12 Ways To Reduce Your Reliance On Single Use Plastics

In 2021, the U.S. had a recycling rate of just 5% for post-consumer plastic waste. Almost every piece of plastic that has ever been created is still here with us on Earth. The dolls and action figures we played with as kids are buried in landfills. The plastic baggies we use to carry sandwiches and store food end up in our oceans. Scientists believe it takes over 500 years for plastics to break down in our natural environment, and even then, they don’t decompose. The plastic only breaks down into dangerous smaller pieces called micro-plastics, which already have been found in human food and blood, fish we eat, and the air we breathe.

Now more than ever, consumers must adopt habits that reduce their use of single use plastics. Natalie Lennick is the founder of Green Ablutions, which makes salon-quality shampoo and conditioner bars. Packaged in compostable paper and free from the water that usually makes up 80% of shampoos and conditioners, these bars radically reduce reliance on plastic bottles. So far, sales of Green Ablutions have resulted in nearly 18,000 fewer plastic bottles polluting the planet. In addition, Lennick gives back, pledging 10 percent of all sales to support endangered sea turtles.

Here, Lennick offers 12 sustainable steps for consumers who want to cut back on their plastic dependence:

1) Join Plastic Free July. The not-for-profit Plastic Free Foundation encourages individuals to make choices that reduce the amount of single use plastic in their daily lives. So far, their Plastic Free July campaign has inspired over 100 million people in 190 countries to make a difference by committing to seeking alternatives to plastic.

2) Cancel your Amazon Prime subscription and shop locally instead. Amazon has long been one of the highest contributors to packaging waste worldwide. In 2020 alone, the company generated nearly 600 million pounds of plastic packaging waste. Break up with Bezos.

3) Bring takeout containers with you to restaurants. Many restaurants use black plastic for takeout containers and some areas still allow Styrofoam, which is even worse. If you know you’re going to have leftovers or you’re going to pick up food, it’s easy to pack a reusable container in your bag.

4) Shop at farmers markets. When you buy fruits, vegetables, household sundries, flowers, coffee, tea and more at local markets, you can avoid plastic altogether. Simply bring your reusable shopping bags and storage containers with you. This also supports your local economy and can save you money over grocery store markups.

5) Find out where your waste goes. Does your municipality recycle? Which numbered plastics do they accept? Do they have requirements for specific items like bottle tops, which are typically a different type of plastic than bottles, plastic bags or cling film? What condition do your items need to be for recycling: clean, dry, lids off, cartons flattened, etc.? Does your recycling actually go to a landfill or to a plant where the materials are burned, spewing pollutants into the air we breathe? A little education might provide just the drive you need to reduce your plastic consumption.

6) Thrift something. It reduces the need for new products to be cultivated, manufactured and shipped, saving energy, emissions and packaging. Almost anything you want to buy can be found second hand. For example, Habitat for Humanity ReStores stock home improvement supplies including furniture, windows, cabinets, lightbulbs, tools and even recycled paint. Other thrift stores like Goodwill and online sites such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist offer clothing, small appliances, toys, games and decor. You can even set up alerts through online sites for specific items.

7) Start a garden. Grocery store herbs often come wrapped in hard to recycle plastic bags or trays. Just one little packet of seeds planted in a handful of dirt can get you started. Oregano, basil, chives, thyme, rosemary and mint all thrive in window-sill containers. You can also build out your garden by hosting a plant swap. Gather neighbors and friends to share cuttings. Many plant varieties, including succulents, will start a new plant from the rooting of just a single cut leaf. You can use recycled containers like yogurt cups, wine bottles, canning jars and spent candles homes for your new greenery.

8) Tell everyone you want less plastic in your life. We all need to speak up if we’re ever going to see changes. Let the stores where you shop know ways they can make better choices like wrapping deli items in paper, offering more bulk bins and un-bagged produce.

9) Vote. Individual efforts to reduce plastic waste are just a small part of environmental protection. Vote in every election for individuals who support protecting our natural resources. Let your representatives know that you support legislation to make companies responsible for the plastic waste they produce and transition our country to clean energy.

10) Eat less meat. Almost all meat comes packaged in plastic. These plastic trays and films are rarely recyclable due to raw meat contamination and material degradation during recycling. Eating less meat also reduces your environmental impact by creating lower emissions and less water consumption.

11) Upcycle what you already own. Clothes can be fixed, altered or dyed for a refresh at an environmental and financial cost that’s significantly less than purchasing something new. Tired old home decor can be painted or refurbished for a modern look.

12) Shop for eco-friendly products and use them fully. These days, it’s easy to find sustainable home and personal care products that use less plastic packaging. Once you’ve bought a product, be sure to use it completely before replacing it.

“There’s no Planet B, so let’s enjoy what we have here on Earth and do our part to keep it clean,” says Lennick, who does all the work to run her small business while also raising two kids with her husband. She started Green Ablutions in 2019. When the pandemic hit a few months later, she suddenly had two young children learning at home. “I was stretched thin and found myself pivoting from selling at a local farmers market to attracting wholesale customers.” Now, her shampoo and conditioner bars are carried in stores in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Illinois and Colorado.

To aspiring change makers, Lennick offers this advice. “Be flexible. Start small but take the first step even if you feel it’s not perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good, as they say. You can get a lot of good accomplished while still figuring things out.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.