BOISE, Idaho — More than 150 million tons of single-use plastics are generated each year in the U.S. alone and on average, each American throws away 185 pounds plastic every year.
That's according to statistics provided by the city of Boise, which is launching its "Plastics Challenge" in July.
Colin Hickman, the city's communications manager, said the goal is to start a conversation about the bigger picture when it comes to plastic use and sustainability.
“The amount that if you just think about a day, a week, a month, how much plastic and then you multiply that by 73,000-plus homes in Boise, you can imagine how much plastic that is," he said. "And that’s just our city.”
Knowing whether a product is reusable or recyclable can be an overwhelming process. That's why the challenge aims to educate people and get them to focus on one specific thing to eliminate for one month.
“If we can kind of get back to what they taught in school which is the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ – if we can get back up to that 'Reduce' and start talking about how can we buy less of this material? How can we use less of that material?" Hickman said. "Then we’ll be a lot less susceptible to these changes we’re seeing in the recycling markets and it’ll be better for our community and make for a more sustainable Boise.”
So what are some ways to reduce plastic use? The Boise Co-op said to start by asking yourself, "Do I really need to use plastic for this?"
Mo Valko, the Co-op's marketing manager, said one of the most common wastes of plastic they see are plastic grocery bags.
Valko said an easy fix is to always have paper bags or reusable cloth bags in your car so you don't have to use plastic bags.
Another popular use of plastic the Co-op sees is in the produce section.
"I think a lot of us have a tendency if we’re buying an onion or buying potatoes, to put each of those in their own separate plastic bags," she said. "But a lot of those things, you get home and you take them right out of the plastic bag anyway. So that’s a really easy way to reduce plastic.”
Valko added another major culprit is plastic water bottles.
According to the same statistics provided by the City of Boise, more than 100 million plastic water bottles are used in the U.S. every day.
But Valko said places like the Co-op have ways to help you avoid using single-use water bottles.
“We do have a bulk water fill station here," she said. "So we have a lot of customers who will come in and fill like two to five gallon containers with water and that’s a great way to just refill at home.”
Lea Rainey, with Roots Zero Waste Market in Garden City, said another good tip is to look at everyday items you use and see what it would look like if you eliminated the plastic component.
“Anytime you can avoid those single-use plastics and not take on straws, maybe take your own straws, or just say no to a straw if you can.," Rainey said. "Bring your own utensils. We all have utensils at home, so you don’t have to go out and buy new stuff, you just use the things that you have.”
Roots Zero Waste Market offers several products to help eliminate everyday plastics in the home, like shampoo and body wash bars instead of plastic bottles. It also sells bamboo toothbrushes and reusable laundry soap containers.
Rainey said there are shops like them around where similar products can be purchased.
Right now, Roots Zero is at the Garden City Farmers Market each week, but the market plans to open its own brick-and-mortar store on Chinden Boulevard at the end of August, providing another eco-friendly source for consumers.
Valko said when it comes to reducing the use of plastic, every person can make a difference, even if you don't realize it.
“It might feel like you don’t have a big impact individually but when everyone is working to reduce their usage, it actually makes a huge impact on the environment," she said.
To sign up for the Plastics Challenge, go to the city's website and fill out the form. The city said it will email advice each week to help complete the challenge. Progress can be posted on social media using #BoisePlasticsChallenge.
For help and information on what can be recycled and how, check out KTVB's recycling guide.