Diverting your plastic, glass and paper from the landfill by recycling does make a difference, there’s no doubt about that. However, it may only serve to increase the demand for disposable products, which large corporations have yet to complain about.
According to the Guardian, only 9% of the plastics we manufacture are actually recycled. That means a vast majority of these fossil fuel-based products are being buried in landfills, or worse yet, tossed into the ocean, leeching their chemical makeup into the environment for ages to come.
This is just one of the reasons our planet is experiencing a climate crisis, but it’s big one, and recycling isn’t enough to offset it all. If we truly want to make a difference, we need to make systematic changes at the source of the problem, i.e. use less plastic.
Here are some easy ways to do that:
10. Put down plastic, pick up glass or cans
If you have a choice between something in a plastic bottle, or the same product in glass or cans, leave the plastic on the shelf. Glass and cans can be recycled, and are, with much greater efficiency than plastic.
9. Head to the bar
You may be a die-hard body wash user, but chances are, that plastic bottle your soap comes in will still look as good as New Years from now, when you are…less so. Opt for the bar the when you shop for soap, and keep the planet clean as you would yourself.
8. Skip the take-out plastic
Single-use plastics are a scourge upon the planet. There’s no reason to make the problem worse when you have perfectly good cutlery at home. The next time you get take out, turn down the offer of plastic forks, knives or spoons. Use your own washable utensils instead.
7. Reusable Utensils
Whether you’re lunching at work or grabbing a bite on a cross-country road trip, you can make a big difference by bringing your own reusable utensils and containers rather than the single-use versions. There are some attractive designs made for camping that can easily be used daily.
6. Avoid packaged produce
Items like single-wrapped fruit or vegetables may seem like a healthy choice for you, but the extra packaging is unnecessary. Whenever you have the choice, opt for items with less packaging, or none at all, and you’ll wind up with less waste to deal with.
5. Bring your own containers
Bring your own reusable bags to the supermarket when you shop for produce. Nylon or cotton can easily be thrown in with the wash after a few uses, and won’t harm your haul. Moreover, stopping by the bulk foods section instead of purchasing smaller portions in plastic bags will also reduce your carbon footprint.
4. Shop secondhand
Shopping second hand often means saving yourself the effort of “breaking in” that perfect pair of jeans. If you’re got space outside, try to line-dry your clothes as often as possible to reduce waste, and the chances of synthetic fibers being washed into the watershed.
3. Group online shipments
Some companies allow the option of grouping shipments to cut down on bulky boxes. This can make a massive impact on the amount of waste your household generates, especially around the gift-giving season.
2. Leave the lid
The next time your order a coffee to go, skip the lid and sip freely. While some disposable coffee lids are now made from cornstarch or other biodegradable materials, they still require energy to produce and can gum up the works of other recycling streams if disposed of in the wrong bin. When in doubt, go without.
1. Don’t buy bottled water
Water necessary to life on earth. Plastic is not. If you have a reusable water bottle, refill it as often as you need to stay hydrated, but steer clear of cheap bottled water. The environment will thank you.
These ideas should be enough to get you started off on a more ecologically friendly path. If you want to make even more a difference, examining the plastic you throw away in a single month, and try to cut down on whatever you find the most of. And while you’re at it, always make sure your recyclables are sorted and clean.
“Putting items in the recycling bin that can’t be recycled can contaminate the recycling stream,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states. “After these unrecyclable items arrive at recycling centers, they can cause costly damage to the equipment.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.