According to the EPA, over 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the early 1950’s. That’s more than the weight of the entire human population! In 2015 alone, the US produced 34.5 million tons of plastic, including packaging, durable goods, and disposable items. The rate of plastic production and consumption has grown faster than any other material on the planet. This holds especially true for single-use plastics such as straws, silverware, cups, bags, and more, which for many of us, have become an integral part of our lives. Our plastic pollution problem is the result of consumption by manufacturers, processors, and residents.
A 2017 study recently uncovered that only about 9% of plastics are truly recycled. The majority – almost 80% – accumulates in landfills or scattered around the natural environment. One of the most well-known end spots for plastic is in bodies of water, including rivers, lakes, and the ocean.The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastics on the planet. It totals 79,000 tons of plastic – over 94% of which are microplastics, pieces smaller than a grain of rice. If we maintain our current plastic consumption, there will be more plastic in our ocean than fish by 2050.
Plastic in the Home
As we learn about the fate of our plastics, recycled or not, you might be wondering what steps you can take to limit the amount of plastic used in your life. There are always ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic, looking no further than your home! The average household contains tons of plastic products, from your medicine cabinet to the kitchen table.
Reduce Plastic from the Start
There are a number of alternatives made of non-plastic materials that can be substituted for common household items.
- Grocery shop with intention. Food packaging makes up over 23% of the materials landfilled in the US. By making a list of ingredients and planning out your meals, you are less likely to impulse-buy plastic wrapped snacks throughout the week.
- Go natural. Synthetic fibers in your clothing, shower curtains, towels, and bedding are often made with plastic. Keep an eye out for more natural options that aren’t blends, such as cotton, wool, hemp, and cashmere.
- Try a DIY. Many hygiene and cleaning products, from deodorant to Clorox wipes, come in plastic containers. There are tons of easy recipes online that allow you to make your own products. Vinegar and baking soda can be combined to make an all-purpose cleaner, and sugar and coconut oil create a great body scrub.
- Buy in person when possible. Although Amazon and other online shops are convenient, purchases often come with lots of plastic packaging, including Styrofoam peanuts, air pillows, and bubble wrap. Shopping in physical stores eliminates this need.
- Bulk is better. Whether your local grocery store has a bulk section or not, there are always ways to choose larger containers over single wrapped items to lower the amount of plastic wrap and packaging.
Reuse is better than single-use!
- Sustainable kits. Adding a stainless steel straw and water bottle to your bag with your wallet and phone is an easy way to avoid plastic when out and about.
- Keep it in the car. Leaving a few reusable grocery bags and Tupperware in the car is a great way for those last minute purchases or leftovers from dinner at a restaurant.
- Get crafty. There are tons of ways to repurpose household items to change up your space and reuse an item that would otherwise get thrown out. Check out our creative reuse blogs for inspiration!
- Secondhand as a first option. More durable plastics, such as those found in kitchen appliances or décor, can be purchased secondhand at a high quality. EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield has a number of appliances and construction materials that help reduce the amount of plastic waste going to landfill by extending its life.
- Check your town website or with your local MRF to see what you can and cannot recycle! Or take a look at the resources provided by the Recycle Smart initiative by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. This initiative was developed to help residents and homeowners understand what can and can’t go in their curbside recycling container.
- Plastic grocery bags, dry cleaner bags, and more can be disposed of separately at one of the hundreds of film plastic drop off locations throughout the state. The Beyond the Bin database shows other items that can be recycled outside of your curbside bin!
Stay tuned this week for more tips on how to reduce plastic in your office and with your kids!