Plastic is a modern material, used in many aspects of daily life and therefore a big part of the waste stream. It’s not easy to imagine the plastic straw used to sip a Coca-Cola in in a movie theatre becoming an attractive snack for a marine animal, but once waterborne, plastic travels. Everything is interconnected – streets and landfills connect to storm drains, which lead to rivers that empty into the ocean. Once that plastic straw, plastic bag, or water bottle enters the marine environment, it can travel hundreds of miles from its starting point, carried by currents and winds.
Plastic is also one of the most enduring materials we make; it takes an estimated 500 to 1,000 years for it to degrade, but 50 percent of the plastic we produce is used once and then thrown away. Eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
So how do we solve it? On one hand, the marine debris problem is very simple: humans put debris in the marine environment, which means that we can stop it from happening. As individuals, we need to change how we live. That starts with rethinking our plastic use. Kicking the plastic habit can be daunting at first, especially considering the world that we live in where it seems like everything consists of some form of plastic.
In today’s post, I want to share a few plastic products that you can begin phasing out of your everyday life today. And, before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to living a plastic-free lifestyle!
Over 500,000,000 straws are used every single day in the United States alone. These straws inevitably end up in landfills once you’re finished your drink, and often go on to find a home in the ocean where they post a huge risk to marine life. It’s only within the last twenty years that we’ve become accustomed to having a straw floating in our drink whenever we sit down at a bar or restaurant. And really, there’s no need for it. Chances are if you’re reading this article you’re able to tip a glass up to your mouth and enjoy a drink without a straw. Try to make a conscious effort when dining out to kindly ask the server not to bring a straw with your drink, or invest in a reusable straw if you’re really that dead set on using them.
Plastic Egg Cartons
Right next to the plastic egg cartons are paper egg cartons which can be recycled and which will eventually break down, unlike plastic egg cartons. When you’re at the grocery store, be sure to opt for eggs in a paper carton as opposed to plastic, and keep that in mind for other products as well; if you can purchase it in a paper container instead, or better yet no container at all, always try to choose that option over plastic.
This is one I really can’t wrap my head around. Fruits and vegetables come in a packaging that mother nature clothed them in and that’s more than enough. Wrapping produce again in harmful single-use plastic of all things is a gross misuse of resources and utterly unnecessary. I know people will try to argue that triple washed produce that’s wrapped nicely in plastic is much more convenient, but quite simply that’s a selfish excuse and your purchase is just contributing to another piece of plastic in the ocean. Instead, set aside some extra time to prepare your meals and buy your produce loose and without plastic packaging.
Plastic Shopping Bags
One million shopping bags are used every single minute across the world – that’s a lot of bags! Most plastic grocery bags are single use and end up in a landfill after you get home from the store and throw them out. Plastic bags are also among one of the most endangering debris items to marine life. Next time you go grocery shopping, invest in a reusable bag or put your groceries in a cardboard box instead.
I personally find water bottles to be an unnecessary expense for most people living in the developed world. Most of us have plenty of access to clean drinking water through taps in our homes, yet still, choose to spend our hard earned money on such a harmful and useless product. In addition to being a harmful plastic product threatening our oceans ecosystems, water bottles take 25% of their volume in oil to make each bottle. That’s a lot of fossil fuels. The solution to this one is easy; invest in a reusable water bottle and save yourself money and a huge carbon footprint.
Cofee Cup Lids
Ideally, you really want to give up takeout coffee cups altogether and purchase a reusable coffee mug instead. Paper coffee cups aren’t even in the clear of the plastic plague; they’re lined with polyethylene, a type of resin made from plastic. However, if you need to start somewhere, try to avoid putting a lid on your cup and while you’re at it, say no to the extra sleeve, double cup, and plastic stir stick as well.
Instead of buying plastic plates, cups, forks, and knives next time you’re hosting a party, use your own plates and silverware. If you have kids or are worried about someone breaking your good plates, consider investing in a cheap set of ceramic plates and silverware (you can get them from the Dollar store!) and only bring them out when entertaining guests. “But plastic is so much easier! There are no dishes to clean afterward!” Seriously, then don’t host the party. That’s just being lazy and the planet is paying for it. If you’re really against doing dishes, try to plan a gathering with finger foods your guests can eat off of napkins. No plastic to harm the earth and no dishes for you to do.
I know Ziploc bags can be convienent for packing snacks to take to school/work or storing leftovers in the fridge, but these bags are one of the most deadliest plastic items to marine life and are in the top ten pollutants found in our oceans. Instead opt for glass jars, glass food containers, aluminum foil (which can be used over and over), or parchment paper. When I was in elementary school we used to have “garbage free lunch days” where you would try to pack a lunch that essentially had no waste to be thrown out – it was always fun to challenge myself to pack all of my snacks in glass containers and made me recognize, from a very young age, how much waste we actually produce. Whether you have kids or a student or working adult, try to pack a garbage free lunch one a week. It will really open your eyes to how much unnecessary crap humans leave on this planet and put our impact into perspective.
There are a plethora of health concerns to explain why you shouldn’t be consuming frozen dinners, for their low nutritional value to plastic leaking chemicals leaking into your food, but from an environmental perspective they’re just as harmful to the planet’s health as they are to human health. These pre-cooked meals come wrapped in plastic that, as we know, will never break down. While your quick meal may have saved you time or effort during your busy day, it cost the planet a lifetime of plastic in a landfill. Instead, try to plan your meals ahead of time and prepare for busy days by meal prepping and putting your food into glass containers – that way when you find yourself slammed without time to cook you can reach for one of your healthier, and more environmentally friendly pre-cooked meals instead of a frozen dinner.
Plastic Takeout Containers
This goes hand in hand with the last point; if you find yourself too busy to prepare food and needing to get takeout, try to research restaurants in your local area that use environmentally friendly takeout containers or something less impactful such as paper instead of plastic. If you’re out at a restaurant try not to order more than what you’ll actually eat. You’ll save a ton of food waste, which is another huge issue in itself, and avoid having to grab a takeout container. If you do find yourself with some leftovers at the end of the meal, you can always try asking your server if the restaurant has any more environmentally friendly means of letting you take your leftovers home with you.