Managing Your Personal Plastic Footprint

Plastic vs. Carbon

You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint” before in reference to how much your lifestyle contributes to creating the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. In the same vein, your plastic footprint is the metric used to judge how much plastic you will contribute to the global trash pile.

Obviously, the two go hand-in-hand. In fact, one of the best ways to start reducing your carbon footprint is by diminishing your plastic use. That’s because plastic production is one of the most significant sources of carbon dioxide production on the planet. But plastic’s effect on your carbon footprint is just the beginning.

On average, a regular PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle takes 450 years to degrade. Other types of plastics can take up to 1000 years. In other words, not only does our plastic consumption contribute to climate change, but our bottles, straws and bags will also outlive us several times over.

While our individual efforts often seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the production and pollution of large corporations, avoiding single-use plastics is a step everyone can take. Here are some methods to help reduce your plastic footprint on a personal level.

Reusable utensils with takeout:

Humans are creatures of convenience, and takeout is one of our ultimate creations in that regard. Unfortunately, takeout is usually packaged in plastic, carried in plastic, and consumed with plastic.

By turning down the single-use cutlery offered with your meal and instead using reusable forks, spoons and chopsticks, you can help cut down on your waste. If you want to take it a step further, bring a reusable container with you the next time you go out to dinner and ask to pack any leftovers in that instead of a single-use Styrofoam box.

Reusable bags:

Plastic bags clog sewers and storm drains, litter streets and contaminate our oceans, where they’re eaten by fish and suffocate seabirds. Keep reusable bags in your home, car and at work to cut back on your footprint – specifically, your plastic footprint

Experts still argue whether or not plastic bag bans and the focus on reusable bags are actually better for the environment, greenhouse gases-wise. After all, plastic bags are small, light and easy to transport whereas shipping an equivalent number of reusable bags takes a lot more fuel, space and energy.

Be Toiletry Aware:

Toothbrushes! Everyone has one, and they’re almost universally disposable. Instead of buying a pack of plastic toothbrushes and tossing them out after you’re done with them, look into a bamboo or electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are more efficient and produce less waste than regular plastic, while bamboo toothbrushes are compostable (though you may have to trim off the bristles!)

Safety razors are a great alternative to disposable razors and razor heads. Hold on to the dull blades after switching them out, and when you have enough to fill a small glass jar, take them off to be recycled!

Cotton swabs – the eponymous Q-Tips – often end up polluting the environment after being used to clean ears or apply creams or ointments. Next time you’re buying a box, look for the ones with paper sticks instead of plastic. They’re much quicker to degrade and work just as well.

Raise Your Reusable Goblet:

Humans drink a lot. Whether its coffee, water or something in between, the combination of a reusable mug and reusable water bottle can help you drastically reduce your plastic footprint. Bring your own mug to Starbucks or Tim Hortons and ask them to fill it for you. Keep a water bottle handy at your desk to fill at the cooler. You can even pick up a stainless steel or glass straw for those hot days when you’re opting for iced coffee.


Reducing your plastic use isn’t too difficult – but it can be frustrating when comparing your impact to that of corporations and governments. Despite this, by swapping out a few single-use plastics for reusable options, you can significantly reduce your personal plastic footprint and encourage others to do the same. The more that do, the more pressure can be put on the powers that be to do the same.