by Nicole Finnicum

With fast-paced lifestyles, packed schedules, and eating on the go, people all over the world – especially in the US – have turned to the convenience of disposable plastics. Over the years, the rise in popularity of these quick and easy goods has contributed to the accumulation of plastic in our oceans, lakes, and streams. We are beginning to see the detrimental effects of these items on our wildlife and waterways, and it is time to rethink our consumption habits.

We are all familiar with the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”, but perhaps the best way we can help our environment is to REFUSE single-use plastics from the start. It turns out that many of the everyday plastics that consumers use can be refused and easily replaced with environmentally sound alternatives. Here are 10 commonly used plastic items and the simple swaps that you can do in your everyday life to help the ocean:

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1. Plastic Grocery Bags
In many cities, plastic bags are not something that you can toss into your at-home recycling bin. Instead, they must be brought to special recycling drop off centers (often at grocery stores) in order to be recycled. A great alternative to remembering to do this is simply bringing your own bags to the grocery store. Throw some canvas bags in your car that can be washed and used for years, or keep one on your keychain so you'll never forget! 

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2. Plastic Produce Bags 
In addition to your canvas grocery bags, you can bring along reusable, mesh produce bags for your fresh produce at the grocery store. These are great for things like fruits, vegetables, and bulk food items.

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3. Plastic Straws 
Plastic straws are increasingly a problem for ocean animals like sea turtles, so we encourage you to ask your server to go strawless next time you’re at a restaurant. Additionally, there are great reusable alternatives made out of paper, bamboo, stainless steel, or even glass that you can bring with you wherever you go! Stop by Sanibel Sea School for a stainless steel straw or check out Hummingbird Straws for some beautiful glass options.

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4. Plastic Water Bottles 
Did you know that it takes about 2 minutes to consume a bottle of water, but the plastic bottle can remain on our planet for millions of years? Reusable water bottles are one of the easiest swaps you can make to help the ocean. You can find them in insulated stainless steel to keep your water icy cold or choose an attractive glass option to spruce up your work desk.

5. Plastic Wrap
Plastic wrap can be used to keep foods fresh in your refrigerator, but often ends up in the trash can instead of the recycling bin. Some types of plastic wrap can indeed be recycled, depending on what type of plastic it is made of, so it is important to check with your local recycling facility. A better option is to choose reusable food wraps like Bees Wrap. These are wax-coated fabrics that can be washed and used for up to a year. Imagine how much plastic you could keep out of the landfill by using these reusable wraps!

6. Ziploc Baggies
Ziploc baggies belong to the same group of plastics as grocery bags and are considered a “plastic film”. These plastic films need to be delivered to special recycling drop off centers in order to be properly sorted. An easier way to reduce your plastic usage in this case is to use reusable food grade pouches or Tupperware containers to make packing your lunch a breeze. 

7. Disposable Coffee Cups
Even though many disposable coffee cups from our favorite coffee shops seem recyclable, most are not. The paper cup is often a blend of paper and plastic, which is not actually recyclable and therefore ultimately ends up in a landfill. Even if the cup is made of paper, it usually comes with a plastic lid or straw. Try bringing along your own coffee cup – it’s nice to drink out of a real mug, and sometimes you can even get a discount for doing so!

8. Plastic Cutlery
Most takeout restaurants give away plastic cutlery with their food. While this is convenient, these petroleum-based utensils are made from a wide array of plastics, many of which don’t have a wide recycling market. Even if they are made of plastic that can be recycled, many times they are shipped all the way to China to be recycled, creating a huge carbon footprint! A great alternative is carrying your own reusable spork in your bag, or keeping a set of all three utensils handy when you're on the road.

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9. Body Wash In Plastic Bottles
Most soaps and shampoos come in some form of plastic bottle, but there are a couple of alternatives to reduce your plastic footprint while staying clean. Try switching to bar soaps with recyclable paper wrappers, or consider making your own soaps using essential oils and Castile soap. Your homemade body wash can be stored in a sealable glass jar that can be used over and over.

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10. K-Cups
With the popularity of these disposable coffee pods increasing, these plastic pods are piling up in landfills all over the world. A great alternative to these single-use pods are reusable pods that can be filled with your favorite coffee, washed, and used again. Or you could decide to go the traditional route and invest in an espresso machine that will help you make delicious coffee drinks for many years, no K-Cups required.

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