Even though “Earth Day” is only celebrated on one day in April, you can celebrate and help the Earth year-round with some relatively simple changes to your everyday life. Reducing plastic use is one of the biggest changes you can make.
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Plastic Waste Impact on the Environment
Without a doubt, plastic drastically changed our world for better AND for worse. It radically changed the medical field with lightweight equipment, medicine storage, and even things like hearing aids. On the other hand, it can kill animals, leach chemicals, and clog our streams.
Here are some of the environmental impacts of plastic:
Plastic groups together in large floating islands. Nicknamed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, this floating plastic island was twice the size of Texas. (Source)
Marine animals are eating plastic because it tastes like food. (Source)
Plastics can entangle animals or even cause gastrointestinal blockage. (Source)
Plastics can break down but break down into carcinogenic byproducts. (Source)
As the smallest marine animals eat it then are eaten by bigger animals and move up the food chain, it brings the toxic components of plastic into our food. (Source)
Key Ways to Avoid Plastic Pollution
Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can reduce plastic waste. It’s our responsibility to reduce plastic use where possible by making smart choices.
1) Bring reusable bags to grocery store.
You can find grocery bags nearly everywhere but smaller reusable produce bags are a little harder to find. I think the largest stumbling block, that I also struggle with, is purchasing meat. Traditional butcher shops sell meat wrapped in butcher paper, thereby reducing waste by avoiding styrofoam trays and plastic wrap. If you are getting your meat from a regular chain grocery store, they’re less likely to use the butcher paper. One option is to bring your own glass or tin container and ask the butcher to “tare” the container before they put the meat in it. That just means the weight of the container won’t count towards your purchase. Or you could purchase the large silicone bags used for sous vide, a cooking technique (Here’s a great sous vide cookbook from Chelsea at A Duck’s Oven.) Lastly, you could just dedicate one of your reusable (and washable) grocery bags to meat and just be sure to clean it.
2) Pack leftovers or bring your lunch to work in glass containers.
It’s safer to reheat your meal in glass. Extra bonus, glass does well in the dishwasher! I use rectangular glass containers for my lunch. It fits a protein, veggie, and starch perfectly. Also try eco-friendly lunchware.
3) Keep a set of silverware with you or keep a set at work.
Don’t be shy to tell the attendant you don’t need silverware, plastic bag, or straws and don’t be afraid to keep an ECOstainless Spork in you car.
4) Pack snacks into snack bags for your day.
I use these adorable bags made by Bumkins. They are even machine washable! I just turn them instead out and throw them in with whatever load is running. They are great for the kids too. Keep the snacks in the original container until you are ready to take them with you though. These bags are strong enough for traveling but are not completely air-tight so your items could go stale if you are using them for more than a day or two. They hold a surprising amount of goldfish. put convenience stores items in your purse instead of in a plastic bag.
5) Say no to straws.
6) Use a reusable water bottle or coffee.
This is the water bottle I use but I changed the top for a flip lid like this. Most coffee places are open to using your reusable coffee mug – just ask. Try to keep it clean. Lots of water fountains are outfitted to fit reusable bottles. Some even have counters on them to show how many plastic bottles have been avoided by use of that fountain.
7) Compost your food waste.
By reducing the amount of waste you add to your garbage bags, you’ll need less of them. In an ideal world, we could have no garbage but we’re striving for improvement not perfection here.
8) If you must buy disposable containers for your event, etc., buy compostable items.
Because sometimes the last thing you want to do when hosting 50 people, is wash 5 million dishes. Even napkins, forks, bowls, and plates are now available in compostable forms.
These are waterproof and limit airflow so your items stay fresh. Instead of pre-packaged snacks at the store, make homemade granola bars or energy bites and wrap them in beeswax sheets.
10) Bring mason jars to the bulk bins.
Mason jars are great storage containers and fit in the dishwasher! You won’t have to worry about transferring the contents into another container when you get home. You could use some adorable chalkboard reusable labels. If you use those, don’t run the jars in the dishwasher.