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Watch Your Waste

Reduce Single-Use Plastics

In our fast-paced society, single-use plastic is a shortcut to convenience. From plastic bags and packaging to beverage bottles and to-go containers, single-use plastics are ubiquitous. We’re offered plastic items we don’t really need or will only use briefly, compared to the centuries those plastics sit in a landfill or, worse, wind up in the environment. Stop plastic pollution at its source by saying no to single-use convenience plastics and making easy swaps for durable or compostable substitutes when dining out and shopping.

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reusable bags reduce single use plastics

Get Started

We’ve sifted through all sorts of tips for ditching single-use plastics to find the ones that are easiest and most effective.  In many cases, the solutions are free—you just make a small tweak to the way you do things.  There are also many low-cost solutions that only require an easy substitution of a more durable container, which you may already own. If not, here’s our Amazon Idea List showing examples of plastic alternatives shown below.

Step 1

Eat Out and On-the-Go Without Plastic

Cost: $0-20

reusable water bottles reduce single use plastics
Bento lunch boxes reduce single use plastics

Take-out food packaging is the poster child of pernicious plastic waste, comprising the majority of single-use plastic pollution. In a 2021 study of marine litter, 44% of the 12 million pieces collected were linked to take-out food products: single-use bags, bottles, food containers, food wrappers, and utensils.

How do you refuse and reduce plastic utensils, cups, bags, and containers?

  • Make it a daily habit to fill a reusable water bottle before leaving the house so you’re never stuck buying bottled water.
  • Carry an on-the-go dining kit. Stash a few key items in your car or bag, such as coffee mug, to-go cup, utensil, and food storage container. You’ll be ready to fill up and eat on the move, while refusing typical single-use plastics like cups, bottles, utensils, and Styrofoam boxes.
  • In the dining room and at the bar, refuse the plastic straw when you order drinks, and ask for paper or foil to wrap leftovers, instead of a plastic box. Even better, plan ahead and bring your own straw and box.

 

  • Say no to plastic utensils with your take-out order. And if you get them anyway, don’t toss them. Instead, stash them in your car or bag for reuse, repurpose for crafts or gardening, or donate a boxful to a day care or shelter.
  • Speak up to recognize and promote local restaurants that have ditched single-use plastics like clamshells, cups, lids, straws, bottles, bags, and utensils. Here are a few local restaurants working to cut plastic use: Styryfoam, Bags, Bottles, Cups, Utensils, and Straws.

What’s The Problem With Plastics?

 

how to keep plastics out of oceans

Step 2

Shop Smart Without Plastic

Cost: $0-20

Reducing waste starts with how you shop. As consumers, we typically just buy what’s available, and the non-discriminating shopper is guaranteed to come home with loads of plastic.  But we can make smarter choices to reduce single-use packaging by shopping in a more strategic way and using a toolkit. Take these steps one at a time—forming new buying habits takes planning and persistence. Your refusal to accept plastic bags and packaging will help drive businesses to offer better alternatives.

 

In Stores

  • Refuse all single-use bags. Stock your car with washable reusable bags or bins that you take into the store or restaurant every time you shop or pick up food. If you forget bags in the car, follow the Costco or Aldi model and carry your items loose in the cart to your car.
  • Bring your own clean recycled containers and shop from bulk bins for flour, nuts, dried fruit, cereal, beans, rice, and other staples. Bonus: bulk bin foods are usually less expensive than packaged.
  • Bring your own clean containers to take away deli foods and special cuts from the meat and seafood counter.
  • Select loose produce, not plastic-wrapped on a Styrofoam tray, and carry in washable, reusable mesh bags. Or use certified backyard compostable food scrap and produce bags.
  • If you can’t avoid packaging, choose better packaging. Paper boxes over plastic bags. Wide-mouth glass jars, which can be refilled and repurposed for bulk storage, instead of plastic bottles.
  • Steer clear of snack packs of chips, crackers, and yogurt, and buy the largest size you know you will eat before it spoils.
  • Choose cleaning products that are in bar, tablet, powder, or concentrated form, which use less packaging. Or buy in bulk using your own container.

 

Support local grocery stores like these where you can buy bulk staples and loose vegetables:

* Note: These grocers are Sarasota County Certified Green Business Partners committed to reduction, reuse, and conservation practices.

 

Online

Option 1

Love the convenience and selection of Amazon.com, but concerned about all that packaging?

  • Choose Amazon Delivery Day at checkout to get your orders shipped together in fewer boxes.
  • Select products with less packaging by checking the “Climate Pledge Friendly” box on the left-side menu and choosing products certified Compact by Design. These products are designed to need less packaging by removing air and water that adds volume and weight and by using more efficient package shapes and materials.
    • Did you know? By checking the “Climate Pledge Friendly” box, you can shop for products from more than two dozen green certification programs.
  • Select products with reduced packaging and shipping waste by checking the “Frustration-Free Packaging” box on the left-side menu under Product Packaging. The FFP program incentivizes vendors to repackage their products in easy-to-open packaging that is 100% recyclable, right-sized to the product, and ready to ship without additional Amazon boxes.

Watch: Tame the wrap rage – what is frustration free packaging?

Note: If the “Climate Pledge Friendly” or “Frustration Free Packaging” check box does not appear on the left-side menu, the option is not available for that Amazon product category.

 

Option 2

Some call it the Amazon of eco-friendly shopping. At EarthHero.com you can peruse more than 200 brands for thousands of products designed, manufactured, packaged, and shipped in ways that reduce pollution and waste. Use the left-side menu to select products that meet your personal sustainability criteria, from ingredients and materials to sourcing and packaging.

Other ideas for eco-friendly online shopping where your purchase and the packaging is plastic free.

Next Level Strategies

Parties, Picnics and Weddings

Host your next event without producing a mountain of trash using this Sustainable Event Guide from Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability.

compostable disposable products

Take Steps to Go Plastic-Free

reduce single use plastics

Is it possible to live a plastic-free modern life? Probably not—there are some uses of plastics that are life-saving, where there is no substitute, and where plastic actually has a lower overall environmental impact compared to alternatives. Consider plastic-free substitutes for these household, health, and beauty products: K-cups, tea bags, plastic wrap, Tupperware, cutting boards, toothbrushes, razors, makeup, cleansers, soaps, toys, trash cans and liners, clothing, diapers, feminine hygiene.

100 Tips and Substitutes for Consumer Plastics

Get Involved

Help Change Policies and Practices on Plastics

Take a Class, Volunteer, Attend an Event, Speak Up

Find out what’s happening and join in with our comprehensive community events listing.

Look for this class

  • Reducing Plastics — Impacts of plastic pollution, recycling, challenges and obstacles, and related environmental issues in Florida and beyond.

Get Involved

Resources and More

Suggested Blogs

  • Plastic Free 101 – From single-use plastics to product packaging, learn how and why to cut your daily plastic habit.
  • Zero Waste 101 – Simple steps and tips on how to live waste-free by eliminating packaging and using reusable containers to create as little trash as possible.

Want to Talk to Someone?

  • UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County 941-861-9900 – Website

FAQ

Is recycling the answer to plastic pollution?

Single-use plastics make up 11% of what Americans throw away, but only 3% of what we recycle. We could do better, but much of the plastic dropped in recycling bins isn’t being recycled. When the price of oil drops, it becomes far cheaper to make virgin plastic than to buy recycled plastic for manufacturing. Further, many plastic materials degrade each time they are processed and can only be recycled a few times. Without a profitable resale market, U.S. recycling companies landfill the material or sell it to other countries, primarily in Asia, where the waste is landfilled, incinerated, or escapes into waterways to fuel the ocean plastics crisis. Learn more about why plastic recycling is broken and what we can do to fix it.

Learn More

Plastic utensils and straws seem so small and insignificant – what’s the big deal?

Plastic utensils and straws are a problem child for plastic recycling.  In theory, they should be recyclable, but three obstacles stand in the way. First, they are made from a variety of different plastics. Some are commonly recycled (PET–#1 plastic and polypropylene–#5 plastic) and others not (polystyrene–#6 plastic); since they’re not labeled there’s no way to know. Second, their weird shape can jam the sorting machinery at the materials recovery facilities. Finally, even if accepted for recycling (they are not in our region), they are more likely to be shipped to Asia instead of recycled in the United States. The best solution is to stop forking around with plastic and carry reusable or compostable utensils instead.

Learn More

Are biodegradable plastics a good alternative?

Biodegradable plastic is not a win – yet. Most biodegradable plastics sold as cups, plates, and utensils are made from some compostable material mixed with PLA (polylactic acid) – a durable plant-based plastic polymer made from corn starch or sugar cane. It is biodegradable, but only under certain high-heat conditions found at industrial-grade composting facilities that don’t exist in our area. If you throw that PLA cup or fork in the trash or your compost bin, where it will never be exposed to conditions that trigger biodegradation, it will sit there for decades or centuries, much like ordinary plastic. A new generation of bioplastics composed of PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) made from canola oil are biodegradable in marine water and soil, and thus can be certified as home compostable . Because they break down so easily, PHA products are limited to plastic bags, wraps, and straws. Browse our Amazon Idea List for examples of home compostable plastic products. Although bioplastics avoid the use of fossil fuels, they are not a solution for the waste piling up from single-use plastics.

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Ask the Expert

Submit your waste-related question to local experts. If selected, they will answer and feature your question on our FAQ. Not all questions will be answered.

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