How to Give Up Single-Use Plastics

How to Give Up Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics are everywhere in our daily lives. From plastic bags at the grocery store to plastic straws at restaurants, these disposable plastics are incredibly convenient. However, they also create a massive amount of waste and pollution. Giving up single-use plastics may seem daunting at first, but with some planning and commitment, it is very achievable. Here is an in-depth guide on how to successfully give up single-use plastics.

Understand the Impact of Single-Use Plastics

Before embarking on giving up single-use plastics, it is important to understand why it matters. Plastic pollution is an enormous threat to the environment. Here are some key facts:

  • Plastic takes over 400 years to break down in the environment. This means every piece of plastic ever created still exists in some form today.

  • At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Plastic makes up 80% of marine debris.

  • Plastic pollution kills over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year through ingestion and entanglement.

  • Microplastics from the breakdown of larger plastics are ubiquitous in the environment and make their way into our food chain. Their effects on human health are still unknown.

By giving up single-use plastics, you can significantly reduce your personal plastic footprint and help tackle this pressing environmental problem. Having this motivation will make the lifestyle changes easier.

Audit Your Single-Use Plastic Consumption

Before making changes, take a few days to audit your single-use plastic consumption. This will show you which areas to focus on and establish a baseline to track progress.

Things to track include:

  • Plastic bags from grocery stores, takeout, etc.

  • Water bottles – note if they are recyclable or not

  • Takeout containers and utensils

  • Packaging from food, electronics, clothing, etc.

  • Straws

  • Disposable coffee cups and lids

Once you have identified your main sources of single-use plastics, you can set specific reduction goals and make a plan.

Obtain Reusable Alternatives

Giving up plastics completely is very difficult, so focus first on finding reusable alternatives to your most-used single-use plastic items.

For example:

  • Invest in reusable shopping bags. Keep them by the door so you never leave home without them.

  • Get a reusable water bottle you can fill from the tap and take everywhere.

  • Obtain reusable takeout containers and cutlery to use at restaurants.

  • Buy reusable produce bags for loose fruits, vegetables and bulk items.

  • Switch from disposable to reusable coffee cups and tumblers.

  • Carry a collapsible reusable straw in your bag. Many options are silicone, steel or glass.

The key is having these reusable alternatives on-hand at all times so you aren’t tempted by single-use plastics.

Change Your Habits and Routines

Changing ingrained habits and routines is difficult but essential to giving up single-use plastics. Here are some tips:

  • Plan ahead – Before going out, remind yourself to bring reusable bags, containers, straws, etc. Check your bag to make sure they are there.

  • Politely refuse plastic straws, bags, utensils when offered. Request no straw if not needed.

  • Choose to dine-in whenever possible to avoid takeout packaging.

  • Bring your own container for takeout, leftovers, etc.

  • Avoid impulse purchases with excessive plastic packaging. Think through purchases critically.

  • Pack reusable snacks and meals in reusable containers when out for the day.

  • Choose sustainable brands that use less plastic packaging. Support their efforts.

With consistent effort, these habits will become automatic over time.

Support Systemic Changes

While individual actions are important, giving up single-use plastics requires systemic change as well. Support efforts to:

  • Ban problem single-use plastics like bags, straws, and styrofoam takeout containers.

  • Impose fees on single-use items to incentivize reusables.

  • Standardize reusable takeout container systems.

  • Require reusable dishware for dine-in restaurant customers.

  • Increase availability of plastic-free shopping options.

  • Improve recycling and composting options and accessibility.

  • Hold companies accountable for excessive plastic packaging.

Contact your representatives, vote in favor of anti-plastic initiatives, and publicly demand corporations reduce single-use plastics.

Offset Occasional Plastic Use

Despite your best efforts, you may end up using some single-use plastics on occasion. When this happens, offset that plastic use through these actions:

  • Participate in clean-up efforts – remove trash from beaches, parks, neighborhoods, etc.

  • Volunteer or donate to environmental organizations fighting plastic pollution.

  • Talk to family and friends about this issue and actions they can take. Spread awareness.

  • Write to companies urging them to reduce plastic packaging and use recyclable or compostable materials.

  • Support plastic bag taxes, bottle deposits, and other environmental laws.

  • Choose sustainable brands and products when possible. Reward positive change.

View occasional slips as an opportunity to do more good. Channel any frustration into meaningful action against plastic pollution.

Stay Motivated for the Long-Term

Giving up single-use plastics is an ongoing effort requiring long-term commitment. Here are some tips to stay motivated:

  • Learn about the scale of plastic pollution and its impacts to remind yourself why this matters.

  • Track and celebrate reductions in your personal plastic waste. Seeing progress is rewarding.

  • Share your efforts on social media to inspire others. Have friendly competitions with friends.

  • Educate children early on about responsible plastic use. Set a good example.

  • Consider the money saved by using reusables instead of constantly buying disposable.

  • Appreciate the convenience of grab-and-go reusables like water bottles and coffee cups in your daily routine.

  • Focus on one change at a time. Small, gradual steps are more sustainable.

With persistence and passion, giving up single-use plastics is an achievable goal. The rewards for the planet make it more than worthwhile.


Single-use plastics are pervasive, but not an essential part of our lives. With intention and effort, we can break free of wasteful plastic habits. It requires forethought, habit changes and advocacy for larger system change. But the impacts are tremendously positive for the environment. Give yourself credit for each plastic-free choice made. Together, our actions can stem the tide of plastic pollution for a healthier planet.