Caroline’s Column: Easy Ways to Reduce Plastic Use

By: Caroline Roethlisberger

Lately, I’ve been working on a project about plastic bag recycling. I always felt contently satisfied tossing my plastic grocery bags from Kroger and Armstrong Student Center into recycling bins around campus, thinking I was contributing to a better environment. It wasn’t until I started this project that I learned plastic bags are on Rumpke’s “do not recycle” list. I also learned that Kroger has a recycling program which collects plastic grocery bags in its lobbies and recycles them into new bags or composite decking. While reusable grocery bags are ideal, if you use plastic bags, I encourage you to consider how you are recycling them! After learning that they cannot be traditionally recycled at a recycling plant, I began to wonder how else plastic bags can be reused. I compiled a list of eleven practical ways you can reuse extra plastic grocery bags.

  1. Use them as trash can liners or keep one in your car to collect trash.
  2. Pack your lunch in them.
  3. Make crafts! Plastic bags can be crocheted into rugs, bags or sleeping mats for the homeless.
  4. Cut the bottom corner of the bag off to make a piping bag for icing.
  5. Reuse to carry more groceries.
  6. Pick up dog waste and dispose of cat litter.
  7. Line your car to prevent the spreading of mud and dirt.
  8. Line tables or the floor when making crafts or painting.
  9. Cover muddy shoes when transporting them.
  10. Use instead of bubble wrap by wrapping fragile items in multiple layers of bags.
  11. Donate to food pantries or homeless shelters that use bags to store items for those in need.

Along with plastic bags, plastic straws are also extremely problematic in terms of recycling. Because they are so small, they often do not get picked up by the sorting machinery, and, therefore, end up in the landfill. When trash is disposed of in the ocean, it is ingested by marine life. With straws, specifically, I often think of the images of sea turtles with the plastic tubes sticking out of their noses. In America, we use over 500 million straws a day. With so many straws and no practical solution to recycle and dispose of them– shouldn’t we just get rid of them entirely? Starbucks has decided to phase out their plastic straws and replace them with lids. While this is a great step to reduce the number of straws being dumped into the ocean, the new lids also require more plastic. So, how can we help reduce the number of straws and plastic? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Use paper cups, tupperware and paper bags/reusable lunch boxes to store and carry food.
  2. Bring your own thermos to cafes and give it to the barista instead of using their cups.
  3. Order drinks that don’t require straws.
  4. Choose food packaged in paper or cardboard packing rather than foam or plastic packaging.
  5. Use paper or reusable straws.
  6. Avoid plastic cutlery.
  7. Carry a reusable water bottle.
  8. Buy local food and produce.
  9. Use reusable grocery bags.
  10. Recycle what you can and empty out food and liquids before recycling.

Photo via pixabay.

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