By Aussy Aportadora
Every minute, 2 million plastic bags are used globally. You read that right. In New York alone, 23 billion plastic bags are used every year, urging the state to ban plastic grocery bags altogether. Over the last seven decades, there has been an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced. Despite efforts to make recycling a habit of every individual, only 9% of plastic produced is being recycled. The remaining plastic pollutes the environment or stays in landfills and dumps.
Daily use of plastic seems inescapable. After all, it holds and covers our beverages, food, cleaning agents, clothes, office supplies, technology — basically everything we need in our everyday lives. A plastic-free world may seem impossible, but taking small steps to reduce one’s plastic footprint creates an impact if it’s integrated into one’s lifestyle.
Here are a few simple, but bright ways to cut plastic use.
Invest In Reusables
Water Bottles: For every six water bottles that Americans buy, only one ends up being recycled. Imagine going through the whole day not having to buy a single water bottle because you have a reusable water container with you. Doing this every day will allow you to reduce your plastic footprint and do our planet a huge favor.
Plus by using reusable water bottles, you’ll be more likely to drink more water (or enough as your body demands) which is great for your skin, your bodily functions, and for your healthy lifestyle diet!
Wooden Utensils (or metal): Using disposable plastic containers and cutlery may be convenient when you’re spending time outdoors, but it greatly contributes to plastic pollution. When traveling (e.g. glamping), bringing your lunch to work, going on picnics, for instance, try to pack wooden or reusable utensils instead of relying on disposable ones. You are saving the environment from tons of plastic if you make this a habit.
Coffee Containers: Big companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts have started to ditch styrofoam cups, and shifted to paper cups. However, paper in itself cannot hold liquid, so these seemingly good alternatives have to be lined with a moisture barrier called polyethylene, a type of plastic. The paper portion of the cups can only be recycled after the plastic lining is separated from it.
So, if you are committed to reducing your plastic footprint, bring along with you your reusable cup or tumbler every morning, and have the barista pour your latte in it.
Tote Bags: Aside from being cute and fashionable, reusable totes are functional and can reduce your plastic footprint from shopping. Groceries, farmers markets, random errands you need to run? Take your tote with you. The great thing about them too is that they aren’t expensive but their impact is priceless.
Choose Sustainable Fashion
Fast fashion is trendy, easy, and affordable. However, most fast-fashion clothing is made with synthetic fibers. This means that the microfibers that they shed can make their way into the water systems, all the way to rivers and oceans, and, sadly, into the bellies of our marine animals.
Not only that, the process of producing clothing, from weaving the threads to dying them to the desired colors, to creating clothes and shipping them all over the world, has a huuuuuge impact on the planet and, secondarily on the climate. A large amount of water, energy, and waste is used and generated during this process. Fast fashion increases the load because this speed of production is needed to keep up with changing fashion and increased demand.
In addition, clothes made for fast fashion are not long-lasting; this means that shortly after your purchase it, they will wear down, or lose their fashionable edge. As a result, you’re more likely to throw these garments out, further clogging landfills.
An alternative to fast fashion is buying secondhand clothing or swapping clothes with friends. If you have to buy new clothes, choose ones that are made with natural fibers, such as silk, wool, and cotton. In addition, consider investing in long-lasting classic pieces that won’t lose their style edge, or wear down quickly in the wash.
Changes At Home
Groceries: Try finding grocery stores that allow you to bring in your reusable bags from home to fill up with what you need. In other words, find products that have less packaging or that you can take home in your own bags.
Bath Products: Nowadays there are a plethora of options out there from shampoo bars to chewable toothpaste balls…look into them and see if any fit your lifestyle and are changes that you can make forever.
Feminine Hygiene: My best friend has used a menstrual cup since we were in college. At the time I was like “what??”, but now I’m much more open to the idea. Tampons and hygiene products are not only bad for your body, but also contribute to waste and pollution (plus all the packaging they come in!). Menstrual cups are a one-time buy and can save you so much money while reducing your plastic footprint.
Biodegradable Packaging: Sometimes it’s too difficult to change up your product choices and routine entirely; in that case look for similar products to what you use but in biodegradable friendly packaging. These non-plastic packages break down faster and still make it easy for you to use your desired products.
Check With Your Suppliers
Work with your suppliers in sourcing more sustainable solutions in terms of packaging and raw materials. It can be as simple as plastic-free or reduced plastic use in packing items that are purchased in bulk.
In addition, ask them about how they transport and process the products they create. See if their process incorporates sustainability; if not, maybe this is a conversation to be had on how they can improve, for instance in the materials they use, or reduction of emissions, and how you can support them as well!
Update Your Company Culture
One way to encourage everyone in the company to commit to shifting to more sustainable ways is to declare it as part of your company values. This also entails training your employees on sustainable practices at work, such as bringing homemade lunches as much as possible.
I would also suggest discussing with the people you work with what their ideas are for sustainability. Each work environment is different, with different requirements; brainstorming together can help generate truly unique solutions going forward!
Start A Recycling Program
Create an audit of your plastic waste. This way, you will really have a clear picture of how much and what types of plastic you use. It will also help you calculate the cost of replacing them with reusable and sustainable alternatives.
When determining what to do with the plastic waste you currently have, it is best to work closely with the waste industry. Working with waste contractors can help you optimize your recycling efforts, such as knowing how to pre-sort your waste and where to send them to get the maximum benefit.
Going zero-waste and avoiding all types of plastic is not realistic for most people. However, it shouldn’t keep us from building new habits and revisiting current policies in order to help the world move towards a zero-waste future. Today, individuals and businesses alike face the challenge of helping create a more sustainable world, one new habit at a time. The small steps you make, when done every day, can make a big difference — and an even bigger difference when you encourage others to do the same.
Author Bio: Aussy Aportadera is pursuing an unhurried life in the beachside town of La Union, Philippines. After a career in communications and publishing for luxury lifestyle, food, and wine brands. She is now a yoga teacher and co-owner of a ceramics brand.