Plastic Waste: A Huge Global Problem That Has A Solution
Plastics and plastic waste has become omnipresent in our lives. The use of plastics is widespread yet we have no real proper end of life management program. Plastics make up in almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, which is a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream. The largest category of plastics are found in containers and packaging (soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles, etc.), they also are found in durable products (appliances, furniture, etc.) and nondurable goods (diapers, trash bags, cups, utensils, medical devices, etc.).
The recycling rate for different types of plastic varies greatly, resulting in an overall plastics recycling rate of only 8 percent. This plastic waste ends up in landfills, beaches, rivers and oceans and contributes to such devastating problems as the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
Every day, mountains of used plastic, discarded consumer products and packaging head to landfills, wasting the materials and energy that created them. Many of us recycle our plastic containers at curbside and although this is important, an even better effort is to reduce the amount of plastics we buy and to reuse the items we do buy. Reducing and reusing can divert millions of tons of garbage from landfills every year. We offer the tips below to inspire you to reduce, reuse, and trim plastic from your life. Fortunately these are steps are quite easy.
Simple Steps You and I can Take to Reduce Plastic Waste
- Stop using plastic straws.
- Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag (wash them often).
- Buy products in boxes and glass containers instead of plastic bottles. Often you have options for milk, peanut butter, laundry soap, etc. You can carry fresh product in a reusable bag.
- Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging. The woman in front of me at the store was using recycled glass jars for her bulk oatmeal purchase.
- Store leftovers in containers that you can use again.
- Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, especially when ordering from a to-go shop. Starbucks supports this practice with a discount at my local coffee shop. Don’t get to-go coffee or hot drinks in disposable cups. Your drink lid and cup will live on for over 100 years. The lids and lining are plastic; again, bring your own or ask for a ceramic, reusable cup.
- Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
- Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
- Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic.
- Don’t use plastic ware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
- The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
- Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s certainly healthier and much better for the environment.
- Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
- Pack your lunch in reusable containers lunch box) and bags. Also, choose fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single serving plastic cups.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor
- Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store (or any store).
- Don’t buy beverages that come in plastic bottles; glass is a great alternative
- Carry your own reusable steel or ceramic beverage container.
- Go to the farmer’s market and purchase fresh fruits and veggies (not packaged in plastic).
- Don’t buy convenience foods packaged in plastic.
- Make your own bread, or buy bread from bakeries that package in paper.
- Clean with baking soda and vinegar instead of cleaners packaged in plastic bottles.
- Buy laundry detergent in boxes, not liquid in plastic containers.
- Buy farm fresh eggs in reusable paper containers.
- Do not use air fresheners. Light a candle or incense instead.
- Buy tortilla chips packaged in paper bags.
- Buy bulk coffee packaged in paper or in cans, or bring your own reusable containers.
- Buy milk in paper cartons.
- Buy peanut butter that is packaged in glass containers.
- Buy bar soap, not liquid body wash.
- Don’t use Ziploc bags. If you need to keep things like half an onion (happens to us all the time!) use aluminum or waxy paper, or a reusable container.
- Use cloth rags for clean up around the house.
- Put empty cardboard boxes in your car to transport heavy items to and from your car without a bag.
- Don’t use plastic cutting boards; use wood or glass.
- Use baby bottles made of glass.
- Use stainless steel Sippy cups for kids.
- Buy CDs packaged in cardboard or download, or stream.
- Use junk mail and other paper to stuff into big packages to ship instead of bubble wrap or air filled plastic.
- Use rechargeable batteries to reduce buying batteries packaged in plastic.
- Look for items with little or no packaging.
- Replace bottled water with filtered tap water.
- Buy used items – electronics, furniture, clothing, bikes, and household items.
- Refill toner cartridges.
- Avoid disposable products: bags, plastic utensils, razors, pens, lighters, batteries.
- Urge your grocery store to carry products in bulk, or those that have reduced or recycled packaging. I have been asking stores to not automatically print a receipt, but ask; stores are starting to ask.
- Ask your nursery if they’ll take back plastic plant pots. Both of the nurseries near my home have a special spot in their parking lot to leave used plastic pots.
- Choose long-lasting metal or wood toys and products rather than plastic.
- Rent items that will only be used a short time. See if your community has a tool lending library.
- Complete the loop by buying products made with recycled materials, such as recycled paper, glass, and plastic.
- Contact the manufacturer of products whose packaging isn’t recyclable and ask them to choose better packaging.
Additional Sources of Information: Plastic Waste
- EPA – Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials
- EPA – General Overview of What’s In America’s Trash
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