When It Comes to the Plastic Problem, Recycling Isn't the Answer

Plastic isn’t great for our bodies or our environment, so why do we use it so much? Forget to bring a water bottle? Grab plastic one while filling up your gas tank. Hosting a gathering? Plastic utensils make clean up easy.  While plastic keeps prices low, there are costs for convenience. We just don’t pay them when we check out at the cash register. The planet and our health pay them in the long term.

Our Plastic Problem


Plastic is designed to last forever and yet half of it is single-use, which means it is used once and thrown away. But there is no away. When plastic is sent to a landfill it slowly breaks apart, usually over hundreds of years, leaching toxic chemicals into the ground and polluting groundwater reservoirs. By 2050, we’ll be making more than three times as much plastic stuff as we did in 2014 and our landfills and oceans will be overflowing. At the same time plastic in the ocean could outweigh fish pound for pound, according to a report by the Ocean Conservancy. 

Even though recycling is helpful, it doesn’t solve the plastic problem.

Unfortunately, recycling only delays a plastic item’s trip to the landfill, or the ocean.

When plastic is recycled, it is downgraded in to a lower form of plastic until it becomes unusable and is eventually thrown away anyway. Materials like aluminum, stainless steel, and glass can be recycled with no loss in quality. They never need to end up in a landfill. Plastic seems to solve problems, but it is a habit we need to break.

Three Ways to Shop Smarter


Prepping to shop.

Preparation makes everything easier. Having reusable bags in the car, empty containers if your store has bulk options, and reusable produce bags are an important part of the prep process. Without them your low waste, plastic free options will be more limited. It’s not just for the grocery store, you can also keep small foldable bags in your purse for errand running.

While Shopping.

Try and break some old habits. Often we buy things just because we always have. Do toothbrushes really have to be plastic? No, there are great bamboo options out there. Can you start buying some of your staples in the bulk aisle? Probably. I started with buying my nuts and granola in the bulk aisle and have expanded from there.

Also consider the packaging when you are deciding which brand to buy. Cardboard, glass or metal are all better packaging alternatives as they can be recycled more effectively than plastic. Did you know styrofoam, another form of plastic, can rarely be recycled at all?

How you shop.

While shopping local is always the best option often sustainable products aren’t always available on the shelf in front of you, especially if you don’t live in a big city. Internet shopping can be an amazing resource to finding sustainable goods, like vegan shampoo in sustainable bottles. However, if you are easily distracted on line, or find your eyes glazing over, there are people who have done the work for you. In addition to the Non Toxic Revolution site there are lots of great zero waste resources out there to help you think about plastic and waste in a new way. Going Zero Waste and Zero Waste Nerd are two of my favorites right now, they also have great instagram accounts, but the list is long!

None of this needs to happen overnight, but pick one place to start making changes. You’ll be surprised after only a few trips how new habits start to form. Your body and your planet will thank you.


Lindsey McCoy

Lindsey McCoy has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and spent the last 10 years working on environmental education in the Bahamas, islands full of single-use plastic. She and her sister co-founded a company, Plaine Products, that offers shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion in aluminum bottles that can be returned, refilled and reused. Get more tips about reducing the plastic in your life by following Plaine Products on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest