There is so much waste going into our landfills and oceans. The sad part about it is that we’ve been saying this for decades. It only seems to have gotten worse. And there are even more plastic products to deal with today. Yet, so much of it can be reduced or recycled. When I was growing up we always recycled so thankfully, it’s always been a part of my life and consciousness. One of the first books I bought as a kid and still have is 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth. I re-read it recently and still so much of it isn’t being done by the majority.
In college, I was shocked that my dorm at the University South Carolina had no recycling program so I set up one myself. I sure hope they have all this in place today. I did the same thing again a couple years later when I started working at a TV station in Columbia and couldn’t believe all the paper going in the trash! Paper! It’s one of the easiest things to recycle.
Some scary plastic stats:
- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
- 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
- The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
- The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).
- Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)
- Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
Reducing and Recycling in the Travel Industry
Companies and corporations waste so much, if each did its part, they would save tons of trees, energy, and resources. When I think of one sector that I work in, the travel industry, all the waste saddens me. Of course we know that carbon is a big by product of airplane travel. And then there are all the disposable items on board (plus in all of the airports) including all the damn plastic cups they hand out. I always hand the flight attendant my own bottle for them to pour water into (and only if I didn’t already fill it up myself at an airport water fountain).
Hotels create so much waste from their single use toiletry bottles, soaps, and all the disposable items used in their meeting rooms and conference halls every single day. I’ve taken soap home with me (or used my own) and also make sure to use the same bar at the sink that I do in the shower (certainly no need to open two new bars). And, even though they have those signs about saving water and not washing towels everyday, I’d often find new ones in my room anyway, even if I’d hung mine up. That has been really frustrating! So I’ve started to just keep the ‘do not disturb’ sign on my doorknob so they don’t even bother coming into my room. I certainly don’t need tidying up for a couple days! And just because I’m not paying for the electric or energy in my room, why waste it? I always turn off the lights and AC when I leave the room, it’s truly a total waste to leave it on. I wish more American hotels would install the keycard electricity slot that seems to be pretty standard in European hotels. So when you have to leave your room and take your key out of the slot, the power to your room goes off.
I recently was running a conference at a hotel and was appalled at the way the staff kept replacing our bottles of water with more bottles of water even if we’d barely drank from them. I am sure they are instructed to and sadly many customers probably think that is so great, but it’s a disgusting waste, not even to mention the waste of water that many around the world can’t even access. How about just having out glasses and pitchers?
Over the years, I’ve continued to become more mindful of my waste footprint – from not only what I throw out, but what I consume (or don’t consume) to begin with.
5 Tips to Stop using Disposable Plastics
Maybe you’ve heard some of these before, but which ones are you actually doing in your day-to-day life?
1. Be Mindful of Packaging
All that wasteful packaging drives me crazy. But we can avoid much of it with a little bit of forethought. I don’t find this inconvenient, I find it enlightening. Whenever you must buy something whether it’s a food item, or another good, think about the packaging. Do you have a choice to ask for less packaging? Request no bag, no straw, no extra napkins, no stupid plastic take-away utensils (especially when you will be eating it at home anyway!).
2. Bring your own bags
This one should just be standard by now. Drive a car everyday? Then always have several reusable bags stashed in the trunk for all those store runs. Don’t have a car? Do like I do and have reusable bags waiting in your most-often used purses, bags, and backpacks. I have one bag tucked into each of my daybags so I’m never without. One of my favorites is the Envirosax brand. They collapse down into a tiny rolled-up cylinder, plus come in all kinds of fun colors and designs. And while I’m talking about bags, please don’t use the plastic bags in the produce section! You can also bring your own bags or jars or do like I do for most produce items, just keep them loose. At check out, they will go in your main bag anyway and you will wash them before use. There is absolutely NO reason that things like bananas (hello? They already have there own natural ‘wrapper’), apples, melons, oranges, tomatoes, onions, lemons, etc. need a bag.
3. Bring your own water bottle
Seriously, if you are not already doing this…what is wrong with you? Of course, there are a few instances when I am forced to buy a bottle of water and I hate doing it! It’s easy to always have one with you in your car or in your bag. I like the newer Camelback chute bottle. It’s BPA-free, plus I like that there is no straw or strange sucking thing. I like drinking my water out of a regular bottle opening rather than some straw-type system. Plus the cap locks into the handle when you are drinking so you don’t lose it and it doesn’t bounce around hitting you in the nose when you drink!
4. Bring your own Mug or Glass
Let’s say you are at Starbucks and you are going to stay there and work on your laptop. Or even read an actual book! Why in the world would you get a disposable cup? This is a huge pet peeve of mine. First off, please know that Starbucks HAS MUGS! So if you are staying in, please, please say “it’s for here” and ask for a nice, feels good on the hands mug. Of course you can also bring your own coffee container.
Same goes for cold beverages, I’ve been bringing my own Mason Jar for the last few years because I tend to like an Iced Chai Latte in the summer. And after all these visits, a barrista at my local Starbucks in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago just told me that they actually have glasses. This was great to know. BUT I have since learned that only SOME Starbucks have the glasses, so best to keep bringing my own. Now if only Starbucks had their employees actually ask customers if it was “for here or to go” we’d be getting somewhere. BUT they do not. SO it’s up to YOU! You can do it!
5. Bring your own container
This one takes a tiny bit more dedication, but really not that much. When I go have a meal out somewhere I simply tuck a smallish Tupperware container into my bag. This way, I can take any leftovers home (which I usually have because I don’t need to eat the typically large portion served!) without wasting one of their containers. And let’s be clear, it doesn’t matter IF their container is recyclable or even compostable (are you going to actually make sure it goes into a compost bin??), it’s still a new container that doesn’t need to go into rotation. Yes, I’ll admit, if I’m at dinner at a fancy restaurant, this sometimes feels weird, and I don’t always do it, but I’m trying hard to get over it. If you do get takeout or leftovers in the plastic containers, please wash them and save them for next time. And I’m not going to link to any containers here, because we know you already have some!
Please say NO to the straw. It seems like a little thing, but they are giving them out everyday and these stupid tubes fill up landfills and harm animals. The problem with straws is one of sheer volume. Americans alone use an estimated 500 million straws every day. Straws are small and hard to pick out when workers sift through recycling, meaning they are rarely recovered.
Some restaurants are now only giving them out only if you ask for it, which is a good thing! It’s a waste when they stick them in your drinks even if you don’t want one.
Essentially every piece of plastic ever made is still here.
Plastic in landfills or the ocean, never goes away or biodegrades due to its chemical make up, it simply breaks down into smaller pieces and all too often these pieces get ingested by birds and fish and turtles and makes them sick and die. You may have already seen the video of the poor turtle with a drinking straw painful stuck deep inside its nostril.
Not only does plastic create so much waste that never truly goes away, but to create more plastic we need more oil and gas extraction and more electricity to power the plastic production. It’s a never-ending loop that we can each start to disrupt.
Another book I read recently which I recommend:
Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying
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Interesting post, we must stop thing which are harmful for our earth.
Thanks Oliver. I agree!
Thank you Lisa. I’ve been a research in environmental science & engineering in Tsinghua University for over ten years, but I think you did much better than I did. I’ll try my best to follow your instructions.
Thanks William. These are pretty easy things to start doing. If only we all did them…
Thank you Lisa. I’ve been a researcher in environmental science & engineering in Tsinghua University for over ten years, but I think you did much better than I did. I’ll try my best to follow your instructions.
So much unnecessary plastic gets made every year – thanks for sharing these practical tips!
So true Jane, thanks!
Plastic is laying waste to our planet … these tips will help put a stop to that!
Nienke | The Travel Tester
Great article and so important! We always bring our own bags when grocery shopping and try to say no to bags as much as possible otherwise. It’s hard sometimes as people in shops just automatically put them in! Ah! I have taken so many things out of bags again in shops, and won’t give up 🙂 Straws I still find really hard, because often I don’t see them put it in the glass before I get it, but I find them terrible too! Have to step up my game on that, for sure!
Thanks Nienke! Always glad to hear others making changes too. It’s so much about just bring more mindful of it all.
In this present world, plastic is really harmful equipment to our environment. For Safety people and planet we have to less using plastic. We should take the step to avoid plastic and aware of people. Your tips are really important and helpful thanks for sharing this with us.