Beyond reusable bags: Metro’s tips to reduce plastic use

Special Reports

There are several free or inexpensive swaps you can make to start helping the environment right now

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There are few places on our planet where plastics haven’t end up. They’re in our oceans, our landfills and they’re even in the foods we eat.

Without a doubt, plastic has become a big problem — one that can only be solved if we all work together.

More companies and governments are trying to cut down on single-use plastics. But there are also some easy steps individuals can incorporate into their daily lives, beyond just reusable bags.

“What I’ve discovered is once I started reducing my grocery bags, I started looking at other things I can,” said Peggy LaPoint, a waste reduction specialist at Metro.

Other common plastic items that are used once and thrown away are water bottles and coffee cups. LaPoint said replacing single-use beverage vessels with reusable options is a matter of repetition.

Reusable mesh produce bags, Feb. 7, 2020. (KOIN)

“I either put them by my keys or by the door and then I’m ready to go,” she said. “I think, again, it’s that habit; how do you develop a habit and once you get into it, then you know it’s like remembering your phone.”

Another thing people can do is swap out plastic utensils and straws for reusable ones that can be packed into the bag you take with you to work every day. Reusable utensils like forks, spoons and chopsticks made of bamboo or metal are available at many retailers and online shopping sites.

“A lot of times, you know, you can just take one from your home and put it in your desk drawer and then you’re all set,” LaPoint said. “It doesn’t even have to be something you out and buy.”

Helping to reduce single-use items really comes down to changing certain established practices, like taking reusable containers with you when you go out to eat instead of getting to-go food packed into waxed cardboard or styrofoam boxes that end up in landfills.

LaPoint said she asks restaurant servers to box up her to-go food in her own container.

“I’ve actually been thanked,” she said. “I’ll have people say, ‘Oh I’m so glad you brought your own container, thank you.'”

Peggy LaPoint, a waste reduction specialist at Metro, Feb. 7, 2020. (KOIN)

There are many easy swaps to make at home, too. Plastic storage bags and plastic wrap aren’t environmentally-friendly methods for storing food; instead, try using more containers and jars that are easy to wash and reuse over and over. You often don’t even need to go to a store and buy special containers.

“I think there’s this misconception that being sustainable has to be expensive,” said LaPoint. She said her family eats a lot of peanut butter so she washes out the spent peanut butter jars and uses them to store leftovers in the fridge or freezer. An added bonus is that the jars are clear and you can see what’s inside them by just opening up the refrigerator door.

“I mean, there’s no extra effort to just wash and reuse it,” LaPoint said.

There are also sustainable alternatives to plastic wrap for help with storing food. LaPoint said waxed pieces of cotton are useful.

“You just wrap it up,” she said. “If I cut half an onion, you wrap it up and the heat from your hands warms it up and you just store it in the fridge.”

But how do you bring your fruits and veggies home from the grocery store without resorting to those long green plastic produce bags?

Plastic bread bags, Feb. 7, 2020. (KOIN)

LaPoint suggests putting certain produce items directly into your cart. Anything that’s going to be washed at home or peeled doesn’t need to be bagged while the things that do need extra protection, like mushrooms, can go into reusable mesh produce pouches.

Pet owners can also reduce waste by using things they likely already have on hand. LaPoint uses plastic bread bags to pick up dog poop instead of buying rolls of bags made specifically for the task.

“These are things that would go in the landfill anyway in most cases so you’re using it and then throwing it away instead of putting this in the trash in addition to something you’re buying,” she said.

Lastly, special events should not be hall passes for wastefulness. It’s possible to maintain sustainable habits while planning parties or hosting guests for dinner. In fact, LaPoint says investing in reusable party supplies like cups, plates and bowls will save you money in the long-run because they last for years.

Several reusable items are pictured here, including beverage canteens, food containers, utensils, storage jars, party supplies and mesh produce bags, Feb. 7, 2020. (KOIN)

Summary of Metro’s tips:

  1. Swap plastic produce bags with reusable mesh bags
  2. Take reusable utensils with you when you leave home
  3. Take reusable straws with you when you leave home
  4. Opt for reusable water bottles and hot drink canteens
  5. Ask restaurants to pack to-go food in reusable containers
  6. Use glass jars and containers in place of plastic storage bags
  7. Swap plastic wrap with waxed pieces of cotton
  8. Reduce waste by using plastic bread bags to pick up dog poop instead of buying doggy bags
  9. Invest in reusable party supplies like plates, cups and bowls

All of these methods are meant to reduce waste and develop sustainable habits. But even the most environmentally-minded consumers mess up sometimes. LaPoint says if you bring something home and aren’t sure if it can be recycled, the best thing you can do is throw it in the garbage. Trying to recycle something that isn’t recyclable ends up costing more time and resources for waste management systems.

“It’s really important to keep the recycling stream clean and only put the things that belong in your home recycling bin there. If you’re not sure, it’s best to put it in the garbage,” LaPoint said.

If you aren’t sure about whether an item is recyclable, you can call Metro at 503.234.3000 or click here to see their online tools.

Old jam and peanut butter jars make great food storage containers, Feb. 7, 2020. (KOIN)

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