How to reduce your plastic use


Darina Lubenov

Photo by Darina Lubenov

Darina Lubenov, Staff Reporter

Recently, Mexico banned single-use plastic items, which encompasses everything including bags, straws, forks, and other plastic items that may of us still use in the United States on a daily basis.

The strategy from Mexico to ban single-use plastic items aims to helb curb the toll plastic can take on the environment. Even though some isolated restaurants and other places around the United States are starting to catch on, here are five ways you can reduce single-use waste, especially during a pandemic. 

Using reusable bags at self-checkout kiosks

During and after April 2020, many stores have cut their use of reusable bags due to regulation.

Although some stores have restrictions on if you can bring reusable bags into checkout lines, some exclusions apply at self-checkout. Stores like Target, Walmart and Whole Foods allow customers to bring their own reusable bags with no fuss once you arrive at self-checkout.

This can actually save you money, too. Chicago checkout bag tax is 7 cents for any plastic bag used during checkout, and Whole Foods deducts 10 cents off for every reusable bag you bring.

As of March 2021, Trader Joe’s in the Chicagoland area have begun to allow customers to bring canvas and reusable bags to their store when checking out with an employee. This also includes reusable produce bags.

Requesting an E-Receipt

Many receipts cannot be recycled because of of their material, thermal paper.

Smaller businesses and retail stores have begun to offer e-receipts to customers to reduce waste and contact.

Retail stores like Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and American Eagle offer these electronic receipts that can be texted or emailed to customers.

Various small businesses and independent coffee shops also have followed suit.

Reusable/Washable face coverings

Face coverings have been mandatory in buildings and stores since March 2020.

One-use facemasks cannot be recycled, and they are not biodegradable, which can take an environmental toll in the long run. 

Investing in a reusable face covering will reduce pollution, and you could also support small businesses who sell items on online retailers like Etsy.

Bring your own reusable cup into stores

Reusable cups use has been cut due to regulations from restaurants.

One-use plastic cups from Starbucks or Dunkin’ have a toll on our ecosystem. Many of these cups do not end up being recycled either.

Independent coffee shops, however, are beginning to fill reusable cups again across the Chicago area.

Avoiding or refusing to single-use plastics

To stay open, restaurants have brought on takeout for customers who still want a restaurant experience from home.

This has unfortunately led to a giant consummation of plastic per order. This includes plastic containers, plastic utensils, plastic straws, paper napkins and plastic cups. Only a few offer biodegradable containers, and few still allow dine-in. 

At least one-use plastic can be recycled and/or made from recycled materials, but nobody really knows if diners wash these plastics before recycling and if they even make it to recycle.

This doesn’t mean to cut take-out from your life, however, especially during a pandemic.

Restaurants like Olive Garden have been offering carryout ever since Cook County enforced a closing on restaurants in November 2020. 

All it takes is for you to ask, and restaurant workers can remove plastic and paper items from your order, no questions asked.

Although it is not much, bringing in a reusable straw or sleeve next time you get a cold brew from Starbucks. You can recycle and wash what you have left and still make a difference, no matter how big or small.