Recycling isn’t working – here are 15 ways to shrink your plastic footprint

Only 9% of plastics get recycled, and significant reductions will require systemic change – but there are easy tips for individuals to cut back

As plastics corporations ramp up production, they are also promoting a failing recycling system.

Just 9% of plastics get recycled. Traditional plastics are made from extracted oil and gas, and they contribute to the rising temperatures behind the climate crisis.

Environment experts are increasingly calling for a reduction in plastic use, as the waste accumulates in the oceanspoor countries and even human bodies. Plastics are also burned, as China – which once accepted the bulk of America’s waste – has begun to refuse it. And more than a million Americans lived next to polluting incinerators.

Significant reductions will require systemic change, researchers say. But there are also some easy tips for individuals who want to cut back on plastics.

(If this list is overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, collect your plastic waste for a month and conduct an audit. Cut back on what you find the most of.)

1 Carry a reusable bottle, fork/spoon and bag

Be sure to use these items as many times as possible so they are worth the resources they take to create.


2 Refuse the lid on your coffee cup

Take a few sips before you leave the shop so you can avoid spilling. (Some coffee shops will say they are required to give you a lid, citing possible liability for burns.)

3 Choose products in glass or cans if they are an option. Recycle those materials

Plastics recycling is largely failing, but you should still try to recycle your waste plastics if they are accepted in your community. Make sure you are recycling correctly with this guide.

Glass and aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled. Glass is most efficient when reused (ie with returnable milk bottles).

4 When possible, eat in the restaurant instead of taking it to go

Unless you have a physical disability, let your server know in advance that you won’t need a straw.

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