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20 Ways to Prevent Plastic Pollution in 2020

In 2019, plastic made up 90 percent of the litter removed from Great Lakes shorelines during beach cleanups. From grocery bags to take-out containers to cigarette butts, plastic trash threatens aquatic wildlife, which can become entangled in it or mistake it for food.

We can all take steps to reduce our use of plastic and prevent it from reaching our waterways. Together, we can

  • raise our voices
  • refuse single-use plastic
  • remember our reusables
  • restore local shorelines

In 2020, consider adopting one, two, or even all the actions below to protect aquatic animals by stopping plastic pollution from reaching their habitats.

A cloudy plastic bottle and ziplock bag bob gently in the green waters of a lake in Michigan among water plants and driftwood.

Raise your voice

Now is the time to let others know this issue is important to you and to encourage them to join the movement for a plastic-free future.

  1. Call your local elected officials and tell them to act now to reduce plastic pollution.
  2. Say thank you to restaurants and businesses that have switched from single-use plastic.
  3. Encourage your school, office and neighborhood eatery to take steps to reduce single-use plastic in their operations. Restaurants can join Shedd in reducing plastic use as a business collaborator.
  4. Don’t be shy to share your knowledge about plastic and its impact on the environment with friends, family and co-workers.
  5. Share your favorite tips from this blog on social media using #LetsSheddPlastic.
A conch shell sits on a shallowly submerged beach in the Bahamas littered with plastic pollution.

Refuse single-use plastic products

Single-use plastic can be hard to avoid, but being aware of what you use and shopping smart can help you refuse it everywhere you go.

  1. Do a self-audit. Use our action guide to see what single-use plastic items you use the most.
  2. Thirsty but forgot your reusable water bottle? Hydrate with a drink packaged in aluminum or glass instead of plastic.
  3. Start refusing single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other shops for small purchases you can carry. Or bring sturdier alternatives that can be used over and over again.
  4. Check out the bulk bins. Many stores have bulk bins for grains, nuts, spices and even pasta, and they will allow you to fill your own containers.
  5. Skip the refrigerated section and purchase items straight from the butcher or deli and cheese counters. They can wrap your items in paper instead of plastic.
  6. More items are being sold without plastic packaging, including toothpaste that comes in the form of a tablet and shampoo in bar form. Try something new—you'll be surprised at how quickly you’ll get used to the change.
Two rockhopper penguins inspect a mug filled with fish.

Remember your reusables

We’ve all been caught in the grocery store line without our reusable bags, but the impact of remembering your bags and other reusables adds up over time.

  1. Before you leave home in the morning, do your mental checklist of phone, keys, wallet and reusables. Download this door hanger to help.
  2. Bring reusable cutlery to work or keep a set in your backpack.
  3. When dining out, bring your own container for leftovers.
  4. If you host a party, offer your guests reusable beverage cups, plates and cutlery.
  5. Opt for reusable containers or beeswax-coated cloth to save your leftovers.
  6. Make your commitment official and pledge to ditch single-use plastics.
Four teens in windbreakers and hoodies stand on a great lakes beach in the bright afternoon sun, the blue lake visible behind them as they hold up large blue plastic bags of trash collected from the beach.
Participants in Shedd's Kayak for Conservation program sit in single-person canoes on the Chicago river. One participant holds a trash bag open for another, who has scooped a piece of trash from the river using a mechanical gripper.

Restore local natural areas

Plastic in our blue and green spaces is not only an eyesore. It’s also a serious threat to the health of important habitats and the animals that depend on them.

  1. Join Shedd for a Great Lakes Action Day on Chicago’s beaches to restore habitats for our native wildlife.
  2. In the summer, sign up for Kayak for Conservation to help us monitor wildlife and remove plastic pollution from the Chicago River.
  3. Explore one of the Chicago area’s many public parks, pick up any litter you see along the way and refill your reusable water bottle at a refilling station.

Going plastic-free doesn’t have to happen overnight. Using this list, you can adopt habits one by one throughout the year and encourage others to join you.

Celebrate your successes with us by sharing them on social media using #LetsSheddPlastic.

- Gabby Petrelli, Conservation Action Coordinator, and Jemma De Leon, Conservation Policy & Advocacy Coordinator