Everyday sustainable living isn't easy. It can be daunting as there are hundreds of things one can adapt. Where even to begin and what environmentally sustainable products to use? One of the most important steps on your sustainable living and conscious consumption journey is reducing plastic pollution and waste.
Trash is largely invisible in Europe and the United States, once it’s tossed; in other parts of the world it is more obvious, in the form of waste dumps, sometimes in the middle of cities.
Of all the plastic ever produced—more than 10 billion tons of it—less than 10% has been recycled. Where does it go? In the U.S. about 76% of plastic garbage goes into landfills, where it eventually breaks down into microplastics that contaminate the environment and release problematic chemicals. Additionally some of that total ends up our oceans, where marine life feeds and chokes on, it breaks down into microplastics that end up in our seafood, and it spreads even to the depths of the ocean floor.
The environmental impact is only one side of the story. More and more is coming to light about the health risks of microplastics ingestion.
So the rule of thumb is: Only choose plastic if there’s no alternative. While it’s practically impossible to eliminate plastic from modern life, here's our list on how to cut back.
The Top 10 Sustainable Swaps:
1. Bamboo Toothbrush: The most obvious problem with plastic tooth brushes is that most of these them will either pollute our environment or sit in landfill.
2. Tooth Tablets in metal or glass containers are a great alternative to conventional toothpastes that use plastic packaging.
3. Bamboo Cotton Swaps: Plastic cotton swabs are a significant source of plastic pollution and lots of them end up in oceans creating havoc for marine life. 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash and counting have ended up in our oceans so far.
4. Reusable Face Pads: These have a dual benefit: no plastic packaging and no cotton. Cotton is a big environmental polluter. It's responsible for soil erosion, soil and water pollution, water contamination, and contributes to water scarcity.
5. Silicon Storage Bags: Again, single-use plastics is most ubiquitous and avoidable and comes with a steep environmental price—one that we’ll be paying off for hundreds of years. It has a devastating impact on our oceans, our wildlife, and our health.
6. Silicon Wrap Stretch Covers: Use these instead of saran wrap. Other than for the obvious reasons of plastic pollution, most saran wrap are made with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). LDPE may contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), which is a potential endocrine disruptor that has been linked to breast cancer in women and low sperm counts in men. Manufacturers aren’t required to list the actual chemical makeup of their plastic wrap on the boxes. For that reason it’s best to avoid it all together.
8. Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle: 70 million disposable, single-use plastic bottles are used in the US each day. Reusable water bottles or buying water in glass bottles make a big difference.
9. Reusable Coffee Mugs: The pandamic won't last forever and we'll be able to bring our own cups to coffee shops again. In my own experience the coffee tastes so much better in glass or ceramic than in those disposable coffee cups, made largely of paper and lined with plastic polyethylene, which is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and therefore able to contain liquid. You should never heat plastic as it can leach into food and liquids. Therefore using a reusable cup reduces microplastics ingestion.
10. Laundry Strips: Also known as laundry sheets or liquidless laundry detergent, help to reduce plastic jugs in landfills tremendously. Approximately a billion plastic jugs are used in North America yearly, about 700 million of them go to landfills.
All these alternatives are easy to find and incorporate and make a difference. If that's all you do, it's already a big contribution and you are well off living a more sustainable life.
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