It's hard to get away from plastic, and most of us end up using more plastic products than we intend. Responsibly disposing of them and recycling is an important part of keeping these plastics out of landfills and out of waterways, where fish, birds and other creatures are apt to swallow them.
But there are plastics hiding in places you may not suspect. So that's the first step: Once you know something contains plastic, you can be more responsible about how you handle it.
Plastic could be hidden in two places in tea bags. The bags themselves may contain a small amount of plastic that's added to help them keep their shape in boiling water. The wrappers from individually wrapped tea bags may also contain a plastic lining.
What can you do: Look for tea bags that aren't made with plastic, like Numi, Organic Traditional Medicinals or Tetley Black and Green Tea. (Clean Plates has a list with more options.) Or, purchase loose leaf tea and use a reusable tea infuser, which will eliminate the plastic waste and a lot of the paper waste associated with tea, too.
Glitter is so hard to get rid of, and here's proof: there are services that will send glitter bombs to your enemies. When the envelope is opened, glitter flies everywhere. The glitter will be on your clothes, in your carpet and on your couch seemingly forever. And, even if you manage to clean it up and put it in the trash, it will live in the landfill for a very long time.
Glitter, according to National Geographic, is made from plastic sheets. If it winds up in the water, it becomes part of marine plastic litter — consumed by plankton, fish, shellfish, seabirds and other creatures. Birds that have plastic litter buildup in their stomachs can die of starvation.
What can you do: Simple: Avoid all glitter.
Paper cups are made of paper, right? Actually, most of a paper cup is made from paper, but these disposable cups also frequently contain a thin plastic lining. It makes sense if you think about it. If a cup was 100 percent paper, it would buckle under the load of a very hot liquid.
What can you do: Take reusable water bottles and coffee cups with you whenever you can. At home, use real glassware.
Fleece clothing is made with plastic microfibers. Often fleece is made from recycled plastic, which seems like a good reuse for plastic bottles. However, every time a fleece item is washed, it releases "thousands of microscopicplastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment," NPR reports. When those microfibers make their way into drinking water or into the ocean, it's likely we or marine creatures end up ingesting them.
What can you do: The jury is still out on how harmful these microfibers are to our health, so choosing not to buy fleece is an option. However, you can purchase a filter for your washing machine that will remove many of the microfibers. It also helps to wash your fleece only when necessary.
When people toss their butts on the ground — which oddly is still fairly acceptable to many people — instead of disposing of them responsibly, they end up in waterways. According to Science Alert, it takes just one cigarette butt to contaminate a gallon of water. Part of that contamination comes from plastic, which is used in the filter of the cigarette.
What can you do: It would be easy to simply say, "quit smoking," but there are very few smokers who don't realize they should quit for their own health reasons, let alone the health of the planet. If you do smoke, don't throw your butts on the ground or in the water. Dispose of them in the trash or in a safe cigarette receptacle.
One-time-use disposable wipes are so convenient. Baby wipes, personal hygiene wipes, antibacterial wipes, makeup removing wipes ... there are many types. They often come packaged in plastic, which is a problem itself, but those packages are often recycled. The wipes themselves are also frequently made with plastic — and they rarely get recycled. They end up flushed or in the trash.
Wipes contain plastic fibers that are not generally biodegradable, according to The Guardian. Those that get flushed clog up our sewers and create fatbergs — giant chunks of wipes and diapers held together by fats like bacon grease that gets dumped down the drain. Wipes that end up in the ocean can be mistaken by turtles as food. These convenient wipes are turning out to be majorly inconvenient to the environment.
What can you do: Only use disposable wipes when absolutely necessary. Inconvenience yourself. Use rags to clean surfaces instead of anti-bacterial wipes (and wash each rag after one use). Ditch the disposable bathroom wipes and use toilet paper. For babies, make DIY reusable baby wipes and use them as often as possible. Take your makeup off with a washcloth. And, when you do use disposable wipes, never flush them down the toilet.