Many of us have heard about the dangers of plastics. Every year, millions of bottles are trashed rather than recycled, many others become litter around of communities, and even more find their way into our oceans and natural environment. When exposed to hot water, some plastics leech Bisphenol A, a compound that has adverse effects on our hormones, specifically because it mimics estrogen in our system.
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For these reasons and more, we should try to minimize our use of plastic, and when trying to minimize your use of anything, it’s good to recognize different levels of quitting. There are the easy things to do, the challenging, and the difficult. Eliminating plastic, as fate would have it, follows the same trend:
One of the easiest ways to eliminate plastic is to buy or make reusable grocery bags. Many stores sell them for about one dollar, but you can easily make them out of old t-shirts. Grocery bags are one of the most common plastics that we run into, and by replacing them, we can prevent a lot of plastic waste as well as lower the demand for plastic production.
The next thing that is easy to replace is the use of bottled water. Instead of buying tons of plastic water bottles, buy one reusable and a water filter for your home. Sure, both of these will most likely be made of plastic (you can always go with a metal reusable bottle, however), but they save you an unbelievable amount of plastic proportionally.
Last up for the easy things are the little plastics around your home. If you have plastic dish scrubbers, replace them with biodegradable sponges or washcloths. Likewise, try to avoid using lotions that come in plastic, and instead use those that come in tins or mason jars. To get all these things, I suggest going around your home, tallying up the easily replaceable plastics, and making one trip to the store (don’t forget your homemade bags!!). This is a great first step if your New Year's resolution involves being better on the environment!
Some of more challenging, but not impossible, replacements include plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and hard plastic containers. When trying to phase these out, it will take some coordinated effort, but it won’t be too difficult. Using natural, unbleached, and biodegradable wax paper can be as efficient as plastic wrap and plastic baggies, and I’ve seen some high-quality wooden containers to carry food in. Mason jars also do the job! What separates these from ‘the easy' is the fact that so many people use them consistently, on a daily basis, and without much thought of their negative effects. That said, it takes a reflective effort to get rid of them!
By far, the most difficult area of plastic to eliminate will be from food purchases. When you head into a grocery store, nearly everything is sealed in plastic. Yogurts, cheeses, breads, soda, bath needs – you name it. Interestingly, reduction in plastic usage here also correlates with a change in diet: most foods that don’t get sealed in plastic are found in the produce section. You’ll have to scour different products, different stores, and different foods, but the switch will come about in time.
As you'll see, there are cardboard/paper product alternatives you can use, as well as glass. Also, try to find foods that you can regularly use the same container for – it's a shame we don't have milkmen anymore! Regardless, carry the same idea with you and try to bring a container to carry rice or other loose foods.
In addition to these, you'll want to work hard are minimizing your purchases of other products that we use daily but require lots of plastic. Go for recycled pens, wooden toothbrushes, and lip balms/lotions that come in tins or glass jars. Escaping plastic completely may be impossible in our day and age, but we can still greatly reduce our total use.
After making these changes, you will have substantially reduced – or, better yet, hopefully eliminated completely – your use of plastic. With this, you will have stopped any contribution to the plastic epidemic and you will have greatly reduced your exposure the chemicals that leech from plastics. This means a healthier world, a healthier you, and a more sustainable future!