When most people hear the words “single-use plastic,” they think of water bottles and straws. Unfortunately, we use much more plastic on a daily basis. We are a culture of convenience—literally anything and everything can be delivered to our doorstep in 24-48 hours.
What comes with convenience is a ton of single-use and plastic packaging that can easily be avoided or even substituted with paper alternatives. Let’s walk through a typical day together and take a look at all the plastic an average person consumes.
The morning is often full of the most plastic consumption of the entire day. The first thing you probably do when you wake up is look at your phone (we are guilty of it, too!). The third most common material found in cell phones is plastic, and the most likely material of your cell phone case is also—you guessed it, plastic.
Once you’re caught up on emails you head into the bathroom and brush your teeth. Your toothbrush is also most likely made of a plastic and there is a frightening amount of waste associated with this everyday item. In North America alone over a billion toothbrushes end up in landfills every year! Toothpaste tubes are made from plastic as well, and the thing is, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are both difficult to recycle because they’re made of multiple materials fused together.
In your shower you use soap, shampoo, conditioner, and face wash to name a few, and once again the majority of those items come in single-use plastic containers that get discarded once you’re finished with them. If you use deodorant, that’s another check mark on the single-use plastic list. Ladies, your makeup packaging is also a surplus of plastic depending on the brands you use.
When you’re finally out the door, you might stop for your morning coffee. If it’s iced coffee, it’s definitely in a plastic cup with a plastic lid and straw. And if it’s in a paper cup, you might think this is more sustainable, however, unfortunately paper coffee cups are coated in plastic in order to prevent leaks. That makes them unable to be recycled so they end up in the landfill.
Now that the bad news is out of the way, the good news is there are tons of alternatives and suggestions we have for all those plastic offenders.
Cell phones have the highest recycling market of any electronic material. However, in the U.S., we only recycle 10% according to the EPA. You can dispose of your old phones properly by researching an electronics donation or recycling center near you. The EPA has a list of manufacturers and stores that participate in these types of programs. Call2Recycle is another great resource.
There are a variety of bamboo or biodegradable toothbrushes you can try as well as some funky metal toothpaste tubes. There’s also toothpaste tubes made from recycled plastic. But, if you just can’t resist the old fashioned plastic kind you can participate in Terracycle’s Oral Care Recycling Program or the Preserve Toothbrush Takeback program.
For the shower, try a solid bar of shampoo and conditioner. It may seem strange at first but it lathers just like regular shampoo and like anything else, you start to get used to it! You can also find refillable deodorant containers with subscription plans to get it delivered right to your door.
Last but not least, invest in a reusable coffee cup or tumbler or make a cup of joe at the office in a mug every morning.
Now that you’ve started your work day, it’s time for lunch. If you’re not one of those people that meal preps for the entire week and brings lunch in a Tupperware or glass container, chances are you’re headed out for something to-go. Aside from a select few establishments that provide compostable or biodegradable food containers, the rest are going the cheap route and packing your meal in plastic. Not only is the container plastic but they provide you with plastic cutlery and then all of those items go into a plastic bag. Beverages are another culprit: we’re talking single-use plastic bottles of water, tea or a soft drink. A fountain soda is even worse since those are the same plastic coated material that you can’t even recycle and they come with a plastic lid and straw.
The lowest impact would be to pack your own lunch, with your own personal set of cutlery and reusable bottle for your beverage. If you don’t have the time (or patience) for that consider bringing your own container to your local lunch spot. If they charge by weight most places will let you weigh the container before you fill it up and then subtract it at the end. There are also a ton of fast casual restaurants that provide discounts or incentives for bringing our own container. And if you can’t see yourself ditching the convenience of a to-go container, try cutting down on unnecessary items. Say no to the plastic bag or cutlery, ditch the straw in your beverage, or stick with your reusable water bottle. Remember, every little bit counts! For more info on takeout waste check out this video by Climate Lab.
You’ve made it through the day and now you’re headed home to unwind and make dinner. You don’t have all the ingredients so you’ll need to make a quick stop at the grocery store. It seems harmless but think about the amount of plastic and packaging you find among those aisles in the supermarket: dressing and condiment bottles, plastic bags of rice and other dry goods, cereal boxes in a cardboard box with another plastic bag inside…and don’t even get us started on produce with skin packaged in styrofoam and plastic (insert broken heart emoji here). Not only that, when you check out of the store they put all your items into MORE plastic bags! Eek!
Since we love sustainability here at BLINQ we’re pretty savvy when it plastic-free shopping. Luckily, there has been an upward trend with plastic-free aisles at supermarket chains and there are a ton of zero waste grocery stores popping up all over the country. Litterless published a comprehensive guide on where to find package free or bulk stores in your state. Bookmark this page ASAP!
There are some other simple swaps such as bringing your own tote bags and produce bags to the store and glass containers for dry goods and liquids. Those plastic produce bags are real killers! We also suggest shopping at farmers markets, as they often don’t use a lot of— if any— plastic packaging when they sell produce or goods.
Plastic is all around us and we consume and use it on a daily basis. We always talk about lowering your impact on the planet as a lifestyle change and not something that happens overnight, so don’t be intimidated by our long list of action items. Start small, make it a habit, and continue to combat your single-use ways one step at a time. We’re here to support you all the way!