Reduce Your Plastic Use By Asking Yourself 5 Questions

Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash

Allow me to be honest, I can’t eliminate all use of plastic. Maybe until the day Oreos become available in a reusable cookie jar you can return for a little discount off the next cookie jar of Oreos… Nabisco, make it happen!

I know, to do that, the entire business model needs to be changed. But I suspect it’s only a matter of time now.

Now, even though I still eat Oreos, it doesn’t mean I’m not reducing my use of plastic. In fact, I’ve been doing it for the past 4 years, and I don’t intend to stop. I believe imperfect efforts are better than no effort.

Here are 5 questions we can ask ourselves to reduce our plastic footprint, even with a typical lifestyle.

1. Are there reusable options I can use instead of disposables?

Don’t use disposable when you can use reusable. Washing only takes 5 minutes, decomposing plastic takes 500 years.

Examples:

  • Bring your own container to takeaway food, reusable bottle for drinks. So we don’t ever need to buy bottled beverages!
  • Use reusable utensils and straws: These days you have straws in different material and shapes, you can get silicone bendy straw, glass boba straws, unbreakable steel straws. Or just drink from your cup!
  • Bring your own reusable bags and reusable produce bags
  • Invest in beeswax wrap, or just don’t cling-wrap your food. Use a plate to cover a bowl, or a good old (existing) Tupperware container. I love Pyrex glass containers and canning jars!
  • Ladies, have you tried the life-changing menstrual cup paired with reusable cotton pads or period underwear? It is the best thing you can do for your body and the environment.

2. Which product is the least harmful for the environment?

When buying something, evaluate both the product and its packaging and choose the most sustainable option.

Examples:

  • Choose glass, steel, and aluminum over plastic. Glass, steel and aluminum are infinitely recyclable. Plastic isn’t.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes over plastic toothbrushes forever!
  • If you have to use plastic, choose PET/plastic resin #1 (polyethylene terephthalate), and HDPE or plastic resin #2 (high-density polyethelene) because they’re widely recycled. Choose clear over colored.
  • Avoid products that are individually packed or in sachets.
  • Choose products with the least plastic packaging if it’s unavoidable: Family-size Oreos is always better than the equivalent amount of 3-in-a-pack Oreos.

“There’s no question that the No 3,4, 6 and 7 plastics are going into landfills and incinerators. We have a huge problem.”

John Hocevar, the Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA in an article by The Guardian

3. Are these cloths and clothes made with natural fibers?

Most of the synthetic fiber used to make our clothes are derived from virgin plastic. With the fashion industry being so large and fast moving, clothes are a huge contributor to plastic pollution.

Every time we wash a piece of clothing made with synthetic fibers, be it yoga pants, moisture-wicking T-shirts, or microfiber rags, microfibers get washed down the drain into the water treatment plant. Because the fibers are so small, the filters can’t catch them. 40% end up in lakes, rivers and ocean. Fleece jackets are particularly bad, and old jackets shed twice as much!

Apart from tainting our water sources and getting into us, these synthetic fibers are also eaten by marine animals like tiny fishes, oysters and crabs. These tiny animals get no nutrients and yet feel full from the “meal”, stunting their growth and reproduction. Eventually, some of them die from starvation.

To prevent this, remember the following:

  • Choose clothes, towels, blankets and bedding made with 100% natural fiber (or a high percentage of natural fiber) and wear them out.
  • Common sources of natural fiber include cotton, hemp, linen, silk, wool, and cashmere.
  • Shop secondhand clothes/ethical brands when you can and avoid fast-fashion
  • Avoid microfiber in cleaning tools, e.g. washcloth, mops and sponges. Choose old cotton towels and loofahs instead!

I know it’s difficult to find clothes made with 100% natural fiber — even socks are made with polyester these days, but it is possible.

Keep checking the labels!

4. How can I keep things simple?

You’ll be surprised at how much plastic waste you can eliminate from your life just by keeping it simple.

Examples:

  • Simplify cleaning routines: Instead of buying a hundred cleaning products, use vinegar and baking soda to clean!
  • Simplify your beauty routine, begin by reducing the chemicals you use on your body.
    The more junk we put on our scalp and skin, the more products we need to keep them healthy, the higher the chances of using plastic bottles.
  • Simplify the way you cook and eat by using simpler recipes with fewer ingredients.
    When it’s easier to make meals, you’ll be less tempted to order food delivery. We all know how much plastic that uses! And it’s expensive too!
  • Wear things out to eliminate all kinds of waste, not just plastic.
  • Don’t buy things you don’t need — most things are made of plastic or come wrapped in plastic.

5. How do I reduce my plastic footprint even more?

Even when it seems like you’ve done everything you can, keep this question in mind. For us non-zero-wasters, there’s always more we can do.

Question the ways we do things that uses plastic; remember ways we’ve lived without plastic just a few decades ago. Be creative and be brave!

  • Make your own: Be it meals, snacks, toothpaste, or napkins from old cotton towels.
  • Reuse/repurpose plastic containers to extend their use. We all know now recycling isn’t the way to go.
  • Our grandparents used bar soaps. Try replacing shampoo and body wash with a bar of soap. It’s freeing.
  • Question your consumption habits. We don’t need new phones/new fashion pieces/new colors every year/season.
    Over-consumption plays a huge part in plastic pollution.
  • Break old habits: shop at the bulk section, or visit a farmer’s market, or buy Oreo cookies once every three months instead of every month.
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

In conclusion

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that we can still do a lot to reduce our plastic use without changing our lifestyle.

Plastic, by itself, is not a problem. It’s thanks to our over-usage and misuse that plastic pollution became a crisis. If we keep the effect of plastic on our minds, we’ll keep finding ways to reduce its use.

I encourage you to keep talking about the impact of plastic pollution to spread awareness. None of us can solve the plastic crisis alone, but collectively, we have a chance.

Keep plastic on your mind!

If you’re also on a journey to reduce your plastic use, I’d love to hear from you! And I hope you’ve found this post useful.

Originally published at https://darkbluejournal.com on July 2, 2019.

Writer obsessed with keeping her life simple and footprints gentle. | www.darkbluejournal.com

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