Lifestyle

7 summer plastic traps to avoid

Avoiding plastic is a year-round endeavor, but it seems particularly challenging during summer, thanks to the profusion of cheap, summer-themed plastic crap that clogs the entrance of every store. Many of these items are short-lived, breaking easily or simply becoming redundant by the end of the season. If you haven’t invested much in it, what’s the point in storing it all year long? Into the trash it goes.

But it doesn’t have to be like that! You can break the plastic addiction cycle by refusing to buy these items, seeking out alternatives, or investing in higher-quality, longer-lasting items that you’ll use for many seasons. Here are some easy ways to start.

If you’re heading out on a picnic or hosting a backyard barbecue, please forego the disposables. Plastic cutlery, straws, plates, and cups are not necessary. All have perfectly functional (arguably, better functioning) reusable alternatives. Ask your guests to bring their own dishes and cutlery, or set up a quick-wash station outdoors for people to do their own cleanup. If you must have disposables, opt for paper plates and cups (never plastic or Styrofoam) and wooden cutlery. (See here for ideas.) Same goes for straws and those awful disposable plastic tablecloths and clips.

Read: 9 tips for Zero Waste entertaining this summer

With a bit of planning, it’s entirely possible to take a road trip without generating any plastic trash. Start by putting together a zero-waste travel kit and keeping it in your car or backpack. Prepare your snacks in advance, stashing in glass jars or reusable containers. Not only will you reduce waste, but you’ll also save money and eat healthier. Didn’t Michael Pollan write that you should never fuel your body at a place where you fuel your car? Wise words.

Avoid single-use plastic water bottles at all costs. Travel with a refillable water bottle and insulated coffee mug. If you forget these, take a few moments to stop at a café to drink tap water or coffee on the spot; it takes hardly any time at all, and yet few people in North America ever consider this very European approach to hydration.

Better yet, you could take a page from my uncle’s book and travel with a tiny pocket-sized stove and mocha pot in the trunk. He stops for spontaneous coffee breaks along the side of the road or when he stops to charge his Tesla.

You’re probably saying, “What! Summer without flip-flops?” It may sound like a travesty, but this comfy footwear is an ecological nightmare. You don’t have to look at many images of beach trash to see countless sad, lonely flip-flops littered throughout the heap. They are non-recyclable and long-lasting in the worst sense – lingering on Earth for too long, while not long enough on your feet. Look instead for something natural like Birkenstocks, made with biodegradable cork, leather, and rubber, or check out our suggestions for vegan footwear.

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Pool toys

Plastic blow-up toys, beds, balls, animals, floaties, drink holders, umbrellas, foam noodles, water guns… the list of ways in which to entertain oneself in the pool are endless. At risk of ruining the fun, please take a moment to think about the entire life cycle of such toys before purchasing. What will happen to them after they spring a leak? Can they be repaired? Are they recyclable? Once again, take time to research alternatives. Look for a pure rubber inner tube or buy a higher-density foam flutter board that will last your kid for years, instead of cheap water wings that will spring a leak within weeks.

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Sand toys

Plastic sand toys don’t make a lot of sense because they’re incapable of standing up to kids’ rough use. They turn brittle and crack over time. A better approach is to buy galvanized steel buckets (available in many sizes), gather ceramic flower pots, and provide your kids with a metal spade or trowel for digging. Not only will these last far longer, but your kids will be able to do some real digging. This translates to deeper holes and greater distraction and entertainment at the beach, which means more relaxation for you, the parent. It’s a win-win situation.

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Cheap plastic chairs

My husband still ribs me about the time I purchased used plastic ‘wicker’ furniture at a garage sale, only to discover it was falling apart when we got home. Those awful pieces sat on our patio for a year until finally we carted them away to the dump. Needless to say, I understood that ‘cheaping out’ on furniture wasn’t worth it. Save up for non-plastic furniture that you love – real wood Adirondack-style chairs, metal-framed upholstered patio furniture, wicker settees, folding cloth chairs. (This is precisely why we have no patio furniture, yet.)

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Covert Nine — Strawberry martini with double plastic straws and a plastic stir stick

I’m not talking about edible garnishes – those are always fun – but, rather, the awful plastic gewgaws that appear in so many summer cocktails, like straws, stir-sticks, skewers, and decorative umbrellas. Ask your server not to put those in your drink. And while you’re at it, ask for a glass, not a plastic cup. If s/he says it’s against the policy (which I hear at my local bar after 11 pm, when things get messy on the dance floor), opt for beer, which comes in a returnable glass bottle or recyclable aluminum can. It won’t come with a straw, either, which is yet more evidence of how arbitrary and bizarre our obsession with straws is.

Read: How to banish plastic straws from your life forever

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…or take another peek at 7 summer plastic traps to avoid!

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