Eleven Things You Can Do to Reduce Plastic Pollution

Photo/Stijn Dijkstra

By Dilber Shatursun & Adriana DiBenedetto

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Plastic pollution is a problem that is harming our planet now and will continue to do so for generations. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of fifteen things that can help you slowly, but surely, reduce your dependence on single-use plastics and even pass on plastic. While it won’t eliminate all the plastics in your life, it may help you become more mindful about the role plastic plays in your everyday life. Let’s begin! 

1

Filter it up

In 2006, the average American went through about 167 bottles of water but only recycled less than a third of that amount; that’s just per person! If you can, invest in a water filtration system that’s hooked up to your faucet. On a budget, a water pitcher with a built-in filter is a great start. Just be sure that you periodically clean or replace your filters (with either option) to keep buildup at bay. 

2

Wash synthetic fabrics wisely

Synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, acrylic, and nylon release fibers less than 5mm every time they’re washed. The average fleece jacket releases up to 2g of microfibers in one load. The solution? Wash synthetics in cold water, as infrequently as possible, and only when the load is full. Then, if you must purchase, look for items made from natural fibers like linen, cotton, or even Tencel.

3

Show off your style with a reusable cup

Ever wonder why liquid never leaks through a paper cup? That’s because it’s lined with a thin layer of plastic, making it unfit for recycling. Around 16 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year worldwide. After one-time use, they spend up to 50 years in a landfill. Instead, use a tumbler for liquids hot and cold, and in a design that speaks to you.

4

Skip the straw

On average, Americans use over 500 million straws per day. That’s enough to fill 127 school buses! While many businesses have removed straws as defaults, others are still catching up. So, when ordering a drink, just be sure to ask your server not to include any straws. If for health reasons you must use a straw, try a washable stainless steel one; many even come with carrying cases for portability.

PRO TIP: Use a microfiber-catching laundry bag or invest in a laundry filter. For those with bigger budgets, switch to a front-loading washing machine (which may reduce the amount of microfibers released up to seven times!).

With DA.AI Technology, PET bottles get a second life as fabric. Photo/Shuli Lo

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5

Let loose with your tea

Elevate tea time and switch to loose leaf teas. Many tea bags are made with a silky, synthetic mesh and sometimes come in individual plastic wrappers. To keep leaves out of your cup, consider purchasing a teapot with an in-pot strainer, a metal strainer ball, or get an over-the-cup strainer. The best part? You’ll relish in the finer taste of loose leaf tea.

Want to try loose leaf teas? Explore Jing Si Tea, grown naturally and without pesticides in the mountains of Taiwan. Available for purchase at the www.jingsi.shop.

Despite the discomforts of pregnancy, Esperance Aliancent (first row left) seizes the opportunity to learn sewing skills. Photo/Keziah Jean

6

Cut down on single-use cutlery

Each day, Americans use over 100 million single-use plastic utensils. Convenient though they may be, biodegradable they are not. Instead, bring your own cutlery when you’re on the go, or invest in a travel set that can be left in a bag or glove compartment for easy storage. Even if sustainability isn’t actively on your mind, it will at least be of use anytime you need an extra knife, fork, spoon, or pair of chopsticks handy.

7

Don’t get stuck to cling wrap

Though plastic wrap has been around for decades, there are many alternatives. Wrap drier goods in rewashable tea towels (and using a string or rubber band if need be). To seal moisture in, try wetting the cloth a bit. On the other hand, reusable storage containers and dishes can be great for reheating, refrigeration, and can be dishwasher safe. But, if you must, try reusable papers like parchment or those made from beeswax.

8

Bag it up

Up to a trillion plastic bags are discarded every year, and a single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Bring your own reusable shopping and produce bags to markets, and avoid single-use plastic bags. Purchase a tote that supports a cause and shows off your style, or, if you’re crafty, make your own. Just be sure to wash every now and then.

9

 Party consciously

Occasions can be made festive with decorations, but they may do more harm than good if you’re using the wrong materials. Fabric decorations like ribbons and bunting offer beautiful and unique ways to decorate. Avoid confetti and balloons at all costs. Pretty in photos, they can be devastating to marine life. For dinner and serveware, take advantage of your dishwasher and use real dishes and cutlery.

A Tzu Chi volunteer affi xes a bow for seating at the Tzu Chi USA 2021 Charity Concert. Photo/Shuli Lo

10

 Join a cleanup

Minimize land and marine debris as a volunteer at beach cleanups and litter removals. It’s a great way to connect with eco-conscious neighbors, do good, and make new friends. Check online for community cleanups near creeks and rivers to help stop waste before it reaches the ocean. Don’t see one near you, though? Start your own event and spread the word to your networks on social media.

Tzu Chi volunteers host a community cleanup in Milwaukee, WI. Photo/Grace Tsai

11

#PassOnPlastic

Now that you understand the problem of plastic pollution, it’s time to take action. Adopt some of these changes and let us know what you stick to with photos or video posted to your social media using the hashtag, #PassOnPlastic. It’s an effortless way to inspire others and join a group of like-minded individuals who care for our planet.

While all the above are best practices, we know it can be difficult to transition to a waste-free life (particularly in the single-use era of COVID-19). But, that’s okay. At least you’ve become more mindful of how plastic exists in your daily life, and can begin to open conversations with family, friends, and even with local business owners about why it’s important for them to join in. Even if you aren’t great with words, what changes you decide to make may be the most convincing evidence of all.

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