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Take a minute to think about the sheer amount of plastic you use every single day. We’re not just talking to plastic bags you get at the grocery store when you forget your reusable bags, but the plastic that is ever-present in so many facets of our reality. Some common items we use every day that are made of plastic include:
- Soda Bottles
- Juice and Tea Bottles
- Nut-Butter Jars
- Plastic Lids
- Milk Jugs
- Plastic Wrap
- Food Packaging
- Grocery Bags
- Shower Curtains
- Personal Care Product Packaging
How Much Plastic Do We Really Use?
Even though plastic has only been around since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the use of plastic began to gain in popularity. The plastic grocery bags that are everywhere today were introduced to America in 1979 and by 1985 over 75% of grocery stores were offering them to customers.
In the last ten years, we have produced more plastic then we did in the entire last century. We throw enough of it away each year to circle the earth four times and half of the plastic we use is only used once and then thrown away. Speaking of throwing plastic away, the average American throws away close to 200 pounds of plastic every year.
The Effect of Plastic on the Environment and Your Health
Plastic is polluting our oceans and lakes, taking over these beautiful waters with its over-abundant production. In Los Angeles, approximately 10 metric tons of plastic debris makes its way into the Pacific Ocean every single day. In the Great Lakes, tiny plastic beads that are used in various toiletries have been found and there are plastic “islands” that can be found floating in our oceans.
Not only is plastic polluting our environment, but it is damaging to our health as well. To get specific characteristics of different plastics, manufacturers must add different chemicals to the plastic to achieve desired results. These include pthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), both of which are known endocrine disruptors.
Both extremely toxic to the human body, these chemicals are known to produce some side effects that aren’t very pretty. Pthalates make deposits in the fatty tissue of the body and are responsible for conditions such as testicular cancers, abnormal breast growth, and male reproductive disorders.
BPA is the chemical that is found in food grade plastics known as polycarbonates. This carcinogenic chemical has shown to cause breast and prostate concerns and is damaging to human placental tissues.
To say that plastic waste has become an epidemic would almost be putting it mildly. It’s past time to get rid of the ridiculous amounts of plastic that we’re exposed to every day. There are ways to make a difference as you consciously cut your plastic consumption down to a minimum.
Try incorporating some of the following into your life as you pledge to kick plastic to the curb.
14 Tips for Using Less Plastic
1. Stop Drinking Bottled Water
Our habit of drinking water out of a plastic bottle has skyrocketed and more than 60 million water bottles end up in landfills every day. Not only are plastic water bottles quickly filling up our landfills, but they’re expensive and often less-regulated for quality than tap water is.
At home, make the switch to tap water. If you’re worried about the quality or contaminants in your water, install a water filter on your faucet. The one-time investment of a water filter will quickly pay for itself when you stop buying unnecessary plastic water bottles.
When taking your water with you, opt for a stainless steel water bottle. Avoid reusable plastic water bottles, even if they claim to be BPA free. The idea is to eliminate plastic, not replace one plastic with another. Beware of aluminum water bottles that are often lined with an epoxy resin that contains BPA.
2. Avoid Buying Items Packaged in Plastic
The next time you’re at the grocery store, stop for a minute and really notice how much of the products we use every day are put in plastic. Juice, condiments, sauces, cookies, crackers, butter, nut butters, eggs, cheese…It seems like pretty much everything is packaged in plastic.
There are usually glass, metal, or cardboard alternatives for many of the products that you buy on a regular basis. There are also the times when it simply can’t be avoided. If you have to purchase something packaged in plastic, avoid plastics with #3, #6, or #7 on the bottom of the package. These plastics pose more of a health risk and are difficult to recycle.
3. Stop Using Plastic Wrap
There’s no doubt that plastic wrap comes in handy, but as much convenience as it offers, it’s really not worth it. It doesn’t really recycle and often contains PVC, which is a known human carcinogen. There’s no reason you have to stop wrapping things up though. Choose to store food in glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel containers instead. While many of these storage containers are fitted with plastic lids, they won’t leach toxins into your food if they don’t come in contact with it. Using glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel also keeps used plastic wrap out of our landfills.
4. Use Reusable, Cloth Grocery Bags
Almost 2 million plastic bags are used each minute worldwide and over a trillion are used every year. Each time you forget your reusable bags at home, you’re only contributing to the problem. Make a commitment to yourself to only use reusable, cloth bags for all your shopping needs.
Keep extra bags not just at home, but in your car as well. The next time you’re shopping for whatever your needs may be (not just at the grocery store) be sure to take your cloth bags with you and become part of the solution to the plastic bag pandemic that has literally swept across the entire globe.
5. Buy in Bulk
Take things a step further when shopping by purchasing as much food in bulk that you can. There are numerous health food stores that have a wide variety of bulk bins for many of your shopping needs. Flours, sugar, nuts, cereals, grains, pasta, spices, and even some personal care products can be purchased in bulk. Rather than filling the plastic bags that are usually offered in bulk departments, bring your own reusable bulk bags or containers.
For things you love that you normally purchase in single-use packaging (yogurt, cheese, juice), promise yourself that from now on you’ll only buy these items in bulk sizes. While it’s not always easy to find yogurt in a glass jar, buying one large plastic tub is much better than a case of small containers. Use your own reusable containers to take these foods on-the-go and you’ll definitely begin to cut down on your plastic consumption.
6. Avoid Canned Foods
While canned foods are an obvious better choice than foods stored in plastic, many food cans often contain a lining that is made from BPA. A study that was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association stated that eating canned foods is responsible for dramatically increasing your exposure to BPA. Instead of buying soups, beans, and other items in aluminum cans, make them yourself and store them in glass bottles. You can also freeze soups and reheat them later. Instead of buying canned fruits and vegetables, consider eating in season and only purchasing these products fresh.
7. Invest in a Reusable Mug
You’re not still getting your iced-coffee or smoothie in the plastic to-go cup that’s offered to you, are you? Just in case you are, it’s time to start thinking about investing in a reusable mug. There’s a huge variety of reusable mugs on the market that can hold your to-go drink just as well as that disposable plastic cup. Keep a reusable coffee mug in your car to avoid single-use paper cups that come with plastic lids. If you’re stopping for a fresh juice or smoothie, think about investing in a thermos that will keep your drinks cold and eliminate the need to throw something away every time you need a healthy fix.
8. Stop Using Straws
Americans use over 500 million drinking straws each and every day. To get a clearer picture of just how many straws 500 million really is, this number would fill over 125 school buses. This is every day, too. Imagine what dumping out 125 school buses a day would look like in a landfill!
A simple way to stop using so much plastic is to cut out your plastic straw consumption. When eating out ask to skip the straw and you’ll begin to feel amazing about your contribution to the environment. If you love drinking from straws, (like many of us do) you can purchase reusable glass or metal straws from a number of different eco-conscious retailers.
9. Bring Your Own Container for Take-Out
Does your busy life have you headed for take-out during the week? If the restaurant will allow it, ask if they can put your take-out in the reusable containers you supply. Many restaurants are steering away from harmful clamshell, Styrofoam containers that might contain PVC and are opting for unbleached boxes instead. While these are no doubt a better choice, if it’s allowed, always opt to bring your own.
10. Say No to Plastic Cutlery
Take-out, picnics, and other instances usually offer a spread of plastic forks, knives, and spoons for your eating pleasure. The thing is these plastic utensils often contain polystyrene (a possible carcinogen) that leaches into the food you eat. When possible, always choose to eat with metal silverware or bamboo alternatives. There are many eco-conscious companies that make bamboo cutlery sets that are meant to be taken with you.
11. Buy Products Made from Natural Fibers
You don’t often think about the plastic you use being a part of what you wear on your body, but fabrics such as polyester and nylon are both made of plastic. This means that your clothing, bedding, towels, and other household accessories are often made up of plastic. When possible, avoid these materials when buying clothes or bedding and choose items made of cotton, hemp, or wool instead.
12. Skip Bagging Your Fruits and Veggies
All those thin plastic baggies you put your fruits and vegetables in at the grocery store aren’t necessary at all. While we hear all about how bad plastic shopping bags are, there’s never any mention of the plastic produce bags we continue to use every day. There’s no reason you need a separate plastic baggie for each single produce item you grab and everything you buy can easily fit nicely inside one reusable bag.
While skipping bagging fruits and veggies may leave you wondering how you’re ever going to keep these products fresh, remember that we’ve only been using them since the 60s. There are plenty of ways to keep your produce fresh without the need for plastic. Many of the common produce items you keep in the fridge in plastic bags don’t even need refrigeration (think apples, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and zucchini) and others will do fine wrapped in a damp cotton cloth.
13. Buy Meats and Cheeses From the Deli
Most meats and cheeses are sold in plastic packaging. If you’re ready to make a commitment to using less plastic, this is one area that is easy to overlook. The next time you go to stock up on meat and cheese, head straight over to the deli counter instead of your meat and dairy aisles.
When you shop at the deli counter for meat and cheese, you can avoid plastic packaging of these items all together by bringing your own containers. If you don’t have containers or you forgot them at home, ask the butcher to wrap your products in parchment paper rather than putting them in a plastic bag.
14. Dispose of Electronics and Plastic Gadgets Responsibly
One of the biggest uses of plastics comes from the vast array of appliances, electronics, and gadgets we all use on a daily basis. Computers, telephones, toasters, kitchen items, and much more are all made out of plastic. When you can’t recycle an old item, consider donating or selling it instead. While it’s pretty much impossible to avoid plastics used in electronics, it is possible to make sure they’re not just thrown away when their time has come.
The Bottom Line
With this arsenal of easy tips for using less plastic, you’ll be sure to make an impact on not only the environment, but your health as well. Just because we’re faced with so many plastic options, doesn’t mean we can’t come up with just as many solutions.