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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

A few months ago, I found an article about Laura Singer, a girl in NYC, who has not made any trash in two years. Seriously, no trash. Everything she uses can be reused, recycled, or composted. Laura switched to this lifestyle, (called “zero waste”) because she wanted to live a life that better reflected her values of sustainability- and environmentally-friendly practices. One of the major ways that Laura achieved this lifestyle was by eliminating all of the plastic in her life.

While reading her article, I thought to myself, what’s so bad about plastic? Well, it turns out, there’s a lot:

First of all, almost all plastics contain harmful chemicals that are emitted when heated in the microwave, dishwasher, or just sitting out in the sun. Plastic also doesn’t break down easily, as it’s not biodegradable. It can take anywhere from 500-1000 years for plastic to break down. And when it does, it can absorb even more harmful chemicals, including pesticides.

Even though plastic bottles say they’re recyclable, in reality only about five percent of the plastic we use is recovered, and at least fifty percent is buried in landfills. A lot of plastic, billions of pounds of it, also ends up in the ocean, which is enough to kill one million sea birds and one hundred thousand sea mammals a year.

Even though plastic has been proven to have terrible impacts on the environment and on our health, it’s still everywhere. So many foods, drinks, clothing items, toiletries, toys, books, and items of furniture are packaged or made with plastic. The process of eliminating plastic from your life definitely happens over time, but there are a couple easy ways you can get started! Here are few methods of eliminating plastic that I think work perfectly for college students:

1. Reusable Shopping Bags

You’ve probably seen a lot of people use these in stores already, but using cloth or canvas reusable bags instead of plastic store bags can be a great way of eliminating some of your plastic waste. A lot of grocery stores already sell them, but you can also find a really cute collection of them on ModCloth.

If you want to reduce your plastic while shopping even more, you may want to try using reusable bags for produce as well. Instead of using the plastic bags grocery stores provide to hold fruit and vegetables, you can buy reusable cloth bags online or make your own.

2. Reusable Water Bottles

In the United States, 35 billion water bottles are thrown out a year, so cutting those bottles out of your life would be another great way to eliminate waste. There are so many places on campus where you can fill up your water bottle that you don’t even really need to buy plastic ones. You can get a reusable water bottle (made from either glass or stainless steel) that lasts for years, not just something that’s thrown away from one use. 

3. Mason Jars/Glass Tupperware

When stealing food from the dining halls or bringing lunch to class, try swapping out your plastic Tupperware for either a Mason jar or a glass food container. They’re really easy to clean, don’t get grossly stained like some plastic containers can get, and don’t leech harmful chemicals into your food.

4. Homemade cosmetics

Instead of buying stuff like toothpaste and deodorant that are almost always packaged in plastic, you can make your own really easily. There are a ton of recipes online for this stuff; they’ve been proven to work really well, can be stored in a reusable container, and are sometimes actually cheaper than buying the already-made product! Here are a couple of recipes for toothpaste, makeup remover, lip balm, face toner, and deodorant that you may want to try.

Next time you’re getting a water bottle or buying some cosmetics, consider finding an alternative to plastic. Even if you just do one of these steps to reduce your plastic use, it really can go a long way! We can all make a difference for the environment, one resuable water bottle at a time.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Rachel is an English major and a Senior at UMass Amherst, a student assistant at W.E.B. Dubois Library, an expert at procrastinating and tripping over stuff, and likes dinosaurs, tea, video games, and all things sparkly.
Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst