Living in an oceanside community, a person can’t help but be cognizant of how much we rely on that gorgeous body of water. From seafood companies that provide jobs and food for local restaurants to charter companies that host water tours and fishing trips, our economy is intertwined with what the ocean can provide. That doesn’t even mention our further-reaching reliance that includes climate balance, the water cycle, and resources for medicine. So, it’s incredibly saddening to see what our use of plastics is doing to the ocean and animals. This issue could be greatly improved by simply replacing some of our most easily disposed of plastics that we use on an almost daily basis. These include…
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Plastic Shopping Bags
It’s easy to replace your plastic shopping bags with reusable fabric bags. Most of my bags were handed out by businesses advertising at conventions and other events, as well as from grocery stores, like Publix, who hold charity fundraisers throughout the year (give a donation and get a bag). But if you don’t have any fabric bags, there are some good deals online to help you get you started.
If you need something a little more durable, Creative Green Life has collapsible box-design totes that fold flat for stacking. The sides are made with rigid material and the bottoms are reinforced, so they won’t tip over. They claim they replace 9 plastic bags. Of course, that depends on how much weight you can carry at once. They’re pricier than the Bagstar bags but may very well be worth the investment.
Depending on how far you drive to get groceries, you may want to purchase an insulated bag. This is the only bag I’ve actually purchased. I use it when I run to the store while waiting for my daughter to get out of dance class. Venmo Bag sells a set of 3 that are good for hot and cold food. They’re made from recycled plastics and are foldable for easy stacking. They can also double as a cooler when you go to the beach or on a road trip.
When you’re grocery shopping, do you use the plastic produce bags provided by the store? Those can be replaced too. If you’re concerned about paying more for whatever extra weight is added by the fabric, weigh the bags prior to filling them and write the weight on the bag. The cashier will then be able to deduct that when entering the weight. If you don’t want all the fuss, choose bags made out of a thin fabric.
If you’re crafty, there are a few DIY tutorials for making reusable produce bags. This one from Wellness Mama uses cotton muslin and a drawstring for closure, but a mesh could be substituted. Just make sure you purchase the machine-washable mesh, as not all mesh fabrics can be put in the washer.
Abigail Smith has also created a video tutorial for some cute part-mesh, part-cotton product bags. Choosing your own fabric pattern is a fun way to express yourself. It also gives you power to choose the thickness and weight.
Don’t have time for a project? Ecowaare has washable, see-through produce bags. They have color coded labels to quickly let you know what size you’re grabby. They’re also lightweight, so you won’t be paying a lot of extra money for additional weight at the register.
Whichever product bag you choose, make sure you wash them after each use to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Plastic Storage Bags
I don’t know about you, but I am constantly using resealable storage bags. I use hard storage containers for leftovers, but I use waterproof bags for freezing the bulk meat I buy and to send food to school when it doesn’t fit into my child’s reusable bento box. The plastic bags aren’t very durable and the cost of them really adds up, but there are BPA-free, food safe alternatives that aren’t made from plastic.
When searching for reusable plastic storage bags, there are primarily two types that you’ll find: PEVA and silicone. PEVA is a non-chlorinated vinyl that’s free from phthalates, which are believed to be a human carcinogen. It’s also biodegradable. However, no one is sure of the long-term effects of using PEVA with food and some experts in the field recommend not using it at all with baby food. Silicone is a pricier alternative and not as biodegradable (still better than plastic), but there is more confidence in its safety (hence, the silicone cooking tools). I’m no expert, so I highly recommend you do your own research on this.
There are a ton of silicone food storage bags that you can choose from. There are even thick freezer bags. Silicone is heat and cold resistant, so there’s no need to worry about putting hot food in the bags and having chemicals leach into them. Silicone is also recyclable, though you may need to seek out the right place to recycle it. If you purchase a Stasher silicone storage bag, you can send used ones to them for recycling.
Another food packaging alternative to consider is fabric coated in beeswax, like Bees Wrap. With just the warmth of your hands, you can wrap up food (it seals against itself) or use it like cling wrap on top of a bowl. It’ll also keep food fresh in your freezer for 2-3 weeks. To clean, all you need is cool water with mild dish soap and a drying rack. Bees Wrap can last up to a year with proper care. When it no longer sticks to itself and is worn thin, it can be added to your compost pile or used as a fire starter. The only problem with Bees Wrap is that it doesn’t work with warm food (wax melts).
As you’ve probably heard, cities around the world are starting to ban single-use plastic straws. These things are constantly being found inside dead animals and floating around the ocean. Limiting their use can only do the world good.
However, straws still have their uses. Some people absolutely need straws due to disabilities. They’re also pretty great for keeping damaging liquids, like fruit juice, off your teeth. Also, have you ever tried to drink a smoothie or milkshake without a straw? Yes, I’m one of those people who ends up with it on their nose.
Research and development people are getting closer to developing a disposable straw for restaurants. Bamboo, pasta, grass, paper, and straw have all been considered. Until disposable straws get an upgrade, consider a reusable option. Stainless steel straws are popular due to their durability. Some are also telescoping, which means they can be slid into a small carrying case that slips into your bag or clips to your keyring. They’re also easy to clean.
Silicone straws are another option. They come in a variety of colors and are flexible (some even have carrying cases). Just make sure you read reviews before buying. The ones I purchased split right down their seam after a few uses and silicone is too difficult to recycle for only a few uses.
Finally, glass straws are an option. We have a company right here in Southeastern North Carolina that makes glass straws. The Sea Glass Company creates straight, bent, and smoothie straws that you can slip into a canvas sleeve and carry with you. They can be etched with a word and/or symbol (names are popular), and Sea Glass guarantees replacement for the life of the straw. You just pay shipping.
Plastic Water Bottles
Another restriction on the rise is against plastic water bottles. Not only do these bottles end up as litter and inside the bodies of animals that don’t know any better than to try and eat them (or accidentally ingest them as they try to feed on actual food), but the plastic from disposable bottles are leaching into the water we drink and that’s damaging our bodies. The thought alone makes my intestines hurt. Instead of buying a case of plastic water bottles, instead purchase a reusable bottle. One reusable bottle along can save you from disposing of 300 to 1,460 plastic bottles in one year, the latter being the number of bottles if you drank the average amount of water an adult human should drink. Wowza!
Ready to Go Plastic-Free?
While it can feel overwhelming thinking about replacing all these plastic products, any little bit you can manage now will make a huge difference in the long run. Consider starting with one plastic and once you are comfortable with your new routine, replacing another plastic that you use frequently. Not only will it help the Earth and everyone who lives on it, but it will save you money, as well.
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