Earth Day: How to reduce your personal plastic footprint

Wild Giant Otter plays with plastic bottle. Photo credit: Paul Williams (on Flickr)
Monica Evans
19 April 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Global challenges like plastic pollution in the oceans can seem overwhelming. But there’s plenty we can do in our everyday lives to cut down on plastic consumption and waste. Individual actions might not seem like much, but research shows that good habits are catching – your overall impact could be larger than you think! Earth Day is a great opportunity to stop, reflect, and spot where we can shift to more sustainable practices.

BE PREPARED

While the move toward greater use of biodegradable and compostable cups and containers is heartening, better still is not to accept single-use items in the first place. Bringing your own coffee cup, drinking bottle, straw, takeaway food container and cutlery makes a big difference. You can buy lightweight items, or just bring whatever you use at home. You can even bring your own water on the plane – just empty your drink bottle before going through security, then fill it up at the fountain on the other side.

VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET

Plastic packaging is so ubiquitous these days that it’s difficult to avoid, but often not necessary. Many companies now provide plastic-free alternatives – for example, cosmetics company Lush sells shampoo in a solid bar rather than a liquid, which the company estimates saves almost 6 million plastic bottles per year.

GO RETRO

Ask your parents or grandparents how they managed before the onslaught of plastic. Products like cloth diapers still make financial sense: in fact, you’ll save about $4,000 per child by using them. Plastic is ubiquitous because it’s convenient (or perceived to be), but the alternatives have plenty of advantages, too.

START SIMPLE

Overwhelmed? Try picking just one thing, says environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck. Once that’s integrated into your life, move onto the next one. “And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it every time,” she says.

“It’s really easy to say, “I forgot the [reusable stainless-steel] straws today; I should just give up!” And actually, every single time you remember the straws makes a difference. So try not to get disheartened, and congratulate yourself when you do remember, and all of a sudden it will turn into a habit, and it won’t be a challenge any more.”

You can also be part of the solution by picking up plastic waste when you see it lying around – and sharing the information on what you find. Jambeck and her colleagues have designed a free mobile app called Marine Debris Tracker.

“You don’t have to be on the coast, you can be anywhere in the world,” she said.

“You can report litter that you find and pick up, and it will join over 1.2 million items that have been picked up and collected around the world, and from that data we’re able to do some analysis and understand more about what’s getting into our environment.”

Find out more about sustainable business practices at the upcoming Global Landscapes Forum 2018 Investment Case Symposium

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