reusable bags on a table that are alternatives to single use plastic grocery bags
Advocacy & News

4 Ways To Reduce Single-Use Plastic

We should all be concerned about the environment, our impact on it, and climate change. We must act now by making adjustments in our everyday lives and work urgently to get community, corporate and political leaders to take action, on our behalf, to protect the planet.

The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it. | Sir David Attenborough

From the oil and natural gas extraction of its beginnings to its carbon-intensive transportation, refinement, manufacturing and slow degradation after it’s been discarded (some products taking hundreds of years to decompose), plastic is one of the most prevalent pollutants that are driving climate change and the warming of our planet. At every stage of its lifecycle, plastic is emitting unacceptable amounts of greenhouse gases.

title graphic for 4 ways to reduce single-use plastic

While greenhouse gases are a natural part of the greenhouse effect that traps heat and keeps the Earth warm and at an average global temperature that sustains life in a balanced way, human activity is producing an ever-increasing amount of greenhouse emissions that are disrupting the planet’s ability to remain in a life-supporting equilibrium. Simply put, as the amount of greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere more heat gets trapped and the globe warms. A seemingly imperceptible rise of just 1.5℃ to 2℃ will have a catastrophic impact on our biodiversity and sustainability — and some of those impacts are being felt today.

At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse. | Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet by the Center for International Environmental Law

So what can we do to help reduce our plastic consumption (in particular single-use) and make a difference in the fight against global warming? Here are 4 things you can do right now …

two bags made from natural materials that are alternatives to single-use plastic bags
photo by Olena Rudo

Re-use Your Shopping Bags

The best bags to have are durable, reusable, have a minimal environmental impact during their manufacturing, etc and are either recyclable or compostable. 100% hemp bags are as close to this ideal as possible, but these are often inaccessible to many people due to their high cost. Their environmental credentials may also be rendered useless if designs on them are created with non-biodegradable ink or if they are coated in plastic or created with a blend of other materials. Finding a reusable bag that is environmentally friendly is not as simple as you may think. Crops that can be used to make material for bags (like cotton, bamboo, jute, hemp, wood/paper, palm leaves, straws and grasses, etc) may require intensive farming techniques and/or use large amounts of land, water or chemicals in their manufacturing which, sadly, may end up making their impact as bad as plastic bags.

So what’s the answer?

Ultimately, if you’re using a couple of durable, reusable bags for a number of years you’re helping to reduce the need to harvest new raw materials (which saves energy and cuts greenhouse gases), you’re cutting down on waste and helping to end plastic pollution that threatens marine life, wild animals, and the natural habitats they live in. Pick what works for you as a replacement to single-use plastic bags and stick with your commitment to making this change (you can find a great guide to what the best reusable and sustainable bags are at the end of this article). The average American family, for example, uses 1,500 plastic bags a year so switching to 4 or 5 reusable, recyclable or compostable bags for a number of years is a good thing to do.

Recycle Plastic Bottles

One essential step in the fight against climate change is becoming committed to recycling all the plastic bottles you use. It’s easy to become disengaged from doing so if you live in an area that does not have a curbside recycling program or you have to make a special trip out to somewhere that does plastic (and glass) bottle recycling — if you can, make it a part of your routine as much as possible. The vast majority of plastic (including bottles and bags) is not being recycled. There is so much of it that becomes litter and refuse that we’re on a path to having more plastic waste, ton for ton, in the ocean than fish by 2050. It shouldn’t stop at plastic items either, anything that can be recycled should be. Be dedicated about it and you will make a difference — this includes making sure that where you live has the capability to deal with the amount of recycling it needs to do. It isn’t just people being careless about where they throw their plastic waste, it’s local and national governments not having the infrastructure in place to actually do it. Vote people in who will work on this and demand those in power create policies that fund recycling initiatives. Now is the time to be motivated to get things done before it’s too late.

Ditch Plastic Cutlery

While we all have a tendency to look for things that make life easier — basically less effort on our part — this has enabled us to shift our mindset away from understanding our impact. There is no way that the amount of energy it takes to extract, transport and manufacture fossil fuels to make plastic cutlery takes less energy than simply washing-up something we can reuse. If you really need single-use or throwaway cutlery, find compostable alternatives instead.

recyclable paper plates and cutlery as alternatives to single-use plastic
photo Olena Rudo

Say No To Chewing Gum

This might be news to you (it was me), but chewing gum contributes about 100,000 tonnes a year to worldwide plastic pollution. Yes, chewing gum is made of plastic. It cannot be composted, takes about 500 years to degrade and invariably ends up stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be. If you need to have some chewing gum for a dry mouth or dental hygiene, there are plastic-free, natural brands available.

As individuals, we really can make a difference but if we don’t get our world leaders and the big, powerful corporations and businesses that fuel climate change to listen to the science then it will be futile. We have the technological intelligence, we have the ideas, the means and the wisdom to change entire systems and infrastructures environmentally sustainable. We have the know-how. We have the power. If we turn away from single-use plastics and other climate-damaging practices in numbers that cannot be ignored, those who can enact the most change may yet join us in doing what needs to be done.

Further Info:

What Are The Best Re-usable Bags? – Small Footprints, Big Adventures

Seven Simple Ways To Reduce Your Plastic Footprint (And Why You Should Care) – Forbes

24 Cheap & Easy Replacements for Plastic in Your Home & Kitchen – Business Insider

If you enjoy reading Transatlantic Notes and would like to show your support for the work being done, please consider making a small donation. Thank you.

40 thoughts on “4 Ways To Reduce Single-Use Plastic”

  1. I love how expertly researched your posts are Molly. I am also worried about the effects that single use PPE will have on the environment. It felt like we were starting to make efforts to reduce plastic consumption and waste – then Coronavirus has caused us to go backwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you — I’m seeing the PPE waste all too often just walking about my local area and in the parks, etc. I have great concerns about it and I feel as you do, that just as people were getting on board with reducing single-use plastic along came Covid and it seems to have taken us a big step back. I hope there is a big effort, government or community-led, that puts out programs to assist in getting all of the waste from PPE, etc is recycled or at least reduced effectively.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of my big concern is related to PPE and the single use mask that are available to us.

        I didn’t know about chewing gum, but definitely will work on that.

        We need to elect better world leaders to improve the dire situation our planet is now in. Climate change is no longer a “important subject” in debates but a catastrophe waiting to happen. We must act now.

        As always loved reading your post —very throughly researched👏🏾👏🏾 xx

        Like

  2. Yikes, I had no idea about chewing gum! I don’t eat it anyway but it’s still shocking. I should get some longer-term reusable bags – we currently use the 10p ones you get from the supermarket but use them again and again until they are ruined! To be fair we do get a lot of uses out of them but probably not as much as the bags you use!

    Corinne x

    Like

    1. Reusing plastic bags is definitely a good idea (we do that too because it’s difficult to completely avoid them sometimes). The non-plastic alternatives are so great as I know I’m not adding to the waste pollution that is getting out of hand as much as I once was. I think as long as people are doing what they can in a way that is most accessible to them then any change is good. Thanks so much for reading!

      Like

  3. I do reuse my plastic bags and I’m pleased to say my local fish and chip shop have switched to wooden cutlery. But that chewing gum contains plastic was news to me – yuck, thank you, I won’t be using it any more now!

    Like

  4. Excellent post on a massive issue. We’ve re-used shopping bags for years, but I must admit the point on chewing gum had passed me by entirely. Definitely something to start taking more seriously.

    Like

  5. I love our re-usable bags and save the plastic ones I do end up with for using as much as possible to store produce and vegetables and I have not used plastic utensils since I took a trip last year. 🙂

    I love that you address some different ways to reduce single use plastic; no other posts on this subject recommend saying no to chewing gum! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  6. I like how you explained all these things. Keep it up! Making our environment clean as much as possible is quite important to not face any bigger disaster. Thank you so much for sharing this article.

    Like

  7. We pride ourselves on doing what we can to cut down on our plastic waste, but I had NO idea about chewing gum. This is a change that we’re definitely going to be making now around here! Not that we chewed gum often, but even the occasional treat is now out of the question.

    Like

  8. Wow did not know that about gum! Explains why you’re told not to swallow it though… definitely something I’ll take away.
    I also like your point about having to be careful about the sourcing of plastic alternatives. While plastics need to be reduced, we want to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the poison. The same goes for meat-free alternatives. So much land is being cleared completely where previously native vegetation co-existed with herds which needed far less intensive clearing or watering. So difficult to strike the balance but you’ve given some great options here!

    Like

    1. Yes, it is an easy assumtion that any non-plastic bag alternative is better for the environment. Cotton tote bags are a good example and reminder to do our research carefully because they are pretty much as bad environmentally as plactic (just in different ways). I really like your point about land clearing for crops/meat-free and the overintensive farming techniques that damage the climate too. It seems that when money gets involved in any large way sustainability practices go out the window. A balance must be found because what we do now is no longer viable. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, just as everyone else, I too am surprised about the chewing gum!
    I was also one who always used plastic cutlery not realizing the damage of it. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.
    Love the research you do and look forward to reading more of your work.

    Like

    1. I used to use plastic cutlery too and have completely stopped now that I’ve been noticing all the ways my household contributes to single-use plastic pollution. It is so easy to change these little things (that all add up to a big difference) if we just take the time to look at what we can do to help. Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

  10. This was really great and awesome content! I’m already doing all of these things 80% of the time – I use my reusable bags all the time and I love my tote bags when I shopped. I don’t even know about the chewing gums! Nice tips!

    Like

  11. Great tips on such an important topic Molly! Thankfully I am finding I already do most of these things! Here I. Hawaii where I live plastic grocery bags are actually illegal. The option s are only paper, none, or reusable which I think is fantastic! Thanks for the tips!

    Like

  12. Great post! I already do all the above but I feel it’s too little. I didn’t know about the chewing gum, the amount of waste it produces. I wish it was easier to recycle other things too, like clothing or footware.

    Like

    1. I agree that it sometimes feels like too little and I try to recycle, re-use or repurpose as much as I can. It’s so important we all do it so that we can make a difference. I wish it were easier to recylce as that can be key to motivating people to make the effort. Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s