Reducing Single-Use Plastics

It’s been just over a year since New Jersey passed its law restricting single-use plastic bags and straws and limiting the use of other products, including paper carryout bags and polystyrene foam food containers. According to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, during the past year:

  • An estimated 5.5 billion single-use plastic bags and 110 million single-use paper bags were eliminated from entering the waste stream and environment between May and December 2022.

  • There has been over a 37% decrease in single-use plastic bags, foam food containers, and straws found as litter along the Jersey shore.

  • Plastic straws purchased by convenience stores for distribution to customers have reduced from 17 million to 2 million per month.

Separately, the Association of New Jersey Recyclers estimates that the state has achieved a 50% recycling rate for plastic containers numbered 1, 2, and 5, which is a big achievement. In Westfield, our Conservation Center provides residents with a means to effectively recycle number 5 plastics, which can’t be picked up for recycling curbside, and a program to recycle clean plastic bags/film (e.g., bubble wrap, dry cleaning film, newspaper sleeves, plastic bags, produce bags, and resealable bags). For more information and the latest program availability, visit the Conservation Center page.


What other steps can we take to reduce single-use plastics consumption? 

Getting off our single-use plastic dependency is not going to be easy. And while systemic change is needed to stop the flow of single-use plastic waste ending up in the environment, there are simple actions we can all take, including the following, that will have a positive impact:

Drink from glass or metal: Choose a stainless water bottle or travel mug; bring your own reusable stainless straws; opt for a French press in place of single-use coffee pods; buy juice and milk in glass containers (even paper cartons are plastic lined and not recyclable locally).

Rethink your food storage: Store and reheat foods in non-plastic containers; bring your own containers to restaurants to pack leftovers; bring your own reusable cutlery on the go; opt for food packaged in paper, glass, or cans.

Avoid unnecessary toxins in the laundry: Choose powder laundry detergent over liquid; ditch the fabric softener and dryer sheets and try reusable dryer balls; avoid detergent pods or strips, as they contain polyvinyl alcohol, a plastic that ends up polluting our waterways.

Reassess personal care and clothing choices: Avoid products made with chemicals or plastics (if you can’t understand the ingredients, don’t buy it); consider switching to shampoo and conditioner bars or refilling your personal care products; try out thrifting for clothing (and save!); consider clothing from ethical and fair-trade brands that use less plastic and create less waste. 

By making small changes that become habits overtime, we can all do our part to reduce single-use plastics consumption.