5 simple ways to curb your single-use plastic consumption

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About a year ago, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw a tweet that made me stop dead in my tracks: By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. The tweet was accompanied by an image of Juhu Beach in Mumbai, India, the shore completely littered with the muddy remnants of plastic bags and bottles. I could not fathom that such a grim reality for our planet could manifest so soon. 

A prime contributor toward global climate change, plastic pollution poses a severe threat to our oceans, marine life, wildlife, food safety and human health. Much of the plastic produced takes the form of single-use plastics. According to the nonprofit organization Plastic Oceans International, it is estimated that 380 million tons of plastic are produced each year, 50% of which constitutes single-use plastics. 

Single-use plastics can be found in items you use once and then throw away, such as disposable water bottles, disposable cutlery, plastic straws, grocery bags and in a majority of produce and food packaging. It is extremely important for people to grow more conscious of their single-use plastic consumption and take the necessary steps to curb it. Although systemic and structural change are primarily needed in order to truly reverse climate change, individuals can take steps in their personal lives to lessen their impact on the problem as well. You don’t have to eliminate plastic from your life altogether, but make an effort to try out the following easily doable methods to minimize your single-use plastic consumption! 

Keep a reusable utensil kit with you

As college students, we constantly find ourselves on the go between classes and meetings, often stopping by one of the myriad cafes or casual food eateries near campus to refuel our energy tanks. Unfortunately, oftentimes the cutlery provided to eat your food and drink your beverage is made out of plastic. To avoid unnecessary single-use plastic consumption when eating out, keep a travel-sized utensil kit handy on you. You can find many different sets to choose from online, ranging from stainless steel to bamboo chopsticks, knives, spoons and forks. You can also purchase a reusable stainless steel straw for beverages. 

Invest in a reusable water bottle

Staying hydrated throughout the day is key to your physical health. Instead of going to the nearest vending machine or store to buy a plastic water bottle when you’re thirsty, invest in a reusable water bottle that you can refill throughout the day. Virtually every building on campus has its own water fountain, allowing you free access to satiate your hydration needs without ever having to spend a cent. 

Chew gum that doesn’t contain plastic

A lesser known fact about the chewing gum market is that many brands actually contain microplastics. Most gum bases contain polyethylene, the same chemical you find in plastic bags and other disposable plastics. We’ve all found ourselves at one point or another popping a stick of gum into our mouths to freshen up our breath, but what we might not have known was that this habit is actually contributing to the microplastic problem. Fortunately, there are many eco-friendly alternative gum brands that do not use plastics in their products, such as True Gum, Treehugger, Simply Gum and Glee Gum.

Avoid pre-packaged items at the grocery store

Step into any major chain grocery store and you will find an abundance of food packaged in plastic. In the produce section, you might see individual cucumbers sealed in plastic, apples, potatoes and carrots wrapped in plastic bags, and berries in plastic cartons. Skip over purchasing these items and opt for loose, unbagged produce instead. If possible, choose to shop for fruits and vegetables at a local farmers market instead where it’s usually easier to buy produce without all the extra plastic packaging. Additionally, while it may be tempting to buy pre-chopped fruit and vegetables in plastic cartons out of convenience, make an effort to take a few extra minutes from your day to chop up your own produce. Not only is this a far cheaper option, but it’s also better for the environment!  

Meal prep

Planning and preparing your meals in advance has both environmental and economic benefits, such as minimizing food waste, curbing plastic consumption and saving money by dining in. While running errands or going to-and-from classes, we often find ourselves scrambling to find something to eat for lunch or a snack. Much of the food we grab on the go, such as ready-made salads, sandwiches, and wraps, are packaged in plastic. Ordering food through delivery services such as UberEats and DoorDash also comes with a lot of disposable plastic packaging, which adds up over time. By scheduling time in your day to meal prep, you can prepare delicious dishes and store them in tupperware for when you are on the go, thereby cutting on plastic and money while also being healthier for your body overall! 

Growing more conscious of your single-use plastic consumption and implementing the following tips into your daily routine is just one way that you can do your part to help the planet!

Contact Madeleine Lorie at [email protected].