Can We Actually Ditch Single-Use Plastics From Our Lives?

Can you truly live a life plastic free, without considering it a fundamental part of life? If so, how on earth do we reduce the amount of plastic that we consume every day? This blog post is all about that question.

I think it’s important to first recognize what plastic items we are using daily and what the impacts of those products are on the environment, and our health. What kind of realistic and affordable replacements can we consider in lieu of these plastics?

Concept of plastic free. Hands stretched in front of the ocean holding shells in one hand and plastic pollution in the other.

A Plastic World: More Ubiquitous Than You'd Imagine

Once you start to look into it, plastic is everywhere. It’s in our makeup and toothpaste, clothes, water bottles, food packaging, toys, computers, and even the cars we drive. If a plastic free lifestyle is in fact possible, what can we do about it?

Easy Wins: The Low-Hanging Fruit of Plastic-Free Living

The first plastic products, and the easiest ones to start eliminating from your everyday life are things like plastic water bottles, straws, coffee stirrers, zip lock bags, and even other single use food packaging.

But What About Dining Out?

It’s difficult to control what kinds of products that restaurants and stores are using to serve you. You have a couple of realistic options here.

Concept of plastic free. Recycling bins in a break room.

I personally go to Dunkin’ and Starbucks a few times a month. My local Starbucks no longer provides a straw to you unless you specifically request one, and they are now compostable, or paper.

My local Dunkin’ is using a compostable, sustainable eco straw. The bags are recyclable, and the napkins are made from recycled paper.

What I’m getting at here is that you can choose to eat and shop with brands that are making a positive impact of their own whose values align with yours.

Assertive Moves: Saying No to Single-Use

We can also refuse to use the single use plastics being offered at other establishments - my partner doesn’t use lids or straws when we are eating at fast food joints. I often tell Dunkin’ to keep the straw, since I’m just taking the coffee back home (where I work), or I already have a straw stashed in the glove box. We can also swap these single use plastics for reusable products like glass/metal/plastic water bottles.

The Reality Check: Is 100% Plastic-Free Feasible for Everyone?

I believe that living totally plastic free lifestyle is possible — but it’s not necessarily the most affordable or accessible lifestyle for all.

There are products that are much better for the environment than others, namely, reusable products that may be made of plastic but are produced with recycled materials. I’ll be honest, I have a plastic Nalgene from REI, but it was made from 50% recycled materials. That makes it better, right? I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the fact that it was plastic, I had the $7 price tag in mind compared to the $35 hydro flask bottle. There are both economical and environmental benefits to both bottles. The biggest factor here, is you! Your lifestyle and what the values that you can realistically afford to uphold matter and shouldn’t be cast down because you didn’t make a more sustainable choice than someone who could afford the more expensive product.

Woman pulling single use plastic bag to bag produce.
Vegetables bagged in single use plastic.

The Grey Area: To Bag or Not to Bag

Another single use plastic that we often have in our lives are plastic shopping bags. We live in a country where these are widely used and provided at no additional cost. I have to admit, I don’t want to spend even another few dollars on reusable bags, so if I don’t remember to put my tote bags back in the car, or I don’t have any paper Aldi bags left, I often take the plastic bags.

We try to offset this by never throwing these bags in the trash. We always keep them and either refuse them or we recycle them. Our local grocery store has a receptacle you can place these bags in to be appropriately recycled, and that’s what we opt for once some of these have accumulated in the garage. I’m trying to illustrate that single use plastic does realistically enter your life everyday, but you have options as far as how you use, reuse, and dispose of these items.

The Triple R Rule: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle

Reuse, reduce, and recycle when possible.

This is the number one recommendation I’ll give regarding any material. Try to switch to reusable products and take small steps towards eliminating single use plastics from your day to day. When using single-use plastics and other goods, remember to recycle whenever possible.

Plastics and pollution on the beach sand.

It's a Journey, Not a Sprint

I’m very much aware that for those that haven’t started making these lifestyle changes, it is actually a pretty drastic change. Frankly, I don’t really have the answers of how to totally eliminate plastic from your life once and for all.

I think making that goal too strict makes it feel like an impossible missions, which then puts us in a state of guilt when we do sometimes use plastic or forget to bring our refillable water bottle. It’s important to remember that doing anything to reduce the amount of plastic you use is better than nothing. None of us are perfect while still living in a disposable society, but if you can be more conscious of your actions then that’s a step in the right direction.

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