7 ways to "End Plastic Pollution" starting at home this Earth Day
Easy ways to work this year's theme into how and where you live
Dear Reader. We both know that you probably won't implement all of these suggestions right away. If you're anything like me, it might take you several days to get around to doing even one of the steps I've listed below. But our collective laissez-faire on environmental issues is our biggest obstacle to effective change, and the easiest solutions tend to start at home; no need to even leave the kitchen. Small actions like recycling your plastic bags instead of throwing them in the trash and replacing your cheap, plastic razor with a reusable alternative are two ultra-easy habits to get started. Don't give up!
This year's Earth Day theme is End Plastic Pollution, offering a great jumping-off point for home improvement. Which plastic products keep cluttering up your trash bin, and what are their alternatives? Below are seven super easy ways to remove excess plastic from your life (and the environment, where it will live on forever). Make sure to look up your own municipal collection rules for even more tricks, and check out the official 2018 Earth Day guide.
Recycle as many plastic products as possible (even saran wrap and grocery bags can be recycled)
Did you know that so long as they've been rinsed of any remaining food waste, virtually all plastic packaging can be recycled? This includes hard plastics like yogurt containers, as well as soft plastics like plastic wrap, plastic grocery bags and smaller resealable plastic bags. Rinsing out your recyclables helps prevent mould and other contaminants from spreading at the sorting facility—a smelly, dangerous health hazard to the facility's employees. Double check your municipal collection rules on how to properly recycle soft plastics, some facilities require they be in a separate, tied bag.
Buy food and goods with less plastic packaging
Apparently the main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging. In 2015, packaging accounted for 42% of non-fibre plastic produced. That year, packaging also made up 54% of plastics thrown away. Are you ever tempted by that single, beautiful bell pepper at the grocery store, lovingly cradled in a styrofoam tray and snuggled under eighteen layers of saran wrap? Don't be! It's beauty is a lie. All of its equally delicious brother and sister peppers are just a few feet away, lumped together in a (albeit unappetizing) pile. Resist the siren call of those lonesome better-than-thou vegetables and their private poison thrones.
Say no thanks to that free toothbrush from the dentist (and replace your own with wooden or long-lasting electric alternatives)
I personally find the free toothbrush giveaway to be the most exciting part of any dentist visit (those disembodied ceramic jaw moulds are a close second). After all, who doesn't love free things after a traumatic experience? I know the dentist is bribing me with bright colours and flavoured floss; am I raccoon, so easily seduced? Yes, I am. But those plastic throwaway toothbrushes are bad news for the environment, and long-lasting alternatives are usually way better for your oral hygiene anyway. Consider buying an electric or wooden toothbrush to cut this unnecessary plastic waste from your home.
Ask for no plastic cutlery or straws in your meal to-go bags
I'll never understand why the food I get delivered to my home so often comes with plastic cutlery. I think it's fair to say that most people have reusable forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks available at home—if you don't, it's time to invest. Greenpeace lists Canada as a major offender in plastic waste production, generating around 3 million tonnes of plastic waste a year and recycling only 10-12% of that. Plastic food items (beverage cups, straws, cutlery) are some of the most egregious pollutants, as they're relatively avoidable with minimal effort.
Consider alternatives to tampons with plastic applicators
According to this fantastic (and suitably terrifying) Mother Jones article, plastic applicators have totally dominated the feminine hygiene market, accounting for 88% of the estimated $1.1 billion worth of tampons sold in 2015. Those applicators wind up in the ocean, where marine animals mistake them for food, or—according to the article—small children on littered New Jersey beaches mistake them for whistles. Gross! Alternatives include cardboard applicators, Diva cups, pads, no-applicator tampons, and absorbent underwear products like Thinx and Knix.
Replace single-use razors with long-lasting reusables
Have you ever bought a party-pack of cheap, single-blade razors, thinking "what a great deal!" only to regret it hours later, your poor face or legs cut to ribbons? Yes, that is a very specific example, but I don't think I'm the only to have fallen into this trap (and then used every last razor in the pack anyway… money doesn't grow on trees). Aside from being terrible for your skin, these plastic razors are big pollutants. Consider buying a more durable, long-lasting model with replaceable blades—or, if you can pull it off, a straight-razor.
Don't wash lint from the dryer down the drain (it contains plastic microfibres!)
Lastly, think about how you're disposing of the smallest plastic particles in your home. Did you know that the synthetic fabrics you wear (such as rayon, polyester, acrylic, acetate and nylon), contain polluting plastic microfibres? Ocean Wise recently reported that the bulk of particles examined from Vancouver waters were pollutant microfibres from clothing and carpets. Your dryer's lint screen catches as much of these wayward materials as it can, keeping them from entering the air. Tossing these lint bundles down the drain is terrible for the environment! Keep a garbage can in the laundry room for disposal.
Chloe Rose Stuart-Ulin is a Montréal-based journalist and editor. Her work has appeared in Ha'aretz, CBC, Lilith, The Syrup Trap, and The Garden Statuary. Follow her @chloerosewrites.