Don’t Go Plastic; Go Reusable!

We all use our fair share of single-use things. Coffee cups, plastic plates, water bottles, straws, packaging—the list goes on and on. We’ve all heard the spiel of not using these single-use plastics, or any plastics at all, since they harm the environment. But how many people actually know why? I’m here to explain.

What is plastic?

Most plastics are made of polyethylene. This is created from a naturally occurring gas, ethylene, derived from the petroleum creation process. There are two common types of polyethylene: low-density and high-density. Low-density polyethylene is used to make thin plastic films such as lamination sheets, plastic shopping bags, and dispensing containers like the ones used for ketchup and mustard. Most of the items created with low-density polyethylene are single-use plastics. These items can be recycled, but they must be clean first. High-density is used to create things like garbage cans, milk cartons, and plastic cutting boards. It can also be used to create reusable water bottles, such as Nalgenes. Nalgenes also use polycarbonate, which reinforces the plastic to make the bottle more durable.

Why are they bad for the environment?

The polyethylene used to make plastics, regardless of the type, is harmful for the environment. Although polyethylene is made of a natural substance, it does not break down. The polyethylene interferes with anything that is in any way biodegradable or compostable that ended up in a landfill; this includes things like a rogue banana peel or a piece of paper. If these items can break down, then they create more and more gross landfill, which is designed to not break down.

What can I do to help?

The good news is that there is a lot that you can do! You can start by reducing the amount of single-use plastics that you use. Instead of taking a disposable plastic cup for water at an event, bring your own reusable water bottle. We have refilling stations for reusable water bottles all over campus—utilize them to their full potential! Additionally, Hoover offers green to-go boxes! They are a great alternative to using the disposable cardboard containers, which are actually reinforced with Teflon. They are actually green—both the color and the fact that they are reusable—and they are sturdier than the disposable takeout boxes. You have 72 hours to return the box after it has been checked out. Do all that you can—you will not regret it!

What if I’m a broke college student who can’t afford fancy reusable containers?

Generally, reusable products are thought of as more expensive (for example, Hydro Flask water bottles), but there are GREAT alternatives. If you go to your nearest Walmart, you can find a plethora of inexpensive and pretty high quality reusable water bottles, mugs, and containers. My personal favorites are Nalgene water bottles, which are usually around $10. Yes, these use plastic, but Nalgenes have a lifetime warranty, so they are very sturdy. I also love the BUILT brand of mugs and bottles, which are usually around $9-10 and are made mostly of stainless steel.

If you take one thing away from this piece, let it be that there are so many good options for doing good for the environment, and they won’t break the bank. Buy a reusable mug for your coffee. Use green to-go boxes. Refuse a plastic bag and bring your own instead. It is in our hands to make the world a better place in any way possible, so just take a small step. After all, that’s how all humans learn to walk and grow into people who can run marathons.