You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a giant floating mass of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Experts guess that it’s somewhere between the size of Texas and of the continental United States. Because it is floating, the pieces are difficult to see from far away, and a precise estimate is difficult. However, we do know that about 20 billion pounds of plastic are added to it each year — roughly 10 percent of all the plastic we toss in the trash annually.
To prevent this mass from growing, the best thing we can do is cut back over here on dry land. Here are a few super easy tips for reducing the plastic waste you create on a daily basis.
1. Choose reusable water bottles and travel mugs, and cut out bottled beverages where possible
A lot of disposable water bottles end up in the trash, and paper coffee cups are made with a plastic lining, so they are a mixed material that can’t be recycled. But reusable water bottles and travel mugs are easy to find and reuse, and are made from a variety of materials, so you can choose what appeals to you. It doesn’t take long for them to earn their keep, especially now that bottled water tends to cost more than a dollar, and a lot of coffee shops offer discounts when you bring your own thermos or mug. Also, when you have your own beverage containers, you can switch from purchasing other favorite beverages to making them at home, or buy them in bulk, so that you’re not consuming so many single-use beverage containers.
2. Reusable tote bags, sandwich bags, produce bags
Reusable tote bags are common these days — try keeping some in your car so that you always have some on hand for shopping trips. You can either skip using produce bags altogether (you’re going to end up rinsing produce once you’re home, anyway), or use reusable cloth bags (you can make your own from old fabric or purchase some). You can also choose reusable sandwich and snack bags over disposable — they simply need to be washed or wiped out between uses.
3. No more disposable straws or utensils
Whenever you order a beverage, inform your server that you don’t need a straw. If you like to use straws at home, there are reusable steel, glass, or bamboo options. Plastic utensils? Try carrying your own for eating on the go, such as a reusable steel or bamboo set, and stash some at the office. Also, say “no, thank you” to disposable utensils when picking up takeout.
4. Switch out your plastic food containers and BYO carryout container
Food storage containers made of glass or metal tends to be safer and more versatile than plastic varieties. Glass containers are often oven-safe, so you don’t have to use multiple dishes to reheat your food. Glass and metal also don’t age or stain like hard plastic will, so you won’t end up tossing as many of them over time. A good habit to get into is bringing your own reusable containers to restaurants, so you don’t end up carrying leftovers home in a single-use container.
5. Choose boxes over plastic bottles and bags
Choose items packaged in cardboard over items packaged in plastic when you have a choice, such as when buying pasta or detergents. Cardboard tends to be easier to recycle, and biodegrades more quickly and safely than plastic.
6. Buy in bulk (and save money!)
Instead of buying foods packaged as single-serving or that come in small, disposable containers, try buying more foods from the bulk bins at your grocery store. Many grains, pastas, granolas, nuts, dried fruit and candy can all commonly be purchased in bulk, which is often much cheaper as well. You can even bring your own refillable containers (and ask to have them weighed first) so that you can skip using the store’s plastic bags.
7. Return reusable containers
When farmer’s markets and nurseries give you plastic containers, you can bring them back to be reused. Putting an item to reuse is always better than recycling.
Remember, even though these choices might seem small, the effects add up over time. If you can picture every tenth piece of plastic you throw away ending up in the ocean, you can really see how even the tiniest of actions to reduce waste can help protect our environment.