Raise your hand if you’re worried you’re recycling wrong (FYI: we’re waving ‘em over here right along with you). It can be confusing to know which bits and bobs from daily life can make their way back to us in a recycled form—and the fact is many different kinds of plastics can’t be recycled by our local city governments, and the rest end up in landfills and even make their way to the ocean’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Gone are the days when simply chucking your plastic bottles and cartons into the recycling bin gets you a civic gold star. It’s going to take a renewed commitment to the “reduce” corner of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” triangle (anyone remember Recycle Rex?) and as is so often the case in our lives, small changes can add up to a big difference.
Here are a few low-effort ways to reduce your use of plastic and earn that gold star back for good.
- Buy in bulk and store food in glass jars. More and more supermarkets and local food shops are offering ingredients like beans, grains, pasta, flours, spices, and candy in bulk bins, which means big savings for you and less packaging all around. Instead of reaching for the plastic bags offered at the grocery store, bring along your own containers and be sure to get the tare weight of your jars before you weigh out ingredients (that just means weighing the container on its own and writing it down so you don’t get charged for the heavy glass! If there’s no scale available head to the checkout stand—they’ll be able to tare the containers for you.
- Say no to straws and single-use silverware.Terrifying fact: 80-90% of marine debris is made from plastic, and so much of that gunk was once plastic straws and utensils. Simply ask for your drink without a straw, or snag a reusable metal or glass straw for when you’ve gotta get your Slurpee on.
- Bring your own shopping bag. Yeah, yeah, yeah we know you’ve heard this one over and over for years. But it bears repeating: Every reusable bag has the potential to eliminate over 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime. But only if you actually use it! Given that plastic bags can take up to a thousand years to break down, we’re investing in a few Chicobags to throw in our glove compartment and messenger bags to make sure we’ve always got a tote handy.
- Plastic wrap is out, reusable beeswax wraps are in. Bees Wrap is made by infusing cotton cloth with beeswax so it conforms to any container and can be used over and over without the cling fiasco of plastic wrap. You can even make your own!
- Skip bottled water in favor of a glass or metal bottle. These are a better choice than BPA-free water bottles (because even the plastics that have been replacing BPA are known to be hormone disruptors), but any reusable water bottle is an eco upgrade from buying single-use plastic bottles by the case. Don’t like the taste of tap water? Get yourself a quality water filter and upgrade your sips forever.
- Light up with matches instead of disposable lighters. Or get yourself a snazzy buy-it-for-life refillable Zippo lighter and pretend you’re Sean Connery.
- Choose metal or wood cooking utensils. Sure, cooking utensils aren’t single-use items, but whenever those cheap plastic spatulas and spoons are heated up (like stirring a pot of soup or scrambling eggs) they can melt or flake causing bits of plastic to leach into your food. No bueno. Make like your abuela and opt for wooden spoons instead. If you care for them they’ll last forever! While you’re at it swap those stained plastic cutting boards with the melted bits from when they were accidentally set on the stove before the burners were 100% cool (just us?) for a chef-approved bamboo or Epicurean board.
- Rethink your period. From Thinx’s comfortable period-proof underwear and DivaCups to Dame’s reusable applicator and reusable cloth LunaPads, there are a ton of modern ways to skip all those plastic wrappers, tampons, and tape. Plus, when you choose alt period options, you’ll also avoid the nasty chemicals and fragrances loaded into conventional flow products AND save some cash over buying a new box every month.
- Pick up some mesh produce bags. You’ll feel like such a boss when you pull these cute bags out of your reusable tote in the produce section or at the farmers market when everyone else is reaching for the plastic. They can be thrown into the washing machine if they get dirty, and are great for organizing your veggies in the fridge.
- Shop the farmers market. The best way to avoid packaging for food transport is to buy from the source! Instead of plastic bags of kale and clamshells of berries, you can pick and choose from mountains of bulk produce ready to make your locavore meals.
Bonus paw-some tip: If you do need to grab something in a plastic bag, save it for picking up after your dog—or save up a bag of bags and bring them to a local dog park!