How to realistically reduce plastic pollution in everyday life

Plastic bottles collected for recycling
Flickr (Creative Commons)
Plastic pollution is a serious issue that hurts our planet and costs the lives of millions of animals on land and at sea every year. It's our responsibility to put an end to the damage plastic is causing on our world, argues EMILY FOLK.

Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, and even more ends up littering the natural environment on land.

Plastic is a problem. People have produced around 9.1 billion tons of the stuff since the 1950s - and the vast majority of that still exists in some form.

Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans and even more ends up littering the natural environment on land.

This plastic pollution doesn't biodegrade and can release toxins. Wildlife may also ingest it or get caught in it. So what can we do to reduce this pollution in our everyday lives? Read on to find out.

1. Choose reusables 

One way to reduce plastic pollution is to stop using single-use plastics. You can find an alternative to many of the plastic items you use every day. Rather than disposable plastic water bottles, buy a reusable one. You could even buy a beverage in a sturdy glass container and reuse it. You can also:

  • Replace plastic grocery bags with reusable cloth bags or single use paper bags
  • Bring a reusable coffee mug or travel cup if you get coffee to go
  • Shop at farmers’ markets where you can use your own containers
  • Use refillable lighters or matches

At other times, you can just skip the single-use plastic items entirely. You could specify that you don't need plastic ware if ordering takeout or tell your waiter you don't need a straw. If you really like straws, you can purchase reusable ones!

2. Find alternatives

If you do need to purchase single-use items, pay attention to the materials they’re made of. This also goes for packaging, which accounts for a substantial portion of plastic waste. You could buy laundry detergent in a cardboard box, for example, rather than a plastic container.

Other alternatives to look for include biodegradable plastics, glass and aluminum. You can also search out items that use minimal packaging. Some manufacturers are now reducing their packaging to minimize their environmental impact.

Every year, an estimated eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, and even more ends up littering the natural environment on land.

You can also buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging you use or buy used items, which don’t typically have any packaging at all. Of course, if you can opt for a reusable item, that’s always the best choice.

3. Recycle more

Before buying items made of plastic or that use plastic packaging, check to see whether it’s recyclable. Today, many kinds of plastics are but check the rules in your community to find out what you can recycle.

If you don't have curbside pickup for some types of plastic, you may be able to recycle it elsewhere. Some grocery stores, for instance, accept plastic shopping bags for recycling.

If your workplace doesn't have a recycling program, talk to management and see if you can set one up. You should be able to arrange pickup with local waste management reasonably easily.

4. Stop litter

Never leave plastics or other trash in the natural environment and look for recycling bins, rather than trash cans, if possible. This might mean you have to hold onto that empty water bottle for a bit longer, but in the end, you’ll be helping the environment.

Of course, everyone needs to stop littering to make a widespread impact. You can help with this by picking up small items of trash if you see it littering the outdoors.

If you see evidence of illegal dumping, you can also report it. This can eliminate potential hazards to human and animal health and discourage others from dumping illegally in the future.

By following these tips, you can reduce plastic pollution in your everyday life without even having to change too much about how you live. Doing these four things will help you reduce your environmental impact and make progress toward a healthier, more beautiful world.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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