Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
- Bring your own reusable bags when shopping.
- Remember that paper bags and cardboard pose far less environmental threat than plastic, and are much more likely to be recycled.
- Ask merchants to promote reusable bags (for example, make bags readily available at low cost, offer an incentive like a small discount for those who bring their own bags). When you do use plastic bags, keep them for recycling with similar material (next).
- Bring your saved plastic bags back to the supermarket or other drop-off location for recycling. Bags labeled with a #2 or #4 that do not have excessive printing or glue are very efficiently recycled. Make sure to include the plastic bags from your drycleaner, newspaper bags, bread bags; plastic packaging from paper towels, toilet paper rolls and napkins; retail shopping bags (with hard plastic and string handles removed), and clear plastic bags and non-sticky bubble wrap often used in product packaging. Do NOT include plastic cling wrap or plastic bags used for prepackaged foods (e.g., frozen food bags and pre-washed salad bags).
- Buy your drinks in glass bottles, aluminum cans, or cartons to protect your health, and note that 75% of aluminum cans are recycled versus only 16% to 36% of plastic bottles depending on region. When you do use plastic bottles, make sure to remove and discard the caps, and then recycle those bottles.
- Buy a quality stainless steel beverage bottle and refill it yourself to protect both your health and the environment. Saves money, too.
- Plastic party and holiday decorations and serving materials are huge contributors to plastic waste – avoid and reduce their use as much as possible.
- If you live in an area where sorted recycling pick-up is provided (glass, metal, plastic), take the time yourself. and educate your family about how the small effort required protects the environment, wildlife and human health. Make sure to check all that clear, hard-shell packaging as most of this is recyclable.
- For food storage and preparation, use glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers. Phase out plastic containers. Durable plastic lids often sold with these containers are OK and keep food fresh without disposable plastic wrap (but don’t use them in microwave or oven).
- Buy fewer packaged foods and more fresh foods – better for both the environment and your health.
- Write your elected officials about the importance of home pick-up and community drop-off locations to make recycling practical and convenient. Stress the importance of contracting with recyclers that accept and recycle all types of plastics. Currently less than 20% of plastic waste is ever recycled.
- Write manufacturers and merchants about changing product packaging and shipping methods to reduce the use of plastic – especially the use of Styrofoam-type fillers and "popcorn” (#6 category plastics) which, though they recycle very efficiently, are not yet accepted in most localities because of the high volume of spaced taken up in hauling. Tell manufacturers you much prefer die-cut & folded cardboard, paper-mache, used newspaper and recycled paper for product packaging, and that you want to give your business to environmentally responsible companies. If you own or work for a company that uses plastic in its product packaging or services, implement or make these same suggestions.
- Participate in a community cleanups of parks, beaches and waterways.
Though dangerous uses of plastics for food packaging should be eliminated, it is unreasonable to expect that consumers or manufacturers will give up the practicality, convenience, light weight, durability and cost savings of plastic products and packaging. But we can greatly reduce plastic pollution through improved collection and increased recycling efforts, and we can clean up waterborne plastic waste – particularly in tidal zones where it is densest and most accessible.
Responsible habits and behaviors cost nothing and take only a little time, but make huge contributions to protecting the environment, wildlife and human health.
To learn more about the deadly effects and threats of plastic waste, download a Fact Sheet here.