12 Ways Your Fellow Angelenos Are Reducing Their Plastic Waste

This is me (on the left) standing next to a mountain of trash at a recycling plant in Anaheim. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

My family recently made an effort to cut out single-use plastic from our life. Or at least, to reduce it significantly.

We're certainly not the first people to do this. We wanted to draw on the collective knowledge and experience of our fellow Southern Californians. So we asked you to share your thoughts on plastic waste and strategies for reducing it.

In general, while many recognized the incredible usefulness of plastic for some things, many respondents voiced concerns about the effects of plastic waste on sealife, human health and the urban environment around us.

Recycling is great, but waste management leaders recognize that a lot of plastic simply isn't or can't be recycled.

Not littering is, well, obvious. But who hasn't stuffed a granola bar wrapper into their pocket only to find later that it fell out? I have.

"Take a walk outside, anywhere you live in L.A. You'll find something made of plastic within seconds — something that probably has not been deliberately littered, but something that has blown out of a trash can or broken down into smaller pieces," wrote L.A. resident Kim Riley.

Here are some strategies you suggested for reducing our personal and collective plastic waste:

Refuse first: Do you really need those plastic forks from the take-out place when you were planning to eat at home anyway? Many of you told us to "just say no." When LAist reader Les Amer ends up with plastic utensils, "I give them a wash or at least a rinse, and then use them over again."

Buy produce in reusable bags: Lots of Angelenos suggested using cloth bags or washing and reusing plastic bags. Tamar Christensen said if she forgets her bags, she puts vegetables right in her shopping cart. "In either case, I have no need for disposable bags, even when I forget (reusables)," she said. (Just make sure you wash them regularly.)

Buy in bulk: Many grocery stores have bulk sections. Reusable containers or cloth bags work great for everything from granola to sugar to pistachios. But many of you said you wished more products were available in bulk.

"I have been to other countries where people take their containers with them to the store to buy products such as milk and detergent," said Pasadena resident Reynold Watkins. "I would be 100% willing to do the same if the option were available."

Some local businesses, like BYO Long Beach and Sustain LA, do offer detergent in bulk, along with other cleaning and personal care products.

A mountain of trash at a recycling plant in Anaheim. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Be prepared: Carry a reusable water bottle, hot drink mug and set of utensils. Keep shopping bags in your car. What else might you need to avoid throw-away plastic items? "Planning out my day and bringing things that I think I will need has helped dramatically," wrote Burbank resident Kelsi Payne.

L.A. resident Raj Patel said he's adopted a "BYO (Bring Your Own) mentality." He even carries a tiffin container for leftovers when he goes out to eat.

Recycle smartly: Find out what is actually recyclable from your city or waste management company. Burbank resident Tracy Larson said she has educated herself about what can and can't be recycled.

"I clean out what can be recycled and don't wishfully recycle things that I know can't go in the bin," Larson said. She added that she tries to reuse containers a few times before recycling. Also:

  • Take clear, clean plastic bags back to grocery stores for recycling. The American Chemistry Council has guidelines for recycling plastic bags and film.
  • Check out TerraCycle for hard-to-recycle items.

Collect pet waste with used bags: Devin Berman from Buena Park said she uses chip bags or other used plastic bags to pick up dog poop and kitty litter. Laura Santos uses newspaper to pick up and dispose of pet waste.

Be conscious of the plastic in your clothes: Many synthetic fibers include plastic. Seek out clothes made from cotton and other natural fibers, buy used clothing or swap with friends. L.A. resident Nicole Robertson said her concerns about clothing waste led her to stop buying clothes eight years ago. "It also inspired me to start a clothing swap business to help other people mix up their wardrobes in a more sustainable way," Roberton said.

A number of clothing stores also let you drop off used clothing for recycling.

Vote with your dollar: Cheryl Procaccini from Laguna Beach said that she asks restaurant owners, farmers' market vendors and other businesses she frequents to find sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic. "We refuse to do business with those who don't," Procaccini wrote. "We write bad reviews for businesses that are using plastic, and say why, and write positive reviews for businesses using sustainable products."

Plastic film, bags and packaging are among the hardest and least valuable to recycle. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Spread the word: Jillian Mayo said her main strategy for trying to live more sustainably is "doing so out loud. Voicing your values, engaging with local businesses to encourage earth-friendly practices, and welcoming discussion with others who have knowledge to share, are curious about living more sustainably, or for whom the subject has never crossed their minds."

Encourage producers to be responsible for waste: Several people mentioned the concept of "extended producer responsibility," or holding product makers accountable for the lifespan of their product.

Martin Stone from Indio wrote that municipal garbage collection services ought not to be responsible for figuring out what to do with a manufacturer's disposable packaging. "I believe that all manufacturers ought to be responsible for everything they produce from cradle to grave."

Pasadena resident Jonathan Levy wrote, "If they were responsible for the disposal of their products, we would see a pretty immediate and dramatic reduction of single-use items from landfill and the environment."

Small changes can make a big difference: Anne Bannon worried that the thought of going completely plastic-free could scare people away from making even small changes.

"We consider this a marathon, not a sprint," she wrote. "Given just how prevalent plastic is, it takes a lot of time and effort to keep it out of the house in the first place. We just keep working at it, making small changes that will stick rather than worry about being perfect."

Thanks everyone for writing in! If you've got more tips, leave them in the comments below.