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.)
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.
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.
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.