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Person picking up plastic on beach.

Packaging accounts for about 42 percent of plastic use and is responsible for almost half of global plastic waste, so along with buying less stuff, buying less stuff packaged in single-use plastic can have a lasting impact.

“When you buy a product, consider how you’re going to use it,” ocean advocate Emily Penn advises. “Is it a chair you’ll have for 20 years or a water bottle you’ll use for 20 minutes?”

Replacing your single-use plastic water bottle with a reusable, unlined stainless-steel or glass one is a simple way to avoid adding more plastic to the waste stream. You can also carry reusable bags with you when you go shopping.

Forgo the plastic bags and wrap when packing lunches or storing food. Canning jars, glass containers with snaps, waxed paper, and silicone reusable containers make excellent vessels for storage and transporting, as well as for carrying home takeout or leftovers.

You can also:

    • Wash your hands frequently to limit your exposure to chemical residue.
    • Ask retailers to email you a receipt to avoid coming into contact with thermal paper, which is often coated in chemicals such as BPA and BPS. (An alternative that’s better for employees, too!)
    • Launder your cozy fleece jacket less often — the plastic fibers in synthetic clothing can wash into the water stream. Purchase a filter for your washing machine that captures small fibers.
    • Make your smile shine with toothbrushes made of bamboo, flax, or even recycled dollar bills.
    • Switch from plastic dental floss in plastic containers to silk floss or a water flosser.
    • Rinse paintbrushes in a glass or plastic container you have on hand and dispose of the contents appropriately at city municipal-waste dumps or a local paint store.
    • Park your car and get around by biking, walking, carpooling, or public transit. The dust from synthetic rubber used in most tires is a major source of microplastic pollution.
    • Repurpose your plastic hand-, dish-, and laundry-soap containers by refilling them with bulk soaps from a local food co-op.
    • Upcycle your plastic containers for storing nonfood items like screws and nails or arts-and-craft supplies.
    • Repair clothing and electronics to keep them out of the waste stream.
    • Support plastic-waste-reduction advocacy groups.
    • Vote for political candidates who prioritize climate-friendly policies.

This originally appeared as “The Problem With Plastics” in the June 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

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