One of the biggest sustainability trends these days is the reduction of single-use plastics. We all love the convenience and our lives are definitely easier with a stream of disposable products, but do you ever stop to think about where those containers, straws, and sporks end up? Recycling is always an option, but did you know that only about 35% of recyclable items are actually recycled?
It is estimated that one piece of plastic could take as long as 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. In our waterways and open spaces, it is even worse. Plastics not only take forever to decompose, but they also continue to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, which are eventually captured in our potable water and ingested by wildlife. Do you really want to drink a glass of micro-plastics? Neither does our friend the sea turtle!
Do not despair, there is always hope and making a few simple changes today can go a long way for a more sustainable future. It may not be possible to live in a world without plastics, but we can definitely be smarter about our use and disposal. Here are a few tips to improve the plastics forecast:
Plastic bags are one of the most common items found during our litter cleanups and affect Texans from the Gulf of Mexico to the cattle ranches in the panhandle. These flying and floating dangers have been found in the stomach of many creatures, including Texas longhorns far away from any store.
How can you help? Carry your own reusable shopping bags. Don’t just use them for the grocery store. Bring them to the mall, hardware store, farmer’s market and even to work or a friend’s home to carry various items. Use them to pack for a trip or carry your towel and sunscreen at the beach. Go a step further and use natural cloth bags or those made from recycled plastics.
If you do use plastic bags, try to get multiple uses out of them and always dispose of them properly. Most grocery stores offer free bag recycling, which includes plastic shopping bags, dry cleaner bags, shipping materials and cereal box liners. For a full list of items, you can recycle with your plastic bags visit How2Recycle.
Go plastic-free at the drive-thru. The next time you stop for a snack, skip the straw and opt to drink from the cup or even bring your own reusable straw made from bamboo or metal. Another idea is to bring your own stainless steel cup to keep your drink cold and refreshing all day long. This way you can skip the straw and disposable cup.
Just Say No… to the spork. Unless it is your own bamboo or reusable version. You don’t need disposable cutlery if you are going home or to the office. Eating at the restaurant? Make a habit of carrying your own portable set. If you do end up having to take their plastic spork, bring it home and wash it to use again.
If you are bringing your own straw and fork you might as well bring your own mug for coffee. Some coffee shops are actually going green by no longer offering TO GO cups or asking customers to bring their own cups altogether. Staying to enjoy the WiFi? Opt for ceramic, washable or reusable items when available. This is true for any eatery you may be dining in. Always opt for washable/reusable and skip the disposable, even if the disposable option is recycled or composted. You are still creating waste.
You could even go as far as bringing your own TO GO containers. Coffee mugs and stainless tumblers are easy. Go another step and bring your own containers or baggies to bring home leftovers, especially if the eatery offers styrofoam or non-recyclable containers. No matter which options you choose, skip the plastic bag they offer to carry it in.
Most of us read the labels on our products. We check for organic, no preservatives, FDA approved, hypoallergenic, not tested on animals. What about the packaging? Is it triple wrapped in plastic layers? Are there many individually wrapped pieces? How much packaging comes with your product and how much of that is recyclable?
Buy in bulk or choose products with either less packaging or more easily recycled/composted packaging. Don’t buy individually wrapped portions and don’t buy tiny items packaged in lots of plastic. Added bonus: buying in bulk is not only better for the earth, it’s cheaper!
Visit your local natural food center or explore online for plastic-free products. You can find toothpaste powder, bar shampoo and conditioner, washable makeup pads and even compostable phone cases. There are many “green” options out there if you look hard enough.
At Keep Texas Beautiful we strive to do our part by offering employees a kitchen full of ceramic dishes, coffee mugs and silverware. We recycle whenever possible, use sustainable cleaning and paper products and even have a compost bin in our freezer. We do our best to practice what we preach and we hope you will share the message with your coworkers, employees, family and neighbors.
Take it one step at a time and soon you will be living a more sustainable lifestyle. Doing just a few of the items above can make a big difference. Remember, recycling is still a big part of managing plastics, but it’s not the only answer. Plastics will not disappear, but we can manage them more responsibly. Skip a straw today, bring your own bags tomorrow and use less plastics for the future.
Blog Post Written By Karen Maldonado, Program Coordinator.