By Faye Lessler
Pretty much all of us use seemingly small pieces of plastic once and throw them away, not realizing that they will never biodegrade. Yup, every flimsy plastic fork, straw, plastic bag, colorful lighter, and plastic wrapper that any of us has ever used is still hanging around here on this gorgeous planet. The presence of plastic on this planet is starting to look like an environmental disaster, what with its impact on not only animals and natural habitats, but on people and the atmosphere as well (we have a lot to say on this subject — and that's why we've doubled down on going green).
The day that I discovered the problem with single-use plastics, I vowed to cut them out of my life for good. This honorable commitment felt great to make, but I quickly discovered just how unrealistic it truly was. Plastic is ubiquitous, especially in New York City where I live. All I have to do is walk out my front door to find a trash bag full of all kinds of plastic refuse. But it’s not just here, it’s *literally* everywhere — sitting in landfills, piling up on beaches, stuck in trees, clogging fresh water rivers, and floating around in even the deepest parts of the oceans.
For a while, I ranted and raved at friends and family about the evil lurking inside of every plastic bag, yet I somehow still ended up with a pile of them in my home due to circumstances I simply couldn’t control. Even today, I sometimes forget my metal straw at home and get so excited about guzzling down an iced tea, a smoothie, or a swanky cocktail that I forget to say “no straw, please” to my server. Do I throw a fit when that infuriatingly tiny tube of plastic arrives sticking out of my drink? No, I take it as an opportunity to ask the bartender whether they might ever consider switching to compostable or reusable straws instead.
You see, the key to living sustainably is not perfection. The key is to try, and to keep trying. Sure, make lofty goals and dedicate yourself to eradicating plastic from your life, but don’t flip out when you inevitably trip up! Zero waste is really more of a goal than a reality because we all live busy, complicated lives and we can’t always control what happens to us or what objects cross our paths. Honestly, even when I’m trying my absolute best things still manage to get in my way. Whether that’s TSA telling me that I can’t take my metal fork on the plane, or the very weird look that I get when I ask the lady at the dumpling shop to please put my delicious snack in a reusable container rather than the styrofoam one she usually hands me - life is weird and challenging sometimes, and that’s totally okay. Just remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and don’t forget to laugh!
After my first few years of attempting to be plastic-free and spending a lot of time engaged in frustrating debates, I eventually learned to let go a little bit. Rather than being the plastic police about every tiny scrap of the stuff that dared enter my line of vision, I took a chill pill and realized that slipping up sometimes did not mean I was a complete and utter failure. Even if we can’t completely get rid of them, replacing single-use plastic items in our daily lives with reusable or compostable alternatives is a big step in the right direction. Celebrate the days when you succeed, and make sure you pat your friends on the back for doing the same. Being kind, staying curious, and acting from a place of passion are the secrets to keeping up with a sustainable lifestyle. You don’t have to overhaul your whole life in a day, rather, replace one thing at a time and slowly integrate your new habits into your lifestyle over time. So, check out my tips for replacing single-use plastic in your life below and decide where you want to start, then go from there.
20 tips for reducing your daily plastic waste
- Vote. Support candidates who support bans on plastic bags, straws, and styrofoam.
- Get active. Join a river cleanup with organizations like United By Blue or add your voice to the #StopSucking campaign. Activism works, and it’s fun!
out and about
- Stash reusable totes by the front door and in your purse - your mascara and candy bars don’t need to be taken home in a plastic bag.
- Carry around a refillable water bottle and thermos so you can stay hydrated *and* waste-free.
- Order your iced coffees and cocktails without a straw (and if you really can’t drink your AM smoothie without one, check Klean Kanteen for a sleek reusable option).
- Invest in a set of bamboo utensils - because eating off of a flimsy plastic fork sucks anyway.
- Bring a jar or reusable container with you when you’re going to grab food so you can avoid trashy styrofoam and plastic take-out containers.
- Unleash your inner hipster and hit up your local farmers market or other grocers where the kale doesn’t come wrapped in plastic.
- When you can, bring jars or cloth bags when you shop for grains, nuts, and legumes so you can buy in bulk.
- Swap disposable period products and their single-use plastic for a sexy pair of Thinx, a menstrual cup, or tampons with reusable or no applicators – pledge to be kinder to your period *and* the planet.
- When you can, buy toilet paper that comes wrapped in paper, not plastic.
- Find natural alternatives to face wash, body wash, hand-sanitizer, toothpaste, and other beauty products that contain microbeads (aka little plastic demons).
- Opt for household cleaning supplies that come in recycled paper, glass, or cardboard...anything but plastic.
- Trade your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. Better yet, encourage your dentist to stop giving out plastic, too!
- Use matches or hempwick instead of lighters - your lungs will thank you and so will Mother Earth.
live your life
- Decorate your next party with flowers instead of balloons, they make a much more stylish and eco-friendly party favor anyway.
- While you’re partying, get guests to eat, drink and be merry with cute compostable plates, napkins, and straws like these ones from Susty Party!
- Wash your workout gear in a GUPPYFRIEND™ washing bag to prevent tiny little microplastics from shedding out into the ocean.
- Shop for any new workout, outdoor, or swimwear with brands who use recycled plastic instead of virgin petroleum to create those synthetic, sweat-wicking fibers.
- Tell a friend! Encourage your friends & family to go green with you, and let us know what your eco-friendly tips are in the comments!
Faye Lessler is a New York City-based, California born advocate for sustainable living, a writer, community organizer, and voice behind Sustaining Life.