While researching/writing this post, with the aim to ‘do as we preach’, I have found it is almost impossible to go without the use of plastic these days!! Many of us don’t have the resources or time to shop at local stores with our own mason jars, some of us don’t have the motivation to use and wash cloth diapers and a few of us are just too fond of the frozen food section (yours truly included).
So this article is not about how we can totally eliminate our use of plastic just yet (although it’s a pretty nice objective to work towards) but rather to start with a few simple steps that can already make a big difference in our plastic waste and work our way from there.
1. Avoid fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic
Bananas, melons and any other larger sized fruit and vegetables don’t need their own plastic bag when shopping at the supermarket. Don’t even get me started on the trend where pre–peeled oranges are re-wrapped in plastic again “for our convenience”. When shopping at a supermarket, try not to individually bag all your fresh produce and avoid the pre-peeled-re-wrapped-in-plastic fruits and peel them yourselves like a big boy/girl. If you have the option, try to visit your local farmer’s market as fresh fruit and vegetables are often sold with no unnecessary plastic. Smaller items like cherry tomatoes and berries often do come in a plastic container, however if you bring in the old one and ask your grocer if they can re-use it, I’m sure they won’t mind. I felt a tad uncomfortable at first, but they didn’t even bat an eyelid when I asked and took the container.
2. No straws!
Straws seem like such a small part of the plastic waste, but over 500 million a day in the US alone does add up, especially when we learn that they don’t get recycled! And like most of our waste, they end up in the ocean. In fact, researchers estimate that about eight million tonnes of plastic garbage enters the ocean from land every year. Plastic straws are among the top litter items picked up during beach cleanups. The best part, your drink tastes just as good (if not better) without the use of a straw, so why not try and ditch it all together? Ordering a drink without a straw is a small sacrifice to make but a big step to reducing the amount of plastic we produce and waste. What got us to stop using them in our household was the footage of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose and the painful removal of it… propaganda or not… it really made us think twice before offering the kids a funky tube to drink from.
3. Re-use water bottles and drink from the tap.
I know in some cities drinking from the tap might not be a great option. There are, however, jugs that filter tapped water and boiling it before drinking can also help eliminate any harmful bacteria. If you don’t have a re-usable bottle or don’t want to drag one with you on your commute, refill your plastic one from the tap for a few days at least before recycling it! The use of plastic bottles is too high and can be easily decreased with a little effort.
4. Re-use glass containers to replace plastic ones
Many items like pudding, fruit cups and yogurt come in individual plastic containers. You can buy a variety of prepared food in glass jars (pasta sauce, peanut butter, pickled onions etc), wash and recycle them afterwards for other uses. For example, cut up your own fruit (that you bought without a separate plastic bag .. hint, hint;) and make your own fruit cups, store pudding and yogurt in larger quantities and re-use glass jars for anything else you can think of.
5. Be mindful of what cleaning products you buy
Unfortunately not something we find that often, but some laundry detergents, etc come in cardboard boxes, which is a better alternative to plastic containers. Cardboard is easier to recycle into other products than plastic. Laundry detergent also come with refillable bottles and if you’re truly motivated you can even consider making your own cleaning products using white vinegar, lemon juice and a whole bunch of other ingredients easily found on the Internet.
6. Buy in bulk
If you use a certain product on a regular basis why not buy it in a bigger container to try and minimize the smaller portions. Ofcourse convenience might get in the way, but again it’s a small sacrifice to make. A larger bottle of milk is still plastic but it’s less plastic than using the 3 small bottles with the exact same amount.
7. Re-usable Bags
I’m not sure if this is worldwide, but here in France and back home in Australia, pretty much everyone has given up on the use of plastic bags when doing their shopping and the vast majority of us dote our own cool produce bags. The supermarkets here no longer offer plastic bags without paying for it and even then, the bags offered are usually re-usable ones to start with.
8. Avoid chewing gum
I didn’t know this before, but gum was originally made from tree sap, a natural rubber. Fast forward to the creation of synthetic rubber, polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate and we’re basically chewing on plastic. Add that with the plastic cover each gum is individually wrapped it and we may as well ditch the entire thing.
I acknowledge that avoiding straws, using your own containers and not chewing gum, won’t save the oceans or the world on its own, but as we have seen with the decreased use of plastic bags or the stricter limitations on public smoking, when people start to think about their habits and make small changes, they can bring about a shift in awareness that leads to wider societal changes. I don’t believe in the ‘all or nothing’ ultimatum, but I do believe that small steps can make a difference and we can only do our best with what we have and what we can give.
We’ve just got to start somewhere right…?