The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. This amounts to 30.8 pounds per week, 136.4 pounds in a 31-day month and 1,606 pounds in a single year. In an 80-year lifetime, this amounts to over 100,000 pounds of trash, most of which is likely to sit in a landfill.
Landfills are made up of non-biodegradable materials that eventually leak toxic chemicals into the environment, which then leads to compostable items being suffocated and never actually breaking down into soil.
Back in 2011, an organization in Australia started a grassroots movement called Plastic Free July as a way to raise awareness about how many single-use plastics we throw away/into the ocean every year. Today, this movement has grown to include over 150 countries and millions of participants working to reduce plastic consumption, likely preventing billions of pounds of non-compostable waste from entering our oceans and landfills.
Photo courtesy of PlasticFreeJuly.org
Photo courtesy of PlasticFreeJuly.org
These numbers can be a bit staggering to read, especially when you factor in everyone who either doesn’t care or know enough to change their consumption habits. Yet there are small steps everyone can take to reduce the amount of waste they throw away. Along with the tips below, start with simple swaps on items you use regularly. Remember — it’s always the small things that add up to something significant.
1. REFUSE STRAWS
This is probably the easiest of all the ways to reduce your plastic consumption. Did you know it only takes 5 minutes to make a plastic straw? Did you know it takes up to 200 years for that straw to break down? And did you know Americans use approximately 500 million drinking straws every day? When you think about the lasting impact of something so small, suddenly the convenience of a straw doesn’t seem worth it.
When you’re at a restaurant, simply ask for no straw when you order a drink. When your at Starbucks, you can ask for their nifty new lids. Yes, it’s still plastic, but at least the lid is recyclable whereas straws are not. If you have or know someone who has a disability that requires using a straw to drink, there are so many great reusable options, including a collapsible stainless steel straw that comes with its own traveling pouch.
2. BRING YOUR OWN COFFEE CUP AND WATER BOTTLE
Instead of single-use coffee cups — because even paper cups are lined with plastic — bring your own insulated coffee cup. Many businesses offer a small discount because you’re also saving them money by not using their supplies. Likewise, bring your own water bottles and fill them up at drinking fountains.
3. BRING YOUR OWN SHOPPING BAGS
Save your shopping bags and remember to bring them into the store! I keep mine in my trunk so I don’t have an excuse. I also bring my own muslin bags and mason jars to use in the bulk section to avoid purchasing unnecessary packaging. Many places around KC will tare your jar prior to filling so you aren’t charged for the weight of your container. As a bonus, your pantry will look so pretty with your ingredients stored in jars.
4. BRING YOUR OWN TUPPERWARE WHEN YOU BUY FOOD TO GO
This one can be a bit more challenging, especially if you go out to eat on a whim, but bring your own Pyrex dish or Tupperware to put your leftovers in instead of accepting Styrofoam (AKA polystyrene) boxes. Not all recycling facilities accept polystyrene products, which is classified as a plastic number 6.
The main idea is just plan ahead with your reusables: keep them in your car or in a bag you carry every day. Store them somewhere convenient where you know you’ll use them. It may seem small, but when you add all these up, any reduction in our trash output will be a huge difference over a lifetime. Not to mention the potential influence it may have on those around us. Now let’s go save the earth, one single-use plastic swap at a time.