Plastic offers many advantages as a cheap, durable material. However, one major problem with plastic is litter. Only a small portion of polyethylene plastic is ever recycled.
And most plastic bags end up in landfills. Plastic waste is piling up in landfills at an alarming rate. There, they can take up to a thousand years to decompose.
Every year, global plastic production exceeds 300 million tons, as reported by the United Nations. Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. And less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
Littered plastic bags are everywhere today. Plastic that ends up in the wild and the ocean also endangers wildlife. Plastic waste is deceptive for birds and other wildlife, who mistake it for food.
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. And the plastic industry could account for 20% of global oil consumption.
Single-use plastics have a disastrous impact on the environment and ecosystems. It's now, more than ever, essential to limit how much rubbish goes out in the world.
Here are proven and easy ways to reduce plastic waste and make a difference on a global scale.
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1. Get reusable containers
Using reusable containers is a brilliant way to limit plastic waste. Buy food containers and pack your lunch in reusable bags to reduce the amount of plastic you use.
2. Buy food without packaging
As much as possible, buy food grown locally and organically. Shop for groceries at the farmer's market to stock up on delicious, organic, and locally-grown food. There, you can buy products without any plastic packaging.
Supermarkets generally sell products in disposable containers such as PET bottles, tetra paks, plastic containers, polystyrene trays, and more.
So make an effort to look for vegetables and fruits, cereals, grains, nuts and seeds, beans, and legumes without packaging. Avoid processed and frozen foods since many of them use plastic packaging.
A lot of fruits and vegetables can make the trip back home without an extra bag. You can also try to buy more bulk food.
3. Give old packaging a new purpose
When you have no other choice but to buy a plastic container or bottle, reuse it instead of throwing it away. You can use plastic containers to store food and refill plastic bottles as often as you like.
Learn the many ways you can reuse, repurpose, and upcycle old items into new products that are more beneficial and worthwhile without breaking them down completely.
4. Wear natural fabrics
Polyester is the most widely used fiber in the textile industry. Global polyester production reached 55 million tons in 2018 and represented 52% of total fiber production.
Manufacturers use many other petroleum-based fabrics to produce apparel, footwear, and accessories, including nylon, elastane, polyethylene, acrylic, polypropylene, polyurethane, and more.
Synthetic fibers created through polymerization require a lot of energy, water, and chemicals. They also release pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And they contribute to the global plastic waste and microfiber pollution crisis.
Wear natural fabrics instead, such as sustainable cotton, linen, hemp, ramie, and jute. They have a much lower environmental impact, are biodegradable and compostable.
5. Buy second-hand
Shop at your local thrift store or resale shop. There, you can find sustainable, affordable, and unique clothes, footwear, accessories, homeware, decor, furniture, upholstery, jewelry, and more.
Thrifting helps protect the environment tremendously. It reduces the amounts of plastic waste you produce and the exploitation of natural resources.
Buying used clothes, home decor, appliances, and furniture not only saves money but also promotes a more circular and regenerative economy.
6. Say no to excessive consumption
The most sustainable product is the one you already own. One of the best ways to reduce plastic waste is to buy less. Adopt a more mindful approach to shopping and move away from excessive consumption.
It will increase your budget and protect the planet. Donate or sell what you don't need, only keep what you use regularly, and shop for new items only when necessary.
7. Bring your shopping bag
Bring a reusable shopping bag when buying groceries. It's a great way to reduce plastic waste as most plastic bags end up in landfills, or the ocean, contributing to plastic pollution.
Plastic bags are often thin and easily ripped. They aren't durable at all and have a high environmental cost. Get a reusable produce bag instead.
8. Fill a reusable water bottle
Stop buying bottled water to protect the planet. It's often not good enough to recycle plastic waste. It's much better to avoid any plastic in the first place.
Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose and a lot of energy to recycle. Fill a reusable water bottle instead and use a filter for tap water. It drastically limits how much plastic waste goes out into the world.
9. Buy durable cutlery sets
Use stainless steel cutlery sets to make it easy for you to reduce plastic waste and add style to the table.
Get packs of durable knives, forks, and spoons to prepare, serve, and eat food instead of disposable plastic utensils.
10. Decline straws at bars and restaurants
Say no to single-use plastic such as drinking straws at bars or restaurants. They are some of the most destructive forms of plastic waste.
Instead, you can bring an eco-friendly straw with you, such as a bamboo straw.
11. Use a thermos for coffee
Instead of using disposable plastic cups at your local coffee shop, bring a reusable travel mug, cup, or thermos with you.
Refillable coffee cups are eco-friendly to use at your coffee shop and available in a wide range of colors, materials, and sizes.
12. Stop using perfume and shampoo samples
Perfume and shampoo samples usually come in plastic packaging that contributes to pollution and the destruction of ecosystems. Just don't take samples at all and prefer products in larger containers.
13. Buy package-free soap
Look for package-free soap and cleaning products at farmer's markets or some grocery stores.
You can even make cleaning products yourself by using a water and vinegar solution. It's as effective, less toxic, and plastic-free since it eliminates bottles of cleaner.
14. Don't litter or leave trash behind
Take a few minutes to pick up your plastic waste everywhere you go and before leaving a lake, park, camping site, or beach.
Don't leave any garbage behind as well as any types of waste, including plastic, textiles, glass, oils, food waste, liquid waste, or paper.
15. Use cotton tissues, towels, and napkins
Switch from single-use napkins, tissues, and towels to more durable and sustainable cotton cloths. You can wash and reuse them many times over.
16. Buy organic cotton diapers
Similarly, if you've got a young baby, don't use disposable diapers. Instead, shop for organic cotton diapers that protect the environment and the sensitive skin of children.
17. Recycle your waste
If you produce any plastic waste, make sure to recycle. It's a fabulous way to minimize your impact on the environment.
Recycling adds value to waste materials, even plastic, and can save a large number of resources.
It reduces your ecological footprint and also supports the local industry involved in the collection, sorting, and shipping of waste.
18. Make your period plastic-free
Forget disposable products for your period. Instead, opt for one of the many reusable options available out there. Make the more mindful choice of avoiding plastic and packaging used in most tampons and pads.
Conventional tampons and pads contain up to 90% plastic. Avoid brands with plastic applicators as often as possible. Choose eco-friendly, reusable pads, tampons, or menstrual cups made with certified organic or recycled materials.
19. Use a bamboo toothbrush
A bamboo toothbrush is a plastic-free alternative to any disposable toothbrush that isn't environmentally friendly.
Bamboo brushes are recyclable and compostable. The best ones are entirely plant-based, compromising between eco-friendliness and the need for effective dental care.
A beautifully designed and sustainable bamboo toothbrush can clean teeth, clean oceans, and bright smiles.
20. Buy recycled products
Look for products made from reusable and recycled materials. Recycled plastics use post-industrial wastes, such as fabric scraps, carpet flooring, fishing nets, and industrial plastics.
Products with recycled content reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy consumption.
21. Cook at home
Make delicious meals at home to limit the amount of plastic waste you generate as you won't need to buy packaged food on the go.
After hitting up the farmers market, why not prepare seasonal products at home? To eat lighter and healthier, cook your meals in your kitchen, and bring them with you.
You can easily add berries to oatmeal bowls for breakfast, make salads or lettuce wraps for lunch, and cook a vegetable stew for dinner.
Cooking at home using seasonal and local products is a fun plastic-free activity all-year-round.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.