High schooler Emily Tamkin is passionate about the environment and community development. Photo courtesy of Emily Tamkin.

High school activist Emily Tamkin is passionate about reducing her environmental footprint. Read on for some of her thoughts on how to reduce single-use plastic in your own lives, and check out the rest of her tips and advice here.

Single-serving snack packages

In packing lunches or grabbing a snack for on the go, the smaller single serving packages are easy and convenient, but with this convenience comes endless plastic packaging. To avoid this, buy snacks in their bulk packaging (which is often far cheaper) and toss them into reusable containers when you get home to have the same hassle free effect when you need to grab a bite to eat.

You can pre-pack your snacks ahead of time so that you still have the grab-and-go convenience without the waste. You can even still use convenient Ziploc bags — just reuse them, and you’ve cut your waste down. Another option is to look for snacks that don’t need to be packaged at all: fruit is a great option here.


Environmentalists, chemists, and medical professionals alike all agree that we need to minimize our balloon usage. In addition to the excessive plastic waste that comes with balloons and the potential harm to animals that comes from their accidental loss, helium is a material in incredibly limited supply here on Earth that is essential for use in MRI machines, in many different types of scientific research, and much more.

For most of your parties, the plastic and helium waste won’t be worth the cute array of balloons. You especially want to avoid balloon releases for events or parties. Although we like to think of balloons floating up to heaven or away into space, they instead end in our wild spaces and oceans and can cause harm and even death to the animals who find them.

Instead of balloons, opt for some more eco-friendly paper decorations and supplies to recycle at the end of the night or keep to use again, for potted flowers, or for repurposed decorations from items you already have at home — Pinterest is full of great ideas!

Microbeads in cleansers

Microbeads are tiny little pieces of plastic found in some face and body cleansers. Using products with them effectively dumps thousands of tiny plastics straight into various water supplies.

Thankfully, many countries such as the United States, Canada, Ireland, and more have begun to ban or have already banned products containing them. It is however still important to check before you potentially buy products containing them abroad as many countries have not yet taken the necessary steps to ban them. Avoiding these products abroad does wonders for the marine life around you as the tiny colorful pieces look like tasty snacks to fish and plankton, and through these animals can fatally make it further up the food chain.

If you love the scrubbing feeling of microbeads, look for natural scrubbers in cleansers, such as apricot kernel.

Plastic freebies

Many conferences, festivals, and other events will give out little plastic freebies or toys. Those pens in a basket at the bank, branded stress-relief balls, low-quality water bottles at a conference, or flimsy plastic sunglasses at a 5K come to mind. In the moment they can look great and fun, but make sure you take a second to consider whether or not you really want them.

Other examples include small toiletries bottles at hotels, toothbrushes and headphones on long flights, and plastic necklaces and beads for events. If they’re going to end up in your recycling or garbage can in a month, maybe it’s not worth it to take them, no one will be offended! Remember that when it comes to waste, nothing is free. If it’s not something you want, just skip it.

Saran Wrap

Saran Wrap is a product that is incredibly easy to avoid. Reusable containers eliminate the need to Saran Wrap plates of food. Just transfer into a reusable container, wash the plate off, and you’re done. The containers are often more convenient for travel with food dishes as well. All in all, just stick to the containers to avoid the need for this excess plastic. This is especially true at home, where it’s easy to repack food into Tupperware. An easy tip for bowls or plates of food is to cover the bowl or plate with another upside-down bowl or plate, which is even easier than Saran Wrap, makes no new dirty dishes, and has no waste.

Overall, the easiest way to reduce your plastic consumption is to reduce the number of purchases you make in general. Almost everything these days comes in a secure packaging that doesn’t do much for the product itself, just feigns convenience when it’s much more cost-friendly and much better for the environment to bring your own containers and avoid unnecessary purchases. The net impact that unnecessary purchases and packaging has on the environment is huge. These little purchases very rarely add to your overall happiness and very frequently pile up as waste in your home or trash can.

When you do need to purchase plastic, ensure at all costs that it gets recycled. Be sure to follow recycling guidelines for your city or town – it may assuage your guilt to dump everything into the recycling bin, but contaminating the recycling stream with prohibited items can lead to a HUGE increase in waste.

Skip the disposable coffee cup, the little plastic toy at checkout, the giveaway balloon, or the bag of chips, and you’ll be happier, healthier, wealthier, and have a little less of a negative impact on the planet.

Emily is a high school junior in California who is passionate about community development, eco-friendly travel, and reducing her footprint on the environment. Learn more about Emily’s reusable bag initiative at bagsfortheocean.weebly.com/.

-Emily Tamkin
Girl Museum Inc.
Guest Blogger

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