Most people know by now that plastic is really terrible for the environment and how we are all rapidly destroying the planet with our love for conveniently packaged products. It’s not enough to just recycle your water bottles or buy products labelled “Made From Recycled Material.” People create insane amounts of garbage, and it’s about time that we all started making a better effort to reduce our waste overall, but particularly our plastic waste.
Plastic exists for a reason — it’s often a quicker, cheaper, more convenient choice than anything else. It isn’t easy and convenient to replace your plastics with alternatives, but it does make a difference and it will make you feel better about your role on this planet.
The easiest thing we can all do is stop accepting plastic grocery bags. Reusable cloth bags are available at every store and they’re cheap, so get a bunch of them and leave them in your car. Some stores, like Target, will even give you a small discount on your total purchase if you bring your own bags. If you just cannot deal with the effort of remembering your bags, at least ask for paper instead of plastic at the checkout.
While you’re at it, you can also purchase some nifty mesh bags online that you can use to carry your produce instead of the little plastic ones the store provides. People might look at you kind of weird in the store, but they don’t have their lives together like you. Fun fact: mesh bags actually keep your produce fresh for longer than the plastic ones.
If you’re feeling really dedicated, head to a store like Fresh Market or Earth Fare where you can buy nuts, grains, candy and other snacks from bulk bins. Save money and be eco-friendly! Just bring your own cloth or paper bags instead of using their plastic ones.
If you pack a lunch for work or school, sturdy reusable versions of plastic Ziploc bags can be purchased online, and you just wash them out each day instead of tossing them. You could also get a cool bento box which is like a grown up version of those elementary school lunch trays. They come in all shapes and sizes and have several different compartments to hold your foods separately and securely. Some people like to get fancy packing their food up bento-style.
The classic brown paper bag also still exists, if you still want something disposable. If your lunch is simple, like a sandwich, wrap it up in foil and toss it in a paper bag. Want to bring a loose snack like some chips or nuts? You can just fold over the top of the paper bag and tape it shut with some scotch tape. Easy and secure.
If you prefer takeout, bring your own reusable utensils with you instead. This might also be a great time to learn how to use wooden chopsticks. They’re easy to carry around and you can eat a surprising variety of foods with them.
If you frequent the smoothie shop or just really love Slurpees, you can buy reusable straws made of hard plastic or metal and carry them everywhere. Even better, if you’re getting an iced coffee some place, bring your own mason jar or travel mug and ask them to put your drink in that instead of a disposable plastic one.
It’s impossible to avoid all plastics, unfortunately. But at least make sure any plastic you use is the kind that is easily recycled. Every plastic item will have a number inside a triangle that indicates the type of plastic it is. Not all city recycling centers are equipped to handle all types of plastic.
Many places will only accept #1 or #2, and anything else gets trashed. Luckily, Jacksonville will take anything number 1-7. Just be sure you actually sort your stuff properly into a recycling bin and don’t just throw it all in the garbage can.
There is no perfect solution to the plastic problem, but every little effort counts.