Can you go a day without plastic?

Do you think you could go a single day without single-use plastic? Take the challenge and see just how much single-use plastic comes into your life, and explore the ways we can work together to eliminate it.

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Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

One of the most pernicious and frustrating problems many of us deal with in our daily lives is the deluge of single-use plastics that come into our homes.

It can seem almost impossible to go through the day without buying, using or coming home with something made of or wrapped in single-use plastic.

So can you? We’re challenging ourselves and people across the country to see if they can spend a day without single-use plastic.

Why a day without plastic?  

It’s not because we think the solution to our plastic crisis is for everyone to give up every plastic thing they come into contact with. Far from it. It’s to help us see just how much single-use plastic we interact with; to highlight the momentum behind the growing list of more sustainable options; and most importantly, to learn about the actions our elected leaders and corporate decision-makers need to take to make it easier for all of us to eliminate all of the plastic we can easily live without.

1) Starting your day: All those plastic product containers

Chances are your bedroom, bathroom and medicine cabinet contain a good number of products packaged in plastic. Deciding not to use those could mean going a day without shaving, shampooing, moisturizing, deodorizing or maybe even washing at all.

If you’re not up for facing the world without your morning routine, you could do a survey with your family and take stock of just how many of the things we use every day to get ready for work or school come in disposable plastic containers.

Maybe you’ve been meaning to explore more sustainable alternatives. Earth Day is a great day to make it happen — you could look into getting a bamboo toothbrush, replacing that disposable plastic soap bottle with a refillable dispenser, or switching to solid shampoo. Check out this article on the growing number of businesses that are rethinking personal care and other products.

But there’s only so much any one of us can do on an individual level. That’s why we’re calling on policymakers to enact producer responsibility legislation, which incentivizes companies to design their products to have less wasteful plastic packaging to begin with. Join the movement:

2) Prepping and storing food: Swap out plastic foam and film for reusable containers

If you’re like most people, you probably use some glass containers and reusable plastic Tupperware. But packing lunches, getting ready for the day, and bringing home takeout still involves disposable plastic cartons and single-use plastic bags.

Single-use food packaging and containers provide a momentary convenience, but at a heavy price — the waste these plastics create can stick around for centuries in our environment.

Fortunately, there are a number of options for cutting out these throwaway items. A few to consider: Take a reusable lunch container when you head out for the day; put your snacks in a recyclable paper bag; pack a thermos instead of a drink box or disposable beverage.

But unfortunately, a lot of restaurants, food distributors, cafeterias and the like are still hanging onto harmful single-use plastics such as polystyrene foam takeout cups and containers. We don’t really need this stuff — our elected officials should step up and curb waste from these items at the local and state levels. Tell your state lawmakers to ban single-use foam takeout containers:

3) Grocery shopping: Use those reusable bags!

Can you go the day without using any disposable bags at the grocery store?

We have more opportunities than we might think to combat this major source of plastic waste. Start small by making sure you take your reusable shopping bags everywhere you go. Toss them in the trunk of your car or stick one in your backpack or purse, or make a reminder to hang on your car’s rearview mirror.

Bring reusable containers for the deli and fish counters where possible. Choose to buy loose veggies and cut them, instead of pre-cut ones wrapped in plastic (especially with lettuce, apples, carrots, etc).

You can also check out for a list of the zero-waste stores in every state.

Still, individual actions are only going to go so far as long as the most popular supermarket chains across the country fill their shelves with wasteful single-use plastic packaging. If those companies were to significantly reduce all this unnecessary packaging, it would make a huge impact for our communities and our environment. Join us in calling on Whole Foods to get single-use plastic packaging off its store shelves and pave the way for other stores to do the same:

4) Out and about: Stopping plastic waste at the source

Take note of how much single-use plastic you are offered over the course of a day. Try saying no to as much of it as you can. Then, consider your options for helping nip some of that waste in the bud: Bring your reusable drink container, don’t ask for a straw unless of course you are someone who needs one, and consider skipping the receipt (or having it emailed to you).

So much of our shopping happens online these days, and in the online marketplace, we have a lot less control over how much plastic and overall packaging is used to pack and deliver the things we buy. The result? Tons of plastic waste shipped to our doorstep.

Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, used more than 200 million pounds of single-use plastic packaging for its deliveries in 2021 alone. Join us in calling on Amazon to stop using so much single-use plastic in its packages:

5) Cleaning your home: We shouldn’t have to use so much plastic just to keep things neat and tidy

Maybe going the day without using any of those plastic cleaning product containers is the excuse you’ve been looking for to put off your spring cleaning. But eventually, you’ll need to get out those cleaning supplies, and chances are when you do you’ll be confronted with another heap of single-use plastic.

It’s probably not realistic to try and go plastic-free for all these items right this second. But what you can do is survey the extent of the problem as you go about your household chores, like you did at the beginning of the day with your personal care product containers.

You might not have known that a host of new, innovative companies are reimagining these kinds of products and doing away with packaging entirely. Try choosing one product, such as laundry or dishwasher detergent, to replace with a low-plastic or plastic-free alternative. Or, consider going to a refillery to get more (or all) of your cleaning supplies.

At PIRG, we’re working to ban the worst kinds of single-use plastic, make producers responsible for the waste they create, improve transparency of recycling programs, and get industry leaders such as Amazon, Whole Foods and Costco to step up. Donate today to keep this work going strong.

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Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG