5 Powerful Ways to Reduce Your Single-Use Plastic in the New Year
By Allegra Cook
It’s that time of year when the goals on your New Year’s resolution list either become permanent habits or start to fade away. But if being more environmentally conscious was on your list, it doesn’t have to be hard.
Reducing your single-use plastics is a simple change that makes a huge difference in the plastic pollution problem. And once you make alternative options a part of your daily routine, it’s an easy habit to keep up throughout the year.
You know that plastic pollution is a problem. You’re passionate about the environment, but you doubt changing your habits makes a difference in the grand scheme. The plastic crisis is so big – can you really make an impact as one individual?
The short answer: absolutely.
Plastic bags pollute the environment, causing negative health effects for wildlife. One person alone throws away around 307 plastic bags a year. So minimizing your personal contribution does make an impact.
Changing your whole lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly can be overwhelming.
But you don’t need to line your house with solar panels, buy an electric car, and start growing your own vegetables all at once. Start with reducing your daily single-use plastic consumption. It’s simple but goes a long way.
How Single-Use Plastics Affect the Environment
Single-use plastics are products designed for you to throw out after one use. Some examples are sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and plastic water bottles. Or those plastic plates you use when you don’t feel like washing the dishes (I’ve been there too).
These products come and go out of your house quickly. And since only a small percentage gets recycled, 75% of plastic ends up in waste, polluting landfills and oceans. This causes health problems for both wildlife and the people who consume that wildlife.
Although they’re convenient at the moment, single-use plastics stick around long past your lifetime. And even your great-grandchildren’s lifetime.
These plastics are made of fossil fuels and take hundreds of years to biodegrade. In fact, a plastic bag takes at least 500 years to degrade in a landfill. Even then, their toxins get absorbed into the environment and continue to pollute it.
What’s worse is a large portion of plastic doesn’t even make it to a landfill. Instead, it ends up in the oceans – harming the natural ecosystem and animals.
These are a few ways plastic is affecting the ocean’s health and ours (yes, there are scary health effects of plastic waste):
- 100,000 marine animals die from plastic bags each year. More than 267 different species mistake plastic for food, including sea turtles, fish, and birds.1
- Microplastics pollute the seafood you’re eating. And there’s a correlation between microplastics and health effects like infertility and cancer.
- It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 million plastic bags that Americans use each year.1
If those numbers sound shocking to you, you’re not alone. But even as awareness of this crisis grows, most people aren’t changing their habits.
The US is working on addressing the plastic problem. But so far, only eight states have adopted a ban on single-use plastics. Although that’s an important first step, real change starts by reducing the use of single-use plastic on an individual level.
Luckily, there are simple ways for you to reduce plastic pollution in the environment. You don’t have to change your whole lifestyle. Making little effort each day to reduce your consumption leads to big results.
5 Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic
Switching to reusable containers doesn’t have to be inconvenient. In fact, there are many easy alternatives to single-use plastic if you know what to look for.
Start with your household supplies. Food storage and cleaning products are usually designed for single-use, but both have easy substitutes. Then, consider the things you grab on-the-go on a daily basis. Using them once a day might seem insignificant, but they build up over time.
The following 5 items easily replace the plastic ones you use every day. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There are countless brands making it easier than ever to reduce your plastic use.
1. Plastic-Free Food Storage
The average person uses close to one pound worth of plastic sandwich bags a year. You usually throw them away after just one use. Instead, replace them with long-lasting reusable bags. Or consider switching to eco-friendly single-use bags that are 100% compostable – so they’ll degrade naturally.
2. At-Home Water Filter
Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year. And many people use plastic water bottles even when they’re at home. Instead, use a water filter and reusable bottle. This sounds so simple, but many people don’t do it. You could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.
3. Reusable Cup (and Straw!)
You’re already busy getting out of the door in the morning. You don’t have to start making your coffee at home – but you should bring a reusable cup to your coffee shop. Make sure your reusable cup includes a straw. Americans use 500 million straws in the US every day. That amount could fill over 127 school buses. If you forget to bring one, just ask for your drink without it!
4. Refillable Cleaning Products
Most traditional cleaning products come in single-use bottles, but plenty of companies now offer alternatives. For example, you can use a service that sends tablets that turn into detergents when you combine them with water. Just keep a glass spray bottle to refill each month (which is infinitely recyclable).
It’s a simple way to ditch the bottles you use for soap and cleaning supplies that make up a huge percentage of plastic waste.
5. Travel Cutlery Set
Plastic cutlery isn’t recycled easily, so many end up in landfills and take centuries to degrade. If you get take-out that comes with plastic cutlery often, invest in a reusable travel set. Once you’re done, put it back in the case and throw it in the dishwasher when you get home. That way, you don’t even have to add any inconvenience to your day.
This list is just the beginning of reusable alternatives available. Once you start using them, you’ll realize it’s easier to reduce your own plastic footprint than you thought. We need the collective action of people making change on an individual level in order to make a big impact.
Help the Ocean: Stop Using Single-Use Plastic
You have a lot of things on your New Year’s resolution list. Adding a commitment to reducing your single-use plastic is simple and doesn’t have to take up extra time. Reversing plastic pollution can feel like a huge problem that you can’t solve. But change actually starts with your simple daily actions.
That’s one thing you can be proud of at the end of the year (even if you’ve already started skipping the gym). If you don’t think you can change your daily habits, consider donating to an organization like Ocean Blue Project that helps offset your plastic footprint. Ocean Blue Project commits to removing one pound of plastic per dollar donated.
Bio: Allegra is a freelance copywriter by trade and ocean enthusiast by habit. As a scuba diver she finds inspiration under the ocean’s surface. You can see her work and services at allegracookcopy.com