Three Big Ways You CAN Reduce the Impact of Plastic

Have you been wringing your hands every time you run across a plastic bag?

If you're reading this, chances are that you know about the huge floating islands of plastic in our oceans or how marine life is either deformed or killed by plastic  (an international study published 9/14/15 in Global Change Biology by the University of Queensland estimates 52% of all sea turtles consume it). There is probably a horrible picture or statistic for every plastic bag floating around.

Frankly, it's terrifying. 

So what do you do? 

Well, in the case of supporting the sea turtles, consult this great list from Nature Abounds.

And in terms of reducing the impact of plastic, read on for three important and relatively easy ways to approach that damnable mountain of plastic.

1) Deal Righteously With Ziploc Baggies and Their Ilk

First of all, try NOT to use or buy them! Use reusable containers - invest in some good glass containers for food storage. For items like fresh produce, try using cloth bags with zippers or mesh bags from a kitchen goods or whole foods grocery store or order them online from one of many options like here.

 If the convenience factor is just too hard to resist - wash and reduce your ziploc baggies. Click on the image above for one blogger's tips. And for those bags that you do throw out- like in the case of ripped bags or bags that have held meat or fish, etc., rinse them out (use a damp cloth to save water and be kind to recycling companies, because, well... ewww!) and recycle them. Many places now accept plastics and will recycle them. I was recently thrilled to discover a full-blown recycling center in Best Buy's entryway the other day.

Yes, it can be a drag to take that extra time but these efforts DO make a difference and ultimately protect life!

Here's a surprising list of things you might be throwing away that are actually recyclable.

  • Ziploc® brand bags (clean and dry)
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Dry-cleaning bags
  • Bread bags and produce bags
  • Toilet paper, napkin and paper-towel wraps
  • Plastic shipping envelopes
  • All clean bags labeled #2 or #4

So please - don't put these things into the general trash that will just go to landfill, RECYCLE!

2) Avoid Products With Microbeads

You're tired of reading the labels? I know I am. And what about the wonderful homegrown company that started out with pristine ingredients and then was acquired (Burt's Bees, Naked ...) and slowly the bad stuff starts creeping back in? 

My rule of thumb is to avoid any product with ingredients I don't recognize. Learn to recognize which are the especially noxious ingredients in all products you consume regardless of whether you eat, apply or use them. Not all sudsing agents or surfactants  are created equal, and how ingredients interact together is an important part of the picture. It is worth taking a mini crash course or reading up on the baddies (check out this excellent source).  For the purpose of this article, the worst offender for our oceans and marine life is polyethylene (PE), polythene, or poly methylene - even in their "biodegradable" versions. 

Particularly scary is the danger caused by polyethylene microspheres called microbeads, which are ubiquitous, especially as an ingredient in most toothpastes, facewash and body scrub. You'll want to look twice at what is creating that "scrubbing" or "exfoliating" effect. This may be obvious already, but just because the product's advertised as "natural" or has a name like "Ayur-medics" does not mean you can trust it to be environmentally friendly. 

Listening to Ira Flatow on Science Friday (Sept 18, 2015), I learned from his guest, Washington Post reporter Rachel Feitman, that 8 trillion tons of microbeads  are dumped into US aquatic habitats EVERY DAY.  Check out her article, which includes a great 2 minute video explaining why these particles, too tiny to be captured by water-treatment plants, are literally choking the life out of our oceans.

So yes, it may be a drag sometimes, but it is important to keep looking at the ingredient list - even with your old favorites. To make it a little easier for you,   you can check this list (updated regularly) for products containing microbeads - some are obvious but others will surprise you.

Finally, consider making your own cosmetics; especially if you have kids and teens, it can be a fun afternoon project to concoct your own toothpaste or body scrub using yummy simple ingredients. There's lots of great simple recipes a Google away and we'd love to hear yours in the comments section!

3) Be Vocal

While you don't want to be a know-it-all and harangue your spouse, friends and family to death, talking about these issues does make a difference. You also want to vote with your money. What you buy does matter. Your choices speak volumes in the land where capitalism (and data) reigns. Big Money takes notice and if we are conscious with our purchasing power, we can effect change.


Lastly, do drop an email to companies and let them know you'd like them to remove an ingredient or improve their practices. Say something to your grocer about the choices they make available to you:  your voice counts.  Giving positive feedback ("Yes do this," and "thank you" are powerful words) is as powerful, and sometimes more so, as is politely offering your nay vote. You actually want to be heard, not win an argument. 😁

Do also let your elected officials know how you want them to vote on important issues like labeling initiatives and safeguarding the environment. This link, from the League of Women Voters, shows you how to get in touch with your representatives right down to the most local level.  

Want more ideas? Have some to share? Leave a comment for us below.

by Lila Galindo