Reusable containers

Reducing Household Plastic Consumption

Therese Peffer

This year, one of my resolutions is to reduce my plastic consumption.

You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing collection of marine debris floating in the North Pacific Ocean. Prevailing ocean currents have concentrated waste from neighboring countries to create this patch over the last 80 years. It is currently estimated to be twice the size of Texas with 3,000,000 tons of plastic, more of which is added every year. Ack!

Garbage sprawling across the Pacific Ocean
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. Credit: Forbes

We can certainly do better by recycling more plastic. In 2018, China stopped purchasing recycled plastic from the U.S., so there is less of a market for imported waste. Purchasing fewer “single-use” plastics and more recyclable items goes further. The problem is, this is hard: almost everything, including staple foods like bread, is wrapped in plastic. Drinks, ketchup, shampoo, lotion, you name it—it comes in a plastic bottle.

What can we do? Well, we can drink from reusable metal containers instead of disposable water bottles and use reusable shopping bags when we remember to bring them. (Years ago, I got some cloth bags for buying items in bulk, and this year, I’ll renew my efforts to actually use them!) We can also use tree-free toilet paper and paper towels that are wrapped in paper instead of plastic, buy biodegradable dish and laundry detergent in gallon jugs, and purchase trash bags made from 100 percent recycled plastic.

At EcoBlock’s laundry-to-landscape community workshop last November, one of the neighbors asked me if I knew of any plastic refill places. At the time, I had never heard of this. But over the holidays, I saw a booth at my local farmer’s market that provides refilling services: you bring in your own container and fill it with liquid soaps, shampoo, and more! There are refill shops throughout the Bay: I spotted another store in San Francisco earlier this month then found the Ecology Center’s guide on bulk and refill shops in the East Bay, which includes Re-Up Refills in West Oakland. I haven’t tried refilling plastics yet but plan to get started with my shampoo and conditioner.

An assortment of refillable jars, bottles, and container.
The Re-Up Refill Shop offers eco-friendly bath, body, and kitchen products in refillable containers. Credit: Peter Rosos

I don’t always succeed with my resolutions, but it helps when I share my goals with others. I also started following @TheZeroWasteGuide on Instagram for inspiration! If you have any tips on how to reduce waste—especially plastic—in your household or have online resources that you follow for insight, please write me at tpeffer@berkeley.edu. I would love to hear from you!

Cover image credit: Getty Images

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