In the United States, each person produces close to 4.9 pounds of waste every day. This waste includes plastics, glass, and paper products.
We use these products every day without really thinking about how they impact the planet. Everything from our dish soap to our milk comes in a disposable container.
Plastic retail packaging waste is a big issue for the environment. Unfortunately, people’s wholesome attempts to mitigate it are not usually enough. What can we do to prevent packaging waste? In this article, we hope to help you help our planet!
Where Does Plastic Retail Waste Come From?
Packaging waste is most often attributed to disposable straws and plastic bags. People bring their reusable straws as a way to prevent turtles from dying. They probably bring their cotton reusable tote to the grocery store as well.
The downside is these systems aren’t enough. There is no shame in doing what you do to mitigate waste. If you’re trying, that’s what matters. But, if you are going to try and save the environment you might as well make it successful.
There are several aspects to take into consideration.
Products take time and effort to make. When purchasing your reusable totes make sure they’re sustainable materials. The surprising fact is cotton totes are the most labor-intensive. You are much better off purchasing a hemp bag or a plastic bag.
Reusable straws are an excellent way to prevent plastic waste. But, when compared to a disposable bottle or cup, they pale in comparison. Last, sanitary concerns are obvious with reusable straws.
Many people keep their straws inside of their purses or bags without a wrapper. The straw may pick up the germs around it and pass it on to you. Obviously, the same is true for a poorly washed cup or bottle. But, the potential is lower.
How is it Disposed Of?
Plastic packaging is often collected for recycling. But, it does not usually reach this facility. There are a couple of reasons as to why.
The first is the garbage gets blown away onto the streets. This happens a lot and is why you might see grocery bags floating around. The products that do reach a recycling facility are often unsuitable.
Only specific types of plastics, papers, and glass are recyclable. Placing the wrong types in the recycling bin creates further waste. If the material is not properly washed prior to going in the bin it can also impact reusability.
Contaminated containers are not reusable and thus end up in landfills. Sadly, most recycling is not properly washed and ends up in landfills. The reality is most materials end up filling the landfill. Rather than recycling, we should aim for reusable.
What Are the Effects on the Environment?
Many plastic packaging products end up in the ocean. This is closely linked to the acidification of the sea. As the ocean increases in acidity, it also decreases the potential for life.
Plastics also leech harmful chemicals into the surrounding areas. Plastics breakdown over time. As they decompose the harmful chemicals the plastic is made from begins to come out.
As these chemicals release, they pollute waterways and soil. This leads to undrinkable water and unfertile or toxic soil.
What Grocery Stores Do to Solve Plastic Retail Packaging?
Many stores are working to improve this situation. They may work with green companies that use recycled or renewable packaging. They encourage reusable bags at checkout. This helps prevent plastic retail packaging.
Some have even created a renewable system for their customers. An example is how Wholefoods provides glass jars for their customers who purchase milk. Unfortunately, this is not available at every store. But, it is an example of how reusable systems are implemented in grocery stores.
Ultimately, it must be a combination of shopper and grocer. If everyone does their part, we can cut back significantly on waste.
1. Reusable Tote
Clearly one of the most obvious ways people think of. But, a reusable tote that is made with renewable sources is a great way to cut waste.
If you bring your tote you can cut back on 3-6 bags every time you take a trip. This is not insignificant, especially when you think of how this adds up over the years!
2. Renewable Grocers
Even though some green industries are more into marketing than being green, that doesn’t mean the whole industry is. Renewable or zero waste grocers are changing the game significantly.
Some of these shops only have dispensers and do not provide prepackaged products. Others have shifted to only sourcing their products from reusable/renewable companies.
3. Washable Sandwich Bags
These are rather new to the scene. A washable sandwich bag is a reusable plastic sandwich bag.
These bags aim to remove the disposable sandwich bag in most lunchboxes. Once you get the hang of how to clean them they’re very convenient and sanitary.
4. Reusable Cups
You don’t want to be that person who only has their straw. Plastic cups are a huge issue for landfills everywhere.
These cups can be a reusable coffee mug for your local coffee shop treat. Or, simply doing away with the red solo cups at your next party.
5. Reusable Straws
Even though we said they are not “the” answer to waste doesn’t mean they’re not good. Renewable straws also help to reduce the amount of waste in the oceans.
Just make sure you have your straw in a clean container. Do not carry it openly in your bag.
6. Bring Your Own Take-Home Tray
We spoke a lot about grocery stores and coffee shops. But, restaurants must play their part in removing waste too.
One way you can help is by bringing your own reusable tray. If you ask to take your food home, let them know you don’t need the disposable tray. You have your own.
7. Do Not Take Disposable Cutlery
We often select the option for “cutlery” when ordering home delivery. Next time, don’t do this. We usually have a whole drawer full of forks and knives. There is no need to ask for a plastic fork that we likely won’t use anyway.
8. Box Water Over Plastic (Or Reusable Bottles!)
There is a new shift in packaging products that includes using cardboard over plastic. This is a great way to prevent long-term plastic buildup in the soil.
But, you can also purchase your own reusable water bottle. For sure the box is good on occasion, but try to stick to the reusable bottle instead.
The Future of Plastic Retail Packaging
We have a long way to go before we get rid of plastic retail packaging. But, this does not mean we aren’t making great strides for sustainability. It really requires a concerted effort on the part of the consumer and the seller. Hopefully, we can solve this issue before it’s too late.