Forget single-use plastics—Here are 4 practical, reusable alternatives that will cut down on litter found in the Potomac

Reducing the amount of trash you create can be easy and fun


When we order a smoothie, or buy a bottle of water, we do so to refresh ourselves. To us, it’s a nice pick-me-up, but for the critters that live in the Potomac, these beverages are anything but refreshing.

Every day plastic water bottles, bottle caps, and straws end up in the Potomac River, polluting our water and threatening wildlife. Other forms of plastic like bags make their way into the river as well.

With the help of our amazing volunteers, we have removed 140 tons of plastic and trash from our hometown river – enough to fill the US Capitol Dome 53 times. But, there’s still a lot of work to be done!

To keep our water clean and protect animals, reduce your use of plastic disposables by opting for these reusable alternatives instead.


Metal straws

Photo courtesy of Kent Island beach cleanups

Photo courtesy of Kent Island beach cleanups

A pack of metal straws: $8.99 from  amazon

A pack of metal straws: $8.99 from amazon

You’ve probably heard the good news: plastic straws are out. DC recently banned them after the anti-straw movement blazed across social media.

If you don’t think straws are a big problem, think again: consumers in the US use 500 million straws every day.

If you want to reduce the amount of plastic entering the Potomac, but still feel like you need a straw to enjoy your favorite drink, try a metal straw. These can be washed and reused, and they’re small enough to easily fit in your backpack or bag so you can bring them to restaurants and cafes.

Bonus: Metal straws are a great alternative to plastic ones, but if you think you’re up to the challenge, you could push it one step further and ditch straws altogether. Why buy reusable straws, which might be packaged with plastic, if we can drink without them? Try going without one next time and you just might decide, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.”


Reusable bottles

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Hydro flask  water bottle: $29.95

Hydro flask water bottle: $29.95

Say no to single-use bottles by bringing a reusable water bottle everywhere you go! Many plastic bottles end up in our local streams and rivers, presenting serious threats to the wildlife that live there. On a typical cleanup day, our volunteers collect 60 to 80 bags of trash, and 2/3 of them are filled to the brim with plastic bottles.

So be a friend to the many creatures that live in the Potomac and get yourself a reusable water bottle for everyday use.

Bonus: Need your morning Starbucks to get you through the day? Make your coffee addiction river-friendly by bringing your own thermos or tumbler to the cafe. That’s right, Starbucks will happily make any drink in your reusable cup, and they’ll even give you a small discount for it!


Reusable bags

5 pack of Reusable bags: $13.99 from  amazon

5 pack of Reusable bags: $13.99 from amazon

You may bring a reusable bag to your grocery store, so why not bring it everywhere else too? If you’re going to the mall or need to pick up some items at the drugstore, bring a reusable bag to carry your purchases. Getting a foldable bag like this one that can easily fit in a purse, backpack, or car will help you always be prepared so you never have to use a disposable plastic bag again.

Imagine how many plastic bags you can prevent from entering the Potomac if you used reusable bags every time you went shopping. That’s right, a whole lot!

Bonus: Take your sustainable shopping one step further by bringing mason jars and other containers to buy food in bulk. Stores like Whole Foods, Mom’s Organic Market, and local co-ops offer bulk sections, which means less packaging to pollute our rivers. And, buying items in bulk is generally less expensive. It’s a win all around!


Reusable cutlery sets

Reusable travel cutlery set: $11.99 from  AMazon

Reusable travel cutlery set: $11.99 from AMazon

The next time you find yourself heading to your favorite fast food restaurant, don’t pick up that plastic fork and knife. Instead, bring a set of reusable utensils to help cut down on plastic waste. It may seem like a small effort, but those forks and knives quickly stack up if you’re eating out once a week or more often.

Bonus:  If your fave take-out option puts your order in a plastic bag, politely say “I don’t need a bag” when it’s being packed up. If you’re just ordering for one, you can usually carry your meal without a bag. If it’s your turn to pick up food for your family or roommates (or if you’re feeling especially hungry), bring one of your reusable bags to carry your food instead. The best part: you can enjoy your meal even more knowing you prevented unnecessary plastic waste.


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