Written by Nicole Banister
I read a shocking statement a couple months ago that has stuck with me since I read it: every single piece of plastic ever made still exists.
Every. Single. Piece. Let that sink in.
Every bottle. Every container. Every bag. Every wrapper. Every single piece of plastic ever made, in any city, in any country, anywhere, is still on the planet today.
When I began to track the number of times I interacted with plastic on a daily basis, it was a shocking wake-up call. It seemed like almost everything I did, and everything I ate, involved plastic. Even as I typed this piece, I eyeballed my plastic phone case, my plastic cup of bubble tea, and my plastic-laced sneakers. Pause while I shudder.
I’m sure you’ve heard the cry to reduce plastic consumption, and particularly single-use plastic consumption, from a dozen other sources already. But we need to keep hearing it and we need to keep heeding the cry. As plastic piles up in our oceans, on our land, and inside our bellies, every little bit of conservation counts.
We’ve compiled a short list of things to start using instead of plastic. Try to integrate these easy hacks into your daily routine:
Bamboo, glass, and metal straws. I bought two bamboo straws last year and they have literally changed my life. I decline plastic straws when restaurants and bars try to give them to me, but if I really need a straw, I quickly fish one out of its holding place and dunk it into my drink. I keep one at home and one in my purse. They’re lightweight, easy to use, easy to clean, and they won’t get trapped in the bellies of the beloved sea turtles.
Bar soap. While liquid soap is most likely easier to douse onto your loofa, it almost always comes in a plastic bottle. Bar soap on the other hand typically comes in a recyclable, biodegradable paper container. Will you finish a bar of soap faster than a bottle of soap? Probably yes, meaning that you’ll need to buy more bars of soap than you would need to buy bottles of soap. But will the earth finish the bottle of soap faster than it will finish the bar of soap? Absolutely not. Go back to kickin’ it old school with bars of soap instead of bottles.
Glass jars. While perhaps commonly claiming fame as the super hipster, eco-friendly way of drinking boxed wine at home, the versatility of glass jars really is unparalleled. Fill them with drinks. Fill them with soups. Fill them with oats. Fill them with tonight’s leftovers so that you can take them into work tomorrow. Glass jars can store anything and everything, and they come in a myriad of sizes to meet your myriad of needs. Next time you finish that pasta sauce or jar of fresh honey, don’t just toss it in the recycling bin — wash it and use it as sustainable storage.
Reusable tote bags. I feel like we’ve been on the reusable tote bag train for a while now. It’s even hip for stores to sell their own customized tote bags to clients, especially in cities where a bag tax is in effect. In Nairobi, Kenya, the plastic bag ban is so serious that you could be slammed with up to four years in jail for simply carrying a plastic bag! (Keep this in mind when you’re planning your girls getaway to Kenya.) The key here is remembering to actually have your tote bag when you need it. Let’s be serious — you can never have enough tote bags, so I keep a tote bag in all of my most frequented spots. I’ve got one in my kitchen, in my purse, in my car, and at my desk in the office. Spread them out across your home and work spaces so that you’re never stuck needing to use or buy a plastic bag from a store.
Period panties. Ladies, stay with me on this one. It’s already expensive to buy tampons and pads every single month during our cycle. If we start to consider the effect that each of our little plastic tampon applicators and pad wrappers is having on the environment, well, it’s tough. And we – with our monthly periods – make up half of the entire world’s population. How do we mitigate both cost and environmental impact for something that is, in and of itself, so natural? Answer: reusable sanitary pads and period panties. They’re made out of cotton and other cloths, easy to wash just by throwing them in the laundry with the rest of your clothes, and you only have to make once-off purchases that last 3-5 years instead of having to stock up monthly. Period panties and reusable pads are a win-win-win in my book. I can’t confess to having totally eliminated tampons yet, but I’ve replaced single-use pads with THINX underwear and they are phenomenal. They’re comfy, they don’t spill, and they’re super cute and sleek. We have more options than ever before for reusable sanitary products, so find the one that flows best for you! (See what I did there?)
To be honest, this list barely scratches the surface of alternatives to plastic. Bamboo cutting boards, wooden hangers, reusable water bottles, compostable garbage bags, metal trash cans — the list goes on and on. But let’s start with these five easy fixes, shall we? We might not be saving all the sea turtles yet, but I certainly would like to think we would be helping a few.