Five Ways to Reduce Plastic on the Go

Written by Wendy Chou
 · July 22, 2022

Plastic Free July is a globally recognized movement where people from all over the world take the pledge to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic from their daily lifestyles.  Plastic rose in popularity through the late 1970s and early 1980s due to the low costs and convenience that these products provided. Today, plastic is just about everywhere, and while certain states have made efforts to ban certain plastic products, like plastic grocery bags, there still is far too much plastic being used daily across the globe. As we continue through Plastic Free July, here are some ways to eliminate plastic when on the go. Pros: you’ll reduce your dependence on petroleum (yes — plastics are made from oil) and prevent plastic waste from clogging our planet’s beaches, rivers, and marine ecosystems.

1. Use those Reusable Shopping Bags

Americans use around 100 billion plastic bags a year, which consequently use fossil fuels and pile up in landfills and oceans. It can take 1000 years for plastic bags to degrade in landfills. But (it gets worse) they don’t completely break down, instead becoming microplastics that travel widely and get taken up by the environment. In 2014, California became the first state in the U.S. to ban single-use grocery shopping bags (and other states, including Hawaii and New York, have since followed suit). A smart next goal for consumers is to invest in sustainably sourced reusable shopping bags. Reusable shopping bags do not have to be used exclusively for grocery shopping but can be used when you are hunting for great deals — such as going thrift shopping.

The world is watching what we do in California. In fact, Governor Newsom just recently signed landmark legislation that intends to reduce plastic pollution by requiring all packaging in California to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. This law effectively seeks to ban single-use plastic by making the plastics industry responsible for creating more eco-friendly packaging.

While we’re on this subject, remember to avoid buying produce that is packaged in lots of shrink wrapping or plastic “clamshells.”  Most grocery stores will offer some produce selections that don’t come pre-wrapped. Also, customer supported agriculture (CSA) and local farmers’ markets often sell produce that is plastic-free. 

2. Go Plastic Free at Lunchtime

Cutting plastic out of your lunchtime meal is an excellent step forward when trying to achieve less waste. Bees Wrap is an excellent alternative to those single-use sandwich bags and to-go containers. Their products are made by infusing organic cotton with beeswax, plant oil, and tree resin which can be reused daily. It is perfect for packing sandwiches and snacks when you are on the go. Another consideration is swapping your plastic water bottle with a glass water bottle. There are many benefits including reducing ingestion of microplastics from plastic bottles, and can easily be cleaned by hand or dropped in the dishwasher.

Bring a lunchbox to work? Avoid single-use plastic and consider a sturdy, reusable stainless steel one as it can be a healthy alternative for you and the environment. Don’t forget to opt out of disposable plastic utensils such as forks, knives, spoons, and straws. Excellent non-plastic utensils to take into account are bamboo utensil kits, reusable stainless steel cutlery, and stainless steel straws. Your low-waste habits also mean a better eating experience. Plastic forks aren’t as strong and when they touch hot foods, they generate compounds that could be harmful to your health.

3. Ditch the Plastic Phone Case

Over the past twenty years, cell phones have become ingrained into our daily routines. Since we bring our phones everywhere with us on the go, but they aren’t invincible, it has become almost necessary to have a plastic phone case and screen protector. You’ve likely experienced the frustration of a cracked or broken screen yourself or seen it happen to a friend.

Smartphones can be a steep investment and people want to protect their purchases with hard plastic phone cases. Most phone cases are made of polycarbonate materials due to their durability and flexibility. Unfortunately, plastic phone cases, just like other durable plastics, can take hundreds of years to decompose, which ultimately can negatively impact the earth in a variety of ways. Consumers should research alternatives to a traditional plastic phone case. Some brands, such as Pela, will offer a variety of compostable phone cases that can fit all major smartphone brands such as Apple and Samsung. Making the switch to a compostable phone case will keep your smartphone safe, while also keeping the earth protected. Eco-friendly brands today don’t just cover smartphones, but produce other modern accessories such as wallets, screen protectors, and smartwatch bands.

As we begin to lean on more smart devices in our day-to-day lives, we need to be thinking critically about how and where we source the materials that go into creating them.

4. I Can See Clearly Now…

Contact lenses in and of themselves are a great advancement, but the trend toward disposable lenses is harmful for the environment. It has been reported that around 20% of content lens wearers flush their contacts in toilets and sinks — please don’t do this! Once in waterways, contacts can decompose into harmful microplastics that infiltrate water systems and eventually reach our oceans. If you are already a contact wearer and have no plans of making the switch back to glasses, try to think of better ways to dispose of your contacts (or see if hard contacts, which can last up to a year, are for you). Leading contact manufacturers have started to develop extensive recycling programs and even allow consumers to drop off their old contacts at a verified recycling center.

While recycling might cut down on the waste created, there are better ways to limit plastic use. Another alternative to contacts is returning to wearing eyeglasses. While eyeglasses do contain plastics, there are brands today that create frames out of recycled materials. The longevity of a pair of glasses also helps lower the amount of waste created. Just one pair of glasses should last you for years to come. And with all the different styles on the market, one can easily find a stylish pair of eyeglasses suitable for any lifestyle or look.

5. Clean Up Your Beauty Routine

The makeup industry is another industry that directly contributes to the number of plastics used daily. Just as with contacts, both the product itself and the packaging of most beauty products can be harmful to the environment.

If you wear makeup, you can continue your Plastic Free July efforts by seeking out products and brands that use less packaging and are better curated to protect the environment. Since the federal government does not require cosmetic companies to conduct health studies or pre-market testing on personal care products, it is up to the consumer to learn about ingredients and materials used. It is no secret that a lot of chemicals used in cosmetics are toxic to people and the environment. On top of this, currently, around 70% of personal care items end up in landfills, which has increased by over 120 times since the 1960s. This toxic pollution doesn’t even account for all the plastics that end up polluting the environment due to makeup as well. Think about all of the plastic that goes into just one tube of mascara.

A greener beauty routine starts with finding companies and products that are eco-friendly. You don’t have to go it alone — luckily, sustainable shopping hubs are growing in popularity amongst eco-conscience consumers. These online storefronts curate the most sustainably sourced products, offer climate-neutral zero waste shipping, and are often more conscious of avoiding plastic.

Learn More and Take Action

These are just some of the many options to mindfully ditch plastic from your life. Even if you are always on the run, these tips are easy enough for you to fit into your busy schedule. You can do your part as a global citizen to help save the environment by eliminating plastic use, and July is the perfect time to learn more tips for going plastic-free! Before the end of the month, don’t forget to check out these inspiring organizations and content creators that will help you build community, raise awareness, and share knowledge: Plastic Free Future, Break Free from Plastic, Surfrider Foundation, My Plastic-Free Life, PlasticSymptoms, and Olivia for the Ocean. In the Bay Area, Berkeley’s Ecology Center also provides a wealth of resources for cutting down on plastics.

Don’t wait, take the challenge and Join the Plastic Free July movement! The planet will thank you.

Wendy Chou
Wendy Chou
Coalition and Project Senior Manager

Sign Up for our Newsletters

Keep in touch with Acterra! Make sure you find out about our latest events and announcements.