Going plastic free is the hippest way to live nowadays. However, before achieving a plastic-free society, we can start by progressively reducing plastic use, particularly mass-produced and difficult-to-recycle single-use plastics. This article will show that recycling is the solution to the plastic problem, and explore the negative impacts single-use plastics can have on our lives. It also provides 36 ways to reduce plastic use, for both beginners and veterans alike, in an effort to contribute to plastic reduction.
Single-use plastic and recycling
According to the UN Environmental Programme, only 9% of all plastics are disposed of adequately every year. Even in countries with the most rigorous regulations such as Germany, although 99% of plastics end up in the recycling system, only 1/3 are actually recycled, and the rest are either sent to incinerators or landfills because they are composite materials or in poor condition.
Most recycled plastics are plastic bottles, food storage jars, cleaning product bottles, baby bottles, and other products made of a single material such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or polypropylene (PP). If these plastics are worn, deformed, polluted by other chemicals, or mixed with other materials, they will not be accepted by the recycling industry. Even materials that are suitable for recycling can only be processed via “downcycling”. After new recycled materials are made through thermal melting, wire drawing, and granulation, some of the plastics’ physical properties are lost in the process, and they usually become completely unusable after recycling once or twice.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 2% of all plastics can be truly recycled through closed-loop recycling and made into identical or similar products. Currently, textiles are one of the largest uses of recycled plastics, but they release plastic microfibers into the water cycle during washing or outdoor contact with water, which in turn accumulates and travels up the food chain, eventually ending up in our bodies.
Other single-use plastics including coffee cup lids, shower curtains, plastic bags, and disposable tableware are all unrecyclable, and they are sent to landfills so that we can turn a blind eye. Sometimes, they end up as slag in incinerators or the environment, releasing large quantities of microplastics and polluting the environment. Recycling more or less decreases the amount of waste in the environment but it is far from the perfect solution, and it should never be used as an excuse to keep on using plastics. To solve the plastic problem, we must begin with reduction.
Why do we need to reduce plastic use?
Since plastics are a type of synthetic chemical product, they will release harmful substances such as Dioxin, Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, or other additives into the environment and even into the human body due to physical wear and tear and changes in temperature or pH value. Reducing plastics will have a direct benefit to our health.
Plastics are also a main cause of climate change because of the large quantity of GHGs discharged during the production process, and its contribution is even expected to surpass that of the aviation industry. Furthermore, most plastics ultimately end up in the ocean, blocking sunlight and affecting the oxygen level in the water, leading to marine ecological catastrophes and decreasing the number of ocean carbon sinks. As a result, climate change is exacerbated and fresh seafood becomes increasingly scarce.
Five ways to reduce plastic use
Plastic reduction is a progressive process, hence we must try simple methods to reduce every day plastic use to achieve “zero plastic” in the long run. We will provide several tips for both plastic reduction beginners and veterans below. In subsequent chapters, we will elaborate on how to put these tips into practice.
Simple “plastic reduction” methods for beginners
- Avoid dining out: Dining out often entails the use of single-use plastic foodware. By dining out less frequently or at least choosing restaurants that offer reusable tableware, we can help to reduce plastic.
- Choose commodities that claim to use “natural materials” first: Choosing commodities made of natural materials to partially replace plastic helps to decrease the plastic content of products with similar functions.
- Bring your zero-plastic product: Bring your eco-friendly cup, tableware, and bags to help achieve zero plastic.
More “zero plastic” ideas and techniques
- Choose commodities that claim to use zero plastics first: As the plastic-free lifestyle becomes more popular, more manufacturers are unveiling plastic-free products for consumers.
- Reuse plastics: If you are already using plastic products, make sure to extend their lifespan and avoid purchasing new plastic products to solve the problem at its source!
26 easy ways to reduce plastic use
Carry a shopping bag with you
Besides bringing an eco-friendly shopping bag with you when shopping, you can also place it inside a small backpack or pocket in case you suddenly need to make a purchase. A lightweight, waterproof bag is recommended, such as renouvo’s compostable bagasse bag, which offers versatility and portability.
Choose beverages with containers that have less plastic or are made of recycled plastic
If you are away from home and do not have a water bottle with you, purchase medium-sized bottled water (400-600ml) made of 100% recycled plastic such as Glaceau Smartwater, Dasani, and Fiji Natural Artesian Water or Just Water, which only uses small amounts of plastic.
Purchase cooked food with non-plastic packaging
If you need to dine out, choose cooked food that comes in paper packaging or zero packaging. Cooked food in plastic packaging may release chemicals when heated, and it cannot be recycled, so you should bring your food containers such as renouvo’s sugarcane food tray.
Purchase non-plastic food jars for your home
Food jars help us to buy less packaged products and we do not have to pay too much attention to the airtightness of the packaging. Simply store food in separate jars to preserve their freshness.
Purchase eggs with paper cartons
Egg packaging cannot be recycled and reused because it is an undesirable single-use plastic product. At the very least, paper cartons can be recycled or broken down after use.
Use cleaning products more sparingly
Cleaning products such as hand soap, shower gel, and dishwashing liquid are usually packaged in plastic bottles, by reducing the amount of these products used every time, we can extend the lifespan of each plastic bottle.
Use compostable food waste bag
Compostable food waste bags allow you to dispose of leftovers with the bags and reduce plastic.
Choose cornflakes with paper packaging
Choose cornflakes with paper packaging and make sure that the box does not contain additional plastic packaging. When you get home, store the cornflakes in containers to avoid possible moisture problems with the paper packaging.
Combine trash from different trash bags into one trash bag
Combine trash from different trash cans around the house into one trash bag and only take out the trash when it is full to increase the efficiency of the used trash bag and reduce the use of plastic bags.
Open the windows for ventilation or use candles to keep the air fresh
The ingredients and packaging of air fresheners usually contain plastics, thus it is advised to use candles or natural ventilation instead of air fresheners.
Purchase pure cotton dishcloths
Most dishcloths on the market are made of non-woven material, which is also a type of plastic. Choose pure cotton dishcloths to avoid regularly discarding an unusable piece of plastic.
Purchase toothbrushes with bamboo handles
Although toothbrushes with bamboo handles still have plastic bristles, they can be broken into two halves and discarded separately to minimize the use of plastics.
Purchase milk in glass bottles
To keep milk fresh, milk cartons are coated with a layer of waterproof plastic, while plastic bottles also increase the use of plastics. Glass bottles can naturally isolate external air, keep the milk fresh, and be recycled and remanufactured into other glass products.
Refuse plastic straws
When purchasing beverages, drink directly instead of using a straw. If you have safety, convenience, or health-related concerns, try choosing restaurants that provide plastic-free straws such as renouvo’s compostable sugarcane straw, or bring your own straw.
Purchase toilet paper with paper packaging
Choosing toilet paper with paper packaging instead of plastic packaging can avoid the need to regularly discard unrecyclable plastic waste. Choosing recycled toilet paper is even better.
Use dishcloths in place of wet wipes
Wet wipes and packaging contain a lot of plastics, and they may contain fluorescent agents, moisturizers, and other chemical ingredients that are harmful to the human body. Using a dishcloth when cleaning the environment can reduce the use of wet wipes containing plastic.
Use handkerchiefs instead of paper napkins
Most paper napkins have plastic packaging that may not be seem by consumers, but still ends up as plastic waste nonetheless.
Use matches or metal lighters
Both matchboxes and matches are made of plastic-free minerals and wood, and metal lighters can be reused by refilling them to reduce waste in the form of thick plastic lighters.
Avoid single-use plastic tableware
When dining out, choose restaurants that provide reusable tableware. If you need to take out your meal, please do not ask for single-use plastic tableware and use your tableware at home. Alternatively, bring your eco-friendly tableware made of stainless steel or natural and safe renouvo sugarcane tableware.
Purchase wooden cutting boards
Although plastic cutting boards are light and cheap, they tend to release small plastic fragments during the cutting process. Therefore, choose natural, safe wooden cutting boards to reduce plastic use.
Purchase cotton toys
Purchase cotton toys for children or pets at home. Besides preventing accidental ingestion of plastic – as toys tend to end up in their mouths – it also eliminates a major source of plastics in the house.
Avoid purchasing products with excessive plastic packaging
Although unwrapping layer after layer of packaging creates a sense of anticipation, plastic packaging generates a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.
Purchase digital music albums
CDs are made of a combination of plastics and metals and require special recycling technology. With today’s sophisticated technology, purchasing digital albums offers comparable quality to CDs, and they are also cheaper and more convenient. Therefore, avoid buying CDs as much as possible.
Use a loofah instead of manmade sponges
Manmade sponges are made of plastic, but natural dried loofahs offer comparable cleansing performance with the added benefit of reducing plastic consumables.
Wear clothing with a higher natural fiber content
The most common clothing material is polyester, which is a synthetic plastic product. Wearing clothes woven mainly from natural fibers such as cotton or hemp can offer a skin-friendly experience and reduce plastic use at the same time.
Purchase coffee in aluminum cans
Coffee is one of the essential refreshments of modern people, choosing aluminum cans over paper cups or plastic bottles when drinking coffee not only enhances quality and mood but the containers can also be recycled and reused.
More tips to go plastic-free
If you are comfortable with the above plastic reduction methods for beginners, why not take a look at the following zero plastic ideas and techniques that require a little more sophistication, as well as spending more money or making major changes to your lifestyle:
Bring eco-friendly cups
Although bringing eco-friendly cups is not always easy, especially ones made of glass or stainless steel, they prevent us from buying bottled drinks and replace single-use paper cups with plastic lids to hold coffee or hot beverages, thereby achieving zero plastic for beverages. To reduce the burden of carrying a cup, renouvo’s sugarcane cup, which can hold beverages below 90°C, may be the ideal choice for you!
Purchase agricultural products from a farmers’ market or a bulk store
Many farmers’ markets or bulk stores sell products with naked packaging, so bring your containers and shopping bags to make the food you purchase plastic free!
Compost organic waste at home
The best way to save food waste bags is to compost organic waste at home. In addition to fruit peels, old leaves, and expired food, paper, compostable tea bags, unbleached coffee filters, and home compostable products such as renouvo’s home compostable product collection can be composted together.
Use beeswax wraps instead of plastic wraps
Beeswax wraps are made of a combination of cloth and beeswax to offer resilience and water resistance. They are plastic-free and can be reused.
Quit smoking or smoke pipe tobacco instead
The filters of cigarettes are made of plastic. In fact, cigarette butts are the third most common debris found in the ocean, hence quitting smoking is an integral part of the plastic-free solution.
Use natural soaps
Soap is a dry product during transit, so it can be wrapped in conventional paper. Furthermore, natural soap does not contain any plastic, and it can serve multiple purposes such as shampoo, body wash, hand wash, and laundry detergent.
Choose eco-friendly online shopping solutions
Many e-commerce platforms claim to transport their products with plastic-free or carbon-neutral solutions. In particular, e-commerce giant Amazon has launched the Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) program, which ensures that its packaging is 100% recyclable, easy to unwrap, and utilizes minimal packaging.
Subscribe to a refillable shower gel/shampoo service
Still not used to using natural soaps? Perhaps you can spend a little extra money and subscribe to a shower gel and shampoo service that regularly collects empty metal bottles from your home, refills them, and deliver them back to you, without using any plastic.
Bring your handkerchief
Most pocket tissues and tissues provided by businesses are packaged in plastic. Although bringing your handkerchief is slightly more cumbersome as you have to wash it, it can significantly reduce the use of plastic packaging.
Choose pure cotton or linen fabrics
Most clothes, pants, and shoes we wear now contain plastic, including fabric, printing, decorations, soles, and zippers. Pure plant fiber-based fabrics without unnecessary printing and decorations can help us avoid these global problems and achieve the goal of true plastic-free clothing.
For more plastic-free inspiration and methods, please read this article: THIRTY WAYS TO GO PLASTIC-FREE: TAKE ACTION TO USE LESS PLASTICS!
Why does the plastic problem matter?
The plastic problem leads to climate change and ecological pollution. According to the UN’s statistics, 17 million barrels of oil are used for the production of plastics, causing enormous GHG emissions. The OECD’s statistics indicate that in 2019, GHG emissions from plastic production accounted for 3.4% of the total GHG emissions at the time, and the ratio is climbing every year. Furthermore, plastics cause the pollution of aquatic ecosystems such as oceans and rivers, decreasing their carbon absorption capacity and the number of carbon sinks, in turn exacerbating climate change, which has a direct impact on the survival of every individual on the planet.