Second only to the threat of global warming, the impact of plastics on the environment has become forefront on many people’s minds lately.
I think we’ve all seen the horrifying videos: A whale washed up on the beach with a belly full of plastic, a sea turtle with a plastic straw embedded in its nose, the Great Pacific garbage patch that more closely resembles a continent than a patch. It’s clear that plastic has become a big problem.
While ensuring corporations and government officials are held accountable, we can all do our part to cut down on the plastics littering the ocean and clogging landfills (it takes 1,000 years for plastic to decompose!) but it doesn’t have to mean overhauling our entire lives and never using any plastics ever again. It means starting from where we are and doing what we can, because small steps really can make a big difference.
To start, make note of what plastic products you tend to use a lot of, and where it might be possible to make a change.
Hooked on single-use bottled water? Try to get into the habit of bringing a reusable water bottle whenever you leave the house. Too tired to do dishes sometimes? Switch from plastic plates and cutlery to biodegradable and compostable ones, and from plastic straws to paper or glass ones. If you already bring your own cloth bags while grocery shopping, try also forgoing plastic produce bags and see if your store allows you to bring reusable containers for bulk items.
Personally, I’ve noticed that I tend to go through a lot of body care products that come in plastic bottles, like shampoo and moisturizers and cosmetics, so cutting that down is a priority for me.
I love the Lush Naked line, which comes package-free and includes bath bombs, shampoo bars, soap, and bubble bars. Elate cosmetics packages their makeup in bamboo and offers refills. And, even easier, most shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bottles are recyclable, and big name brands like Aveda and Garnier have made a commitment to using post-consumer recycled materials in their packaging.
Take a DIY approach.
Vinegar (in a glass bottle) and baking soda (in a cardboard box) both make great all-purpose cleaners. Try making some face and body scrubs from natural and low-waste ingredients. If you have the time, maybe even buy an inexpensive juicer and make juice from fresh fruit instead of buying it in plastic bottles from the store. And if you really want to get into it, you can DIY toothpaste, deodorant, and laundry detergent.
Containers and bags for food storage make up a lot of my plastic usage as well.
While throwing away all of my plastic food containers in favor of glass or metal doesn’t seem very eco-friendly, nor can I afford to do that, I am making an effort to replace them as they wear out or, more realistically, the lid disappears never to return. Mason jars are an easy and cheap substitution for plastic containers, along with glass and stainless steel containers made for food storage.
There are also beeswax food wraps that can be used again and again and are quite popular now, though I haven’t tried them myself yet. Easiest of all is washing and reusing jars from the foods you’re buying anyway like jellies, pasta sauces, and pickles (though it takes a few washes and some baking soda to get the pickle smell out) to store leftovers, fill with pantry staples, or as a container for that new DIY face scrub you just whipped up.
Reconsider some shopping habits.
Something as simple as buying second-hand keeps plastics like toys or home goods that are already in rotation out of landfills and reduces the number of new products being made. Even clothes contribute to the plastic build up in the ocean, so thrift when you can. Shop at the farmer’s market or grow your own veggies, herbs, fruits, etc. if you’re able, or join a farm co-op if there’s one near you.
Finally, reducing plastic waste shouldn’t fall solely to individuals.
Consumer habits do influence corporate policies, but it shouldn’t have to. There are grassroots organizations seeking to make changes at the corporate and government level, such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Surfrider Foundation, in which you can take part and support.
As overwhelming an issue as this seems, it’s important to remember that though most people can’t go 100 percent zero waste, and in families with limited budgets this is often especially true, we can all make small changes to reduce plastic waste.