Switching to reusable versions of single-use products – things you use once, then throw away – such as bags, cups, forks, straws, plates, storage containers, and more – is an easy way to help prevent wasted resources, avoid toxic chemicals, and reduce both plastic pollution and climate change emissions. Making the switch to reusables can also create significant cost savings, particularly for businesses. See these case studies from our friends at Clean Water Action Network for some examples.
Recycling, while very worthwhile for items made from metal, glass and paper, is, unfortunately, largely a myth when it comes to anything made from plastic. 91% of all plastics will end up being buried, burned or floating in ever smaller pieces in our oceans and waterways. Reuse is a simple, commonsense, sustainable solution that we all need to embrace. Let’s shift our throw-away culture to something much better together.
So how can YOU make the switch from single-use, throwaway products to reusables? Below are 10 easy things you can do to join the reuse revolution and help move beyond plastic.
START HERE! 10 REUSABLE SOLUTIONS, STRATEGIES & SWITCHES
1. Bring your own reusable shopping bags. There are so many great options out there. Some pack up teeny tiny to allow you to easily carry one in your backpack or purse. Others are larger fold up sturdy models that you can stash in your car to make sure you’re never without them. If you’re concerned about buying US-made, check out our list of reusable bags made in the USA.
2. Bring your own reusable produce bags. Same arguments as above. There are tons of options out there – both cotton and plastic although we’d recommend buying cotton because washing plastic adds microplastic particles to our water supply. Our spreadsheet offers lots of good USA-made options.
3. Carry a reusable water bottle. We strongly suggest that you make it either glass or stainless steel to avoid the chemicals in plastic water bottles. There are a lot of options out there but we like that Kleen Kanteen offers two largely plastic-free tops as early research indicates that the plastic tops on plastic water bottles may be the primary source of microplastic particles in the water.
4. Carry your own reusable cutlery. There are some really nice metal and bamboo kits available or, if you’re on a budget, just put a fork, spoon and knife from home in a little bag and you’re all set. It may not be glamorous but it will work.
5. Say no to plastic straws. Carry your own reusable metal or glass straw or just, you know, use your lips to drink 🙂
6. Buy in bulk. Did you realize you can buy things like oats, beans, grains, flour, sugar, salt, spices, pasta, granola, dried nuts, dried fruits and more foods in bulk using your own reusable bags and containers? It takes a touch more planning but feels great, is cheaper, and will lighten your plastic and carbon footprints considerably. Store these things in reusable containers at home. You can also buy cleaning and personal care products in bulk – everything from shampoo and conditioner to moisturizers, dishwasher detergent and handsoap and more. Bring your empty bottles back to the store and refill them – it’s cheaper and better for the planet. Not sure where you can refill? Best bets are your local natural foods store or coop but you can also check this listing from common good or try a Google search for “buy in bulk” or “refill my __” along with your location. Don’t forget to bring your reusable bags and containers with you! For those of you, who prefer to order everything online, there are refillable options popping up for you, too. Check out LOOP – they’re expanding to more and more cities and regions and adding new products all the time.
7. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, bring your own reusable mug to fill up at the cafe or cafeteria instead of taking a disposable cup. You can also make your own at home (think of the savings!) and take it with you in your insulated mug (again, we recommend either glass or metal, not plastic due to leaching concerns). Please do not ever drink anything hot from a polystyrene cup – studies show that styrene, a likely carcinogen, can leach from StyrofoamTM cups and containers when heated. One nice bonus is that your reusable insulated mug should keep your drink hot a lot longer than a to-go cup can.
8. Stop buying certain problem items. Top offenders include anything packaged in a plastic clamshell — berries, greens, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, sandwiches and more and other fruits – this packaging is often totally unnecessary and it will NOT ever be recycled. Avoid buying chips and bars packaged in non-recyclable foil and plastic layered wrappers and bags. You can ask your grocery store or coop to stop using so much plastic packaging – use our sample letter.
9. Pack your or your child’s lunch in reusable containers. Thanks to great companies like Lunchbots, Planetbox, U-konserve, LunchSkins, Beeswrap, Abeego, Stasher, and more, this is not hard! Again, we recommend metal or glass over plastic (metal has the added bonus of being a lot lighter and less breakable than glass – two good qualities, particularly where kids are concerned.) Please note that this is going to be better for your health and theirs because there are serious concerns about toxins in plastic foodware. Find more info in this Consumer Reports article.
10. Bring your own reusable take-out containers. If you’re dining out (or even if you’re just buying some coleslaw at the deli), bring your own reusable containers with you to avoid disposable foam, plastic or paper containers. Take note that even containers labeled “compostable” contain plasticizers that are likely toxic – see this fact sheet from Oregon explaining why they don’t accept “biodegradable” and “compostable” plastic bags and packaging in their compost and this study from the American Chemical Society about toxic PFAS chemicals in compostable food containers. Try storing a stainless steel multi-tier tiffin in your car for this purpose. That way, you can run out to get it if you forget to bring it in. If that fails, try wrapping up your leftovers in a paper napkin or placemat until you get home as the restaurant is just going to throw those things away anyway. You might get a funny look or two from the waitstaff but then again, you might also get some admiring glances as you help raise public awareness of the need to shift away from a throwaway culture to one of reuse.