5 Uber-Simple Ways to Reduce Personal Plastic Use

Photo Credit: Courtesy MourgueFile User serpico

OK, by now we’ve probably all heard at least something about the devastating effects of plastic on our ocean. Huge, swirling soups of plastic debris (sometimes called garbage patches). Derelict fishing gear. Marine wildlife entangled, cut, drowned, and choked by plastic.

So what can we do about it? Bringing our own bags to the store and carrying a reusable mug or water bottle are two fairly painless ways to start (check out this post and PSA from Surfing for Change to learn more). But it’s time to step it up. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to eschew the stuff.  Plastic is everywhere, but building good habits into our daily routines can be a big help. In that spirit, here are five more quick, inexpensive ways to reduce personal plastic use:

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1) Drop that Plastic Wrap — Plastic wrap (aka cling film) and zipper bags may be convenient for storing leftovers or toting a sandwich, but after a few hours of use, they go straight into the trash (most are not coded for recycling). Swap out the flimsy film for durable containers and you’ll be kicking a key part of the one-use plastic habit. Bonus: rigid containers like Tupperware or Pyrex keep lunch from getting smooshed in your bag or backpack. If space is an issue, try washable snack or sandwich bags, available in an array of colors online and at local department stores. One option is ReUsies, created by two Seattle moms who were tired of using so many plastic bags.

Photo Credit: bcmom

2) Buy in Bulk — In 2009, the U.S. alone generated 13 million tons of plastic containers and packaging. Buying products in bulk whenever possible is an excellent tactic for reducing food container waste. And it’s amazing what you can find in the bulk foods section these days: cereal, nuts, dried fruit, candy, rice, pasta, spices–the list goes on. In some stores, you can even bring your own bottle and purchase liquids like dish soap or honey in bulk. While you may walk away with a bag in hand, you’ll likely leave the store with less plastic packaging than if you purchased the same items from the shelf pre-wrapped. While you’re at it, buy items like yogurt in liter or gallon sizes and divvy up portions into reusable containers as soon as you get home. The process is quick if you do it all at once and it makes for grab-and-go convenience without the waste. Bonus: you’ll often save money by buying in quantity, too.

Photo Credit: Christine Hoekenga

3) Defy Gravity — You know the last pesky bit of lotion or shampoo that’s impossible to get out of the bottom of the bottle? You tip the container upside down, balance it precariously on it’s cap, and wait…until it tips over and gravity undoes any chance you had at getting your hands on it? Now you can thumb your nose at gravity and get every last ounce of your personal care products using a simple, ingenious tool: a bottle coupler. The coupler screws onto the bottle neck allowing you to attach two bottles and seamlessly drain the dregs of one into the other. One option on the market, the Lotion Saver, comes in a two-pack (one for large bottles, one for small) and estimates that it saves up to two ounces of product per use–which adds up to fewer plastic bottles over time. You can pick up a pair for about $3 U.S. from Amazon or the Container Store.

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4) Ditch the Straw (and Lid) — Even the most devout reusable cup carriers among us occasionally end up with a beverage in a disposable cup. But that doesn’t mean we have to take the plastic lid and straw that seem to automatically accompany many of these drinks. If you’re not traveling far with your beverage, simply don’t pick these items up, and you’re drink will be two-thirds more ocean friendly.

Photo Credit: rusvaplauke

5) Bag Your Veggies in Cloth, Too — If you’ve already banished the regular plastic grocery bag from your life, congratulations. The next step is to bid farewell to plastic produce bags. Swap them out for one of the many offerings of mesh bags designed to hold veggies and fruit. They’re super-light so you don’t end up paying more for your produce, and the checker can easily see what’s inside. A wide range of sizes and colors can be purchased online, including options with handy drawstrings.

Do you have quick tips for avoiding disposable plastic? Please share your suggestions and good habits in the comments section (click on the link above by the post date).

About the Author

Christine Hoekenga is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science, natural history, and sustainability. Her love for the ocean dates back to childhood when she was knocked face-down by her first wave on the California coast. Since then, Christine has been immersed in marine issues as a student, a SCUBA diver, a science writer, and an organizer and advocate for environmental nonprofits. Her interests include coral reefs, octopods, marine fisheries, and all types of citizen science projects.

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