Plastic Free July 2: Big 4

In what way do you produce most of your plastic garbage?
Specifics vary between people, but according to Our Positive Planet (and the obvious litter laying around most urban areas), there are four big culprits: plastic bags, plastic straws, take-away coffee cups, and single-use water bottles.
Identifying easy starting points like these make cutting down on plastic use easier – instead of seeming harder and harder the more you think about it! Of course there are other ways to reduce plastic waste, and community or national level actions and policies that are needed as well, but we’d like to join Positive Planet in challenging readers to skip these Big 4 sources for #PlasticFreeJuly. Hopefully that’s enough time to make some more sustainable habits stick!

Plastic Bags

knittedbagWe’ve all seen the heartbreaking news stories of wildlife trapped in plastic bags, sea turtles eating them and getting sick, and the like.
The most obvious thing to do about this is to use reusable bags.
We all know we should do this but most people have trouble remembering to bring them with or pull them out before the busy cashier has already wrapped our purchases in polymerized petroleum products. Here are some helpful tips that might make it easier to remember:
-Keep them in the car (or bike basket or whatever you use to do most of your shopping). When you’re done putting your purchases away, pack reusable bags inside each other and leave them somewhere obvious (like hanging from the doorknob or on top of the shoe rack) so you’ll remember to bring them back out later. If you have bags nearby you’re more likely to bring them in. If you get to the store and realize you left them behind in the car, take thirty seconds to go back and get them.
– keep a small, stuff-able, bag in your purse/backpack/coat pocket. Some bags are made to fold or stuff into their own attached pocket or pouch. These can squish down quote small, and don’t weigh very much, so they’re easier to carry around. Stash a few around and you’ll always have at least one reusable bag. Just remember to re-stuff it when you’re done.
– put your reusable bags in the cart/basket when you get into the store. Keep them in plain view (don’t pile too much stuff on them). This will remind you to use them at checkout, and also increases the chance the cashier will notice you have them. Most grocery stores will use your reusable bags if you place them on the conveyor before you start loading your groceries.


strawsYou probably don’t realize how often you use straws. Drink boxes, eating at most restaurants, grabbing a smoothie or cold drink on the go – even if you don’t normally use straws at home you probably use these products at least some of the time.
The simplest way to avoid straws is to (duh) not use straws, but if course nothing is ever that simple. Maybe you just got your wisdom teeth out and are slurping your meals, or you didn’t realize until the glass arrived at the table that your drink came with a straw. Here are some tips:
– don’t buy straws. You might think you need them for a birthday party, but you don’t. Source compostable straws (which can be made of compostable plastic or paper) if you’re not convinced, and compost them.
-if you like using straws, invest in a set reusables. Available in materials from stainless steel to glass to silicon and, yes, even reusable plastic, they also come in various lengths, widths, colours and shapes. Yes, they even make fat straws for bubble tea. Sets usually come with a straw brush to keep it clean, and sometimes a carry case for both. There are even collapsible straws.
-Share! Not the straw you’re actually drinking from, that would be unhygenic. But reusable straws often come in packages of 2-6 straws, so give one to a friend!
-ask not to have the straw when ordering food. This doesn’t always work because the routine of sticking a straw in a cup is so strong for food service workers, but hey, at least you tried.

Coffee Cups

Take-away cups for tea and coffee can be made out of many different things, but most coffeelidsare a mix of paper and plastic, with a plastic lid. In some places, the lids are recyclable, and the cups themselves are compostable in municipal compost (this is true in Ottawa – so put those Timmie’s cups in the green bin, and the lids in the blue bin).
However, this is not true everywhere (coffee lids are not recyclable in Toronto for example), and there are other problems with these methods – like microplastics accumulating in soil.
Travel mug, travel mug, travel mug. There are so many styles available now that there’s bound to be a good one for you. Some are spill proof. Some are super-insulated. Some have attached lids you can’t lose. You can even order reusable silicon lids that stretch over most regular mugs and turn them into travel mugs (example here). Keep one at work or in the car.
– if you can’t wash your travel mug right away, at least rinse it out and open the lid so it can dry out – this will help keep it from getting stinky. If residue builds up, scrub the travel mug with baking soda.
– avoid the drive-thru – either bring your travel mug in to the counter, or get your drink “for here” in a regular mug
– make your drinks at home. It seems annoying but if you think about it, taking an extra minute to brew some tea in a travel mug before leaving actually takes less time than going through a drive through, and you can be sure you’ll get your tea exactly how you like it. You’ll also save a lot of money over time this way.

Disposable Bottles

Keeping some bottled water in your home or car in case of emergency is a good idea, but the millions of plastic bottles ending up in landfills and oceans aren’t coming from these emergency supplies. water-bottles-lowres-1009
Get into the habit of always carrying a reusable water bottle with you, and refilling it often as needed. Definitely don’t go traveling without one!
Having trouble with this one? Identify what specifically is tripping you up. Losing the lids? Get a bottle with an attached lid, or several bottles with the same type of lid (or maybe just several lids). Bottle too big/small? It’s okay to have a few different ones – a small one for carrying everywhere, and a huge one for active or particularly hot days. Don’t like drinking from a bottle? Try a different type. Some people find water tastes better in a metal bottle, or a glass one, with a wider mouth, or an integrated straw.
Thrift stores always a good selection of water bottles at low prices if you want to try out different kinds without spending a lot.
masonjardrinksDon’t worry about it being a “real” water bottle – if it holds water reasonably well its good enough. Many zero-waste advocates recommend Mason jars. They come in different sizes, are quite sturdy, can be used for other things (pack your leftovers in one for lunch tomorrow), and replacement lids are abundant.
Hopefully these suggestions have helped you feel motivated to participate in Plastic Free July, or given you some ideas to overcome a particular hurdle. We’d love for you to share your own tips and experiences here, whether for these items or something else.

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