As we enter the new year, consider adding this simple resolution to your list: use less plastic. This is one of the easiest ways you can help the ocean. Here are my top six tips to reduce your plastic footprint.
- Bring a reusable water bottle with you. A million plastic bottles are bought every minute, and that number keeps growing. Only a tiny fraction of these bottles are recycled and made into new bottles. Most of them end up in landfills and in the ocean, where they break down into smaller pieces that permeate ocean ecosystems and threaten sea life. Instead of buying bottled water while you are out, invest in a sturdy glass or stainless steel reusable water bottle, fill it before you go out, and take it with you wherever you go. This one simple swap will make a big difference in your plastic footprint, and will save you money on bottled water. Bonus: carrying a reusable water bottle with you will remind you to stay hydrated!
- Use a reusable thermos or tumbler for your coffee runs. If you go out for coffee frequently, you may be going through a lot of plastic lids, cups, straws, and stirring sticks. Instead, use an insulated metal thermos for hot drinks and a reusable tumbler and straw for cold drinks. Many coffee shops, including Starbucks, will give you a discount for bringing your own cup!
- Keep reusable shopping bags in your car so you don’t forget them at home when you go shopping. If you accidentally leave them in the car when you go into the store, you can always quickly run to your car to grab them before purchasing your items. This tip could save you hundreds of plastic bags every year. Let’s say you go grocery shopping once a week and use five plastic bags every time. That’s 260 bags per year you could save. In California, where bags now cost 10 cents each, that adds up to $26! You can often get reusable tote bags for free at events, and they are available for purchase for $1 and up at almost every grocery store. While you’re at it, invest in some reusable produce bags to avoid using those small plastic bags to hold fruits and vegetables.
- Buy in bulk and bring your own containers. Try to visit grocery stores that sell products in bulk, such as Sprouts, Whole Foods, Winco, or your local co-op. This way, you can bring your own container and fill it up at the store, instead of buying a whole new package of something every time you run out. This saves a lot of packaging, and bulk items are often much cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts. If you can, bring containers you already have, such as mason jars, Tupperware, or extra plastic bags. If you need to use the containers provided in the bulk section, be sure to bring them back to reuse when they are empty.
- Reuse and recycle your plastic. In today’s economy, it’s practically impossible to avoid plastic entirely. When you do end up using plastic, reuse it as many times as you can, and be sure to recycle it when you are done using it. Instead of throwing your plastic shopping bags in the trash, stick them in your car or purse to reuse while shopping, use them as trash bags, or bring them back to the store to be recycled. (Do not put plastic shopping bags in your recycling bin at home—they can’t be recycled at most facilities.) Plastic containers such as bottles and jugs that are labeled with the recycling symbol and a number can be placed in the recycling bin. Click here for more information on how to recycle, and make sure to check the guidelines for your state.
- Ask for your drink without a straw. Straws are an unnecessary convenience that generate a huge amount of plastic pollution. This one has been the hardest for me to get used to because when out at a restaurant or bar, most drinks come with a straw automatically. Try to get in the habit of saying “No straw, please!” after your drink order, and others will take note. Take the pledge to say no to straws, along with Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, Chevy Chase, Governor of Connecticut Dan Malloy, and Dr. Sylvia Earle.
Remember, you don’t have to eliminate plastic from your life entirely, but you can easily reduce your plastic consumption with these simple tips. Like any new habit, these tips take some getting used to, so don’t panic if you forget your reusable bags or travel mug occasionally.
I hope this list helps you reduce your plastic footprint and inspires you to do more to help the ocean this year! What are your new year’s resolutions? Do you know any other helpful tips for reducing your plastic use?