Plastic Pollution: 6 Ways You Can Start Making a Difference

| 5 min read

A half-empty coffee drink in a plastic cup with a plastic straw
I’ve been working to reduce the amount of plastic products I use for a few years now. Like many others, I found myself feeling guilty leaving the grocery store with dozens of plastic bags toppling out of my shopping cart each week. I even started building a pretty good collection of reusable tote bags in my closet, but I never really made an effort to make a change.
A few things this year have given me the push I needed to start making small but meaningful changes, and it really hasn’t been as big of a hassle or pain as I thought it might be.
So what pushed me over the edge, and why should you pay attention?

Our Planet is Hurting

It’s not every day that you wake up to news that a whale died because its stomach was full of plastic bags, but the devastating effects our trash is having on our planet are becoming more severe by the minute. That’s not to mention the images of sea life stuck in plastic six-pack rings, turtles with straws caught in their nostrils, or fishermen who are pulling up nets full of plastic bottles instead of the day’s catch.

Other Places Are Way Ahead of Us

I recently traveled to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for a vacation with my mother. At the resort we stayed in, I was at first surprised, but then glad to learn that straws were not used on the campus. Menus included a disclaimer and there were signs by the beach explaining how the move has helped to protect and preserve the beauty of the ocean and marine life for generations to come. Sure, it was a bit of an adjustment to not have straws served with every drink. But when I got home I found myself questioning why American bartenders seem to include not one, but two straws with each beverage.
Other places across the globe that are setting the pace on plastic pollution prevention include Washington D.C., which was one of the first places to charge a tax on plastic bags, and Kenya, which actually implemented a country-wide ban on them.

Change Takes Getting Used To

Talking about something and knowing its a problem isn’t enough to make a difference in reducing our plastic pollution. Unfortunately, feeling sad for what’s happening to our planet doesn’t have much of an effect either. It’s going to take action from all of us. You don’t have to go out and write off plastics completely (unless you want to!), but I encourage you to ask yourself – am I really doing what I can to help?

You Can Get Started in Small Ways

Here are a few small ways I’ve started to reduce my plastic use, and some of the lessons I learned along the way:
  • Grocery bags: I leave my reusable tote bags in my car instead of my closet. That way, when I stop at the store last minute, I don’t have to worry about being prepared.
  • Produce bags: Do you really need a separate bag for the green peppers you’ll wash before using anyways? I found myself easily able to stop using these. If you do need a carrier, consider purchasing a reusable one you can toss all your fruits and veggies in.
  • Plastic baggies and food storage wrap: I’ve been trying to be more mindful of only using these when I really need to. I purchased more reusable food storage containers and also got a bento lunch box so I don’t need baggies for sides. The snack containers are built right in.
  • Silverware: When ordering carryout, I’ve tried to decline the silverware packet the restaurants tend to put in your bag. Half the time I don’t use it. At work, I started keeping a metal set of silverware that I can wash and reuse instead of grabbing it from the cafeteria.
  • Straws: Forget ’em! It’s really easy to start declining straws when you order beverages. I found I generally don’t need them. I purchased a set of reusable metal straws, but you can also choose to use glass, paper or silicone ones if you really need them. Just make sure you properly clean reusable straws with a brush.
  • Water bottles: I now have an aversion to plastic disposable water bottles. Once you start to pay attention to how prevalent they are in our everyday lives, its hard to ignore what an effect they have on our environment. I carry around my reusable bottle to and from meetings, and at the gym. If you’re not quite ready to make this jump, consider purchasing bottles that are made from recycled plastic.
As with anything, change can be uncomfortable and takes time. For many of us, using plastic products once and throwing them away is just a fact of life. It’s how we’ve done things for decades. If each of us made a commitment to make small changes, that can add up to a big difference.
What ways can you reduce your plastic use that are manageable for you and your family? Share your tips in the comments below.
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Photo credit: Pexels

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