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Top 10 Tips for Cutting Your Plastics Use … at Work and at Home

POSTED UNDER Recycling & Waste Reduction

You may already know there’s an island of plastic nine feet deep and half the size of Australia floating in the Pacific Ocean – and that it’s becoming visible from outer space. You may have heard that some types of plastic can take between 450 and 1,000 years to decompose. And that only 23 percent of the 297.5 million tons of plastic created each year is recycled, according to Columbia University.

Faced with these overwhelming numbers, you might feel there’s not much you can do to make a positive impact. But you’d be wrong. As Mindy Rulli of HR Services pointed out in our recent Associate Spotlight, “Every little bit helps.”

Here are 10 easy things you can do to cut your plastics use.

1. Carry Reusable Shopping Bags. You saw that one coming, didn’t you? Yes, we’ve talked about it before (and even held a contest to design a reusable tote this spring). But it really does make a difference. According to, every reusable tote replaces up to 700 single-use plastic shopping bags over its lifespan. And that helps cut down the estimated 100 billion plastic bags the Wall Street Journal estimates Americans use each year.

2. Buy the Big Size. Many household and personal care products, such as laundry detergent, shampoo and soap, are available in large economy sizes. That means you’ll buy fewer of them, and contribute less plastic to the waste stream. And they call them economy size for a reason; buying in bulk often saves money.

3. Avoid Disposable Water Bottles. Here’s another one you’ve heard before. There’s a good reason for that – it’s really important. Carry a reusable water bottle with you instead, and you’ll save an estimated $260 per year. You’ll also avoid potential exposure to toxic chemicals such as BPA, which has been linked to hormone disruption and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

4. Rethink Lunch. Instead of single-use plastic sandwich bags and single-serving cups, carry a reusable lunch bag or box stocked with reusable containers, utensils, and a thermos. And whether you’re ordering in or getting takeout let the restaurant know you don’t need plastic utensils. No one really likes sporks, anyway.

5. Stop Bagging Produce. It’s not necessary to put most produce in individual plastic bags. If you can’t leave it loose, there are lightweight nylon, mesh, or organic cotton bags available. You could even reuse mesh bags from other types of produce, such as potatoes or onions. Look at you, reusing!

6. Reuse Plastic Bags. When you can’t avoid a plastic bag, try reusing it. They can line trash cans, pick up after pets, carry wet laundry home from the pool or beach and much more. Gently-used plastic bags for food storage can often be rinsed, air-dried and reused as well.

7. Be Mindful of Packaging. Many consumer products are encased in thick plastic packaging that’s not only hard to get into (did you know there are even special scissors and openers designed just for this purpose?) but is also hard on the environment. Buy loose items whenever you can; when you can’t, look for minimally packaged products and if you don’t like the way something’s packaged, let the manufacturer know – it makes a difference.

8. Up Your Food Storage Game. Instead of covering food with plastic wrap, try reusable silicone suction lids. These flexible, washable discs come in a variety of sizes, create an airtight seal, and are easier to use than plastic wrap. Most are safe for the microwave and conventional oven as well as for the refrigerator. Plus, they can be used over and over again.

9. Stop Using Disposable Straws. Not only are they one of the most common items found littering our beaches, they’re also an environmental menace. Each day, 500 million straws are distributed in the United States, according to EcoCycle. That’s enough to fill 127 school buses. Every day. If you really want to use a straw, either use paper, or get a reusable one (they’re available in metal, glass and yes, plastic).

10. Make Your Own Cleaning Products. Homemade cleaning products are simpler, safer and less toxic for the environment than many commercially packaged cleaners. Cut down on the number of plastic bottles of cleaning products you bring into your home by reusing your own bottle and use products such as baking soda, vinegar, table salt and lemon to clean your home naturally. In fact, here are some other household items that make great cleaning products and tools. And it’s a lot easier than you might think!

Back to the note that it takes 1,000 years for some types of plastic to break down. How do we know that? Actually, we don’t. Plastic has only been around for about a century, so we don’t have conclusive evidence about the time required. The respirometry test scientists use to determine how long it takes various items to decompose doesn’t work on plastic, because bacteria do not degrade it. Instead, scientists must estimate how long it will take for plastic to break down. You can learn more about that from The Explainer.

Have an idea for reducing plastics use? Tell us about it! Your tip could be featured in an upcoming article on Macy’s Green Living.


You also might like:

Ocean Conservation: Why It Matters
Celebrating World Water Day
7 Fast and Easy Green Resolutions
Macy’s Sustainable Packaging Initiative

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