Here’s a riddle for you: What is so incredibly convenient that many don’t seem to care how expensive, ugly or harmful to the environment it can be? That’s right—it’s plastic.
I recently spoke to a group of Norwex Leaders about the problems that stem from plastic pollution, especially the kind that finds its way to the ocean. Plastic marine waste is incredibly expensive to clean up, and it turns our beaches and waterways into unsightly eyesores. Worst of all, it can be deadly to sea life who mistake it for food.
The ultimate solution to this worldwide problem isn’t solely in cleanup and removal. Rather, the key is really prevention—stopping plastic debris at the source and preventing trash from entering our waterways in the first place.
In an effort to help stem the tide of marine plastic, we created this list of the “Trashy 12”, some of the worst offenders and major sources of plastic waste that are common in many homes, along with some suggestions for eliminating them.
1. Plastic Water Bottles—This single-use sensation has become a nightmare for our waterways and beaches. Reusable bottles combined with a home water-filtration system are the answer. And if you can’t avoid a plastic water bottle, say at a social function, then be sure to refill it and then recycle when you get home.
2. Single-Serving Coffee Pods and/or Tea Bags—They may be small, but in total they add up to a lot of waste in the environment—one source estimated that the number of pods buried in 2014 alone would circle the Earth 12 times. Use a pot with a reusable filter to brew your coffee. And try a tea infuser with loose tea to create a wonderful aroma, great-tasting tea, and no waste, other than biodegradable tea leaves.
3. Coffee Conveniences—These include disposable cups, lids, stirring straws, etc. Ask the barrista to blend your sugar in, or swirl it with cream gently before adding the coffee. And an insulated mug from home will keep your coffee warm for hours with no plastic sipper plug or one-use cup to throw away.
4. To-Go Containers—This is a tough one in a house like mine, with an entire family on the go. But Styrofoam® is one of the most difficult and persistent plastic-based materials. Look for restaurants that offer plastic containers you can recycle, or even compostable containers. Or bring containers from home when you can.
5. Disposable Utensils—It’s tempting when you have a crowd, but washing utensils is definitely a more sustainable choice. And there are lots of options for reusable, durable utensils that pack along easily. A little advanced planning means a waste-free meal.
6. Disposable Straws—Straws are the fifth most commonly found litter during the annual International Coastal Cleanup. The straw’s durability, buoyancy and ability to accumulate and concentrate toxins make it especially harmful to marine life. Consider taking your own reusable straw with you. Such an easy solution!
7. Disposable Grocery Bags—Americans alone throw away more than 100 billion bags a year, and plastic bags account for more than 10% of the debris washed up on the U.S. coastline. The recycling rate of single-use plastic bags is around five percent, so focusing on recycling alone is not a solution. Bringing your own bags eliminates this waste source.
8. Disposable Produce Bags/Resealable Plastic Bags—These bags photodegrade in the sun, breaking into very small plastic particles that become impossible to clean up. Wash and re-use the bag to further cut down on the amount of plastic waste.
9. Plastic Wrap—Sea turtles especially enjoy this film-like plastic. Instead, use and recycle aluminum foil, or try using glass containers with silicone lids to keep food fresh.
10. Disposable Cleaning Supplies—Single-use mop pads, disposable wipes and laundry sheets are all laden with unnecessary chemicals—and they’re usually replaced after just one use. The combination of plastics, wood pulp and cotton in these disposable pads and wipes resists breaking down and can remain in the sewers and seas for years. And the antibacterial alcohol in them also kills the bacteria and enzymes that break down solid waste in landfill sites and septic tanks. Eliminate the need for these costly, nonrenewable and potentially harmful cleaning supplies with reusable microfiber mop pads and wool dryer balls that can be scented with essential oils.
11. Foam Packing Peanuts—Even just one foam packing peanut can result in tens, hundreds, or even thousands of small, buoyant, easily airborne bits of litter that are almost impossible to clean up. Shredded mail or newspapers are recyclable and work about as well to protect items you need to mail. And if you receive a package that contains peanuts, you can collect them and bring them to your local shipping retailer for reuse.
12. Microbeads—In December 2015, the U.S. Congress approved legislation that will phase out plastic microbeads used in soaps, body washes and other personal care products starting in 2017. Scientists have raised concerns that microbeads can soak up pesticides and chemicals, so by the time they reach our lakes and oceans, they become tiny toxic pills. Instead of products containing microbeads, choose a healthy alternative such as microfiber, which exfoliates with only water.
Sad But True
A study released from researchers in Australia in 2015 indicated that 52% of sea turtles worldwide have ingested some form of plastic. And another recent study showed that nearly 60% of all seabird species have plastic in their gut. There are 120 marine mammal species on the threatened list, and 54% of those species have been observed entangled in or ingesting plastic.
The Atlantic: A Brewing Problem
Media Matters: California’s Plastic Bag Ban: Myths And Facts
WorldWatch Institute: New Bans on Plastic Bags May Help Protect Marine Life
The University of Queensland: World’s turtles face plastic deluge danger
DailyMail: How wet wipes are destroying the planet
Green Blog: U.S. Passes Law Banning Plastic Microbeads
Csiro: Almost all seabirds to have plastic in gut by 2050
Thank you for this list! I will be sharing it at my parties and also to my family and friends.
I love the information and use this all the time, and tell people about this movement!!
I am astounded by the statistics written here! I agree that prevention would be the best solution, and that starts with the everyday decisions we make in our homes.
Excellent post to educate people quickly and to the point!! Keep spreading awareness, educating solutions, and preventions. Thank you!!!
This year I made a pledge to not purchase any plastic water bottles. I now carry my portable water filtration system with me every where so I always have safe clean water without the waste.
Thanks for sharing! I’ll jot down a few of the statistics on the back of each picture and share at my demonstrations. There is sooo much more we need to do!
thank you for this great list. I plan to talk about these issues with friends. My family and I will be working harder to be more sustainable and to continue to reduce the amount of plastics that we use.
Thank YOU, Siobhan! Every little bit helps, and every time we share the message of sustainability, we’re making our world just a little bit better.
Such a helpful article!
I didn’t realize K-cups (and other single-serve cups) were so destructive to the environment… yicks!
This is just amazing and such a wake up call. I am sharing this info with everyone I can!
Ugggghhhhh!! Poor, poor sea creatures! So happy to be teaching my littles to save the earth!!
The picture of the turtle just hurts my heart!!
My family has gotten really good at carrying durable water bottles, so next we’re trying to avoid take-out containers. It’s interesting how people at restaurants react to us bringing our own glass containers. I hope we’re encouraging others!
Thanks for your comment, Jen, and for making a difference in the world. You’re teaching your family great habits and we’re sure you’re encouraging others along the way!
My daughter lives in a community where they outlawed the plastic bags. Everyone takes a reusable grocery bag to the store. No one complains. Wish that was mandatory everywhere!!
I think of myself as fairly aware and proactive about stuff like this. This list affirms what I am doing but also shows that I still have a ways to go. I’m committed to making sure that MY household no longer contributes to the problem. Each new home with that commitment is progress!
I can’t believe how unhealthy my home is, very educating.
Although it’s difficult to avoid all of these plastic items all the time, my family and I do our best to use our own grocery bags when shopping and thanks to Norwex we have been able to use MicroSilver Cleaning cloths!! I never thought about bringing my own to-go container to restaurants, since many serve double portions for dinner, this will be my next step in helping the environment. It’d be interesting to see if anyone has done any research as to which restaurants offer more environmentally-friendly to-go containers.
This is so amazing and true! But most don’t care enough to be eco-friendly! Not good for future generations of plants, animals, and US!
Ugh! Why, why, why have we become a disposable society?! It is so sad – and I’m not just speaking of single use waste. The disposable attitude has spilled over to every aspect of life, including appliances, electronics, automobiles, and even worse – relationships! Just throw it away and get a new one.
Good point, Kristie! Sadly, it does seem that “disposable” has become a way of life for many these days. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep up the good work of living sustainably. It may not always be convenient, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Thank you for sharing this list! Will be sharing on GB.
Very sad that the majority of the world’s population is either unaware or unconcerned.
I always use reusable shopping bags. RARELY use paper towel. Never use disposable coffee pods. Avoid microbeads, do not use plastic water bottles. Take my own containers to restaurants for leftovers (yes, they think I am weird), never use plastic straws. If product comes packed in foam peanuts, I use those peanuts as fill in my garden planters. Never, EVER use disposable cleaning wipes. I think I am doing my small part.
We’d definitely say you’re doing your part, Sharon! Thanks for making a difference—for your family and for the world! (And PS. We look forward to the day when it’s not considered “weird” to bring your own leftovers container to the restaurant. Thanks for helping to get that trend started!)
Sharing this on my Facebook! <3
This is a very helpful list. Obvious examples of waste to reduce in our homes and a very practical way to encourage others
I just shared this at a party and it was a really engaging conversation. Definitely thought provoking.
What are your thoughts on recent studies regarding microfiber shedding and its impact on the world’s waterways?
Hi Gina, thanks for the question. Norwex is aware of recent concerns regarding plastic particles from microfiber and fleece textiles potentially entering waterways during normal washing. While Norwex Microfiber itself has not been identified as a potential source of these tiny particles, we are naturally concerned and will continue, along with the rest of the textile industry, to research the issue. For more information, please contact our Customer Care department. In the U.S., please contact 1-866-450-7499. In Canada, please contact 1-877-766-7939.
This is great!
Amy, you are full of knowledge and I become a better person everyday knowing you. I love the information you provide and it is my mission to educate people everywhere. Thank you for everything
I have moved to wool dryer balls and am hosting a Norwex party online this week so I can use more microfiber and less cleaning supplies. I do try to reuse other materials such as plastic bags I receive when I don’t have a reusable bag with me, foam packing peanuts
( a few a the bottom of large flower pots increases drainage and reduces the amount of potting soil needed), and my K-cup pods (lampshades for a string of Christmas lights on my porch) !
We love your ideas for reusing packing peanuts and K-cup pods, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing!
Love the list very informative and helpful.