There’s a new mantra at the Ingram household. Before we leave, I yell out loud, announcer style:
“Do you have your water bottles? Never leave home without your water bottle!”
At first I got eye rolls, then I started getting giggles, now they show me they already have them. Sometimes I forget, and they get to yell our mantra at me.
One of the easiest ways to cut out lots of single-use plastic is to simply get in the habit of carrying a reusable beverage container - a bottle, a mug, a cup, your choice. Most of us already have several to choose from, and all it takes is remembering to take it with you, leave it in the car, or take a few to the office.
If you pay attention when headed down the road, or if you peek in a ballpark trash can, it’s clear that disposable beverage containers are a large part of our fast trash. A few months back, the girls and I counted a shocking 303 single-use bottles, cups and cans on an 18 mile drive - all recyclable. We know the statistics; only a tiny portion of these containers are ever recycled.
Think of how long (or how quickly) it takes you to chug a bottle of water. Drink a can of coke. Enjoy your styrofoam cup of lemonade. Your iced mocha. After you’ve had your fill, you toss the container.
Did you know…
Americans collectively toss nearly 700 plastic water bottles each second?
It takes 17 million barrels of oil to make the plastic bottles we use in a year?
It takes 3 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water?
These items don’t decompose, they don’t biodegrade. Plastic and styrofoam are here to stay, at least for 500 years to forever, after you enjoy your brief drink.
While it seems convenient, and our waste (mostly) ends up out of sight, out of mind, all this trash goes somewhere. Somewhere it will stay and end up as mountains of archaeological history displaying our era of plastic waste.
So what can we do?
Cut down on to-go beverage containers
Fast food restaurants, gas stations, concession stands, to-go cups from restaurants, coffee shops are always single-use - plastic bottles, styrofoam or plastic cups, plastic-lined paper cups with plastic lids, plastic straws.
The first option is easy: Get a reusable bottle. Fill it up, take it with you, use it.
If you have your filled water bottle on hand, you find you don’t need to purchase to-go drinks at the gas station or anywhere else you may be caught thirsty. You also end up drinking more water instead of sugary drinks.
If you frequent coffee shops and don't have time to sit down for “real” cup of coffee, keep a reusable coffee mug with you. Starbucks and many other coffee shop sell inexpensive coffee mugs, and give discounts for bringing your own container.
It’s easy to refuse straws at restaurants, saying “no thanks” as they hand them over. It takes a little more work to refuse a kid cup. Usually in plastic or styrofoam with a lid and straw, servers automatically bring them out, even to my 11 year old. If you have small children that need lids, be sure to bring your own to fill up, or bring one already filled. For older kids who don’t need lidded cups, ask your server for a regular glass or cup when ordering.
Make smart purchases
Carbonated beverage packaging
Take a moment next time you’re at the store and see how much plastic you can avoid. Buy 12 packs of aluminum cans; they come packaged in cardboard with no plastic rings.
Look for brands that use more sustainable packaging, like biodegradable 6 pack rings recently debuted by several craft beer companies as well as Corona.
If plastic bottled drinks are your only option, buy the largest container and be sure to recycle. This option eliminates the flimsy plastic rings famous for choking wildlife and reduces the amount plastic overall. By refusing plastic, we “cast our vote” for alternative packaging and less single-use plastic production.
Many brands offer carbonated beverages in glass bottles, which can be endlessly recycled instead of merely down-cycled like plastic.
By choosing a cardboard container of powdered sports drink mix instead of buying individual plastic bottles, you save 64 12oz bottles. 64!
You can mix up a batch and keep it in the fridge, ready to fill reusable bottles anytime. Just remember to recycle the plastic top, plastic scoop and carton.
Look for the most recyclable option
In my area, we don’t have milk or cream in glass bottles and we can’t recycle coated cartons. To buy dairy, plastic is the only option. We make sure we recycle the jugs, and avoid cartons. To find out if your area recycles cartons, or to sign the petition to bring carton recycling to your city, check out the Carton Council.
To read more about my Dairy Dilemma, follow the link.
Glass vs. Aluminum
Both glass and aluminum are endlessly recyclable, meaning they can be remade into new products repeatedly without degradation. Plastic, on the other hand, is down-cycled into new products and eventually becomes waste, unable to be recycled further.
Often, glass bottles can be refilled, as is the case for beer growlers, and some cities have take-back programs. We buy a delicious chai tea concentrate from Sacha Chai, and receive a hefty discount for bringing back the bottle for a refill.
In our area, aluminum cans can be recycled curbside while we have to tote glass to a local drop off site. Sometimes, its easier to choose cans instead of glass. When living plastic-free, whatever you can do to make your life a little easier is a welcome choice.
It’s is very difficult to completely avoid all single-use beverage containers. Be sure to know what you can recycle and where.
If you find yourself with to go cups or disposable bottles when you’re not at home and no recycling bins are available, hang on to them and recycle them later.
Take this month to recognize which beverages you purchase and look for plastic-free alternatives. Get in the habit of taking reusable bottles and coffee mugs with you when you leave the house. Keep some reusable bottles, glasses or mugs at work.
Work on these new habits, and see what changes you can make to step away from single-use plastic one day at a time!
Take the #12challengePLASTIC and join us today!
Pay attention to what beverages you purchase this month.
Get in the habit of bringing reusable bottles and mugs.
Keep trying out plastic-free alternatives and see how far you can go.
Share about your journey on The Clean Up Project Facebook page!
For more on single-use beverage containers check out Please Drink Responsibly.