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Moving Beyond Plastic

July 14, 2021

If you’re reading this, you probably already do your best to eliminate the pesky plastics in your life. We all want to live in a cleaner, healthier world free of the burden of unmanaged, single-use plastics. And you probably know that the challenge is a difficult one! So let’s just set the tone of this article right away:

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. ~ Anne Marie Bonneau

There, feel better? ANY effort that you have implemented in your life to reduce plastic and waste is the right one. Moving beyond plastic is a multi-dimensional effort that requires change on all levels. But, as consumers, we can drive the trends and topics that inform plastic reform. Where, when, how, and why we shop are just as important as the ways we dispose and recycle goods.

Even if the change is slow, it is happening and we must continue to envision the world we want to live in. With Tennessee spending $15M taxpayer dollars each year on litter pollution, microplastics infiltrating our water and wildlife, and storms and flooding exacerbating litter pollution, it is more important than ever that we move beyond plastic.

So, when in doubt, we turn to the three Rs:


There’s a reason this is the first R. Reducing consumption, especially of single-use plastics is the single most effective way to prevent them from entering the waste stream.

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. And less than 1 in 7 gets recycled. We know because we find them on litter cleanups all the time – strung up and tangled in trees and embedded in stream banks.

Nowadays, there are plastic-free alternatives to most single-use products.

Starter Tip: Do a bin audit to figure out what items make up the most of your waste and what alternatives you need to look for.

Questions to ask before you shop: 

  • Why am I shopping? (stress? boredom? reward? necessity?)
  • Do I absolutely need this?
  • Will it last a long time?
  • Can I make it at home?
  • Can I buy it used?
  • Is it made locally or did it travel far to get to me?

For zero waste, reusable, and refillable shopping needs, visit the Good Fill in Nashville.


Reuse, repurpose, reinvent, reimagine, refurbish – this is the fun R! From your basic reusable items such as coffee mugs, shopping bags, straws, and food storage, to all the creative ways to upcycle used materials into something new – take a few minutes before recycling or disposing of something to think about what other purposes it could have.

Need some inspiration? Follow our friends @turnipgreencreativereuse on Instagram for project ideas or head over to their shop for supplies!

There is no end to DIY inspiration on the internet. When you have the reuse mindset, toilet paper rolls and salad containers can become seed starting greenhouses, furniture can get a facelift, and plastic bottles and bags can be eliminated.

Starter Tip: explore Plastic Free July’s tips and alternatives to commonly disposed items.

Questions to ask before you throw something away: 

  • What other purpose can this item serve?
  • Can someone else use this item?
  • What items do I use the most that have reusable alternatives?
  • Do I have the reuse basics? (Coffe cup, water bottle, food storage, silverware straws, to-go containers, bags)
  • What are some other items that I end up replacing often, are there better alternatives?


Last stop! Recycling programs often vary based on where you live. It’s important to understand what recycling resources are available to you and what the rules are so that the item actually gets recycled! For example, plastic items that get recycled in Nashville cannot be bagged in a garbage bag.

Check out this post from our friends at Tennessee Environmental Council on recycling in Tennessee and recycling difficult items.

Ready to take action against litter in Tennessee? The Tennessee Clean Act led by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation is leading the way. Learn more and act now!


There’s no better way to get a glimpse of the litter problem than to help pick it up. Next time you’re out on a hike or paddle, take a trash bag, gloves, or a grabber and help maintain the trails and rivers you love. Roadsides, ditches, and streambanks often trap trash that washes in from rain events so look for these areas!

The Cumberland River Compact also hosts volunteer cleanup events throughout the year as well as kayak litter cleanups with 1% for Water partner Cumberland Kayak in the summer. Find all these events on our volunteer calendar!


Going plastic-free or zero waste can be an ongoing process. Luckily there are so many great resources out there to help you stay inspired and challenged on this journey!

Here are some accounts to follow to stay inspired!