How often have you enjoyed a beautiful body of water this summer? Up here in New England, summer is practically synonymous with water; between the ocean breeze and cool lakes to swim in nearby, it’s natural that we find ourselves beside the water quite often this time of year.
While we spend a lot of time reveling in the beauty of oceans and lakes, we also can’t help but notice a looming issue: there’s a whole lot of trash and debris littering our once pristine sands and waters. In fact, this isn’t just a local problem: studies have shown that if we continue polluting the oceans at the current rate, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. That’s a whole lot of plastic.
That isn’t all that surprising if you’ve seen the jarring photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge, deep, swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. The large gyre contains tons upon tons of plastic waste, much of which takes years to biodegrade; some of the plastics, in fact, never biodegrade at all, but break up into smaller and smaller microplastics that are ingested by fish and harm our ecosystems.
We love our oceans and environment, and it pains us to see patches of trash like this emerge. Looking for a solution? Reducing the amount of plastic you use every day – even if just by a little – means less plastic will end up in places like our oceans. While reducing your plastic use may seem difficult, if each of us takes a few small steps together, we can make large concrete change. So how can you begin?
- Reassess your plastic use. Chances are you’re using plastic in places you don’t even realize. When you think of disposable plastic, you probably think of plastic water bottles and grocery bags. However, plastic is lurking in all kinds of places: it packages your food, cleaning products, body lotions, and more. Make a list of the plastic-wrapped things you use every day to start the process out right.
- Pick a few things to cut out for the first week. Get started by reminding yourself to bring reusable bags to the grocery store instead of using the plastic ones they give you. You can also avoid takeout food for the first week, as those meals are often wrapped in plastic, and opt for cooking at home instead.
- Check the kitchen. Yes, the majority of our food these days is packaged. From cereal to meats and even produce, everything seems to be wrapped in some kind of plastic. When you go to the grocery store this week, shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible, rather than the inside aisles. Not only is that food less likely to be wrapped in plastic (think: produce like apples, oranges, and kale; butcher meats and fish), it also tends to be the food that’s healthiest for you!
- Assess your bathroom. Soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products are all typically packaged in plastic. One way to cut down on this is to buy in bulk. Rather than buying individual bottles of shampoo that last one month, head to a bulk store like Costco and grab the bulk version. Rather than buying multiple plastics, you only need to buy one large one, which in the end cuts down on your plastic use. Another, more advanced tip: try making your own cleaning products! Instead of buying a bathroom cleaner from the store, mix three parts vinegar and one part water, and put it in a reusable bottle. Use baking soda and lemon to get out the tough stains and keep your bathroom smelling fresh.
- Reassess your consumption. The best way to cut down on plastic? Purchase less overall. As you’ve thought through your plastic use, you’ve probably realized that the majority of what you buy comes in plastic. Each time you make a purchase, think deeply: do you really need that item? Can you make do without, or make your own? Is there a way to buy in bulk? Can you plan a trip or outing to enjoy time with friends, rather than buying something material?
Thinking through and changing your habits can be difficult to start, but with a little practice, these strategies become second nature. Not only can you divert plastics from our oceans and protect our environment, many of these tactics may help you live a healthier life and save you money. A win – win – win!