This month is Plastic-Free July, which is a global movement to draw attention to the impact of single-use plastic waste and challenge our reliance on plastic.
Did you know that 95% of the plastic packaging we use is only used once? If we fail to change our habits, there will be double the amount of plastic produced by 2040 and three times as much will be entering our oceans. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish! (Ellen McArthur Institute, Circular Economy Solution to Plastic Pollution, July 2020)
So, what can we do about it? Generally, the 4 R's still count - REFUSE or REPLACE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Even with our best intentions however, sometimes it's hard to get there. Here are some simple swaps and tips that you can integrate into your day-to-day lifestyle that will have a significant impact on your single-use plastic waste consumption.
1. SWAP PLASTIC BAGS FOR ORGANIC COTTON
Plastic grocery bags only serve a short-term use of getting your groceries home, are extremely difficult to recycle (you need to send them to a specialty soft plastic recycling facility) and take 500 years to breakdown if left in a landfill. Our solution? A reusable bag. And specifically, and organic cotton bag. Why cotton? Because it is washable and at the end of its lifecycle, it is completely biodegradable as opposed to those polyethylene bags that most grocery chains have adopted but will also sit in a landfill for 500 years once they're discarded.
Another tip: if you have been using plastic grocery bags for your garbage, try switching to paper bags. When you are composting food scraps and recycling most of your waste, you will cut down significantly on the garbage you produce and it will not have wet ingredients that would seep through paper (those go into the compost bin).
2. BRING REUSABLE CONTAINERS WITH YOU EVERYWHERE
Did you know that single-use coffee cups and take-out containers might look like paper but are lined with a layer of plastic that is extremely difficult to recycle. Avoid single-use coffee cups, water bottles and take-out containers by keeping good quality, reusable containers with you at all times. The trick to remembering them? Make them part of your daily routine by leaving your bottles at the sink to be refilled every morning or at the front door, your car or desk.
3. BUY BULK
Buying bulk eliminates the need for excess packaging. Bulk especially reduces plastic in personal care products that all come beautifully wrapped with plastic pumps, lids and caps that double our consumption and are often made with multi-materials so they are very hard to recycle. When buying bulk, look for stores that allow you to bring your own containers in to refill, or opt for refills that come in paper or minimal packaging.
4. SAY NO TO PLASTIC
Plastic is everywhere! Once you start to pay attention to it, you'll notice how quickly it finds your way into your home. There are, however, often alternatives to plastic packaging that just take a few more minutes to find when you are out in a grocery store. Look for fruits and veggies that are local and come without plastic bags, trays or bins. Sauces and foods that come in glass jars or steel cans are much easier to recycle than plastic. Cheese and meats from the deli that are wrapped in parchment paper eliminate layers of plastic wrap and styrofoam. Look for your household products made out of natural materials like help, cotton, bamboo or wood. All will degrade and decompose significantly faster than plastic.
5. GET CREATIVE BY REUSING CONTAINERS
Some things like dairy are particularly difficult to find in reusable or natural materials. If you find yourself accumulating yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese containers try to find other uses for them. These containers are great for food containers, and can also be easily repurposed to store small items around the house, grow your seedlings in or used as an art project.
6. LEARN WHAT CAN BE RECYCLED, WHERE
Every municipality has a different recycling program with different rules. Generally, #1 PET & #2 HDPE plastics are more widely accepted (these are the thicker plastics that often come in water bottles, shampoo bottles, etc.) Many of the softer #4 LDPE plastics like bags, wrap and tubes are not widely recycled and require a specialty facility to take. The same goes for styrofoam #6, and bioplastics #7. Get familiar with the numbers and what your local facilities can take. If you receive a product in one of the non-accepted recycling containers, put it aside and make a special trip to a recycling depot that collects those materials.