Picture this: you decide to take a getaway weekend trip to the beach. You want to dig your toes in the sand, breathe in the ocean air, and listen to the crashing waves. Maybe you will do a little surfing while you’re there. Or, maybe you will collect some seashells for your growing collection at home. Maybe you want to try to find a shark tooth along the shoreline. Regardless of why you’re going, you pack your bags and hit the road until you can smell the salt of the sea in the air. Your excitement starts to build as you grab your beach towel and eagerly jog along the boardwalk to get to the beach to set up your sunbathing spot. You can finally see the ocean when you realize something: it isn’t what it used to be. Instead of glistening shades of blue, the water is a sickly brownish dull color. Instead of clean waters, you see bits of trash and used plastic bottles floating in the waves. If this picture made you want to immediately find ways to reduce plastic pollution, keep reading.

The Harsh Reality Of Plastic Pollution

If you’re lucky, this has not happened to you yet. Unfortunately, this awful sight is a sobering reality for many. As much as people don’t want to hear this – there are millions of tons of plastics and garbage floating around in our oceans. There is a constant barrage of about one garbage truck full of plastic being dumped into our oceans every minute. This plastic pollution is a major threat to the marine life in these waters. Marine animals can get tangled in the discarded materials by mistake. Marine animals can also mistakenly eat plastics either because they thought it was food or the microplastics were so small they ingested them with the seawater.

The Problem With Plastic

What makes the plastic pollution in the oceans is the fact that plastic is not biodegradable. This means those plastics will not break down naturally very well. Most plastic takes up to 450 years to break down and can stick around much longer (up to 1,000 years or longer). Most of this plastic was once on land but was washed into oceans from weather conditions or via connecting rivers. If we want to keep our make our oceans pristine and protect marine life, we must find ways to reduce plastic pollution. We must make sure we reduce how much plastic pollution is available to be washed away into our waters.

12 Hacks To Reduce Plastic Pollution

While this may seem like a herculean challenge, there are many ways that every one of us can play a role. These tactics are small, but if enough people get on board the impact becomes massive.

1. Recycle.

I figured we could get the most obvious tactic out of the way. The sad reality though is that as simple as it sounds, we have not done a good job of recycling. It is because of this that only about 9% of plastic gets recycled. Confused about what can and cannot be recycled? Check with your city about recycling initiatives. Most buildings have recycling bins for items such as water bottles, soda cans, and plastic bottles labeled PET #1, #2, #5, and #7. In many neighborhoods, you can request the option for a recycling bin that will accept larger items such as milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, plastic bags, buckets, etc. Be sure to ask your city public works organization for specifics in your area.  For more information on recycling plants, you can check out Earth911.org’s directory.

2. Pay attention to your coffee.

If you’re anything like me, coffee is LIFE. I easily consume 2-4 cups a day. Thankfully, this article is not about the dangers of caffeine overconsumption. I know I have a problem, but I’m not ready to deal with it yet. This is about the plastic that sneaks its way into your coffee habit. With the rise of Keurigs, coffee shops, espresso shop drive-thrus, and other styles of fast and convenient coffee-making, it’s difficult to cut plastic out from coffee use. Once upon a time, I had a Keurig. I got rid of it in favor of a slightly more time-consuming french press, but I cut down my plastic reliance. Unfortunately, I still go buy coffee to go from my local downtown shop every day because I’m lazy. What I recommend for cutting down your plastic use would be to change out the Keurig for a french press if you like making coffee at home. There are no filters needed or anything plastic needed if you buy a metal and glass french press. For those who just cannot make the switch from coffee pods, look into eco-friendly options such as Tayst Coffee Pods. These pods are plastic-free and Keurig compatible. Finally, for those like me who love going out to get coffee at their local shop, ask about bringing in your own cup to reduce the plastic that they use, or inquire about them making the switch to more biodegradable materials for their cups, straws, etc. All of these will help you reduce plastic pollution a little at a time.

3. Cook more often to reduce plastic pollution.

A large percentage of plastic production is due to packaging materials. This includes takeout containers. When we eat out, we bring the rest home in a takeout container, which is usually placed in a doggy bag. Both of these are usually plastic. If we want to reduce the amount of packaging plastic that gets thrown out, just eat at home more often. Yes, takeout is fast and convenient. Cooking and eating at home are healthier and more eco-friendly. If you absolutely must eat out, be sure to request no plastic cutlery, ask for a non-plastic container if possible, or even see if they will let you bring your own container for leftovers. You might look strange bringing your glass food container to the restaurant, but at least you are doing your part to reduce plastic pollution.

4. Buy a reusable water bottle.

This one is a quick and easy solution for reducing your single-use plastic. If you want to reduce plastic pollution, stop buying water packs of bottled water at the store and invest in a reusable water bottle. You can typically find them made from glass and stainless steel, but stainless steel is my preference. Every year anywhere from 13 billion or more plastic bottles make their way into the ocean. That’s a big number we need to cut down. So go buy that reusable water bottle. If you don’t like your tap water, you can buy a filter to go with some reusable bottles, or you can look into buying water that is more eco-friendly than plastic, such as boxed water or water in aluminum cans.

5. Buy in bulk to reduce plastic pollution.

Everything in the universe boils down to math, or so that’s what scientists much smarter than I say. What I mean by this is numbers matter. In the case of reducing plastic pollution, I’m referring to single-use versus bulk buys. While it can sound wasteful to buy more of a product than you immediately need (and there is merit to that), buying in bulk cuts down on plastic waste. Let’s look at yogurt. One large container of yogurt uses less plastic for packaging than a 6 pack of single-serve yogurts. Making purchases such as this will help cut down on plastic waste. If you have a zero waste shop near you (not common but possible), shopping there can help reduce plastic waste as well.

6. Be mindful of microbeads.

Microbeads are tiny plastic balls in beauty products. You find them most often in face washes or exfoliating products. These microbeads are tiny enough to make it through water treatment processes, ending up in large water bodies where marine animals ingest them by mistake. If you simply cannot live without your exfoliating scrubs, opt for a natural exfoliator such as sand, oatmeal, or salt. There are plenty of natural options online that are reasonably priced and just as effective minus the plastic waste.

7. Go thrift shopping.

Yes, getting something new is awesome. The downside is new items come with all sorts of plastic packaging. For someone like me with an Amazon addiction, it’s a tough road to navigate. Thrift shopping for certain items such as clothing, electronics, toys, furniture, and other modern conveniences allows you to find something unique and often in decent condition without the plastic packaging that accompanies a new item bought online or in the store. Not only does this hack save a few bucks, but also helps the environment.

8. Swap out body wash for soap bars.

Another hack for reducing plastic pollution is swapping out plastic bottles of body wash for traditional bars of soap. Most bars of soap come in a paper or cardboard wrapping, so there is no plastic waste occurring. This is a simple hack but adds up over time if you think about how many bottles of body wash you buy every year.

9. Support a plastic tax to reduce plastic pollution.

This one might be harder to implement because you may have to lobby and write to your state representatives or local officials to get things in motion. However, this has proven to be effective in some countries. The UK has a tax on plastic use, and that extra money you have to pay up to use plastic is a great deterrent. The UK has noticed a decrease in plastic waste since implementing a surcharge, so it does work if it can be implemented.

10. Support a plastic ban.

This is just the more extreme version of the last hack, but some states already do this. States like New York, Hawaii, and Maine all have bans on single-use plastic bags. Every little bit of plastic use banned is a reduction in the plastic pollution that reaches our oceans and other vulnerable ecosystems.

11. Get reusable bags.

This is right up there with getting a reusable water bottle. The goal here is to cut down on single-use plastic in the long run. The average use of a plastic bag is twelve minutes. That is hardly justification for how much we use them and throw them out. Investing in some reusable bags for grocery shopping will help keep millions of tons of plastic bags out of the oceans every year.

12. Tell companies their plastic waste matters to you.

All of the hacks above are great for reducing your own plastic waste. However, manufacturers and corporations have a larger impact on global pollution. Therefore, we must put pressure on them to make changes. Tell them you want them to make sustainable choices if they want to keep your business. Write letters, reach out on social media, begin a blog, or start a petition. Find companies with products you like that do make environmentally conscious choices. If you are loyal to a specific company, push them hard to find alternatives to their products. For example, if you really love Chlorox products but hate plastic bottles, consider reaching out to Chlorox through various channels. Tell them to look into companies like BioBottles, which specialize in high-quality biodegradable plastic. Implore Chlorox to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.