If you’ve scanned the headlines recently, you’ve probably noticed some large-scale changes afoot that may shift the ways we approach single-use plastics like drinking straws and takeout containers.
It’s taken a long time—and a lot of plastic accumulating in our oceans, wildlife, food supply, even our drinking water—but companies and government entities are finally trying to stem the tide of plastic waste that’s making our world a lot more toxic for animals and humans alike.
From the bag you pack to the cup you choose, there are easy ways to drastically reduce your contribution to the plastic waste stream, which can wind up in your food. Microplastics (microscopic bits of plastic that pollute the environment) have been found in fish, table salt and water supplies around the globe. Yikes!
One of the first steps in shrinking your plastic footprint is overhauling your approach to on-the-go eating and drinking. There is a mind-boggling amount of plastic being used and tossed every day in the form of to-go cups, grocery bags, utensils, takeout containers and more. Americans go through an estimated 50 billion disposable coffee cups every year!
Motivated? We thought so. Here’s how to ditch single-use plastic and what to use instead.
Rethink your drink
In addition to all those cups, more than 180 billion straws are used each year in the U.S. alone. Surely we can manage to sip from cups without straws, right? Better yet, we can sip from reusable cups and cut out the waste of a single-use cup and lid as well.
For coffee and tea, an insulated mug not only cuts out disposable plastic lids and cups, it keeps your drink warm for up to eight hours. Added bonus: Many coffee shops will give you a discount for bringing your own cup. Or you can save even more by brewing your own coffee at home, which can add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. Win-win!
Say “no thanks!” to plastic utensils & containers
The restaurant industry goes through a staggering amount of plastic every day, between the takeout containers and utensils they hand out. Just say “no” to all that unneeded plastic!
If you’re picking up food from your favorite eatery, leave the pile of paper napkins, plastic-wrapped utensils, straws and spice packets behind. Feel free to ditch the plastic bag to carry it out as well (you’ve got hands, right!?). Or, you can go the extra mile by bringing your own reusable food storage containers they can pack your food in.
Same goes for dining out. If you choose a restaurant, such as a smoothie bar or fast food joint, that offers single-use utensils and other items, bring a portable cutlery set wrapped in a cloth napkin. In fact, you’ll want to keep this combo in your bag wherever you go—prep for success!
Pack a plastic-free meal
Whether it’s for you or your kids, single-use plastic is easily avoided in packed meals and snacks. You can skip the baggies and individually-wrapped snacks with some simple tools. You’ll save money, too!
For lunch, fill an insulated container with soup or yogurt. Fill reusable cotton bags (instead of plastic) with loose snacks such as crackers, popcorn or chips. Pack sliced fruit and veggies in metal containers. Beverages can go in reusable or recycled bottles (empty glass condiment jars are great for storing juices and smoothies!).
Plus, these reusable items last years. They’re also super easy to clean.
But wait—isn’t plastic recyclable?
Only a tiny fraction of plastic gets recycled, and each time plastic goes through the recycling process, it degrades in quality and sooner or later (usually sooner), winds up in a landfill or waterway. Recycling also requires energy. Not using plastic in the first place is far better. Think about the four Rs: Reduce, Rethink and Reuse are the priorities. Recycling is a last resort.
There are now plant-based options that at least will biodegrade rather than polluting if they make it to an industrial compost facility, though unfortunately few of them do. Choose these environmentally-preferable disposables when you must, but keep in mind that everything we use took resources and caused pollution during production and distribution.
Plant-based plastics still require energy to grow and produce, and when well-meaning people try to recycle them with conventional plastics, they inadvertently contaminate the batch, which then must be thrown out.
When you must opt for single-use products, choose those that break down more readily and don’t contribute petrochemicals to the environment, like plant-based tableware and all-natural waxed paper. Then try to get them to a compost facility using curbside organics pickup or a compost collection at a school or university.
As more of us bring awareness to the impact of our dining habits and change them, the massive tide of plastic pollution may finally begin to turn. Pave the way by making your next meal out waste-free with these simple no-plastic swaps!