While many people are working on health and fitness goals in January, another goal to consider is using less plastic.
Plastics are the workhorse of our disposable culture, and we find different types in bags, bottles and other containers to store and carry food. We also find plastic in everyday products such as lotions, shampoos, soaps, cleaners, makeup, etc.
Single-use plastic such as wrappers, cutlery, lids, straws and grocery bags are big business. In 2014, an estimated 100 billion plastic bags were used in the United States. That is almost one bag per person per day.
Plastic is everywhere, and there is no turning back from the staggering fact that we live in a world of plastic.
Why do we need to decrease plastic consumption? For one, even though plastics can be recycled, only about one-fifth of plastic actually does get recycled, and single-use plastic has a very low chance of being recycled. Microplastics can be found in drinking water and our landfills, and the oceans are full of plastic.
Plastic doesn’t break down quickly, and it is estimated that it takes from 100 to 1,000 years for plastic to biodegrade. This is an enormous load on our environment.
Research also suggests a correlation between plastic and human health, including increased risk of obesity, insulin resistance, thyroid and reproductive issues as well as cancer and heart disease. While more research is needed, it is clear that our world of plastic is linked to human health as well as the health of our planet.
And, while we won’t be able to get away from plastic, we can strive to use less. When thinking about the use of plastic, it does require a shift, since Americans are trained to use many forms of plastic in everyday life.
Here are eight simple ways to slow down your use of plastic:
Analyze packaging and aim to use less or choose more sustainable versions such as paper or recyclable packaging. Choose food without packaging, including “naked” produce, and shop in bulk for grains and nuts. You can find cloth bags online to reuse for produce and bulk grains and nuts.
Use plastic-free containers, such as glass or stainless steel, and look for reusable options for plastic cling wrap and sandwich bags. Silicon sandwich bags or resin-coated cloth are wonderful alternatives.
Look for the recycle symbol on packaging and make a weekly effort to recycle plastic that is used. Paper and cans can be recycled as well.
Take your own bags to the grocery store. Keep them in your car after putting groceries away, but if you forget, ask for paper bags instead of plastic.
Purchase and use your own glass or stainless-steel bottle or mug for beverages like water and coffee.
When eating out, ask for no straw, and bring your own glass or stainless-steel straw to restaurants and for takeout drinks. Also ask restaurants to leave off plastic utensils when ordering takeout. Keep sets of bamboo tableware in your car if needed.
Bring your own takeout container to restaurants. Keep it in your car, and if you do get plastic takeout boxes, instead of throwing them out after one use, clean and reuse.
Avoid reheating foods in the microwave that contain plastic. While research is still controversial about how much plastic ends up in your food, err on the side of caution and stop using any type of plastic in the microwave, oven or stovetop.
Be patient during the transition. Start slow. Evaluate what you can use in each category, and start by using inexpensive grocery bags when food shopping. Next, explore options for other bags and containers for the grocery store, home and restaurants.
It takes time to get used to remembering to bring and use your own grocery and produce bags as well as straws and takeout containers to restaurants. Keep working on it until it becomes a habit.
Reducing your plastic habit in 2020 and beyond will help you, your family and the planet.