We can't live without it, but it's the bane of our environment.
For the past two years, I have been working on reducing our consumption of single use plastic, which encompasses many more things than I ever imagined.
I USED to think it was mainly plastic water bottles and bags, but look around you and count the number of products you use that come in a plastic bottle that's discarded when it's empty:
- MOST of the food you buy is either wrapped in plastic or has a plastic bag inside the box.
- Paper products like toilet tissues, paper towels, tissues, paper plates...ALL come wrapped in plastic
- Bath gel and hand soap
- Laundry soap
- Household cleaners
- Tea bags (there is microplastic in some teabags)
- Beverages other than water - soda, kombucha, ice tea, etc...
Granted, we don't toss one of these every day, but we still toss them. Below I share the things we've done to reduce our impact on the environment. I hope you will consider doing some of them as well. If you have other suggestions, please share them and I will add them to this page.
How We Are Reducing Our Single Use Plastic Impact on the Earth
Replace individual water bottles with refillable stainless/titanium/glass
Replace TP/tissues/paper towels with bamboo, wrapped in paper, not plastic
Replace bath soap with Clay Bar Soap
Replace toothpaste with Remineralizing Tooth Powder, or Natural Tooth Powder, or this one which comes in a compostable sugarcane-based tube!!
Replace mouthwash/gargle with homemade
Replace shampoo with Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve
Replace hand/body lotion with a glass pump and gallon-size refill bottles - I need a better solution than this that doesn't require me to buy ingredients sold it plastic containers to make my own!! I know some people use coconut oil or olive oil but I need a non-greasy solution.
Replace hand soap with Ancient Clay Thieves Soap (if you MUST have a liquid soap you can grate this into a pump bottle filled with water.
Replace dog shampoo with Diatomaceous Earth Shampoo Bar (he seems to scratch less when we use this)
Replace dish soap with HELP! I can't find one I like! I NEED a liquid soap so I tried grating this one into a glass pump bottle but it didn't clean as well as my old soap, which I love. I may try this one next....
Replace toilet cleanser with toilet powder. One of my girlfriends has been using baking soda for years and swears by it.
Buy only loose leaf tea (there is microplastic in some tea bags). We use stainless mesh tea infuser like this one to brew tea.
Replace toilet brush with HELP! I buy a new one every year. If I buy a wooden one it will get just as dirty and I won't want to toss it.
Replace plastic or paper straws with glass straws (I don't like stainless straws because I can't tell if they're clean.)
Replace bandaids with this version made from bamboo
We reuse every plastic bag that comes into the house until it falls apart. Since I get our fresh produce nude I bring the bags with me and pack it in them.
Contact your newspaper delivery person and ask if you can return the bags to be reused.
Bring a reusable container to the grocery and ask the deli to put your purchase in that.
Bubble wrap, air bags, and other plastic film including ziploc bags CAN be recycled. Plastic Film Recycling lists drop-off points (most grocery stores) as well as all items that can be recycled (they must be clean - no tape or labels).
When the freezer is full and I absolutely MUST use a vacuum seal bag, I wash and reuse them.
I ALWAYS have a large stash of paper shopping bags in the car. If you double bag them they will last almost indefinitely. For emergencies, I carry a foldable reusable shopping bag in my fanny pack. Here's a bigger one if you have a bigger purse.
Shop at a store that doesn't wrap all fresh veggies in plastic (like Whole Foods)
Used printer ink cartridges can be recycled at Office Depot
Use a laundry ball fiber catcher to protect our oceans and waterways from microplastic (The single biggest pollution problem facing our ocean is microfiber: trillions of pieces of tiny fibers flowing into the ocean – every time we use our washing machines. Our clothing is breaking up, sending this microfiber (made of plastic and chemical-covered non-plastics) out with the drain water – just one fleece jacket could shed up to 250,000 pieces per garment per wash [source]. New York City, alone, could have 6.8 billion microfibers flowing into its harbor every day. We are all contributing to this problem.” )
Tru Earth has 20 suggestions, some of which are listed above
Zero Waste is another resource.
Here's an article that gave me pause:
Wait, are reusable bags better for the environment?
In 2018, Denmark's Ministry of Food and Environment published a study titled Lifecycle Assessment of Grocery Carrier Bags, comparing the environmental impacts of plastic, paper, polyester and cotton shopping bags. It revealed that generally, "with regards to production and disposal," commonly found low-density polyethylene bags have the "overall lowest environmental impacts for most environmental indicators."
The study found that you'd have to reuse a paper bag 43 times before offsetting the environmental costs of manufacturing it. For a recycled PET tote bag it is 84 times and shockingly, a conventional cotton tote needs to be used 7,100 times.
The bottom line:
What should consumers do? According to this The Atlantic article, "Ecologically speaking, the best practice for tote bags might be one of two extremes: use them all the time, or not at all."
Based on that article we are also trying to reduce our single use paper consumption:
Replace paper napkins with cloth. I found some inexpensive cloth napkins on eBay which are working out well. You can also subscribe to a service like Bloom and Give that will replace them for free when they get soiled.
Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues.
Use dishcloths to wipe up spills instead of paper towels.
HOWEVER...I'm not sure this is the most responsible thing to do, either, now that so many paper products are made with easily renewable bamboo. The process of making paper is still environmentally damaging but so is the manufacture of cotton cloth.
Hang on a minute, is bamboo as forest-friendly as we've been led to believe? The page I had linked to originally, on a hemp website, has been removed, so perhaps bamboo IS forest-friendly.
If you decide to go with cloth after all, cloth needs to be cleaned after you use it. First, you have to heat the water it's washed in, then you need to heat the dryer. Yes, you're going to do that anyway for the clothes you're cleaning - do the dishcloths, napkins and hankies add enough volume to make a difference? Probably not. Some people dry their laundry outside but most of the American's I know use a dryer.
I will add to this list I find other things that are relatively easy to manage.