12 Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Usage
Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental problem of our age. Because plastics are cheap to make and versatile in shape, so they're an attractive choice for manufacturing everything under the sun, including the insidious single use packaging. We can tell you first hand just how attractive they are because we've been working hard to create new products that don't use plastics and it's not easy. There are good uses for plastics—they're light, waterproof, flexible and hard to break. But there's an ugly side—they're derived from fossil fuels, pollute our oceans and may be toxic to health. Here are some examples:
The good—they can be "used in diverse health applications, such as disposable syringes and intravenous bags, sterile packaging for medical instruments as well as in joint replacements, tissue engineering, etc."1 Plastics are great for situations that call for highly predictable, sterile, precise and non-reactive components. The best examples are medicine and engineering.
The bad—a staggering 42% of plastic is used exactly once for packaging. That's 160 of 381 million tons in 2015. It takes centuries to degrade and is toxic to living things. Nearly 3% ends up in the ocean which is a garbage truck unloading every minute of every day. By 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Those fish are all eating plastic, and we're eating them. Consumer goods rely heavily on plastics but don't benefit from the unique qualities of plastic the way that industries like medicine or engineering do.
So as a consumer, how can you help reduce global plastic consumption?
Our Top Tips
- Cut back on seafood. Almost 50% of ocean plastics are discarded fishing nets. These nets were designed to kill, and that's exactly what they do. It's contentious and hard if you love seafood (we do too 🐠 😢). But it's important to be aware of, we've considerably cut back on our seafood intake.
- Vote or get politically active. Legislation remains a effective way to make sweeping changes.
- Recycle. It seems obvious, but it's surprisingly important. 1 kg of plastic has a carbon footprint of about 0.75kg CO2e (About the same as a few pieces of fruit). Throwing away plastic doubles that footprint, and also means that more virgin plastic will enter supply. Recycling not only reduces your carbon footprint, but it prevents plastic from entering landfills and the ocean.
- While we're on the topic of recycling, here's a useful tip: "In general I try to remember a simple code of: 1 and 2 are recyclable; 3 and 5 sometimes recyclable; 4, 6 and 7 usually not recyclable." - Our World In Data
- Shop at a waste-free grocery store.
- Focus on removing larger plastic items from your routines first. You hear a lot about straws, but we hear the sound of a red herring. We don't condone plastic straws, but there are clearly bigger problems, like laundry detergent!
- Focus on removing plastics that you use repeatedly, things like bottles, diapers, tampons and pads. That's where you'll get the most bang for your buck.
- Reuse old containers. The best container is the one that you already own, whether it's glass, silicon, metal or plastic.
- Stop drinking bottled water. It's worse for you, more expensive and indistinguishable in taste. Bring a thermos, it stays hot and cold longer.
- Use bars of all the things—shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, dish soap and more are all available with minimal packaging in a thin layer of paper.
- Use cleaning tablets and strips—these handy tablets are highly concentrated for a specific purpose like laundry, glass cleaning, bathroom cleaning, or hand soap.
- In general, take out as much water as possible. If you must buy something plastic, buy a highly concentrated version that lasts longer and produces less waste and transport emissions.