We’ve all heard the phrase “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle," or "The Three Rs," at least once. Turns out, stopping for an iced coffee at a drive-through, picking up food to go, even grocery shopping is actually killing our planet as well as all the organisms living on it. There are numerous reasons the three Rs are so important for the Earth's well being. After watching A Plastic Ocean on Netflix, I realized just how important it is to reuse, reduce, and recycle the items that we use on a daily basis. About 18 billion tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year. The Sun’s UV light, ocean wave action, and salt break up the plastic waste into tiny pieces which are consumed by crabs, sea turtles, sea birds, etc. That is, if larger animals haven’t swallowed the whole item before it was dissolved. Those poor animals can’t tell tiny fish apart from plastic particles and it is our job to give up a little bit of convenience to save the environment. Who else will? Crabs don’t use plastic straws for their lattes...

Here are some simple ways you can reduce, reuse, and recycle your food containers to help rebuild a cleaner and greener Earth:

1. Support restaurants that use recycled paper to-go containers

Plastic and styrofoam (polystyrene) containers are the worst because they cannot be recycled, pollute the environment, and hurt wildlife! Avoid them as much as possible.

2. Skip the lid

If you take 5 sips before driving away, your hot beverage isn’t going to spill. Maybe don’t do this one if you’re wearing white, otherwise, try it once and see if the lid is really that necessary.

3. No plastic straws

Even if you make sure you throw away your straw into a trash can - it's not just going to disappear. Plastic straws are too small to be recycled which means it will take 200 years for the straw to decompose. Ask for “no straw” when you’re picking up your iced beverage at a drive-through. Even if you do this every other time, you’ll be helping save the Earth! Another option is to invest in a reusable metal straw.

4. Say no to plastic cutlery 

Rinsing your fork and knife at home isn't as bad as the effects plastic cutlery has on the environment. Just like plastic straws, it can't be recycled and is a wasteful item that seems to come with every to-go order. 

5. Get a stainless steel tumbler 

Ask if the barista could make your drink in your own tumbler. Not only will you be saving the plastic cup, straw, and lid, but your drink will keep its temperature for way longer!

6. Don’t go crazy with the free condiment packets 

If you’re not a big ketchup fan but still find thirty packets at the bottom of your McDonald’s bag, make sure to ask for just a few or none at all. 

7. Save space in your grocery bags 

When checking out, try to stack your items in a way that will use up the least amount of bags. There is absolutely no point in putting a single shampoo bottle in its own plastic bag. 

8. Return your plastic grocery bags to a recycling center

Plastic bags require special recycling machines, therefore, cannot be recycled with other items. Many grocery stores have large bins by the entrance where you can drop them off. Compile your used plastic bags under the kitchen sink or in a box in your garage and make a stop at the recycling bin the next time you go grocery shopping.

9. Invest in a reusable shopping bag

When posed with the question “paper or plastic,” the best answer is neither. We already know that plastic bags can be difficult to recycle, pose a danger to wildlife, and are littered everywhere. It turns out that paper bags aren't much better! The best option is to keep a few cotton bags in the back of your car and bring them into the store with you. 

10. Don't bag every single vegetable

Although it sounds unsanitary, skipping the plastic produce bags is actually okay as long as you rinse your fruits and vegetables before consumption. Using up half a roll of the thin bags in the fresh produce section isn’t going to keep your produce from coming into contact with germs. Fresh produce had to travel to the grocery store in a box, in a truck, and was touched by many hands before you decided to bag it into individual bags. Instead, designate one of your reusable cotton bags as the fresh produce bag, place it in your shopping cart, and avoid bagging every single item separately. 

To wrap up

I don't always do these things but I am actively trying to eliminate the single-use items from my life. It's important to consider what our convenience costs our planet. By doing so, we can lead by example and encourage the people around us to do the same. All the little changes each of us makes will add up to make a big difference. If you're interested in learning about more ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle, I recommend checking out Beth Terry's blog about plastic-free living.