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Home/Blog/How to Use Less Plastic (18 Ways) — and Why It’s So Important

How to Use Less Plastic (18 Ways) — and Why It’s So Important

By Ethan Boldt

March 23, 2024

How to use less plastic

Once upon a time, plastic seemed like a miracle product. Soon it was everywhere. Now we know it’s not only bad for the earth, it’s also not good for us as humans.

Researchers are now detecting microplastics in the air, the rain, the seafood we eat, even our bodies. According to research published in Environmental International in March 2022, microplastics have now been found in human blood. These tiny plastic particles could cause all kinds of issues for our health.

Another big issue is that plastic doesn’t decompose. For example, it takes a plastic water bottle around 450 years to decompose in the environment, and approximately 91 percent of plastic is not recycled.

Slowly, things are changing for the better, with more awareness of this issue among the public and companies making changes. Here at Ancient Nutrition, for example, we’re dedicated to reducing our plastic waste by 25 percent and transitioning to more sustainable solutions. We’ve also partnered with Plastic Bank® to help remove 5 million plastic bottles from our oceans and environment.⁠

Ready to make your impact? How can you make some simple changes to reduce plastic use? See below.

Plastic Pollution: Shocking Stats

When you look around your house, you’ll likely notice plenty of plastic. What about the earth? It’s so widespread that there is literally a plastic island in the middle of the plastic ocean. This Pacific Ocean gyre features a clockwise circular pattern formed by four prevailing ocean currents, and it’s where a tremendous amount of plastic collects.

Called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” roughly 79,000 metric tons of plastic are floating inside it, according to government figures. This is equivalent to 1.8 trillion pieces of trash, and plastic makes up 99.9% of this debris. It’s double the size of Texas. According to the National Geographic Society, most of this garbage comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles and Styrofoam cups. It breaks down into microplastics and is easily mistaken for food by sea life.

Some other disturbing statistics about plastic:

  • Every year, 500 billion plastic bottles are produced worldwide.

  • Compared to 1980, we generated 900 percent more plastic in 2022, 500 million tons in total.

  • The U.S. is responsible for more plastic trash than any other country in the world.

  • The average American produces nearly 300 pounds of plastic trash per year.

  • Only 9 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators and marine environments.

  • Over 40 percent of plastic manufactured is for packaging, which is typically only used once and then thrown away.

  • Single-use plastic makes up half of the plastic we use; they have an average useful life of 15 minutes but will last up to 500 years in the environment.

  • Each year, about 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans and seas.

Why Plastic Is Bad for Us & the Planet

Here are just some of the ways that plastic is hurting both us and our planet:

  • It disrupts the food chain. E.g. animals consuming plastics and this getting passed down the food chain.

  • Creating groundwater pollution and affecting our water supply. Microplastics end up going into our bodies.

  • It also causes air pollution when plastic is created in the first place.

  • It injures and kills animals. E.g. marine animals get trapped in nets, and land animals suffocate in plastic bags.

  • Clearing areas of plastic waste is difficult and expensive. Much better to simply use much less of it in the first place.

How to Reduce Plastic Use

1. Avoid single-use plastics — go with reusable version instead

As said above, single-use plastics stunningly make up half of the plastic we use. This can include plastic bags, cutlery, straws, plates, cups, etc.

All have viable green alternatives. Go with reusable versions of all the above.

Plastic bags are no longer offered in some countries, while some municipalities in the U.S. now charge per bag. Instead, just BYOB (bag)! On top of that, see where else you often use plastic in your daily life and replace it with a reusable version: portable coffee cup container, travel silverware, stainless steel water bottle, etc.

2. Replace garbage bags with biodegradable, compostable versions

Okay, you say, “Using a reusable bag for a grocery or drugstore run is one thing, but my kitchen trash?” There are now compostable garbage bags that don’t cost that much more than the regular ones. While they’re still made from plastic, it’s a biodegradable type that can be broken down by living things like fungi or bacteria.

Biodegradable plastic is made from plant-based materials like corn, potato and wheat starch instead of oil-based plastics that are derived from petroleum.

3. Start composting

Of course, rather than throwing everything away, including organic food waste, maybe it’s time to start composting. We even wrote up a DIY home composting guide that makes the process pretty easy to follow.

After all, the average American produces about 4.5 pounds of trash per day (and 1,640 pounds per year!) … and most of it is made up of recyclable or compostable items.

4. Stop buying water

Unless it’s a fancy mineral water, most bought water is sold in plastic. Stop buying. Simply carry a sturdy reusable bottle in your bag, including on your travels. (Just make sure it’s empty before going through security!)

5. Buy in bulk when possible

In order to avoid packaged products that often use plastic, start buying more bulk food. But rather than using those plastic bags, you can go with paper bags or even buy your own organic cloth bulk bag (that weighs very little so it can be used for bulk foods).

Buying in bulk (such as rice, oats, beans and granola) also costs less and means you’re getting whole foods, so consider it a win-win-win.

6. Shop at the farmer’s market and BYOB (bags!)

When in season, go to your local farmer’s market for the majority of your produce and other foods. It’s one of the few shopping trips where what you buy and how you bring it home can be entirely plastic-free. Also, locally grown food is higher in nutrients, fresher and you’re supporting your local farms.

7. Replace plastic food containers for glass or steel containers

Plastic degrades over time and is not safe to use for food over time, let alone heat up in a microwave. Instead, use glass containers if you’re heating up leftovers or a steel container for that salad you’re taking to work.

8. Bring back the lunchbox

Rather than plasticware, use an old-fashioned stainless steel lunch box or even a bento box version for your and your family’s lunches. For that sandwich, use beeswax wraps rather than those wretched sandwich bags.

9. Buy takeout from places that use disposable containers

Even in 2024, many restaurants will use styrofoam. And plastic remains the go-to. Ugh. Instead, only buy from places that use compostable containers. Or just get a pizza that uses the old-fashioned cardboard box.

10. Stop buying so many frozen foods

Unfortunately, most frozen food is packaged in plastic. Meats, fruits, veggies, even desserts. Even that ice cream that appears to be cardboard is coated in a thin layer of plastic. Now, some companies are moving in the right direction. For example, some are using compostable containers that will dissolve in the trash over a short period of time.

11. Say no to microbeads

These are tiny plastic scrubbers that appear in many beauty products, including facial scrubs, toothpaste and body washes. They end up in water-treatment plants and look just like food to some marine animals. Instead, use products with natural exfoliants, like oatmeal or salt.

12. Tried a shampoo bar yet?

You can now buy shampoo bars as a completely plastic-free alternative for hair care.

13. Use a wooden comb and a bamboo toothbrush

These are easy ways to reduce plastic waste. Wood combs also reduce static when using. Meanwhile, around 1 billion (yes, with a b) toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone. Go with a bamboo one instead.

14. Choose dry toothpaste over the big plastic tubes

Plastic tubes of toothpaste are not recyclable and, like toothbrushes, are tossed into the garbage after a few months. Instead, switch to a toothpaste powder sold in a small glass jar.

15. Deodorant in a jar?

Speaking of a small glass jar, you can now get excellent deodorant paste in this delivery method instead of those big plastic dispensers.

16. Improve your cleaning supplies game

So many cleaning and laundry supplies arrive in colorful plastic bottles. No good. Start getting these supplies in cardboard boxes (such as laundry and dishwasher detergent) when possible, or reuse a bottle that came with the first order and order refills.

17. Go with a natural sponges and microfiber rags

Speaking of cleaning, did you know that those colorful sponges are made from plastic? Say it ain’t so! Go with washable or biodegradable replacements, like natural sponges or plain ol’ dishrags.

Also, stop using those wet wipes and floor cleaning wipes that are so popular. They’re full of plastic! Instead, go with washable microfiber rags.

18. Recycle for real

Lastly, all of us could recycle better. All you need to do is look down your street to see how your neighbors are recycling. Often, recycling day won’t even have a can out for pickup! After all, less than 14 percent of plastic eligible for recycling is recycled. So check your local municipal site to make sure you’re recycling properly … and spread the word!

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