By Wendy Gabriel on December 13, 2012

Going plastic-free can be great for your personal health and your personal space.

There are many reasons to reduce the amount of plastic we buy. First, plastic is made from nonrenewable resources extracted in ways that pollute our air and water.

Second, plastic is made from chemicals, and some have been found to be toxic to both the environment and to human health, like hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.

On the basis of recent studies, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration have some concern about the “potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”

A phthalate is a plasticizer that is added to plastics to increase their flexibility. Phthalates are found in everything from toys and food packaging to nail polish and wall coverings, and, according to the Environmental Working Group, they have been found to disrupt the endocrine system.

Lastly, single-use disposable plastics live forever in landfills and very few types of plastic are widely recycled.

With that in mind, here are some practical ways to reduce your plastic use:

  • Bring your own bag. When making your shopping list, always add a reminder to bring your own bags with you to the store. Even before heading to the mall, remember to bring a bag so you don’t have to use any of the plastic store bags. I found this great tip from Rodale.com: “If you forget your reusable bags, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probably NEVER forget your bags again.”
Of the 380 billion disposable plastic bags used each year in the U.S., only 1% are recycled.

— Stopwaste.org

Flip & Tumble reusable bag

Reusable bags, like these made by Flip & Tumble, are perfect for shopping or toting. Find these and others at Reuseit.com.

  • Make your own food. When you cook from scratch, you avoid all the plastic packaging from premade and processed food. An added benefit: Making food at home is typically healthier and costs less.
  • Avoid sodas and other beverages bottled in plastic. There are so many ways to avoid bottled beverages. Bring your own bottle whenever you leave the house. I have stainless steel bottles filled with filtered tap water always ready to go.
Americans buy an estimated 34.6 billion single-serving (1-liter or less) plastic water bottles each year. Almost eight out of 10 end up in a landfill or incinerator. Hundreds of millions end up as litter on roads and beaches or in streams and other waterways.

— Container Recycling Institute

  • Buy milk in returnable glass bottles. Most areas have a local dairy that provides milk in returnable glass bottles rather than plastic or plastic-coated cardboard. I buy Crystal Ball Farms milk, which is available at a local natural grocery store in my area.
Keep in mind that recycling is no substitute to reducing what you buy in the first place.

— Beth Terry, myplasticfreelife.com

stainless steel drinking straws

These stainless steel straws are a great alterative to one-time-use plastic. Find these and others at Reuseit.com.

  • Use glass, stainless steel or wood dishes and utensils. We have always used “real” dishes and avoided plastic since my girls were old enough to give up breastfeeding and their glass baby bottles. And instead of plastic, we use stainless steel straws. Reuseit.com has a wide inventory of reusable items, as the site’s goal is to help eliminate disposables from everyday life.

For more great tips on how to reduce your plastic use, visit myplasticfreelife.com.

About the author

Wendy Gabriel is a freelance eco-writer now based in Fresno, California. Gabriel and her work have been featured in numerous publications and websites including the Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox Business News and Mashable.com. For nearly six years, she was a weekly contributor on a popular radio talk show in the Upper Midwest with a segment titled "Simple Tips for Green Living." Gabriel is an avid recycler, rainwater harvester, composter, thrifter and was instrumental in coordinating the planning and creation of a large mural made with recycled materials at a local elementary school in Fargo, North Dakota. Gabriel was the driving force behind starting a school garden program implemented at several Fargo schools. The founder of MyGreenSide.org and tweeting under @MyGreenSide, Gabriel has gone from the freezer (Fargo) to the furnace (Fresno) and could not be happier exploring California with the loves of her life, her husband and two daughters.
Learn more about Wendy Gabriel

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