the hardware store, etc etc etc. Try and keep a reusable bag in your purse/car/bike basket at all times and chances are you’ll find opportunities to use it. We’re loving Chico Bag’s rePETE sling bag. It’s made from 100% post-consumer recycled content and wraps up into a tiny compact ball you can fit anywhere.
6. Don’t Use Plastic Bags for Produce & Bulk Groceries
Have you ever filled up your cart with plastic bags of food that you carry out of the store in your reusable grocery bag? You’re not alone. While bringing containers to refill your bulk goods is a terrific option, it’s not always very practical… (what do you do with the 1/2 cup of quinoa left in your container in the pantry? What if the glass containers break? What if I can barely remember to bring my own bags let alone all my containers?) That’s why we invested in fabric bulk bags! Just toss em into one of your regular reusable grocery bags and keep them there for future shopping trips. We love these bags we found on Eartheasy because they have zippers to close them! No need for those wasteful little twist ties or risk of spilling almonds all over your car. As for your produce, just DON’T USE PLASTIC BAGS. Your broccoli doesn’t need to be in a separate plastic bag from your apples from your cucumber from your kale. Yeah, there might be a little water in your cart. And your produce will touch your cart and the checkout counter. But you really should be washing them anyways so…
7. No Plasticware Please
Some days cooking is the very very very last thing a mama wants to do. So you order take out from your favorite restaurant. You bring it home, unpack it from the reusable bag you brought in to pack it up into (right? ;)) and unload the 10 sets of plasticware individually packaged in plastic for you family of three. You then throw said plasticware sets into a junk drawer, let them sit there for five years, then throw them away during a random cleaning spree. Unnecessary clutter AND waste. With a super easy solution… when you call in your food or go to pick it up, just tell them you don’t want any cutlery! Any restaurant will be happy to omit it from your order.
Ok, but what if you need the cutlery? If you’re eating your takeout on the go, there are a few simple solutions to avoid plastic. One way to do it is just bring your own silverware from home. Our Founding Mama frequently finds forks in her purse. And all you have to do is wipe em down with some water before bringing back home where you can wash properly. Another eco-friendly option is bringing biodegradable utensils. This is a fantastic option if you think the aforementioned idea is gross or too bag-lady-ish. Our favorite for on the go is To-go Ware. They have bamboo cutlery sets that come in their own brightly colored cases so your fork and knife aren’t just swimming around your bag. They even have sets for the kids.
8. Choose Cans
Oh sparkly water… your vibrant fizz quenches our thirst while your essence of flavor imparts a little pizazz into our water consumption. Whether it’s water, coldbrew, juice, or soda, opt for the aluminum can over the plastic bottle. Americans use over 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR. And only about 27% of those are recycled. YIKES. And while by no means is aluminum a perfect solution, it does seem to be the better option. Why? About 70% of aluminum cans are made from recycled materials, which is ecologically “cheaper” than virgin. And cans are recycled at a higher rate than plastic, making them less likely to end up in the landfill or ocean.
9. Don’t Shave, Wax!
There are few grooming activities that are as wasteful as shaving. In fact, the EPA estimates that we throw away 2 billion blades a year and they aren’t recyclable. This is a surprising rate of waste. So what’s a mama to do? Not shave? Well, to be honest… since having babies shaving probably hasn’t been happening as frequently as it used to be. But if you rocking the stubble or full shiny leg locks isn’t your thang we have the solution that not only helps save the planet a little bit but saves you time and razor burn. Wax! Wax it all! Your pits, your legs, your other places. Find a salon that uses wax made from plant sources (not petrochemicals). Most use a muslin fabric to remove the hair which, yes, gets thrown away, but at least it’s not plastic that will float around the ocean forever. BONUS – your legs will stay softer longer, you only have to do it once every 4-6 weeks, and once you have kids a trip to the salon to get your hair ripped out of your body probably sounds relaxing!
10. Stop and Think!
Like most everything else, the easiest way to reduce your dependance on single use plastic is to just stop and think about your behavior. Take five minutes and think about the last five times you found yourself with plastic in your hand. Then think about if it was necessary, what other choices you could have made, and how you can change your behavior the next time you’re in the same situation. Little changes really add up! So do your best every day to be conscious with your shopping, consumption, and disposal.
Want To DO More?
In addition to cutting down on or eliminating the plastic waste we create, we all need to be participating in CLEANING IT UP! Do you live by the beach? Connect with your local Surfrider Chapter to get the deets on the next beach clean up. Landlocked? Check with your local city chamber for a calendar of community clean up events!