Do you feel the pressure to do it all? When it comes to nontoxic living, do you sometimes wonder if you are doing enough? What if we added one more to the to-do list? Such as reducing plastic? The good news is there is a lot of overlap. Reducing the plastic in our routines also reduces the number of toxins we are exposed to daily.
Here are four areas in which you can challenge yourself to use less plastic. Start with one challenge or do all four!
Challenge #1: I Spy Food Packaging
Surprise! It’s In More Places Than You Might Think.
There are the obvious culprits, like plastic shopping bags and water bottles. Have you thought about food packaging? A study by the Silent Spring Institute highlights concerns with fast food packaging. PFAS,(Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), a type of chemical linked with numerous health problems have been found in the wrappers of fast food packaging, such as burger wrappers, French fry boxes and pizza boxes. We can reduce, or eliminate, the amount of fast food we consume to reduce exposure to PFAS.
To help us steer away from the fast food, plastic and toxins all at once, let’s look at fresh food:
- Fruits and veggies: is there an option for loose and naked? Or are they wrapped individually? Bring your own mesh reusable produce bag as a perfect option.
- Bulk bins: You can purchase items that usually come in plastic bags like, rice, granola, nuts and dried fruit and use your own non-plastic containers. You’ll save money buying in the bulk section, too!
- Farmer's markets: The most delicious option is frequenting farmers markets. They offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables without any packaging at all (don’t forget to bring your own reusable bags!)
Challenge #2: Rethink Food Storage
We all have a cupboard full of storage containers for leftovers, potlucks and storing prepped ingredients to be cooked at a later date. We’ll bet a lot of those containers are plastic. The problem is that they can leach chemicals into your food, especially when they are exposed to heat in the microwave or dishwasher.
- Upgrade to glass storage containers or stainless steel. Not only are they safer, but will last longer than their plastic counterparts, saving you money in the long run.
- Think beyond the fridge – store items purchased in bulk like rice, oats, etc, in glass containers as well.
Challenge #3: Think Twice About Your Sipping Habits
Millions of plastic straws are used and then discarded every day. It is estimated that McDonald's alone uses approximately 60 million straws every single day. That’s a lot of plastic being trashed after just one use. That explains why plastic straws are one of the top ten items found during beach cleanups. They affect sea life too, like this poor sea turtle who had to have a straw removed from its nostril.
- If you love your straws, bring your own. It’s easy to pop one of these stainless steel versions in your bag and to have some around the house.
- Sip without a straw – from your reusable cup, of course. ;-)
Also think about what you put your drink in. Americans use approximately 50 million plastic water bottles per year. Less than 25% of those make it to the recycle bin, the rest end up in the landfill, or worse, as litter. All the while, plastic bottles leach their chemicals not only into the soil they end up in, but also the beverages they contain.
- Use a reusable water bottle, Stainless steel is a good choice.
- Consider a jug with a water filter for your fridge.
Challenge #4: Bag The Plastic Bag
Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year. This equates to 300 bags per person. The average plastic bag is used for about 12 minutes, but they stick around for much, much longer (approximately 1000 years!) Discarded plastic bags end up in our oceans, threatening the sea life. Marine animals may mistake the plastic for food, and it gets caught in their digestive tracts, making it difficult or impossible for them to breathe.
Need some plastic bag habit changing ideas? Use reusable bags! I know, you’ve heard this one over and over again, but maybe this will help. It is estimated that one reusable bag can keep 1000 plastic bags out of circulation over the course of its life. A simple “No thank you. Or “Save the bag” works for small purchases.
When we think of ditching plastic bags, the first thing most of us think of is grocery bags, but plastic bags are everywhere. Some other places to make plastic free choices:
- Do you pack snacks for yourself or your kids in little plastic baggies? Consider stainless steel containers that last a long time. Another option is reusable, cloth snack bags.
- Despite our best efforts some sneak in, like bread bags Can they be used creatively? Storage? Small trash bins? Use recycling as a last resort. Plastic bags can’t be made into other plastic bags. Recycled plastic bags tend to be made into things like carpet and decking, which can’t in turn be recycled after they have outlived their useful life.
- Designate a bin in the garage or storage area, fill it up and recycle at your grocery store.
Reusable bags are not just for the grocery store. Consider taking one (or two) next time you hit the mall. In many places - from Europe to cities in the U.S. - stores charge for plastic bags for your purchase (sometimes as much as a dollar.) This has created a culture in which its normal for people to bring a reusable bag with them wherever they go.
Our four challenges are a great way to start to reduce the amount of plastic in your life. Do you want to take the challenges further and say goodbye to even more plastic? A great resource is plastic Crusader Beth. Her blog , My Plastic Free Life, has a wealth of information on the problems with plastic and her book, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too is a entertaining and practical guide to showing plastic the door.