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Plastic is literally everywhere. Our phones, cars, toothbrushes, and even the toys our babies chew on — they’re all made of plastic. The epidemic is so bad that studies show there are plastic fibres embedded in our soil and even in the world’s oceans. In recent years, the use of plastic has been heavily criticized because of the risks to our health. The material is full of chemicals and can seep into our foods.
But apart from the obvious health concerns, plastic is also a problem when it comes to waste. Since the 1950s, the world has managed to generate more than 8 billion tons of plastic. Yet only 23% of that has actually been reused or recycled. That’s because plastics are ‘downcycled’. A plastic soda bottle can never be recycled into another soda bottle. It can only be made into a low-quality item like a plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled.
There are simple ways however to reduce plastic waste, and it all begins in your home. Here are 16 helpful tips to dramatically decrease the amount of plastic you generate.
Tip #1: Use reusable grocery bags
Many grocery and retail stores now charge for plastic bags. But that hasn’t stopped millions of people from still using them everyday. Buy a few reusable bags to cut down your need for plastic. They’re actually sturdier and will hold heavier items much more easily. You can also go a step further and get some reusable produce bags too. Opt for cotton ones to bag your nectarines and avocados. If you still like your plastic, consider this: 1 million plastic bags are used around the world every minute and a single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to break down.
Tip #2: Stop using straws
We know plastic straws are convenient and save your teeth from corrosive pop. But one of the easiest ways to keep them out of our landfills is to simply stop using them. At a restaurant, tell your waiter you don’t need one or say no thanks when you’re offered one at the drive-thru. If you still love sipping your root beer out of a straw, no problem. Just get a reusable one made in stainless steel or glass instead.
Tip #3: Give up gum
Many of us like to chew gum because it freshens our breath and gives us something to do. Originally, gum was made from a tree sap — it was all natural rubber. But when scientists began experimenting with the product, they started replacing the natural rubber with a manufactured vinyl. The chemical in this vinyl is known to cause tumors in rats. That’s why it’s best to give up gum altogether.
Tip #4: Opt for boxed packaging
Bottles are made from plastic. And as we mentioned earlier, plastic can never be recycled into the same product again. Instead it is downcycled. That’s why it’s best to opt for products that come in boxed packaging. Cardboard can be easily recycled and converted to more things than plastics can. Buy your laundry detergent or dishwashing soap in boxes whenever possible.
Tip #5: Buy food in bulk
By purchasing food in larger quantities, you’re saving on unnecessary packaging. Places like Bulk Barn are now offering larger varieties of groceries. So bring a reusable cotton bag or a large container to your favourite bulk store, and fill it up with things like rice, beans or nuts. Stores have many methods to determine container weight so check with the cashier before filling up.
Tip #6: Save your glass containers
Because plastics contain harmful chemicals that can seep into our food, it’s much safer to use glass containers instead. Things like jams, olives and salsa come in glass jars. So instead of tossing these in the recycling bin, wash them thoroughly and reuse them instead. They’re perfect for storing leftovers or filling up with snacks for a picnic.
Tip #7: Use reusable bottles and cups
It’s easy to reach for another bottled water on a hot summer’s day. But think of all the plastic bottles that are piling up in our landfills. Using reusable bottles and cups can dramatically reduce all this plastic waste. Consider purchasing a glass tumbler or a thermos and refill with your favourite drinks throughout the day. Bring your mug to a coffee shop and ask them to fill it up. And don’t forget to keep one at the office so you’re not using styrofoam cups.
Tip #8: Bring your own container
We’ve all heard of BYOB (bring your own beer). But what about BYOC (bring your own container) instead? Restaurants often use plastic or styrofoam boxes to pack up leftovers for their customers. But these all end up back in a landfill, creating unnecessary waste. Showing up with your own reusable container is a greener alternative. Most restaurants will have no problem putting food in there for you.
Tip #9: Ditch plastic lighters
Did you know those disposable plastic lighters have been found in birds’ stomachs? These cheap devices sit in landfills for years because they never decompose. If you need to light a candle or start a fire at the campsite, use matches instead.
Tip #10: Stop eating frozen foods
Those microwaveable pasta dinners may be convenient, but all that plastic packaging is bad for the environment. Yes, many of them are boxed in cardboard containers. But they’re still coated in a layer of plastic. When you microwave these frozen dinners, that plastic layer could be seeping into your food. Next time you’re at the grocery, skip the frozen food aisle altogether.
Tip #11: Avoid plastic cutlery
Those plastic knives, spoons, forks and chopsticks have got to go. Yes, we know they’re convenient. If you forget to bring your utensils for lunch, you can run down to the food court and get plastic ones in a pinch. But get in the habit of keeping a set of silverware at work so you can ditch the plastic cutlery altogether.
Tip #12: Use cloth diapers
Reduce your baby’s carbon footprint by using cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. Disposables are made of plastic and millions of them end up sitting in landfills because they cannot be recycled. Cloth diapers are not only environmentally-friendly, but you’ll also end up saving thousands of dollars each year.
Tip #13: Make your own juice
Store-bought juice comes in big plastic jugs, which cannot be recycled into something useful. You can dramatically reduce plastic waste by making your own juice and storing it in glass pitchers. You’ll not only be helping the planet, but will be avoiding all the high-calorie sugars and corn syrup too!
Tip #14: Use homemade cleaning products
Baking soda and vinegar will clean your home just as well as the store-bought stuff. So there’s no use hoarding plastic bottles of window cleaner, tile cleaner and toilet cleaner. Avoid the toxic chemicals and keep plastics out of the dump by using homemade cleaning solutions instead.
Tip #15: Get a bamboo toothbrush
About one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown out each year. And because they never break down, they end up sitting in the environment forever. Bamboo toothbrushes however are better because they take only 6 months to biodegrade back into the soil. There’s been no evidence that plastic brushes perform better than bamboo ones, so there’s really no reason not to make the switch.
Tip #16: Avoid cosmetics with microbeads
Many cosmetic products contain millions of plastic microbeads that are harmful when washed down the drain. They’re dangerous to marine life who think these small particles are actually food. Many countries are putting a ban on microbeads in cosmetic products. Next time you’re at the drugstore, read the fine print on your bath and shower gels before purchase.