By Laura Turner Seydel

This past month, legislation was passed in California banning pharmacy, grocery, liquor and convenience stores throughout the state from giving out plastic shopping bags. This is great news when statistics show that each year an estimated 500 billion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.

While countries around the world have already made similar bans on plastic, California becomes the first U.S. state to demand action be taken to reduce the amount of toxic plastic that ends up in landfills, urban rivers and oceans.  The impact of these plastics in our oceans has taken form in plastic garbage patches, some the size of Texas, which pose serious threat to our wildlife and ecosystem (learn more at www.5gyres.org).

Californians will see this new plastic bag ban in full effect come January 2012, but here in Georgia it’s hard to tell when we’ll see such an initiative.   However, we don’t need a statewide ban to personally commit to reducing plastic in our everyday lives. Beyond plastic shopping bags, our landfills are burdened with billions of tons of additional plastic waste that we can easily replace with eco-friendly alternatives.

Each year, about 3 million tons of plastic are used in bottled water packaging, 80 percent of which end up in landfills. Commit yourself to using BPA-free, reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic bottles that leach chemicals and do not breakdown in a landfill. CuteSip (www.CuteSip.com) bottles are a great stainless steel option for kids (and adults!) and leave no negative impact upon our planet or our health.

When dining out, think twice about accepting a straw for your drink.  Consider McDonalds who serves nearly 47 million customers each day, most of whom use a plastic straw. Or the billions of plastic coffee stirrers used each morning. While perfectly recyclable (see the list of recyclable plastic items issued by Waste Management at www.wm.com), most of these end up in a landfill to become a toxic burden to our planet. Many restaurants, like Ted’s Montana Grill, have eliminated plastic straws in favor of recycled paper alternatives that do the trick in a very green way.

Also you can do little things like refusing plastic clothing bags at the dry cleaners, disposing of cigarette butts in ashtrays versus simply tossing them out the window, purchasing biodegradable garbage bag or leaving behind plastic utensils when taking to-go food orders home. When you must use plastic, make sure you reuse or recycle it!  Recycling efforts, making plastic from plastic instead of making it from raw materials, not only saves 88 percent of energy in the production cycle, but also minimizes our use of our planet’s precious resources and greatly lifts the burden upon our landfills.

For more green living tips, visit www.lauraseydel.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.