We live in an increasingly disposable society, where everything is designed for convenience in the moment without regard for the future. Every piece of plastic that has ever been created is still here on the earth in some form — whether it's in landfills where plastics leach chemicals into the soil, or in waterways and the oceans, where we are currently on track to have roughly more plastic than fish by the year 2050.
While recycling may feel like the answer to our problems, only 9% of plastics in the United States are actually even recycled. 40% of plastic produced is packaging — used once and thrown away. This is bad, but the good news is, there are some simple ways that we as individuals can make small changes in our daily lives to reduce our personal footprint, and together make a big environmental impact.
In honor of Plastic Free July, a global movement to reduce plastic waste, here are six quick and easy ways you can reduce your personal plastic footprint:
Did you know that most coffee cups are not recyclable, because they're lined with plastic to keep the cup from falling apart? Even if you're opting for a compostable cup, most only break down if they are in a compost (not a trash can or a landfill). Americans toss 58 billion disposable cups annually, but we can easily reduce that number by starting to bring your own cup (BYOC).
You can choose from any number of cool reusable cups out there. When you want to keep beverages hot or cold for an extended period of time, one of our favorite options is Corkcicle's triple-insulated canteens tumblers that come in a variety of sizes and designs. We also like the space-saving collapsible cups from Stojo, which comes in 12 oz or 16 oz sizes, squashes down when you're not using it, and comes in some chic colors. Some coffee shops will even give you a discount for bringing your own cup.
Use a bamboo toothbrush
Toothbrushes are not recyclable. 1 billion of them will be thrown away in the US this year, and they're a major source of plastic pollution in our oceans. Try switching to a toothbrush made completely from plant products with compostable packaging.
Buy unpackaged shower and bath products
In addition to being encased in packaging that can be non-recyclable, many conventional soap, body wash and hair products contain harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals. LUSH makes a wide variety of soap, scrub and shampoo bars that look and smell amazing, are natural and come package free.
No more plastic utensils
Aside from the fact that they often don't work very well, most plastic utensils are made from conglomerate plastics and are therefore not recyclable. You can grab a reusable set from home and leave it in your desk drawer, or look to a brand like To-Go Ware, which makes a set of reusable bamboo cutlery and chopsticks in their own case. This utensil set from Amazon comes with cutlery, a straw and a straw cleaner in a cloth bag, allowing you to eliminate both plastic cutlery and straws.
Bring a reusable bag
The average plastic bag is used for 12 minutes, but it will be here forever. Shoppers in the United States use almost one per resident per day, while in Denmark, for contrast, the average shopper uses just four plastic bags a year. Bringing your own bags to the grocery store or just refusing a bag when you don't need one can make a big difference. Think about it: most bags we are given are unnecessary, many things can be put in a pocket, a purse or just held in your hand. Reducing your use of disposable bags can be totally free, as many of us have extra tote bags laying around, but if you are in the market for one, there are millions of cute options out there, such as this 100% cotton bag from Package Free Shop.
If you're interested in even more ways you can reduce your reliance on plastic, check out Package Free Shop and Life Without Plastic for plastic-free options for cleaning, beauty, and other everyday items.
Photo via Getty