Whether it has been recycled or is just sitting in a landfill, nearly every piece of plastic ever created still exists in some form. The fraction of plastic that does get recycled is shockingly low, sitting at just about 30%. The vast majority that isn't being recycled is accumulating in landfills or ending up as litter in roadways and water systems. Our society is making a shift towards disposable and/or single-use plastics and, according the the National Geographic, if current trends continue we can expect about 12 billion metric tons of plastic to end up in landfills. It can be extremely hard to give up plastic entirely, but small shifts in our behavior can make a huge difference in reducing our plastic pollution.
1. Reusable Bags
According to the EPA, Americans use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps every year. Although there are plastic bag drop-offs for recycling, most bags end up in landfills. By switching to reusable bags for shopping and produce items, you could dramatically lower your need for plastic.
2. Reusable Water Bottle
Americans use approximately 50 billion water bottles every year yet the recycling rate for plastic is only 23%. By bringing a reusable water bottle when you're at work, school, or on-the-go, you will reduce your need to buy a single-use plastic water bottle. Not only will you be saving natural resources but you will also save a lot of money over time.
3. Say No to Straws
500 million plastic drinking straws are used and disposed of every day. Many of these straws end up littering our road and waterways making them one of the most treacherous pollutants because of the harmful effects they have on marine animals. Next time you're out to eat or at a coffee shop, remember to ask for your drink without a straw. And, if you're with a group, encourage them to follow your lead! Change often starts with one person.
4. Avoid the Microplastics
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic (about the size of a sesame seed) that are found in many cosmetic and toiletry items including face wash and toothpaste. These small pieces of plastic get flushed down sinks and drains and end up in our water systems including oceans, lakes an rivers. Unfortunately, plastic does not break down or dissolve in water so it continues to pose a threat for marine life and birds. Studies are still being done to see what sort of long-term affects this might have on animal and human life, but what we do know is that avoiding it completely is a better option.
5. Pack In Or Pack Out Lunches
If you normally eat out for lunch, try packing your own lunch in a reusable container instead. Not only will you save some money, but you'll also avoid any single use plastics that your food might otherwise come in. In addition, if you do go out to eat for lunch, consider bringing your own Tupperware to the restaurant for leftovers instead of using the disposable to-go containers.
6. Shop in Bulk Bins
Many items such as nuts, fruits and beans are available in bulk bins which can be found at most grocery stores. By purchasing items from the bulk bins, you can avoid the single-use plastic that most items are wrapped in, and you can get the amount you need to avoid wasting food. Keep in mind that purchasing from bulk bins is not the same as buying in bulk because even though buying in bulk can be a better option to reduce excessive packaging, you'll find that you end up with more food than you need and it can be wasteful.
7. Buy Loose and Fresh
To go along with the tip above, buying fruits and veggies loose versus packaged will help lower your use of plastic. In addition, the small plastic bags that are available at grocery stores to put your food in is not at all necessary so if you're looking to use less plastic, you should skip them entirely. If you still prefer to bag your loose fruits and veggies, consider buying reusable produce bags to bring to the store with you. You can even find some that might increase the shelf life of certain foods!
8. Reusables at Parties
Parties and get-togethers are one of the most common places to see waste from disposable Styrofoam© plates and plastic silverware to one-time use decorations. Next time you host, consider using reusable and washable plates, cups and silverware instead of disposable. Not only will you reduce your waste, but it'll help make your party feel more personal and homey. In addition, if you do want to buy decorations, consider buying supplies that can be reused for years such as a universal "happy birthday" banner or cake topper.
9. Make Your Own Cleaners
In the U.S. we generate 1.6 million tons of harmful household chemicals with the average home accumulating as much as 300 pounds of household hazardous waste. By making your own cleaner in a reusable bottle, you'll avoid the single use plastic bottles that most cleaners come in and you'll greatly decrease harmful chemicals in your home. For recipes on DIY green cleaners, visit our green cleaner guide.
10. Get it Fixed
It's often easier for us to throw away common items when they break, but did you know you can get many of them fixed for free? In fact, every month Dakota County offers a free fix-it clinic where you can get expert help fixing common household items. Many residents have visited these clinics to fix old vacuum cleaners, broken fans, ripped clothing and so much more. To find an upcoming clinic near you, visit the Dakota County website and search "fix it."