7 easy ways to reduce your use of plastics

By Ryan Johnson

Whether they’re clogging our oceans or causing harm to sea creatures, the use and creation of plastics has quickly become a crushing and widespread problem across the planet. Plastics have become an almost unnoticed part of our daily lives, from the food we eat, the transportation we take and the products we buy, and the overwhelming saturation of the material can feel impossible to deal with at times.

Though it’s important to deal with these changes on a high level, we rounded up some simple ways you can reduce your plastic use.

Reflect on where you use plastics most.

Before deciding which part of your plastic routine to tackle first, Carolynn Box, science programs director for the plastic pollution non-profit 5 Gyres, told INSIDER that it is important for individuals to self-reflect on where they use plastics most.

“I always encourage people to assess their ‘plastic footprint’ to identify where they use the most plastic,” said Box. “Most of the time, the biggest contributors will be single-use plastic items and plastic packaging. After better understanding your own plastic footprint, it’s easier to know where to take the steps to make the biggest impact [in their routine].”

Take a look in your trash our set aside plastic in its own bin. At the end of the month see what’s in there and see what you can cut back on.

Buy a reusable coffee cup.

Box said that a great first step for reducing your plastic use can be to kick the habit of disposable coffee cups. Not only are these coffee cups single-use, generally only used for about 30 minutes before being discarded, but Box said that many coffee cup lids contain polystyrene and can be difficult to recycle.

Instead, Box suggested buying a reusable coffee mug for your daily dose of caffeine. These travel mugs are often sold at coffee shops themselves and can sometimes even come with a discount when you use them.

Reusable grocery bags can help too.

Another easy routine change to tackle is using reusable grocery bags, said Box. This includes both the tote bags you’ve somehow acquired and even mesh produce bags ( although, even better, you can forego those entirely).

And, as always, make sure you’re maximizing your use of two or three bags instead of buying an armful and tipping the sustainability scale back the other way with over-consumption of cotton.

However, when it comes to actually using your stash of bags, people can tend to forget them in the trunk of their car or at home. To combat this forgetfulness you can take a page out of a squirrel’s book and stow one away anywhere you might possibly need it — in your going out bag, gym bag, work bag, or the front seat of your car.

Buy a reusable water bottle.

Millions of tons of plastics enter our oceans every year and many of these are single-use plastics like water bottles. In fact, we buy about 1,000,000 plastic water bottles per minute, according to The Guardian.

Getting a reusable water bottle and filling it up regularly can help cut down on your individual plastic consumption. Though they’re not a perfect solution, as they require manufacturing and plastic themselves, but by using them often, they can still be helpful.

Cut down on delivery.

Ordering food may be convenient but it can come with extra plastics like utensils and plastic bags.

A report published in Elsevier found that the delivery food industry alone in China was responsible for 1.6 million tons of waste in 2017, including plastic containers, bags, and other forms of packaging and containers.

Though it may not be terribly appealing, you can cut down on plastic use by declining plastic utensils, and aiming to cook more at home.

Buy used clothing.

So maybe you’re not wearing plastic bags, but the fashion industry is a not-so-commonly thought-of source of plastic. Synthetic fibers that make up a ton of clothing, including a lot of fast-fashion items, are made of microplastics, which can be released in the hundreds of thousands when washed, according to NBC News.

There are tons of ways to reduce your plastic footprint this way, including repurposing old clothing, wearing clothing more than once, buying thrifted clothing, and simply not going on that shopping trip you were planning on.

Don’t be afraid of filling up your own bulk containers.

Another major contributor to single-use plastic waste is the excess wrapping and packaging used for small volume or single-use items, like a plastic bag of rice or an individual yogurt cup.

This is where bulk aisles and stores come in. These spaces allow you to bring your own container and fill it up without the plastic waste. Though it’s worth noting that most changes when it comes to packaging waste need to come at a company-wide level, if you’re near one of these stores, they could be worth trying out.

If you’re new to buying bulk items, try starting with items already stocked on grocery store shelves. For example, instead of buying six single yogurt cups consider buying a big tub and portioning it out into reusable containers to eat on the go. You can also do this with non-perishable items like rice or dried beans.

When it comes to braving the self-service bulk section of your grocery store for the first time, don’t be scared. These sections can be a great way to buy a large number of items — like rice, dried beans or quinoa — with less plastic waste, or it can be a great way to buy a small amount of an item for a single recipe or just to try — like mixed nuts, flax seeds, or even candies.

These sections often have small paper bags or single-use produce bags to hold your treasure, but many stores will also let you bring a clean, reusable container like a large mason jar instead. Just make sure you weigh the empty jar first so that weight can be subtracted from the total weight and cost of your goodies.