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Reduce Plastic Waste: One Alternative at a Time

Updated: Feb 26

Plastic utensils_Plastic Detox

The world loves plastic. It’s versatile, light, convenient, and cheap to produce– so it makes sense why it’s the world’s top choice for convenience in our modern-day lifestyles. But with all those benefits, come huge problems.

Take a moment and think about your daily life. How often do you use the following plastic products: shopping bags, water bottles, cotton swab sticks, Ziploc bags, shampoo bottles, packs of gum, cutlery, coffee cup lids, six-pack rings, take-out containers, toys, balloons, food bottles (ketchup, mustard, mayo, yogurt), straws, bread bags, and packaging material? Every day? Multiple times a day?

If you have used these products recently, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Let’s look at some statistics:

  • Thirty-five million tons of plastic waste is produced each year

  • Two million tons of plastic bottles are consumed worldwide every five minutes

  • Sixty thousand plastic shopping bags are used every five seconds

  • Around 50% of plastic waste we produce globally is single-use and thrown away almost immediately

So, What's the Problem With Plastic?

Out of those millions of tons of plastic, only 7% are recycled and only 1% of the plastic is considered bio-based, compostable, or biodegradable. That means that almost 90% of our plastic ends up burned, in landfills, or in our oceans. When plastic is disposed of this way, it threatens air quality, soil fertility, marine life, and human health. Let’s take a closer look:

Danger to our Land: On land, plastic litters our streets and waterways causing blocked drains. These blockages lead to flooding, and the flooded areas become breeding grounds for water-born diseases and bacteria that cause diarrhea. When plastic collects, it releases a toxic liquid runoff called leachate, which can contaminate soil and groundwater making the water undrinkable. Plastic piles are also a breeding ground for flies, vermin, and mosquitoes which can transmit diseases like malaria. Because of a mismanaged removal of waste, these plastics find their way into our rivers and eventually into the ocean.

Danger to Marine Life: Around 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year– most coming from garbage traveling by land. Once in the ocean, the ocean currents carry that plastic thousands of miles to every part of the globe. Plastic has been found in all marine habitats as well as the most remote places on earth! Because of the way the currents flow, a large portion of the garbage ends up in six giant “garbage patches”. The largest one is double the size of Texas!

Instead of decomposing, the plastic simply continues to break up into smaller and smaller pieces that are easily mistaken for food by sea creatures. When they eat the plastic, they can choke, rupture their gut, suffer intestinal blockage, stunted growth, and reproduction issues. We’ve all seen the turtle with the straw up its nose, or the fish stuck in the six-pack ring. Those pictures aren’t just for shock value.

Over 100,000 marine animals die from plastic consumption each year. It’s not only wreaking havoc on marine life; scientists have now found a growing rate of microplastics in the seafood we consume. So, when we pollute the ocean, we are hurting not only marine life but also ourselves.

Danger to our Air: Burning trash is a convenient way to get rid of large amounts of garbage quickly. Although convenient, when we burn trash, we pollute the air around us– the air we all need to use every day to stay alive. When trash is burned, it releases pollutants that increase the risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancer, respiratory ailments, skin and eye diseases, nausea and headaches, and damage to the reproductive and nervous systems.

Not only is burning plastic harmful, but the actual creation of plastic is too. Plastic production is the cause of 40% of greenhouse gas emissions every year making it one of the leading causes of global warming. From creation to elimination, plastic is poisoning our air.

Sounds bleak, right?

Well, while it is true that plastic has been a detriment to our ecological systems, we have the power to change our behaviors to lessen the impact of plastic consumption. Even better news? Making the switch to plastic-free alternatives is easy! With just a few quick behavioral adjustments, we can all be living in a healthier world.

10 Ways You Can Reduce Plastic Waste:

Here are ten actionable steps that you can take to reduce the widespread issue of plastic pollution.

1. Recycle: This is a great option. However, the sad reality is that plastic recycling is confusing and oftentimes products contain one or more pieces that can’t be recycled. Check the recycling number before you toss it. For more details on recycling read our blog, Recycling: What No One Told You.

Recycling Numbers_What numbers can be recycled

2. Shop for plastic-free products: There are plenty of options to help you ditch single-use plastic. Here are just a few:

3. Shop in bulk or at package-free stores: Even though buying in bulk still uses plastic, it will use much less than buying the smaller alternatives. Plastic-free stores are popping up in most major cities; make it a date adventure and go give it a try!

4. Repurpose Single-Use Plastic: If you have those shampoo bottles, soap, or take-out containers, wash them, and fill them back up again.

5. Buy Used: Shopping thrift stores are all the rage these days, and this is one time when bending to peer pressure is a good thing!

6. Switch to Bars: Shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles are so last year, switch to bars instead!

7. Make some noise! Tell companies and government officials that you want more plastic-free alternatives in stores. Use phone calls and your social media to make change instead of endless scrolling of adorable cat videos.

8. Tablets & sheets: Toothpaste is now offered in tablets and laundry detergent comes in detergent sheets! I know, we’re as excited as you are!

9. Washable cloth Diapers: I know you feel a little like you’re back in prairie times, but they had a good thing going with their reusable diapers.

10. Shop Locally: When you shop locally, your products are less likely to be packaged in plastic for the journey– especially if you go to a local farmer’s market. If you must go to a grocery store, you could bring reusable produce bags if you’re feeling fancy!

Finally, it is often helpful to join a community of like-minded individuals who care. Find out when your next community initiative is taking place to pick up trash, clean the beach, or increase awareness. Whether it is joining a clean-up, pressuring big companies to make the switch, or swapping out those plastic bottles for bars, the choices you make can have real, lasting, positive impacts on our planet.

How to Choose the Right Plastic Alternatives:

  • Choose companies you can trust: Finding plastic alternatives is easier now than ever before. A great first step to finding out if a company is plastic-free is to check product materials or a third-party seal. A third-party seal means that the company has been vetted by an organization committed to limiting the environmental impact of consumerism. Common examples are: Green Seal, Certified B Corporation (B Corp), Energy Star, and Environmental Working Group (EWG) verified.

  • Choose the right materials: Try to find items that are made from natural, recycled, compostable, and/or clean (no toxic or potentially harmful chemicals) ingredients. If the company doesn’t advertise what the product is made from, you can bet it's plastic.

  • Find products with longevity: If a product can be re-used or will last a long time, it will have a lower environmental impact. If it can be recycled or composted after use, that is even better!

Plastic-free shipping boxes_Plastic Detox
  • Find producers who package sustainably: Look for recyclable or compostable packaging. The less packaging overall, the better for the planet.

Remember, don’t be fooled by the color green: Just because a company says that they are eco-friendly, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Make sure to look at the ingredients, materials, and check for that third-party certification!

What Impact You Can Make:

In one year, you could cut back on plastic pollution by:

Every small choice you make creates a huge difference in the world. So, why not start today?

Do it for the animals.

Do it for future generations.

Do it for you.

Need help getting started? Head to the Plastic Detox Shop for plastic alternatives to get you started on your plastic-free journey.

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