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How to Reduce Plastic Waste
Blog...How to Reduce Plastic Waste

How to Reduce Plastic Waste

Net zero trajectory
plastic piled up
In this article, we’ll review what plastic waste is, the current impact it has, why it is important to take action, and how you can help to reduce plastic waste yourself.
plastic piled up

Ironically, humans have created many of the very things that have caused us to find ourselves in a grueling fight against climate change – one of those being the plastic waste created from manufacturing and even from the casing of modern products we buy today.

Seeing as so many companies make plastic in today’s day in age due to its flexible and cheap nature, it may seem next to impossible to make a genuine effort to reduce plastic waste – but is it really as difficult as it seems?

In this article, we’ll review what plastic waste is, the current impact it has, why it is important to take action, and how you can help to reduce plastic waste yourself. 

What is the impact of plastic waste?

Plastic has taken the world by storm – and not in a good way.

Since plastic became wildly popular in the 1900s in conjunction with the industrial revolution, it has resulted in excess greenhouse gas emissions in addition to polluting our oceans and threatening marine life.

plastic pollution the economist thumbnail

Here are just a few of the ways plastic waste has hurt our planet:

  • We produced a whopping 448 million tons by 2015 – and that number is set to double by 2050; 
  • Around 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans every year;
  • In 2019 alone, plastic waste amounted to 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – meaning that plastic waste is responsible for around 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • We’ve altered plastic to become stronger, but as a result – it isn’t biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to break down or decompose in landfills, which ultimately leads to even more greenhouse gas emissions.
The environmental impact of plastic pollution isn’t avoidable – and the numbers speak for themselves.

As a result of our innovation, plastic waste has contributed to more vulnerable ecosystems, wildlife species, polluted oceans, and even microplastic contamination – meaning that there could be traces of plastic in the fish you eat.

In addition to this, plastic waste represents various health risks, such as:

  • Chemical leaching from plastic waste, which can result in the deterioration of cells, inflammation,  and other chronic diseases;
  • Present complications when giving birth and even birth defects;
  • Presents the opportunity for various cancers to form.

👉 Did you know? Half of all of the plastic that has ever been produced has been made within the last 15 years – which goes to show just out of hand plastic production has become.

starbucks and other plastic cups piled up

What are the different types of plastic waste?

One of the main challenges of seeking to reduce plastic waste is that the majority of people don’t know the differences between different types of plastic. 

Unbeknownst to most, plastic takes on many different shapes, forms, and sizes – meaning that each plastic needs to be recycled or disposed of in a different way.

Here a few of the different types of plastic:

  • PET – This type of plastic, short for Polyethylene Terephthalate, is known for being lightweight and easily recyclable seeing as it is a part of the thermoplastic family. This is because thermoplastics like PET are able to be liquidated at a high temperature to be reused again in the future. PET is most often used for plastic water bottles, tupperware containers, and packaging films – such as the film you would find while unboxing a brand new iPhone.
  • HDPE – This plastic, short for High-Density Polyethylene, is another type of plastic belonging to the thermoplastic family as it is also used for a wide variety of packaging purposes. Made out of petroleum, it is often used for bottle caps, closures, and seals. – making it often more rigid and hard as opposed to PET plastics. However, similar to PET plastic – HDPE plastic is also relatively easy to recycle. 
  • PVC – This type of plastic, short for Polyvinyl Chloride, is a more dense type of plastic that is more resistant to weathering – making it fit for use in construction purposes. This type of plastic is also commonly used for cables and wires – such as a charger for your laptop. While this type of plastic can be recycled, it is often more difficult to recycle than PET or HDPE plastic – making some companies hesitant to use it.
Having a general idea of the different types of plastic can not only help you to recycle plastic whenever possible, but encourage your friends, family, and even co-workers to familiarize themselves with the different types of plastic and potential plastic waste as well.

👉 This is precisely why recycling labels are so important, seeing as many people will not take the time to look up if the recycling from their snack bar or packaging is recyclable – meaning it is up to manufacturers and label makers to make clear and understandable labels to ensure any plastic that can be recycled doesn’t end up in landfill. 

recycling bin

Why has society made it hard to reduce plastic waste?

There seems to be an evident, simple answer to put a stop to all of this madness – and that’s to stop producing or buying plastic altogether. 

However, society hasn’t made that initiative very easy to achieve. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Versatility of Plastic – Businesses want to make a profit and slash their production costs wherever they can, and plastic is often one of the easiest ways to do this – seeing as it is lightweight, versatile, and can be molded to fit any product, container, or packaging for a product. Seeing as there has yet to be a viable alternative for plastic, many companies continue to use it – meaning that many consumers have no other choice but to buy and contribute to plastic waste.
  • Consumerism Culture – Especially in the United States, capitalism and consumerism have contributed to the climate change crises we find ourselves in today – seeing as these cultures value the notion of spending money on new items even when it isn’t necessary. As a result, many people buy new clothes, accessories, or appliances that make use of plastic that they otherwise wouldn’t buy if it weren’t for excessive consumption we are used to in our world today. 
  • Disposable Culture – We don’t only live in a world that has made the term “shopping spree” a viable norm, but a society where things are tossed as soon as they are no longer deemed useful. For instance, over 5 billion mobile phones are thrown away every year – not because the phones have stopped working, but because people do not see an issue with tossing an outdated model in the trash. The same concept applies to plastic waste. 
  • Poor Recycling Protocols – Our failure to recycle properly as a planet isn’t entirely our fault, but also our government – seeing as countries like the U.S. haven’t made recycling labels clear. Also, many governments or local communities will be reluctant to implement more stringent recycling rules seeing as it requires additional time, money, and effort.

As a result, companies who want to reduce their plastic waste themselves often have to make their own individual efforts – such as by taking a look at the life-cycle of their products or by making use of more sustainable packaging. 

👉 However, just because reducing plastic waste is challenging, doesn’t mean that it’s impossible – seeing as many initiatives such as implementing plastic tax and banning the use of plastic bags at supermarkets have made their way into society.

plastic in the ocean

How can you reduce plastic waste at home?

Plastic is taking over our world, but the good news is – each and every one of us can do something about it. This is because it’s relatively easy to introduce better recycling habits at home and in the office. 

Here are just a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Switch to Glass Containers – The overarching pro of using plastic containers is that they won’t break into a million pieces when you drop them, but besides that – glass containers are the clear winners. Glass containers can be used indefinitely, making them a better investment than plastic tupperware. In addition to this, glass containers can be microwaved – which can help to avoid doing extra dishes or using too much water!
  • Use Reusable Shopping Bags – Canvas bags aren’t just trendy, but they are great for running your daily errands – and help avoid the need to ask for a plastic bag at checkout. 
  • Say Goodbye to Plastic Water Bottles – If you’re trying to cut down on your grocery bill, this could be a hidden expense you don’t realize is eating through your wallet – stocking up on a supply of plastic water bottles. While they are convenient for on the go hydration, it’s a more sustainable choice to invest in a good water filter and get the whole family reusable water bottles.
  • Buy Products in Bulk – Opting to pursue the bulk section of your grocery store for some of your favorite pantry staples like pasta, rice, beans, and oats isn’t just a smart idea to help you achieve your financial goals – but to help reduce plastic waste. This is because every time you buy something from the bulk section of your grocery store, you will either bring your own reusable pouch or use one of the paper bags provided – helping to mitigate excessive plastic waste.
  • Opt for Items with Minimal Packaging – If you’re having a tough time deciding between two different products that appear to be virtually the same, when in doubt – choose the one that uses less plastic in its packaging. 
  • No More Plastic Straws or Utensils – If a company as well known as Starbucks can implement this change, so can you – seeing there are numerous steel or paper straws available on the market today. Whether you like to drink smoothies at home or on the go, a more sustainable option is within easy reach.
  • Make the Recycling Bin Easily Visible – Sometimes you want to recycle, but you’re in a rush and don’t have the time to look for the recycling bin – which is why it’s important to clearly mark which bin is trash and which one is recycling both at home and at the office. This can help people to recycle more easily and efficiently.

👉 There are many small steps that each of us can take on an everyday basis to help mitigate plastic waste, but at the same time – we need support from our local and federal governments to make a real difference.

stop plastic in forks, spoons, and straws

How can governments help to reduce plastic waste?

The actions we take in our day-to-day lives can make a difference to help reduce plastic waste, but in order to truly curb the negative effects of plastic waste – governments need to step in and play their part, too.

This is because much of the plastic waste created is out of our control – such as with the big companies that continue to make use of plastic due to its cost effectiveness and convenience.

Luckily, some practices are already in place – such as with plastic tax being implemented in the United Kingdom. This new protocol will require plastic packaging that is imported into the U.K. that doesn’t use at least 30% of recycled plastic to be taxed – which will encourage large corporations to make use of recycling more often in order to avoid being fined. 

Here are a few other reasons why governments should seek to implement further restrictions on plastic:

  • Highlights the Importance of Avoiding Plastic – Many people will remain unaware of the negative effects of plastic on our environment until the government speaks publicly about plastic waste. Therefore, governments should assume the responsibility to educate their local communities regarding the effects of plastic waste and what can be done to avoid it. 
  • Create Bigger Initiatives – Switching to a reusable shopping bag or water bottle is a good start, but it may not create the same ripple effect as a state-wide or even country wide movement to evade plastic waste. Ultimately, bigger scale plastic reduction operations won’t be possible without government intervention.
  • Financial Support Smaller Programs – If there are existing programs in place to help reduce plastic waste, the government can help to support the cause through federal or state funding – which could provide the program with more resources to do more good in the midst of a global plastic waste crisis.

Ultimately, finding new ways to reduce plastic waste will become essential as we transition to a more sustainable world and fight against climate change. It may seem overwhelming to cut out all of your plastic essentials at once, but if you start small – you’ll find yourself a part of the collective effort to reduce plastic waste and save our planet.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about how to reduce plastic waste has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

It can be difficult to understand how plastic waste could have an impact on your business and affect your company’s progress towards its climate goals, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help! Click here to book a demo and get personalized expertise on how various environmental regulations and laws will have an impact on your  own emission reductions and efforts to decrease your environmental impact.

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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