Plus, reusable market bags, shampoo bars, silicone straws, and more tricks to help eliminate single-use plastic in your life for the sake of the environment.

By Susan Brickell
July 22, 2020
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The sad reality is that you can go to any beach in the country and are guaranteed to find some kind of plastic littering the shoreline or floating on the water's surface. Even sadder? You're still not even seeing a fraction of the damage that's actually being done: Eight million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans annually—which is a ghastly 17.6 billion pounds each year, or the equivalent of almost 57,000 blue whales, according to Conservation International. And if it continues at this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Scary, right?

If you thought that was the worst of it, buckle your seat belt. Ocean trash can be broken down into smaller, naked-to-the-eye pieces (known as microplastic) by way of the sun and waves. Microorganisms then consume this microplastic, and it finds its way up the food chain through fish, birds, and aquatic life—and back to humans. When microplastic eventually degrades—this takes 400 years for most plastic—the break down releases chemicals into the sea, which causes even more contamination.

Freaking you out yet? Well, even the smallest switch to reusable gear can lead to big impacts on our planet. Plastic-Free July is currently happening right now, and while the campaign empowers people to forgo single-use plastic for the month of July, its goal is to make an impact year-round (and for many years to come) by helping people find and commit to better, more sustainable long-term habits. (Related: These Eco-Friendly Amazon Buys Will Help Reduce Your Daily Waste)

What Is Plastic-Free July?

ICYDK, Plastic-Free July is a movement that encourages people across the globe to reduce their single-use plastic waste for a day, a week or the entire month of July—whether it be at home, school, work, or local businesses, including cafés and restaurants.

"Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution–so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities," the website states.

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz created the first Plastic Free July challenge in 2011 with a small team in Australia, and it has since grown into a global movement with over 250 million participants in 177 countries. Prince-Ruiz has had her hand in environmental and waste management for 25 years and is working passionately toward a world without plastic waste. She also founded the not-for-profit Plastic-Free Foundation Ltd in 2017. (Related: I Tried Creating Zero Waste for One Week to See How Hard Being Sustainable Really Is)

Do Your Part with These Plastic-Free Products

It's not too late to participate in Plastic-Free July! And remember, it's meant to inspire and empower you to find great alternatives now that can become your new future habits. Even small individual changes—like switching to a reusable water bottle or taking your own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store—can add up, when made collectively, and make a *huge* difference in communities. So, keep scrolling for a few tips and tricks to eliminating single-use plastic in your life for the sake of the environment.

The Stainless Steel Water Bottle

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While Hydro Flask has been offering plastic-free alternatives for 11 years, its new #RefillForGood campaign aims to take its commitment to sustainability even further. Refill For Good encourages people everywhere with simple, achievable steps toward eliminating plastics from their daily lives. And what better time to start than summer, when it's essential to stay hydrated?

Not only can switching to a reusable flask save you money every year, but it has a positive impact on the environment. "If one person switches to using a reusable water bottle, approximately 217 plastic water bottles will be saved from going to a landfill that year, " according to Hydro Flask's site. As an added bonus (besides helping to save the planet, of course), if you invest in one of Hydro Flask's BPA-free, no-sweat, stainless steel bottles, it'll keep your drinks icy cold for 24 hours or steaming hot for 12 hours.

The Silicone Straw Set

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The United States uses millions of single-use plastic straws a day—and plastic straws are among the top 10 contributors to plastic marine debris across the globe. (And here's a cringe-worthy fact: Almost 7.5 million plastic straws were found on U.S. shorelines during a five-year cleanup research project.) Fortunately, there has been a serious shift to change this with many cafés and restaurants getting rid of plastic coffee stirs and switching to paper straws in the last year.

To help efforts to eliminate single-use plastic straws, opt for BPA-free reusable silicone straws. This set of 12 straws has no funky odor or taste, comes in a variety of pretty pastel shades, and also includes four carrying cases for ultimate portability (just pop it in your purse, briefcase, or carry on), and two brushes for easy cleaning. (Related: 12 Brilliant Eco-Friendly Eating Supplies)

The Bamboo Toothbrush

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According to research by Foreo, one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the United States, accounting for 50 million pounds of waste added to landfills. If an electric toothbrush is not your jam, ditch your plastic habit and choose a bamboo alternative.

This toothbrush is better for the environment—even down to the packaging. It features a bamboo body, soft, plant-based bristles (read: made from a vegetable oil base), and compostable plant-based packaging—and will last just as long as your plastic brush.

The Reusable Market Bag

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Nearly two million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute (!!), and these bags can take thousands of years to degrade in landfills, according to the Earth Policy Institute in 2015.

Instead of continuing this cycle, keep a few reusable shopping bags at home to take with you to the grocery store and on errands. These pure cotton, biodegradable mesh market bags, in particular, are not only stylish but also incredibly durable—and can support up to 40 pounds.

The Shampoo Bar

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The beauty industry creates 120 billion units of packaging annually, and packaging is the number one offender for plastic waste pollution. In fact, 2015 research found that packaging accounted for 146 million tonnes of plastic every year.

To combat plastic waste, swap your plastic shampoo bottles for something more sustainable, like Ethique's shampoo bars. These pH-balanced, soap-free beauty bars boast biodegradable ingredients and are wrapped in compostable packaging so they leave no trace on the environment. If you're thinking you'll get more bang for your buck with your go-to shampoo bottle, you're wrong: The bars are super concentrated and are equivalent to three bottles of liquid shampoo. Also great? There are bars suitable to all hair types, including options that target oily tresses, add volume, and are gentle enough for touchy scalps. (Related: 10 Beauty Buys On Amazon That Help Reduce Waste)

The Portable Flatware Set

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More than 100 million pieces of plastic utensils are used by Americans daily, and they can take thousands of years to decompose in landfills, leaking harmful substances into the earth while they break down.

When ordering takeout, be sure to opt-out of receiving plastic utensils and invest in a portable flatware set to take with you to school, the office, camping, picnicking, and traveling. This 8-piece stainless steel set includes everything you might need for an on-the-go meal, including a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, two straws, a straw-cleaning brush, and a convenient carrying case. It's available in nine finishes, including the gorgeous rainbow set pictured.

The Insulated Food Jar

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Containers and packaging alone contribute over 23 percent of the material reaching landfills in the U.S., and some of these discarded materials are food-related containers and packaging, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, sadly, packaging makes up a majority of the litter that ends up on our beaches and in other waterways, which is incredibly harmful to fish, birds, and other aquatic life.

Choose an insulated food jar like this one from Stanley in place of plastic food containers at home. The 14-ounce vacuum food jar is leak-proof, packable, and keeps your food hot or cold for up to eight hours—perfect for storing leftovers in your fridge or taking your lunch to work or school.

The Wool Legging

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Plastic exists in the clothing you wear, too. (Sneaky, isn't it?) The majority of clothing today (approximately 60 percent) is made from plastic fabrics, such as polyester, rayon, acrylic, spandex, and nylon. Every time you wash your clothes in a washing machine, tiny microfibers (which are invisible to the naked eye) are released and end up in rivers, lakes, oceans, and soils—which can then be consumed by microorganisms and work their way up the food chain (even to humans). Microfibers are one of the biggest sources of microplastic pollution in the ocean, according to the Surfrider Foundation. (Read more: How to Shop for Sustainable Activewear)

While Icebreaker already uses 84 percent natural fibers, the company is announcing a goal this fall of being "plastic-free by 2023." You may not have the finances to make over your wardrobe to be completely plastic-free, but you can start to make conscious buying decisions and invest in 100 percent natural pieces that are also good for the environment, including Icebreaker's 200 Oasis leggings. Made of merino wool, this base layer is breathable, odor-resistant, and ideal for pairing with ski boots or winter footwear, thanks to its capri-length design. (Related: 10 Sustainable Activewear Brands Worth Breaking a Sweat In)

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