What Can You Do?
The world produces 300 million tons of plastic waste each year; 8 million tons ends up in the oceans. We see containers lining the shelves of supermarkets and drugstores, holding everything from milk, six-packs, and peanut butter to shampoo and contact lenses. The sad truth is that only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, and many items, such as polystyrene take-out containers – cannot be recycled. How did we live before plastic spread everywhere? And how can we live without it now?
You can find alternatives, including new compostable plastics. But reducing (your new purchases), reusing (providing your own packaging) and repairing (to save items of all kinds from the landfill) are the most sustainable practices.
Speak up for collective action, however you are comfortable. Let everyone, from neighbors to store owners to corporations and your legislators know that reducing plastic production is a priority issue for you. Global and industry-level changes will be needed to complement our individual actions. Plastic is a huge (and growing) problem and everyone involved needs to take responsibility for solutions, including manufacturers.
While personal consumer choices and peer pressure make an impact, redesigning our systems of doing business can have faster and greater influence. Learn about the movement for product stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a promising legislative strategy. It promotes policies that would add all of the environmental costs associated with a product throughout the product life cycle to the market price of that product. The goal is to make manufacturers responsible for the impact of their packaging on the environment. This may make products “more expensive”, but only because their true cost is made apparent and accountable. Plastic isn’t truly cheap when we factor in recycling, clean-up, and loss of environmental assets such as clean water and ocean-harvested food.
Here are our TIPS for reducing single use plastic, developed by Michelle Lougee and added to by others. Send us your ideas, and we’ll add them!
- Buy second-hand when possible; share tools with friends and neighbors
- borrow rarely used tools from Robbins Library’s “library of things”
- repair when possible; look for Zero Waste Arlington’s fix-it clinics where volunteers will help
BEWARE OF MICROPLASTICS
- Many textiles now contain synthetics –polyester, nylon and acrylic made from petroleum — that cast off plastic microfibers every time they are washed and dried. Denim jeans that stretch, fleece, athletic wear, cute printed tops — avoid purchasing new synthetics, and wash as infrequently as possible; USING COLD WATER reduces microplastic pollution from laundry.
- Avoid health and beauty products with “poly” on the ingredients list: plastic polyethylene or polypropylene “microbeads” are in toothpaste, sunscreen, skin lotions and scrubs, lipstick and other products. Efforts to ban microplastics globally have had mixed results and are still in process. For now, check labels to avoid this common ingredient. Water filtration systems can’t screen microbeads out, so they end up in the ocean and in the food chain.
USE YOUR OWN CONTAINERS AND LOOK FOR REFILLABLE OPTIONS
- Stores are springing up that will refill your own containers of dishwashing liquid, hand soap, shampoo etc. Check out Pemberton Market and Cleenland, both in Cambridge.
- Other stores specialize in package free and/or compostable items. Check out Yes at Greater Goods Collective in Arlington.
- During the pandemic, town Health Departments have ordered grocery stores to shut down their bulk bins and package up loose produce. Don’t let this become the new normal! Advocate for a return to bulk. When bulk returns, reject “bulk” plastic tubs and plastic bags provided by any retailers when a paper or reusable cloth bag will do.
- Use a refillable water bottle; single use beverage containers are a LARGE part of the waste stream.
- Carry your own flatware so you never need plastic utensils
- Use a Soda Stream to make your own carbonated beverages
- Keep containers in the car to take home restaurant meal excess.
- Use reusable veggie bags for groceries
- Buy in bulk whenever possible, with your own containers and bags (nuts, oatmeal, rice, grains, dried fruit)
- Switch to reusable silicone sandwich bags or lunch boxes
- Stop using plastic wrap; reusable waxed fabric alternatives and Tupperware are available.
- Bring your own bags (everywhere)
MAKE PACKAGING A DECIDING FACTOR IN PRODUCT SELECTION
- switch back to bar soap – no container
- use powdered laundry strips – no container
- renounce pod coffeemakers – any style with a paper or metal filter is lower impact
- use loose tea – some teabags even contain plastic – an infuser basket makes clean-up easy, plus the leaves can go in compost
- Take a little extra time and make things like cookies and hummus or cut up your own fruits and veggies instead of purchasing these foods in plastic containers.
- Choose the brands that use the least packaging and/or recyclable materials such as glass or metal
- Say No to plastic straws, plastic utensils and takeout drinks in plastic cups
- Think about switching personal care items away from plastic: try metal razors, dental floss in a cardboard box, bamboo toothbrush
- Stop and think. Convenient isn’t always best. Make new plastic-free choices into habits.
- Pick up trash in your neighborhood or on walks. If you don’t, and no one else does, it will end up in the waterways. Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) systems are in place to handle flooding and heavy rains, but also carry plastic debris to waterways.
- Document pollution on social media, add the date and time. #plasticpollution