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Mesh Bags
Colorful string shopping bags.

1. swap out your water bottle

Americans drink more bottled water than milk or beer. Which is insane, considering that water comes out of the tap for pennies and buying water bottles is literally buying trash. The companies that sell you bottled water aren't actually selling you water--many use the same filtered H2O we get in our homes. What are they selling you? A single-use plastic bottle. 

The more sustainable solution, both for the environment and for your pocketbook? Get a reusable water bottle! There are lots of glass and metal water bottles you can buy new, but don't be afraid to step into your local thrift store and nab a great find!

2. ditch paper towels

Here's another one that will save you both money and plastic. When you think about it, paper towels are kind of funny. It's a towel...made of paper. So it's not designed to be used over and over again, it's designed to be thrown away after one use. It's designed to be trash. Trash that is wrapped in plastic no less! 

Do yourself a favor and switch to something reusable. Cut up old clothes for rags, buy reusable paper towels (yes, that's a thing!), or sew up your own. Keep a stack of them somewhere in your kitchen, and you'll be ready to clean up any mess that comes your way. Just throw the towels in with your regular laundry!

3. switch to bar soaps

This is an easy swap that takes no effort to implement, but can sometimes be overlooked. Soap, shampoo, laundry soap, shaving cream, dish soap--you name it, it's a bar! A lot of our cleaning products come in plastic packaging, and there's really no need for it. A bar of soap (or any of the others listed above) will often last longer than a plastic bottle of soap, and can be bought completely package free. There are lots of local soap makers, too, so shop around the stores and farmers markets to find your favorite scent!

4. rethink the way you make coffee and tea

How do you make your favorite morning beverage? Do you pick up your coffee from the café or gas station? Do you make a pot of tea from several tea bags? Do you have a Keurig for the whole family? Good old-fashioned drip? However you like your pick-me-up in the morning, there's a way to make it plastic free. Get your coffee beans or tea leaves in bulk and brew them in a French press. Buy reusable k-cups. Bring a thermos for the barista to fill. Maybe you'll want to branch out and try using a moka pot, aeropress, or chemex. Use a tea ball or reusable tea bag. Opt for a paper or cloth coffee filter. The options are endless!

Steaming cup of morning coffee.

5. say no to bags and straws

No, one plastic straw is not going to save the world. But saying no to a plastic straw or bag at the grocery store does a few things. For one, it sends a message that the status quo is not okay. It also keeps us in the habit of thinking about our waste. But most importantly, it keeps that plastic from polluting our ecosystems. There are 7.5 million plastic straws littered on America's coastlines alone. There are 160,000 plastic bags used globally every second. Refusing plastic straws and bags may not solve the entire problem, but it solves part of it. 

6. look for alternatives to plastic containers

You're in the grocery store, looking at peanut butter. In both hands you hold delicious, creamy goodness. But their packaging is different. One is plastic, the other is glass. You hesitate to compare the prices, but you look and--they're the same price. Score! Not every decision will be as easy as this one, but there are often alternatives to plastic in the grocery stores. Look for condiments, oils, spices, flours, vinegars, sweeteners, etc. in glass or paper. Chances are they're on the shelf!

Eventually you'll have a very large collection of glass jars. Do not despair. These can be used to keep produce fresh in the fridge, store leftovers in the freezer, as containers for bulk foods, as drinking glasses, as organizers in your bathroom, and in a myriad of craft projects smattered all over the internet. Glass jars are your friend. But if you do get sick of them, you can send them to the recycling facility knowing that glass can be infinitely recycled

7. shop secondhand when you can

Think of it as "preloved." And it needn't be limited to the clothes racks at thrift stores! There are tons of ways to reuse instead of buying new. Combing through antique stores, borrowing a neighbor's tool for the one time you'll need it instead of buying new, seeking out scratch-and-dent appliances and perfectly good phones that are a generation old, checking out books from your library or buying a used book, going to eBay before Amazon (and filter by "used")--the options are endless! With a little bit of mindfulness and creativity, you can save on plastic packaging, energy, water, transportation, and the raw materials associated with buying something new.

8. compost your biodegradables

You may not be a gardener, but you can still compost! It's a simple way to keep biodegradable waste out of our landfills, which is important if we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent new landfills from being developed, which take a lot of time, money, and resources away from projects that could better serve our communities. Compost can even be used to revitalize ecosystems that have been damaged by the production and "disposal" of plastics! If you're not sure where to start with composting, don't worry! There's an easy to follow step-by-step guide that can get you going. (And if you're not a gardener, we can promise you that any of your gardening friends would be more than happy to take your completed compost off your hands! On the slim chance that they already have more compost than they know what to do with, you could donate it to a local community garden.)

Hands holding composted soil and wriggling earthworms.

9. store food in reusable containers

Plastic zip bags are useful, no doubt. But there are other ways of storing food! Instead of tossing your leftover cut-up veggies into a plastic bag, put them into a reusable food storage container or a glass jar. Get your asparagus and kale from the store without a produce bag and stick the ends in a jar of water. Cover the bowl of your rising pizza dough with a plate instead of plastic wrap. However you keep food--pause before you use plastic! There's probably an alternative already in your kitchen!

10. get involved

Have you ever sent a letter to your favorite (but seemingly plastic obsessed) company? Have you held a sign at a protest or called your representative? Have you ever come to a Viroqua Plastic Free meeting? As gratifying as it can be to watch our personal plastic footprint shrinking, that's no place to stop what we're doing and give ourselves a pat on the back! Tackling the plastic crisis means not only working from the ground up, but also from the top down. Petitioning governments, businesses, and representatives, using our talents to call attention to the problem, and collaborating with like-minded members of our communities give us many avenues to our destination--a future free from plastic.

So how can you get involved? Can you create community art to raise awareness of plastic pollution? Can you sign a petition or call your representative? Can you collaborate with your neighbors to create a neighborhood garden exchange to cut back on your trips to the grocery store? 

If you're looking for somewhere to start, to really get your hands dirty in our local fight against plastic pollution, consider coming to one of our meetings! We currently meet every other Wednesday afternoon in Room 207 at Youth Initiative High School. Contact us at for more information. We look forward to meeting you!

Woman collecting plastic litter in the woods.
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