An eco-expert shares simple swaps that make for greener living this season.

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Family walking down to the beach for a picnic
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Whether you're picnicking in the park, working on your vegetable garden, or hitting the beach, there's nothing like soaking up the summer season outdoors. What's not as much fun in the sun? Letting litter get in the way. There's no question how far-reaching the topic of plastic pollution has spread, from our social media feeds to the increasing number of nationwide bans on the material, and the hunt continues for a more sustainable solution. While researchers have revealed shudder-worthy statistics, like the fact that our oceans will become home to more plastic debris than fish by 2050, they're also reminding us that there are many simple ways in which anyone can minimize their plastic footprint.

For Gay Browne, an environmental educator, mom, and author of Living with a Green Heart, a great way to kick-start your eco-friendly lifestyle is to start saying no to single-use plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the material, which is being produced and consumed at alarming rates, not only has one of the lowest rates of being recycled (compared to metal or glass), but it also contains various petrochemicals that can be harmful to both you and to Mother Nature. "One of the best things you can do this summer is to make the conscious effort to refuse plastic," says Browne. Here, she shares four simple ways you can start using less plastic today.

Carry a Refillable Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is especially important in the summer, but drinking from a refillable water bottle rather than a single-use plastic one can help your body and the planet stay healthy. Not only do a majority of plastic water bottles end up in landfills, where they will likely release harmful chemicals into the air, but these plastic bottles also contain chemicals that can be harmful to humans, Browne says. "Ten popular U.S. bottled water brands contain mixtures of 38 different pollutants, including bacteria and fertilizers, according to tests recently conducted by the Environmental Working Group," she tells us. Instead, Browne suggests switching to a sturdy reusable alternative like a Hydroflask, Kleen Kanteen, or BKR, if you prefer glass.

Pack Reusable Dining Essentials

If you're planning on eating outdoors or heading to the boardwalk this summer, avoid grabbing (and tossing out!) single-use straws and plastic cutlery by packing your own. Browne recommends preparing a summer take-out tote with a reusable straw, cutlery, and a cloth napkin to help make it easy and ensure you always have the essentials close by. If you're looking for an even lighter alternative that's easy to tote around, consider bamboo cutlery and straws.

Prepare Snacks in Advance

Often times, while convenient, many prepared foods and packaged snacks also come with a lot of disposable waste. To help curb it, consider packing at least a handful of snacks in reusable alternatives before heading to the park or meeting friends for a lawn party. "I like to take apples, blueberries, salads, sandwiches, and vegetable sticks," says Browne, who suggests wrapping these items in reusable bags (like these silicone ones by Stasher) or using beeswax paper. Investing in a metal lunch box or other metal or glass Tupperware can also be a sustainable alternative.

Get Creative with Outdoor Fun

While great for a field day with the sprinkler or playing in the sand, the lifespan of your kids' summer toys is short, lasting for just a single season or a few trips to the beach. Those plastic buckets and shovels more often end up getting lost or replaced with shiny new ones each year. As an eco-alternative, Browne suggests nixing them altogether, if you can, and inviting little ones to get creative. "Let your kids explore and and use their imagination," she says. Her personal favorites? "Bring along a metal bucket, balsa airplane gliders, or old kitchen utensils. It's a great way to recycle." If you're feeling crafty, we also love this DIY which upcycles gently-used sponges or keeps them cool with this clever-yet-colorful ice dyeing project.


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