ENVIRONMENT

Why and how to reduce single-use plastic consumption in your life

Feb 28, 2024, 1:00 PM

CLIFFE, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 13: Plastic and other detritus lines the shoreline of the Thames e...

CLIFFE, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 13: Plastic and other detritus lines the shoreline of the Thames estuary on January 13, 2023 in Cliffe, United Kingdom. It is estimated that about eight million metric tons of plastic find their way into the world's oceans every year. Once in the Ocean plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade, all the while breaking down into smaller and smaller 'microplastics,' which can be consumed by marine animals, and find their way into the human food chain. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Smithsonian Magazine reported that the United States produced 40 million tons of plastic waste in 2021. Only about two million tons were recycled, however. The rest of the plastic, including single-use plastic, ended up in landfills or getting incinerated.

Recycling is a way to extend the life of single-use plastics, however, it is not the best way to reduce your environmental impact. More plastic has ended up in landfills, came to rest in the environment, or been incinerated. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review reported that only about 9% of all plastic was recycled. In contrast, 72% found its way into landfills or the environment. 19% was incinerated. 

The National Institute of Health reported that incinerating, or burning, plastic can send toxins into the air. Breathing the microplastics, bisphenols, and phthalates can cause brain development issues and endocrine and reproductive functions. 

Plastics that end up in the environment can end up killing wildlife, which in turn could disrupt ecosystems and threaten food supplies. Additionally, if the animals we eat consume plastic, it can end up inside of us, in the form of microplastics. Similar to the burning of plastics, consuming microplastics can lead to health issues, per the NIH

Ditch the single-use plastic drinkware

Behavioral modifications can make it easier for you to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste you produce. 

Firstly, carrying around a reusable beverage bottle can reduce your consumption of single-use coffee cups or water bottles.

Even the paper cups used to serve hot cocoa or coffee contain plastic. They’re lined with it, making them unrecyclable. 

Earthday.org reported that Americans use about 50 million plastic water bottles each year. Earthday.org’s estimate did not account for other single-use vessels, so the number could even be higher. 

Using a reusable beverage bottle could save about 156 plastic water bottles each year. 

Additionally, some chains such as Starbucks and local chain Bjorn’s Brew, offer discounts when you bring and refill a bottle. 

Water bottle refilling stations have also become more common in recent years, placed in locations such as airports and national parks

Secondly, on the topic of drinkware, you can stop using single-use plastic straws. According to Be Straw Free, the United States consumes about 500 million plastic straws every day. 

If you can pass on the straw, request your drink without one. If you need or prefer to use one, reusable options are available. Made of aluminum, silicone, or glass, they often come with storage cases and cleaning supplies. 

Despite their reputation, paper straws were found to be worse for humans and the environment than their plastic counterparts. Belgian researchers found that paper straws can contain more harmful chemicals than plastic. 

Adopt reusable shopping bags

Thirdly, begin carrying reusable shopping bags. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that Americans use about 365 single-use plastic bags per year. 

While the single-use plastic bags often provided by grocery stores are recyclable, they can not be placed in your home recycling bin.

Salt Lake County said that they have to be taken back to the store and placed in a specific recycling bin.

Additionally, the World Wildlife Fund said that the lightweight bags can be blown out of garbage trucks or landfills, potentially ending up in nature and harming wildlife. 

Furthermore, plastic bags take about 1,000 years to decompose, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. As they slowly decompose, they turn into toxins. As mentioned above, toxins can enter our bodies through the food chain and microplastics, increasing our risk for some health conditions. 

It should be noted that there are many more ways to reduce your single-use plastic consumption.

Reduced single-use plastic consumption can lead to less of it ending up in landfills or our environment. 

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Why and how to reduce single-use plastic consumption in your life