Since the 1950s, the U.S. has produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic. It takes more than 500 years for plastic to fully decompose, which means that the plastic we were producing in the Mad Men era is still in our landfills, oceans and forests today. That’s the kind of circular trend we don’t want to see.
But that bleak figure is only part of the larger story. In recent years, there has been a surge of awareness around the dangers plastic poses to our ecosystems and wildlife. Brands are producing beautiful and useful products that address the environmental concern surrounding plastic. You can shop for those sustainable products online or, sometimes, at your local grocery store. It has become easier than ever to integrate simple swaps in your everyday routine.
The first step to change is observing your relationship to plastic. How are you reliant on it? Do you find yourself unthinkingly taking a plastic bag in the produce aisle or a plastic straw for your iced coffee? How much plastic exists in your home, from bottles to bags to food wraps? Approach these questions with curiosity and then open yourself up to explore alternative options.
Here is my three-step approach to reducing plastic consumption:
Step 1: Switch to a reusable tote.
How many of us have pantries overflowing with plastic bags shoved haphazardly inside other plastic bags? We accumulate and then throw these bags away, rarely getting a second use out of them. Let’s end that harmful cycle by simply switching to a reusable bag.
If everyone in New York City alone used one less bag, we could reduce waste by 500 million pounds. Some local and state governments instituted citywide and statewide bans on plastic, including New York, which will ban almost all plastic in March 2019. If you opt for a plastic bag, you pay an extra fee, encouraging you to instead buy a reusable bag.
It’s convenient to carry a reusable bag in your purse or car, and it’ll always come in handy. My favorite bags come from Package Free Shop, which are 100% biodegradable and machine washable, but any type of tote (like the free ones you get at almost any event) will do. These bags, which you can often find with clever designs, can spark conversations and help you make a statement in more ways than one.
Step 2: Upgrade to a reusable water bottle.
I call this an upgrade purposefully. A reusable water bottle is cost effective and better at keeping your drink cold than a plastic bottle, which could sit in a landfill for 500+ years.
I like the LifeSky stainless steel bottle, which you can find online or in local shops. The sleek, minimal design looks great, and it fits perfectly in our reusable tote bag. You can refill at a water fountain or at a café during lunch. Of course, there are tons of other reusable water bottle options, too. Find the one that best suits your life and start using it daily.
The positive impacts to the environment are indisputable, but you’ll also reap some health benefits. With a reusable bottle on hand, you’ll be more likely to stay hydrated on the go, leaving you refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Step 3: Pack a reusable straw.
Plastic straws are used once and thrown away every day, adding to the amount of plastic in our landfills. Instead, opt for a stainless steel or silicone reusable straw.
Package Free offers stainless steel straws that keep your drinks cold and have no harmful environmental impact. My straw came as part of the Package Free kitchen starter kit, which is a great resource for those taking the first steps in their sustainability journey.
When you go to a restaurant, decline plastic straws and opt for your reusable one. Often, you’ll see your positive impact reflected in the smiles of the people around you. You may even inspire someone else to take steps towards reducing plastic in their own life.
Each of these alternatives can eliminate single-use, everyday plastic items that have a huge negative impact on our planet.
There are always reasons to choose what is convenient in the moment, but with a little planning and some small investments, we can make a significant difference in the world. One swap leads to another, snowballing into more meaningful impact for ourselves, the wildlife around us and future generations.Do you have any tips or products to share? Join us on Facebook and Instagram to continue the conversation.