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Plastic used to be a miracle material in this country. But if recent media coverage is any indication, drinking straws are a greater threat to the republic than Vladimir Putin. Here’s how to address this menace, with products intended to reduce the amount of single-use, disposable items forming new landmasses in Earth’s oceans.
How to Replace Plastic With Eco-Friendly Things
Replacing disposable plastic items with more environmentally friendly items is simple and affordable. In fact, you’re likely to save money over time with minimal fuss.
If an Amazon shopping spree for cloth baby wipes and shampoo bars is too ambitious, start small — and local. Nearly every grocery store sells inexpensive, reusable shopping bags; walk out with one of these on your next provisions run. Once emptied, stow it away in your trunk or carry-all for next time.
Eco-Friendly Substitutes for Disposables
The best substitutes for disposable items are durable non-disposable items, naturally. Glass and metal last a long time, so a portable set of utensils and a drinking straw make eating a fast food meal slightly less damaging to the planet. Here’s a short list of things you can buy on the cheap and use over and over again.
Reusable shopping or grocery bags
Californians have been nickel and, more often, dimed for plastic bag dependency, getting charged as much as $0.25 for each disposable they walk out of stores with. Shoppers in New York and other states will soon be dealt similar fees for not bringing their own bags. Buy a couple waxed canvas bags to keep in your car and one collapsible, foldable sack for your carry-all or backpack.
Reusable water bottles
Drinking from a disposable bottle of water may be slightly less abhorrent than drinking soda, but it’s a lazy and increasingly shameful practice. Water bottles come in more sizes and styles than pants; there are options for double walls, leak proofing, flip tops, and filters. Metal is best, but a non-BPA bottle works, too.
Like plastic grocery bags before them, disposable plastic straws are being targeted in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco for destruction. Even if McDonald’s and Starbucks never do away with the things, you can make the small but significant decision to forgo the sippy cup and drink from an open cup like a grownup — or purchase and carry your own metal straw.
Reusable snack and sandwich containers
Kudos for packing and taking your lunch to the office regularly. Now take the extra step and replace your generic Ziplocs with reusable containers. Faux-Tupperware and Pyrex work great, as do Japanese-style bento boxes. Keep an extra dish and set of utensils at work for catered meals and late-night pizza.
Reusable coffee filters
Coffee snobs may balk at replacing paper coffee filters with reusable metal ones, but the difference in taste is negligible. Save money and spare the compost bins with a stainless steel filter.
Got a K-Cup coffee maker? Individual coffee pods have been demonized of late, and for good reason: The empty pods aren’t recyclable, sending tons of them to landfills. While replacing the machine is ultimately the right thing to do, the least you can do is switch to reusable single-serving filters.
Reusable coffee containers
While we’re on the subject of coffee, those venti latte cups aren’t getting recycled any time soon. A quality thermos will improve the taste of your morning or afternoon pick-me-ups by keeping temperatures consistent longer.
Ready for more? Here’s a down-and-dirty list of eco-friendly alternatives to commonly disposed items.
Rechargeable batteries that last years and don’t require as many searches for proper disposing when spent like regular batteries do.
Rags (old T-shirts or the like) and cleaning solution to replace paper towels, Swiffer-type pads, and pre-moistened wipes.
Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
A real toilet brush — anything like a scrubber marketed as “flushable” is likely to create an ungodly mess somewhere downstream.
Razors with disposable blades as opposed to disposable razors.
Toothbrushes with replaceable heads rather than toothbrushes that should be tossed every six months.
Cloth baby wipes instead of disposables. (We get it: Anything with poop on it should go in the trash. That’s why we’re not advocating cloth diapers — the effort is hardly worth the savings and feelings of smugness. But for times when you’re just cleaning no. 1, have a supply of cloth wipes on hand and toss them in with the soiled laundry.)
Permanent air filters for the car and home to replace paper filters.
Tea bags ==> tea infusers
Wrapping paper ==> gift bag
Grocery produce bags ==> your own reusable, transparent container or bag
Paper notebook ==> a notebook with pages that wipe clean
What to Use Instead of Plastic
Whenever possible, swap out plastic items with items that can be reused. When one-and-done is the only option, use items made of sustainable, biodegradable, or recycled materials.
How to Be More Environmentally Friendly Every Day
Forgoing the convenience of grab-and-go items is a sacrifice, so go easy. Start with a small, simple change like checking the “no plasticware” box next time you place an online order for takeout or delivery.
Then try to form a new, good habit by leaving yourself notes that remind you to take your water bottle with you before you leave your house, for instance. From there, doing the next right thing — for you and the next generation — will become easier and easier.