These days, recycling is the go-to assumption for many. We try to recycle as much as we can and hope it’s enough.
But long ago, when that little triangle made of arrows first appeared, we were all taught to do three things: “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.”
It’s important to notice that recycling is the last option on that list. And yet, it’s often the only one we pay attention to. Why is that?
Perhaps it’s because when we recycle, there’s less urgency to shift our consumption habits. We just add a recycle bin next to the garbage can and go about our lives.
Plastic Free July
Or we could take some time to consider the other two Rs – especially when it comes to single-use plastics. In fact, people all over the world are considering plastic right now as part of Plastic Free July, a global movement to get people to commit to refusing single-use plastic for at least a month.
So, where do we start? And what are the options for reusing instead of tossing with each use? We’ve gathered a list of ideas for you to consider.
1. Reusable or sustainable straws
Contrary to all the buzz in recent years, single-use plastic straws are definitely not the highest plastic polluter in the ocean—they make up less than 0.025%, actually. But they’re a trendy, fun and easy way to get started on reducing your plastic use.
Because of this, there are now plenty of options for reusable straws or sustainable single-use straws, including bendable ones, which some people with physical disabilities require. Some come with their own carrying case to keep in your pocket, backpack or purse, making it easy to refuse the straw in restaurants.
2. Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs
In efforts to stay healthy and hydrated, we should be drinking lots of water. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to rely on store bought plastic water bottles for their convenience. In fact, a million plastic water bottles are purchased around the world every minute.
Similarly, disposable coffee cups in the U.S. alone are nearing 110 million daily. Luckily, there are simple replacements for both.
Water filters at home make it easy to fill up a reusable bottle for your day, and many drinking fountains provide an option for refilling bottles.
And while some coffee shops and restaurants stopped filling customer’s reusable coffee cups as an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, that service may return in the future. Some even give you a discount for doing so!
3. Concentrated cleaning and personal care products
How many plastic bottles do you go through every year with your cleaning products? Opting for a concentrate that can refill a reusable bottle over and over can help you cut back on the number of those bottles.
Each year, 552 million shampoo bottles alone are used. Even if you recycle in the kitchen, many of us often forget to recycle in the bathroom, too. Look for opportunities to replace plastic bottles with reusable ones or bars.
Buying the larger sizes to refill smaller bottles is another great option to reduce your plastic use—even some hotels are getting rid of their mini bottles.
4. Reusable produce bags
The rolls of plastic bags in the produce section make it easy to keep your bunches of wet fruits and vegetables from dripping on your other items. But this is another opportunity to reduce or reuse.
Depending on the item, consider forgoing the bag. If it’s wet, keep it from touching anything else in your cart or basket. Those bags are easy to save and reuse, too; just let them dry out and keep them with your shopping bags. Or you can purchase sturdier reusable ones designed for the purpose.
5. Reusable shopping bags
Over 100 billion plastic shopping bags are used in the U.S. each year. That seems like a great opportunity for reducing and/or reusing.
Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags altogether back in 2002. Some cities, states and territories in the U.S. have instituted their own bans or have been discussing the option, too.
Sometimes you can get a little discount—or avoid a fee—when you reuse your own bags instead of using shopping bags provided by the store. Again, as a measure to reduce the spread of illness, some stores are not allowing customers to use their own bags right now.
But you can be ready for that to change by starting to build your own stash of reusable shopping bags. Make sure you also develop a system to keep from forgetting them. They don’t do much good when they’re home while you’re at the store.
Some bags even pack into a tiny pouch, making it easy to keep in your purse, backpack or the glove compartment of your vehicle.
6. Skip the bags altogether
An alternative is to skip the bag altogether.
Simply load your items back into a basket or cart and unload them into your vehicle, backpack, wagon—whatever works for you. If you have a vehicle, you can keep bins or baskets in there to make transporting the items into your home easier.
Trying to make all these switches at once might seem overwhelming. Consider making the changes one at a time, choosing to add one each month. It can be done—and more easily than you would think!
And these simple steps don’t just reduce your own plastic consumption. You are modeling behavior for your friends, family and others who see you in the store. Companies are taking note, too, so you can also take action by voting with your dollars.