There has been a lot of buzz lately about plastic straws endangering ocean life. And while straws are a big problem we’re all struggling to find a good solution to, they are certainly not the only – or even the most concerning – pollutant in our oceans.
Things like abandoned fishing gear and plastics on a whole are increasing exponentially. Plastic doesn’t decompose quickly and can only be recycled a few times. It’s overwhelming when you look at the facts about how much debris is actually in our oceans and on our beaches. It will take a major shift in our society to eliminate that trash completely, but at the very least we can do our best to stop it from growing at this rate.
Don’t think of it as saving the world (though you are)… think of it as doing what you can… every little bit helps. Plus when you go reusable, you end up saving money too! Here are some simple swaps for single-use plastics that our oceans – and your bank account – will thank you for:
Let’s talk about drinkware alternatives for a moment…
Drinkware, specifically when you’re out and about, can be extremely problematic for the eco-conscious consumer. Hydration is important, but with a little forethought you can really make a difference with plastic alternatives.
Did you know that plastic bottles are the second most common trash items found on beaches? Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a few good stainless steel water bottles. They’ll keep your beverages colder longer, and you can refill them with water throughout the day. You can even find reusable water bottles with built-in filtration so you can drink filtered water on the go from any water fountain or sink.
Don’t let the recyclable paper on your coffee shop cup fool you… most disposable coffee cups are not actually as eco-friendly as you may have thought because they are lined with a liquid-proof plastic that cannot be recycled. If giving up your morning coffee is just not in the cards, no problem… just bring your own travel mug. Ask your barista to fill your mug instead, and you’ll have hot coffee all morning long. Plus, you can wash and reuse it as many times as you like.
Plain and simple, straws suck. Many restaurants automatically put plastic straws in every drink customers order. While sometimes bendable, plastic straws are an unavoidable necessity, the majority of these straws are needlessly going to waste. The solution? If you do not require a straw, simply request upon ordering “no straws please.” If you prefer to drink from a straw, you can still enjoy your beverage with a reusable straw. Just throw a few stainless steel straws in your bag, and you’re good to go. There are even some collapsible straws in their own little case designed to fit on your keychain. Metal not your thing? You can find reusable glass, silicone or acrylic straws too that are still better than disposable or buy straws made from heavy-duty paper. There really are so many plastic straw alternatives, it’s easy to avoid ever using a disposable straw again.
And when you’re at the grocery store…
Plastic abounds at the grocery store! It’s not just the bags they pack your groceries in, it’s the packaging on the food you buy too. Whenever possible buying in bulk can help cut down on that packaging. Here are a few more ideas:
Many areas are issuing bans on plastic bags because they’re not easily recycled, which means they often end up in landfills and oceans. Flimsy plastic like these lightweight bags actually inhibit the process at recycling plants by getting stuck in the machines. They require their own specific plant, and not all regions are equipped with them. You could request paper, or you could invest in some reusable tote bags as an alternative to plastic. Not only are they better for the environment, but they’re often sturdier than typical grocery bags and easier to arrange in the trunk of a car so that items don’t fall out. The planet aside, grocery totes really are way more convenient if you ask us!
That same flimsy plastic grocery bags are made of is found in produce bags, which again are not recyclable. You may be thinking – there’s got to be a better way! Well, there is… reusable mesh produce bags. These are available at all different price points depending on quality, but even the cheapest ones will hold up because there’s not much to them. They often come with a little carrying bag, or you can stuff them all in one of the bags. Many have drawstrings to keep items securely inside. The mesh makes it slightly more difficult to see the produce sticker at the checkout but not at all impossible, and if you weigh the items yourself the label will stick on there long enough to ring out and remove easily once you’re home. They’re also machine washable. And most produce items need to breath anyway, so you can simply leave them in the bag wherever you store them until you’re ready to wash and use.
Think about everyday items you can substitute in your home too…
Eliminating single-use plastic is easiest to do at home. You can almost always find an alternative. Sometimes it’s the everyday items you haven’t even thought about like…
Instead of cotton swabs made with plastic in the middle, choose ones that are made with paper. The paper is biodegradable so it won’t contribute to the millions of tons of plastic that ends up in the oceans each year. In fact, the U.K. is moving to ban not only disposable plastic straws and stirrers but also plastic-stemmed cotton swabs in an effort to reduce ocean pollution.
Left overs are a way of life. Some of us survive on them. And plastic wrap is often a go-to for sealing tops of containers or wrapping up food. But there are other options… Aluminum foil, while disposable, is actually recyclable. It’s easier to recycle when compacted into larger pieces, so try saving up your foil before tossing it in the green bin, but it sure beats plastic wrap. Another alternative to plastic wrap is to use covered containers that you can wash and reuse… or for containers without covers, try a silicone stretch lid. If your goal is to reduce plastic on the whole, a great sustainable option is a beeswax food wrap. It’s natural, washable, reusable and compostable… doesn’t get much better than that.
Everything from food and freezer items to toys and small parts can be put in a zip-locked bag. They’re so convenient for travel, on-the-go snacking and even storage. But my, oh my do they use up a lot of non-recyclable plastic. You can opt for a container instead of a bag, but sometimes you just need that bag. Because of this many companies are now developing reusable sealable bags. Some are even dishwasher-safe. You actually have a lot of options here from heavy-duty, leak-proof bags perfect for liquids and freezer items to material zippered bags and everything in between. After trying a few out, (re)zip is our favorite because it most closely resembles a traditional zip-locked bag with the added bonus of being dishwasher safe.
Sometimes we prepare and cook gourmet, three-course meals. And sometimes we hit the drive through on the way home from work. It happens. Take-out somehow seems like a middle ground between home-cooked and fast food, but it’s a huge culprit of single-use plastic. To cut down on all that waste, decline the plasticware if you’re headed home to metal utensils anyway. Many restaurants have a variety of container types… when you place your order, ask if they can package the food in eco-friendly containers like biodegradable paper. If your choices are Styrofoam or plastic, choose the plastic and reuse it in your home as much as possible.
Going completely plastic-free is a lofty goal… and one that would be incredibly challenging in our current society. Reducing plastics and finding alternatives is not an all or nothing kind of commitment. And no, one person alone can’t save the world. But if we each just do what we can, what we’re comfortable with, it can actually make an impact and at the very least open up a dialog that may, one day, in fact save our world.
Want more on eco-friendly options? Check out our piece on How to Go Green at Your Next Trade Show (and beyond) or call us to talk through how you can incorporate eco-friendly products into your next campaign.