The plastics conundrum has resulted in a pileup of waste that's harmful to the environment on many levels - from the time it's sourced from petroleum until it potentially ends up in the environment, polluting ecosystems and threatening the species that live there. Yet, while recycling often gets touted as a solution, multiple hurdles exist. One, a large portion of plastic packaging doesn't get recycled at all: In 2021, just five percent of all plastic created in the U.S. was recycled. What does get recycled through the present's inconsistent, local-based infrastructure - primarily #1 and #2 plastics - results in an inferior product that can only be recycled a finite number of times. On top of this, consuming foods in plastic containers, washing petroleum-based fabrics and even plastic recycling contribute to a growing microplastics problem.
In turn, cutting into the amount of plastic produced means seeking out more environmentally friendly products - many of which eliminate single-use plastic packaging. Get started with the following tips:
Reusable Bags and Containers
Chances are, you already bring a reusable bag with you to the store. While this move eliminates single-use plastic bags, consider the following additional eco-friendly alternatives:
- Limit use of the woven synthetic reusable shopping bags given to customers at grocery stores. Instead, seek out canvas or hemp bags designed to last longer.
- Bring along reusable containers for dry goods, like rice, nuts and beans, rather than fill a single-use plastic bag.
- If you're headed out for coffee, take along a reusable thermos or tumbler for your drink. Realize that most paper cups have a plastic liner that can't be recycled.
- Reduce consuming bottled beverages, especially anything packaged in plastic. Instead, bring along a refillable water bottle.
Be Mindful of Eco-Friendly Alternatives for Packaging
All other packaging materials have a significantly higher recycling rate than plastic and, in some cases, are infinitely recyclable. To reduce the amount of plastic you consume:
- If you have a choice, look to choose packaging which reduces plastic as well as seeking out paper, cardboard or aluminum packaging options for food and household products.
- For toiletries and beauty, look for bars over bottles, or consider refillable products, if that alternative is available.
- Know how you should be recycling any plastics you purchase: For example, never place a plastic bag in a recycling bin, and check to see which plastic numbers your region accepts. Make sure whatever you put into the recycling bin is free of residue.
Reduce Single-Use Plastics
Unfortunately, single-use plastics are all around us - from ordering takeout or a drink at a bar to common toiletry and hygiene products. Some eco-friendly alternatives for common single-use plastics include:
- Instead of plastic bags or cling film, go old school, and wrap your food using beeswax paper or aluminum foil, the latter of which, once clean, can be recycled. Or, store your food inside a sealed, preferably glass or metal, container.
- Bring your own cutlery and straws, rather than reaching for disposable plastic solutions.
- Steer clear of disposable beauty and hygiene products, from razors to face masks.
- If you have an infant or a toddler, switch from disposable diapers to washable cloth diapers.
- Similarly, explore eco-friendly alternatives for period products, from menstrual cups to reusable pads.
- Store your food in glass jars, ceramic bowls or metal containers, as not only does plastic pollute the environment, but food storage can cause the material's chemicals and microplastics to leech into your food.
- Pack your lunch to avoid getting takeout, which often comes packaged with various single-use plastics - from cutlery to the container itself to the bag holding everything together.
Understand Common Sources of Microplastics
Despite images showing the massive size of the Pacific Garbage Patch, microplastics are a significant polluter of oceans and waterways. Microplastics come from two sources: plastic products that break down into smaller pieces over time, and filtration methods in wastewater treatment that don't catch the amount of fibers passing into the environment.
To reduce the amount of microplastics that you generate:
- Avoid cleansers, scrubs and exfoliators made with "microbeads" - most of which are small pieces of plastic that filters can't catch. Instead, look for natural solutions, or make a sugar scrub with ingredients in your kitchen.
- Traditional teabags release microplastics into your cup or teapot, which you end up consuming. Consider biodegradable teabags, or brew with loose leaf.
- Gum, believe it or not, uses polyvinyl acetate as an ingredient. Especially after it gets left around in public places, gum will break down and release microplastics. Look for natural gums, if you feel you need to chew on something.
- Most sponges are made of a plastic compound, which sheds as you do your dishes, shower or clean your home. Seek out biodegradable sponges, or use your dishwasher.
- Glitter is made from plastic and the majority of it ends up in the environment. Avoid products made with glitter, as well as adding it to craft projects.
If You Have to Purchase Something Made From Plastic
Evaluate how many times that product will be used, and what's involved in maintaining it. Determine whether it's a product or container you can reuse, and consider how you can repurpose it once it's no longer useful.
Buddy State continues to rethink hydration and the supply chain for creating a beverage. In turn, we source our tea concentrate from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms and combine it with natural flavors. This process ends up being more sustainable than traditional tea production. On top of this, our tea packets involve less plastic - about 65 times less - than traditional water bottles. As a result, our approach involves 36 times less emissions than producing typical bottled drinks.