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Discover & Learn

It's no secret that plastic waste can harm the environment, yet plastic production continues to increase.

This article originally appeared on Discover & Learn on April 17, 2023.

While recycling programs can help, the OECD found that only nine per cent of the world’s plastic waste is effectively recycled, and the majority of plastics end up in landfills.

Global plastic production doubled from 2000 to 2022, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Here are five ways to lower plastic waste in everyday life:

1. Find new-to-you and pre-loved goods

One of the easiest ways to reduce plastic consumption is to limit buying new products and opt for gently used items from thrift stores, secondhand groups, friends, or neighbours. Not only will this help the planet, but it will also save you money.

2. BYOE — bring your own everything

Okay, maybe you don’t want to carry everything around with you, but carrying these small items on long days away from home can make a difference:

  • A refillable water bottle: Many plastic water bottles are discarded each day. Consider a lightweight, collapsible bottle or cup if you’re limited on space. And if you must grab a drink on the go, know that aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable.
  • A reusable tote bag: Bring your own bag to help cut the number of plastic ones down. But remember: Even reusable bags require resources to produce, so your best bet is something sturdy, packable and stylish. It needn’t be expensive or high-fashion, just something you like and will want to use again and again.
  • A reusable cutlery set: Limit waste from takeout and fast food dining by carrying your own cutlery set.

3. Buy the thing, leave the package

It’s what’s inside that counts, so why bother with a plastic package if you don’t have to? Instead of packing your fruits and veggies into flimsy plastic produce bags, toss them into your reusable, washable tote. (Whether you use the plastic bag or not, you’ll still want to give them a good wash when you get home.)

Can’t find what you need without packaging? Consider leaving the package at the store.

Smaller grocers are often happy to take back styrofoam produce palettes to reuse, while larger stores will likely have a more streamlined and effective recycling regimen than the one you have at home.

4. Support “green” businesses

It takes a bit of effort, but researching your favourite retailers’ environmental practices and supporting the businesses with good ones goes a long way. Here are some things to look for:

  • Shipping policies: Look for low- or no-plastic shipping packaging that is biodegradable, compostable, or reusable.
  • Buyback and repair programs: Many retailers claim to produce durable clothing and home goods, but you know they mean it when they’re willing to pay you for used items that they can divert to secondhand markets or when they’ll repair damaged items for low or no fees.
  • Minimal or refillable packaging: Minimal, durable, or refillable packaging is an elegant solution to excess waste, and home cleaning and beauty companies in Canada are getting in on the game. Look for refillable deodorant and dental floss, reusable steel safety razors with replaceable blades, shampoo bars, and laundry tabs, flakes or strips that skip the bottles altogether.

5. When you can’t avoid it, try to use recyclable plastic

Can’t find a better alternative to plastic? Try for plastics that are recyclable in your community. For instance, if your town doesn’t recycle black plastic, look for restaurants that use compostable alternatives, like biodegradable paper-based packaging, or that provide plastic packaging you can reuse at home or easily recycle.

Be careful not to “wishcycle” — that is, toss uncertain items into your recycling bin that can cause extra costs and contamination.

With these small changes, we can all shift towards sustainable, reusable options and do our part for a cleaner, greener planet.