How To Stop Using So Much Disposable Plastic

We are drowning the world in plastic. It washes onto our beaches, it sits entombed for centuries in landfills, it floats around the ocean in a cloud of microscopic particles twice the size of Texas. Most of it — 88% in Australia — never gets recycled.

Recycling it still takes 10% of the energy of making new plastic — not nothing. It would be nice to use a little less in the first place.

Reporter Jenna Wortham asked Twitter followers for some ways to use less disposable plastic. You don’t have to follow all of the suggestions in the replies; I certainly don’t plan to bring my own take-home containers to restaurants. Sorry. But would it be that terrible to try one or two of these tips? No, it would not be terrible. It actually might be enjoyable.

Replace plastic bags with reusable bags

Now that most major retailers have made the (begrudging) switch to go plastic bag free most of us are starting to learn the best methods of getting our groceries from A to B without so much waste.

Bring reusable produce bags to the grocery store, says Emily M-M. Keep tote bags in your car or your purse. (Get the ones that fold up small.) Reuse your Ziplocs, at least the dry ones.

Here is a major caveat: Do not buy a plastic replacement unless you’re ready to use it. If you don’t use them, reusable grocery bags are just a new innovation in garbage. Decline freebies or find a good use.

(I turn all the mediocre totes that inexplicably pile up in my home into “giveaway bags” that store all my donations to the charity shop.)

A Guide To Reusable Supermarket Bags

Read more

Replace your other disposable plastic

Try some reusable food wraps instead of Saran Wrap, like Kasia Mychajlowycz.

Try bar soap instead of plastic-bottled body wash, like Aimee Louise Sison. Look for brands that sell the same thing in paper instead of plastic. Next time you host a party, see if you have enough real dishes to cover everyone.

When you do buy disposable stuff, lean toward paper again.

Carry your own food containers

Easy level: Make your own coffee and if you want it on the go, use a thermos. One thermos, which you keep for years. Keep a glass water bottle at your desk, and a collapsible water bottle in your bag.

Medium level: bring your own reusable silverware around, like Christine Friar. It’s a little weirder, but as a bonus, you never have to use the really shitty kind of plastic fork—the one that seems designed to hold onto zero food—again.

Hard level: Bring your own takeout containers to restaurants, says Ana Cecilia Alvarez. Handle your own doggie bag instead of making the staff go fetch you some fresh garbage for your leftovers. It’s a little awkward and it takes more planning, but hey, you get to choose your own Tupperware.

Get less takeout

This is a tough one for me. While Alvarez is right that we go through actual tons of plastic with takeout and delivery, switching to more home meals is an actual time commitment. But I certainly don’t think enough about how much crap I’m throwing away every time I order Indian from across the street.

Look up your local recycling rules

Bad recycling drives me crazy. Some people at the Lifehacker office — certainly not Lifehacker staffers! — throw goddamn plastic bags into the yellow bin. You cannot do that! Not in most places! You are creating problems for the recycling center and you are ruining everyone else’s good work!

Now yeah, it’s frustrating that different cities and states have different recycling rules. But it’s not arbitrary — different recycling facilities have different capabilities — and all you really need to learn are the rules for where you live and where you work.

If you want to recycle plastic bags, you need to do the tiniest bit more work: Stick them in your pocket or purse and drop them off at the nearest grocery store or drugstore chain. A lot of these chains are starting to put a plastic bag recycling bin right out front.

Twitter’s @shityeahitscool points to PlasticFilmRecycling.org, where you can find nearby dropoff locations. Not a difficult habit to get into. Worst case, you end up with some bags in your pocket when you’re at the grocery store and you forgot your tote again.

These tricks will not save the world. Plastic is just a small part of our country’s garbage, and our individual plastic-pinching lives in the shadow of massive corporate and industrial waste. But practicing and normalizing attentive consumption is healthy, and reducing the demand for petroleum hammers one more little dent into the power of those industrial giants.


Comments

    There's a problem with carting your own silverware around. Might work for a woman who can put it in her purse but for a guy? Shove a knife and fork in your pocket? And that's before you get into the discussions with police "why exactly are you carrying around a knife?"

    Now that most major retailers have made the (begrudging) switch to go plastic bag free

    Just want to correct this "Now that most major retailers have made the (joyous) switch to sell you plastic bags".

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