Earth Day 2018: Commit to Using Less Plastic!

Earth Day is TODAY – Sunday, April 22nd this year. And I have a new mantra:

The only plastic I carry is in my wallet.

Our earth is full of plastic in oceans, landfills, and accumulated litter. This past year, I committed to eliminating plastic from my life as much as I can by using refillable water bottles, steel straws, and cloth bags.

I’ve made so much progress that I mostly touch plastic to earn points & miles.

use less plastic

I believe we can interact peacefully with the earth and help it heal. There is too much plastic pollution

The travel and hospitality industries are incredibly wasteful. If everyone took a small step to offset plastic use, imagine how much we could save from ending up in oceans, hurting animals, or going into a landfill.

“The only plastic I carry is in my wallet.”

In particular, single-use plastic items are the worst offenders. That includes:

  • Grocery bags
  • Water bottles
  • Straws
  • Produce bags
  • Food service wrap
  • To-go coffee lids
  • Iced drinks
  • Utensils
  • Travel-sized toiletries

There are tons more. Think of all the times you touch a piece of plastic and throw it in the garbage after using it once.

Here are a few simple tweaks that will save so much plastic waste. Since I’ve incorporated these into my life, I’ve turned down plastic so many times. It’s one of those things that’s everywhere once you start to notice it.

1. Refillable drink containers

I’ve gotten into the habit of drinking coffee at home. Not only does it save time and money, but it saves hundreds of cups and lids from being tossed out every year – and that’s just me!

a blue water bottle and a black holder

Hydro Flask makes tons of containers for every type of liquid

I like the Hydro Flask brand. They make:

  • 32 oz water bottles (I fill mine up at least 3 times a day)
  • 12 oz coffee cups
  • Thermoses for hot foods and soups
  • Everything size in between

These things keep hot drinks hot for 6 hours, and cold drinks frosty for 24+ hours! I put ice in my drink at night and it’s still there when I wake up in the morning.

They’re double-wall insulated, lined with stainless steel, and free of toxic substances. They also have a “powder coat” which makes them easy to grip.

They make every manner of accessory from sippy lids, straws, clips, straps, you name it. But the best part is you can use them thousands of times.

a blue cup with a lemon slice in it

Better than bottled and so much better for the environment

If you get a water filtration system at home (I use this Brita pitcher), you can fill up a 32 oz bottle – that eliminates nearly 3 bottled waters per day. Over a week, you can spare dozens of plastic bottles from going into the trash – and the water quality is just as good.

a white and blue water bottle next to a blue water bottle

I like these styles, too

I have another one I use primarily for coffee. It’s 12 oz and fits into my car’s drink holder. I use it to take coffee to the airport or around town. Even better, I can give it a rinse and fill it with water while I’m out. Or if I’m at an airport lounge with a self-service bar, I treat myself to a pre-departure bevvie of my choosing. 🥃

Corkcicle is another popular brand. They have a different shape and aesthetic. But I like how they’re shaped to easily grip and fit snug in your hand. I use these when I want a small tea or when I want a coffee and some water to take along.

All these containers are insulated so they don’t sweat when cold drinks are inside. I like having an icy cold drink at my desk and avoid a pool of water to clean up later.

Get a reusable container for your liquids. Forever and ever amen.

2. Steel straws

Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. 🤯

The vast majority of these are single-use plastic straws. You can always ask for a drink without a straw. But some people like straws because they have sensitive teeth, don’t want stains on their teeth (from things like iced coffee or tea), or to drink thicker liquids that are hard to tilt into your mouth. An easy solution is a permanent straw you can use over and over.

a purple smoothie in a glass mug with a straw

I use steel straws to drink my breakfast smoothies

I have a dozen or so at home that I wash and use constantly. You can stick ’em in the dishwasher, rinse them in the sink, or if it’s just water, use them all day with the same cup.

They cost ~$1 each and come in all lengths and shapes. I like the ones that are slightly bent at the end. That way, I can drink smoothies without worry of spilling it on my shirt.

They also double as stir sticks, like if you’re making a mixed drink or adding sugar to a coffee or tea.

I haven’t gotten to the point where I bring my own straw with me to bars and restaurants… but I’m getting there. I might say screw it and be “that person” that shows up with their own steel straw. If anything, maybe it would start a conversation.

But I certainly use these at home. They’re so cheap and such an easy way to not use the plastic version.

3. Cloth bags

Bags are everywhere. You can buy one, get one for free at a conference, or pick one up at the grocery store for literally $1. ONE BUCK.

a pair of bags on a wood floor

I’ve had this bag for years

I use an LL Bean bag I monogrammed with the letter “H” and have had for literally years. I’ve taken it to the beach, transported tools, and used it for hundreds of grocery and Costco trips. That thing is indestructible.

And the other bag in the pic above was free at FinCon and could do all the same jobs. I also see them when I check out at the grocery store – you can get a reusable bag for $1. Why people still use plastic bags for grocery shopping is beyond belief.

I used to show up at the store and realize I’d left my cloth bag at home. Now I have 4 or 5 that I rotate. So I always have a couple in the trunk. I keep a couple next to the door, too. So I always have a bag to take. I haven’t used plastic bags at grocery stores in a looong time.

Spend a dollar and get a reusable bag. Or get a cute one you like. The big win with the cheap ones is you can toss and replace them when they wear out.

If you do get plastic bags, at least reuse them for bathroom trash, dog poop pickup, or to carry something when it’s raining.

4. Bamboo utensils

One more single use plastic offender is utensils from takeout food. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when you host a party, have a potluck, or order in at the office.

Instead of using plastic utensils, try to replace them with bamboo ones. They’re completely disposable and biodegradable in a way plastic is NOT. Plastic contains petroleum and tons of other toxins that seep into the ground, whereas bamboo breaks down more cleanly and is extremely easy to replace.

You can also buy their reusable counterparts for cooking at home.

5. Travel tubes

Last one! Instead of buying small TSA-compliant toiletries, get some travel tubes and fill them up!

a group of travel bottles in a package

I love these things

They’re reusable – you prevent plastic waste AND get to carry your favorite products with you when you travel: win-win.

Bottom line

Single use plastics do so much harm in the world. Humans use trillions of plastic bottles each year. We’ve all heard about the Texas-sized garbage island floating in the Pacific. And seen the images of plastic washing up on otherwise unspoiled shores. And the deformed sea creatures that got caught in 6-pack canned soda rings.

But, there are plenty of solutions out there. This Earth Day 2018, commit to doing at least one thing that reduces plastic waste. You can:

Think of all the bottles, lids, bags, cups, and general waste one person could save each year. Then multiply it out. If everyone made a small step, it would add up fast.

Credit cards are fine, though – earning points & miles with a reusable plastic card is something I can support. 😉

Are there any other ways to keep plastics out of our oceans and landfills?  I’d love to hear more ideas!

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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  1. This doesn’t have to do with travel, but I’ve been focusing on reducing my plastic packing at the grocery store. I’ve stopped buying the big tubs of lettuce/salad mix and opt for the heads of lettuce and spinach in the produce section. I was getting disgusted at how much plastic food packaging was going into our recycling, even for someone who doesn’t eat a lot of pre-fab meals. Great post. Thank you for highlighting this problem. Now if only all cards were metal we wouldn’t need to touch plastic at all.

    • Amen! Every little thing DOES matter and it DOES add up. Thank you so much for sharing this – yet another plastic that’s easy to cut down on using!

      And thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  2. I love this. I’ve realized that my family wastes a lot too, and it’s insane because we don’t mean too. Plastic is everywhere, and it’s common for us to use it without even giving it a second thought. I’ve bought reusable straws, bags, and to-go cups, but I think I’m going to find others way to cut out plastic as well. Thanks for shouting out so many great products!

    • That would be amazing if a whole family could use less plastic – what a difference it would make! It’s amazing once you start noticing it – it really is everywhere.

      I always love hearing from you and so glad we met last year. Will you be at the next FinCon in Orlando? I’ll be there!

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