You like to think you do your part to help the planet: You always carry your S'well water bottle, and diligently separate your paper and plastic from the rest of your trash. But if you grab an iced matcha (in a plastic cup) on your way to work each day, you might not be thinking as much about the Earth's health as your own.
Globally, we dump over 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans each year. (Much of which ends up in gigantic floating garbage patches—one recently found in the South Pacific is bigger than Mexico.) Scientists increasingly warn that phthalate chemicals—the same toxic ingredients that have been banned in beauty products—used in plastic packaging may be contaminating the food chain, leaching into the seafood you eat and posing a real threat to health. In 2014, a United States government advisory panel report raised serious concerns about phthalates’ links to cancer.
For years we’ve been able to buy fat-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free so why not plastic-free?
We won’t find the solution to our plastic woes overnight. But if everyone works together towards a common goal, we can achieve extraordinary things. Earlier this year, I founded A Plastic Planet, a London-based international campaign aiming for the introduction of a Plastic Free Aisle in supermarkets. For years we’ve been able to buy fat-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, so why not plastic-free? Until then, here are seven easy steps you can take to cut your plastic footprint.
1. If you smoke, quit
Smoking is often cited as the gravest public health epidemic of our age. The serious health risks associated with smoking are well documented (cancer, stroke, lung disease—you know the drill), and the habit has become increasingly socially unacceptable over recent decades. But did you know smoking is also a major cause of the plastic crisis?
Tobacco trash is the world’s number one litter problem, with 4.5 trillion cigarette butts discarded each year. Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate—a type of plastic that takes hundreds of years to fully decompose. By kicking the habit, you're calling time on the scandal of cigarette plastic pollution. (And, you know, doing your body a major favor.)
2. Be wary of plastic coffee pods
Some 29 percent of American households own a coffee pod machine, according to the National Coffee Association. These machines offer high-convenience, good quality coffee for a fraction of the price of beverages bought from coffee shops. However, the coffee pod trend has proven an unmitigated disaster for the environment. Plastic coffee pods are fiendishly difficult to recycle, with the vast majority ending up dumped in landfills or the ocean. The next time you fancy a quick flat white or skinny latte, make sure your beverage doesn’t cost the earth.
3. Use soap instead of body wash
Shunning shower gel packaged in plastic bottles in favor of soap from cardboard boxes is a quick and easy way to make serious inroads into your plastic footprint. Next time you're stocking up on bathroom items, be sure to make your bath-time ritual as plastic-free as possible. (Your cleansing routine won't suffer a bit.)
4. Go plastic-free at the juice bar
America loves its juice bars. The U.S. cold-press juice market is worth an estimated $100 million a year, and globally, it's projected to reach $845 million by 2024. (That's a lot of green juice.) But many Americans frequently buy OJ packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles. PET is an absolute nightmare for the environment, with many of the 500 billion plastic bottles used each year ending up on trash heaps or in the ocean.
Next time you hit the juice bar, ask for your beverage to be served in your own refillable cup. Many juice bars will even offer you a discount if you request this. Save money and the planet at the same time? Seems like a no-brainer.
5. Hold the straw with your next drink
The U.S. gets through a whopping half a billion plastic straws each and every day. As a result, our once pristine beaches are littered with them. The good news is that there are alternatives. Eco-friendly drinking straws made from stainless steel, wheat, and bamboo are becoming an increasingly viable alternative to the plastic version. Go green or go home (seriously).
6. Avoid cotton swabs with plastic handles
Cotton swabs are super-useful to have around the house (just keep them out of your ears!). They can be a complete disaster for the environment unless they're plastic-free, however. Millions of cotton swabs with plastic handles are flushed down toilets in the U.S. every year. When stocking up at your local pharmacy, be sure to choose paper instead of plastic—handles, that is.
7. Say no to disposable razors
Americans throw away an estimated 2 billion disposable plastic razors every year. The vast majority of plastic razors cannot be recycled, and so end up on beaches, in landfills, or in the ocean. Purchase a razor that can be used again and again— considering subscription services like Dollar Shave Club and Harry's make this more affordable than ever, why wouldn't you make the swap?
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