As we enter another year of the plastic free movement in July, I am surprised that through grassroots initiatives and government policies, the world is slowly on the path of enlightenment and progress. Reading news about single-use plastic bans around the world brings a heartwarming and hopeful step towards the right future. For instance, Canada plans to ban single use plastics manufacturing and importing by end of this year, and by 2025 the entire single use ban prohibits the sale of and export of such products. These efforts alone estimates to eliminate more than 1.3 Million tons of plastic waste around the world. Other countries in Asia such as China, India, and Japan also promises to ban single-use plastics within the next 10 years. And California was one of the first states in the US to ban single-use plastic bags in retail stores and just last year, the ban on single-use plastic straws served in public places.
When you think about how other countries in Europe and Asia are moving away from the single-use plastics addiction, we can easily compare the standard of living to the US. Is it because we are too addicted to convenience and the ease of just picking up a bag of chips at the grocery store? We all fall victim to it. To the comfort of knowing that we can buy practically anything in grocery stores in the US. But is it right to be so easily seduced by this kind of convenience?
Whether or not we choose to buy things because of convenience or need or both, we must all take a look at why we are making such purchases. Sometimes when I’m at the supermarket picking out fresh fruits, I see packaged fruits sitting perfectly complacent next to freestanding fruits. Why are some of the same fruits packaged while others are not? They were the exact same organic apples albeit a different brand. Are we so accustomed to just picking up a prepackaged bag of fruit, tossing it into our carts instead of taking the time to pick out the ones we actually want? Wouldn’t it be both fun and beneficial to the environment to be able to pick out your own fruits rather than have the store decide that factor for us? While the world governs almost every aspect of our consumer lives, it has become a double edged sword. On one hand, we have become accustomed to the convenience of a Starbucks Iced Mocha served in a single-use plastic container instead of making the drink at home. On the other hand, because society has made convenience a lazy route to the standard of living, how do we branch away from buying things that are so inconveniently packaged? And you’ll know what I’m referring to when it takes more than the usual effort to open up a bag of chips or a plastic water bottle. Essentially, a waste of time and a waste of plastic.
Before I dive even further down the rabbit hole of single-use plastics, one thing we can think upon is how to reduce the use of them. Is it convenient to buy a bag of chips rather than make our own at home? Well, yes, of course. But is it necessarily healthier? Making our own potato snacks means less ingredients to ponder about and less waste for sure. So in the long run, reducing plastic use also enhances our own health and well being. And I’m not even talking about how those microplastics can end up inside our bodies each time we eat something that comes in a plastic container. But wait, you might think – I don’t know how to make potato chips! Well, neither do I but I could also skip a bag of chips when I’m grocery shopping and instead, eat something much healthier like fresh fruits or vegetables. If you can regularly correlate good health with convenience of food, then you can slowly get on the path of reducing the need to buy products in plastic containers.
So how do we reduce single-use plastics dependency? Let’s start with a few easy steps that you can make a conscious effort to change.
Steps to reduce single-use plastics:
Choose loose fruits and vegetables rather than prepackaged ones.
Choose healthier homemade snacks or buy bulk. Homemade snacks can include sliced seasonal fruits and vegetables, cookies, granola, and anything that you can set your skills to or improve upon.
Refuse takeout containers that are in Styrofoam and plastic. Even better, order food that you will only eat at the restaurant or bring your own containers. In certain parts of the world, people easily incorporate this habit when they’re eating out.
Store food in reusable containers. Glass and aluminum are the best materials as they last a long time and are easily recyclable and reusable.
Drink tea using loose tea leaves instead of tea bags. Most tea bags are not compostable as they might claim. Loose tea leaves are often packaged in elegant aluminum containers or whimsical cardboard boxes.
Make your own coffee and fancy coffee beverages at home. Better yet, most coffee places will allow you to bring your own cup. Or take some time to sit at the coffee shop and enjoy beverages with their own cups.
Skip the straw while you’re outside. At home, you can use your own glass or stainless steel straws. Unless there is a real need for plastic straws, try not to use them or request them.
Skip the use of plastic trash bags. I know it might sound yucky, but you really can use a paper bag to line your kitchen trash cans.
Choose plastic free beauty products. More and more companies are jumping on the plastic free bandwagon. Make sure these companies offer a take-back program of their containers where they can reuse the containers for future products. Check out Plaine Products and their goals to reduce single-use plastics: https://www.plaineproducts.com/ref/Suzan%20C./
Do a home and business audit on how much waste is accumulated. Check out Plastic Free July’s tips on how to do this: https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/get-involved/what-you-can-do/bin-audit/?mc_cid=f1fa6fff3d&mc_eid=594b2f4046
Choose food products in recyclable or reusable packaging. While not all packaging materials can be easily recycled, try to buy these products packaged in paper, aluminum, or glass.
When vacationing, try to apply these same techniques, especially if certain areas you’re visiting has completely banned the use of single-use plastics.
These may seem like easy and simple tasks, but it takes one step at a time, especially if you’re new or not too keen on reducing plastic use. Soon, you’ll be on the path to improving your health, mentality, and the planet. The point isn’t to feel guilty if you went on a plastic binge or if you never thought of reducing single-use plastics. The goal is to be more aware of your purchasing decisions and where and how you use single-use plastics.
***For some great tips and information on Plastic-free July, visit their website:
*Images courtesy of Plastic Free July
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