This article was created in partnership with Brita.
Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is single-use plastic, and why is it harmful? Think of those random items you use only once then toss: water bottles, plastic forks, straws, the packaging on that to-go cup of hummus. Now imagine a trail of discarded plastic pieces (we’re talking hundreds of millions of them) long enough to circle the equator 300 times. That’s one heck of a garbage conga line—and a serious problem.
Here’s the thing: Because plastic doesn’t immediately biodegrade (water bottles can take 450 years to break down into microplastics!), it ends up accumulating in cities, oceans, and water supplies, slowly releasing chemicals and harming nature and animals. That’s why we’re partnering with Brita to figure out all the ways we can reduce our plastic footprint. Not only does its Longlast™ filter work for six months*, but it can prevent up to 900 water bottles** from ending up in landfills during that time.
In fact, there are plenty of practical and cost-effective solutions to help you live that plastic-free life. Below we’ve mapped out a few easy things you can do right now. Break up with these environmental nightmares and watch the world change for the better.
1. Bottled Water
Why it’s a problem: We need water (you know, to survive). But bottled H2O doesn’t just wreak havoc on the planet, leaving behind the Grand Canyon of carbon footprints, it’s also not doing you or your wallet any favors. While couture labels might promise pristine spring waters in every bottle, an estimated 64 percent of bottled water actually comes from the same source as tap—and it can cost up to 2,000 times more.
So, what’s the solution? Sip your sparkling, still, and tap from a stainless steel or glass bottle (both recyclable!) when on the go. And always keep filtered tap water at the ready. A Brita® Longlast™ filter, for example, eliminates lead and other nasty toxins from drinking water***, lasts for six months*, and can filter the equivalent of 900 bottles of water**. Hydrophiles: That’s. nine. hundred. bottles.
2. Plastic Drinking Straws
Why they’re a problem: Have you heard this one yet? Americans use and toss more than 500 million straws a day—a day, people! The one-and-done straw is basically a poster child for single-use plastic and one of the top litter culprits harming beaches, oceans, and even the tiniest of sea life. So, in a nutshell, straws suck.
So, what’s the solution? You could just put glass to mouth and gulp. But should this everyday act prove undoable, then, for the love of sea turtles, forgo the plastic and make do with paper, glass, or metal options. There’s also a sturdy compostable version, typically made of cornstarch. Not that it’s the golden ticket to an environmentally sound world, but it’s a start.
3. Plastic Take-Out Containers
Why they’re a problem: Ordering takeout has become insanely easy thanks to the growing galaxy of food apps that satisfy cravings with just a finger tap. And it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that more takeout equals more take-out container waste.
So, what’s the solution? You could launch an initiative demanding your favorite dumpling joint opt for more sustainable alternatives (and we’d applaud you for it). But an easier option is to purchase or make your own zero-waste kit complete with dish, utensils, and cloth napkins for the restaurant to use instead. Think that defeats the purpose of delivery? Request paper boxes. Or just forgo takeout altogether and make an effort to cook more. Reduce waste and unnecessary spending: two birds.
4. Plastic Cutlery
Why it’s a problem: You ordered pad Thai for one and received enough plasticware to feed a family of six. Not only is the excess, well, excessive, but those seemingly harmless tools are hiding a secret: BPA. Studies have linked ingesting BPA and other plastic toxins—which can happen when plastics are heated or damaged—to unhealthy changes to our cells, obesity, infertility, and even cancer. Beyond that, odds are your single-use (or, worse, never-used) fork is headed to a landfill to either live out the remainder of its 400-plus-year shelf life or aid in the death of a swooping albatross.
So, what’s the solution? Simple. Kindly request no disposable utensils and use your own silverware when you order takeout or throw a backyard barbecue. Send the little ones off to school with eco-friendly bamboo flatware in their brown bags. Or have your dinner and eat your utensils too by trying edible cutlery.
5. Prepackaged Foods at the Store
Why they’re a problem: We get it; snagging pre-chopped melons and berries at the grocery store beats doing it yourself at home. And granola from a resealable plastic pouch somehow always makes snacking easier. But according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the amount of plastic in our oceans will outnumber fish by 2050 if we keep on keepin’ on.
So, what’s the solution? You could seek out a zero-waste supermarket—they do exist and are gaining traction—but if there’s not one near you, try shopping for products that use recyclable packaging, buy fruits and veggies whole, and hit up the bulk bins (bring your own container).
6. Coffee Cups From the Corner Shop
Why they’re a problem: Even if it’s touted as recyclable, don’t let that takeaway paper cup fool you. It may be made of virgin paper pulp, but many disposable cups are lined with a liquid-proof plastic polyethylene that’s—spoiler alert—nonrecyclable. And considering the globe’s coffee habit, that’s a whole lotta latte cups doing a whole lotta damage.
So, what’s the solution? Apart from waiting for your favorite brewhouse to create a cup-sharing program (yep, a city in Germany actually does this), hop on the bring-your-own-mug bandwagon and ask your barista to kindly fill ‘er up. Too bulky or unwieldy for your cross-body? There are collapsible versions. Option No. 2: Get up just 15 minutes earlier and make your own coffee at home.
7. Plastic Bags
Why they’re a problem: Sorry, Hollywood, there’s not really anything “beautiful” about plastic garbage dancing in the wind. A super-common form of litter worldwide, the plastic bag has been blocking drainage systems, collecting in landfills, and pointlessly piling up under your parents’ sink for too long. Something to think about the next time your grocer double-bags that half-gallon of milk.
So, what’s the solution? BYO bag. You know: an environmentally friendly canvas tote that’s usually stamped with some sort of healthy pun like “Kale yeah!” or “Lettuce save the world.” There are even bags with snazzy compartments that keep your bottles of wine, soda, and olive oil upright (and from smashing your loaf of whole-wheat).
*Based on 120-gallon filter life and average family usage of 11 glasses per day.
**Standard 16.9-ounce water bottles.
***Certified by WQA. Substances reduced may not be in all users’ water.