Single-Use Plastic

A few years ago our son and daughter-in-law gave my wife and I metal, reusable “to-go” cups from Starbucks.  I started using it as my “water bottle” that I kept in the refrigerator.  This new cup displaced my occasional use of purchased plastic water bottles. Later I started carrying the Starbucks cup with me – not that I needed constant hydration, but just more convenience, say in the car on a trip.  And over time, we reduced, and ultimately eliminated, purchasing plastic bottled water.  No big deal; easy.  I knew plastic waste was a problem, but how big of a problem is it?  Really Big! And it’s getting much worse.  A recent report – Earth Day 2018 – provides 9 Facts on Single Use Plastics that reveal just how bad the problem is.  A quick scan of that fact list is alarming.  And although we recycle our plastic, most plastic is not recycled and about 1/3 of it ends up in the oceans.  And a lot of types of plastics cannot be recycled.  (Check your waste provider to see limitations.  I learned that certain yogurt cups are not recyclable.)  The expectations are that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish!  (I recently heard a comment that “we used to bring home a plastic bag with a fish in it but soon, we’ll bring home a fish with a plastic bag in it.”)  Recycling is important but the biggest thing we can do is consume less plastic.  So, my easy choice a few years ago to use a metal water bottle has done some good, but lots more can be done.

Here’s a list of ideas I can do (and have recently started doing) to reduce my plastic consumption:

Carry my water bottle to more places where I might otherwise use a plastic cup – say fast food places.

Decline any “would you like a bottled water?” offers from businesses such as hotels, car rental agencies, etc.

In lieu of plastic bags, always have my reusable shopping bags available – especially grocery stores.  (Some stores, e.g., Whole Foods, have free paper bags available for re-use if you forget yours.)

Reusable Vegetable Bags

Use reusable vegetable bags in lieu of plastic bags at the grocery store.  (Natural Home Reusable Produce Bags – a set of 5 – is available at Target and other stores for about $5.)  I think this saves me at least 5 plastic bags a week.

My “New” Reusable Coffee Bin

Rather than recycle, I can reuse my plastic coffee can and refill it with bulk coffee that is purchased in paper bags (which are also reusable).  I’m sure with the amount of coffee we drink, this saves a plastic Folgers can every month.  Same for spices – buy in bulk and refill the original plastic container rather than recycling it.

Biodegradable Garbage Bags

And instead of plastic garbage bags, use biodegradable bags.  (I found some 13 gallon Food Scraps and Yard Waste Bags by ProGreen on Amazon that work pretty well.)

Select products such as milk and juice that are not packaged in plastic.  Sodas and other drinks often come in plastic or aluminum or glass.  The product is the same but the impact on the planet is considerable. Always avoid plastic if possible. 

Reduce/eliminate “zip lock bags” by using reusable storage products.  (Currently I use a lot of zip-lock bags, and I’ve been pretty good about re-using them after a good washing, but using re-usable products, such as plastic storage containers, is a better long-term option.)

There are a growing number of individuals that have taken on the challenge of personally generating less waste.  Several of these individuals’ accomplishments are described in a recent National Geographic article  and what they’ve accomplished is impressive. Earth Day has a post that lists many more ideas on reducing plastic use and also has a calculator to help estimate the amount of plastic an individually consumes.

Oh, one more thing.  It’s not just about the plastic wasted and clogging our oceans; it’s also about energy consumed.  By reducing plastic consumption, we also reduce oil consumption. A study conducted in 2008 concluded that 1.6 Billion gallons of oil are used each year to make plastic bags alone.  I suspect that number has grown quite a bit since 2008.

13 thoughts on “Single-Use Plastic

  1. Mike,
    I enjoyed reading this first article of your new blog. Amazing how a gift from your children can change your life! I’ve always felt that I was environmentally conscious, but after reading this I realize that I have much to improve. Zip-lock bags are one of my biggest weaknesses – so handy. Replacing them with re-cycled plastic containers is a great idea. Here’s a thought/question: When a plastic item doesn’t have a re-cycle label, is it worse to throw it in the trash can or the recycle bin? I assume all plastic trash is guaranteed to find its way into the ocean whereas the latter approach, while not technically allowed, stands a chance of remaining on land.


    1. Thanks JemappelGuy (aka Guy). You raise a good question – recycle or trash if uncertain? More research required. In Dublin I was impressed with the detail our trash provider’s website had regarding what could and could not be recycled. I haven’t researched Houston yet. But Rita had another thought – something from our past (and perhaps yours too). She recalled how our parents and grandparents kept old butter tubs, cool whip tubs, coffee cans, etc. for later use for storing something. That’s one way to keep stuff from going into the ocean. But the best way (although not always possible) is to just buy stuff in non-plastic vessels.


      1. This is so wonderful Uncle Mike!!! I look forward to following your experiences and learning more! In response to Guy’s comment regarding better to trash or recycle specific items…it may boil down to the specific county restrictions as well. I recently learned that in Sarasota only a certain amount of “recycle bin litter” is allowed per *xyz certain unit of weight* and the entire lot may be sent to the landfill if it’s too littered. Maybe something to consider, but I also need to do more research!


      2. Cassie, I’m so glad you’re plugged in. Thanks for your comment. Interesting about limitations on the amount of recycling allowed – which I guess is governed on a contract by contract basis between the governing entity and the recycle company. I’m optimistic that your generation will do so much more toward saving the planet than our generation has done… so far….


  2. Great idea, Mike. I have a suggestion for you: DRAWDOWN: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawkins
    It’s in a serious positive vein.


    1. Thanks pattirichards527, these bags look great and a better price than the ones I found. Also, I like that some of them are large enough for large bunches of lettuces.


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