REDUCE all forms of waste. REUSE items in as many ways as possible. RECYCLE taking advantage of every program available in your area.
- Bring your own reusable bags when shopping, but note that it is important to clean bags after every use to decrease likelihood of food-borne infections. Insulated reusable bags are especially useful to reduce spoilage of refrigerated and frozen food items. (Food waste is one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.)
- Remember that paper bags and cardboard pose their own environmental risks. Research has shown that plastic bags are better for the environment when properly disposed. Reduce unnecessary uses of both paper and plastic.
- Bring your saved plastic bags back to the supermarket or other drop-off locations for recycling. Plastic bags are now very efficiently recycled to manufacture valuable products that help save trees. Make sure to save and 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 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 to educate yourself and your family about how the small effort required protects the environment, wildlife and human health. Make sure to check all clear, hard-shell packaging for any visible recycle symbol as most of this material 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. Even though much larger amounts are collected, currently only about 10% of plastic waste is ever actually recycled.
- Write manufacturers and merchants about reducing waste in product packaging. Boxes should be no larger than necessary. Large air-filled plastic bubbles (as often used by Amazon) are superior to paper and cardboard fillers or Styrofoam-type peanuts. Reducing package weight of millions of packages saves huge amounts of polluting transportation fuel. And, the plastic bubbles can be popped and put in with plastic bags for recycling.
- Try to give your business to environmentally responsible companies. If you own or work for a company that packages products, implement or suggest making the changes described above.
- Participate in a community cleanups of parks, beaches and waterways.
Though wasteful and inappropriate uses of plastics should be eliminated, it is misguided to seek to have consumers or manufacturers give up the practicality, convenience, light weight, durability, spoilage protection, cost savings and transportation fuel savings of plastic packaging and products.
Major studies1,2,3 have proved that plastic packaging and products are actually a boon to the environment when compared to alternatives.
The best ways to protect the environment and reduce plastic pollution are to fight litter, and improve collection, recovery and recycling efforts, policies, practices and technology.
It is possible and practical to clean up waterborne plastic waste – particularly in rivers and tidal zones where it is densest and most accessible. New technology makes it possible to recycle this material even though it is a contaminated mix of many different types of plastic.
Some recommend that this material should be burned for energy or converted to fuel, but it is important to note that this still results in the burning of a valuable, non-renewable carbon resource. Also, none of the technologies for converting waste to energy have proved to be profitable without the support of taxes and fees.
For plastic waste, the highest and best use – both environmentally and economically – is to recycle these materials into permanently durable, high-value products that sequester all the carbon and chemicals used to make the original plastic products. The products made can save trees, and reduce the use of environmentally damaging treated lumber, concrete, asphalt and mined metals to deliver additional environmental benefits.
Responsible habits and behaviors cost nothing and take only a little time, but will make huge contributions to protecting the environment, wildlife and human health.
- Plastics and Sustainability, Trucost, Rick Lord, et.al., July, 2016
- Impact of Plastics Packaging on Life Cycle Energy Consumption & Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States and Canada – Substitution Analysis. Franklin Associates, A Division of Eastern Research Group
- The Impact of Plastics on Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Europe. June 2010. Critically reviewed by the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, The University of Manchester.