We easily find to-go cups from our favorite coffee shops, Walmart bags and plastic water bottles littering our college campus.
We can also find them in our ocean, landfills and streets. I hear you: paper and plastic are useful and convenient. But my
reply is that convenience can no longer be our excuse.
In order for an individual to change their habits, they must be educated on the ramifications of their habits. According to
the Ocean Conservancy, 2.5 billion metric tons of solid waste is produced around the world, 11% of which is plastic. The
Ocean Conservancy estimates that 150 million metric tons of plastic currently circulate in marine environments with an
added eight million metric tons of plastic each year. In my previous article, I wrote about the impact waste has on clean
water in Haiti and the number of people that die of waterborne illness due to contaminated water. I am devastated by
these facts. With this knowledge, are you compelled to change your habits?
By using these zero-waste alternatives, you can majorly cut your plastic and paper consumption:
1) A Reusable Water Bottle and Coffee Mug
According to One Green Planet, the average American consumes 167 plastic bottles of water and 500 disposable
coffee cups per year. Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs are the easiest zero-waste alternatives and have a
Use what you already have until you can no longer use it. This may mean you have a plastic water bottle and you can
use it for 4 more years.
If you don’t have a water bottle already, then I suggest investing in a stainless-steel bottle because they are not made
out of plastic. They can last over 12 years and are easily recyclable if needed. Brands to look for are Hydro Flask, Yeti,
Swell or KeepCup.
2) Reusable Shopping Bags
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the average American family uses 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
A car could drive one mile with the energy and fossil fuels that it takes to manufacture 14 shopping bags. Out of the 100
billion plastic bags produced each year, only one percent make it to recycling centers. The remaining 99% ends up as
litter or in landfills. To reduce waste in this area, you can reuse the plastic shopping bags you already have, use any
canvas bag that you have when you go shopping or buy a few reusable canvas shopping bags. You can purchase
reusable bags at the supermarket near the front of the store or in the checkout lanes.
These two alternatives, even when implemented imperfectly, do a tremendous amount of good. Starting with small
changes like bringing your own travel mug to Pour Jon’s or bringing a few canvas bags to Walmart leads to bigger habit
changes later in life.