Slimming your WASTE for the Summer

Posted Thu, 06/20/2019 - 18:17

It’s officially summertime! Traditionally, this is a time for family vacations, barbeques, and fun in the sun. Before you plan your summer activities, keep in mind the amount of waste they can generate, including travel shampoos and coolers filled with drinks and snacks. Even items that are properly recycled or placed in the trash can end up as marine debris. Fortunately, we have some easy tips for slimming down your waste and preventing marine debris this season.  


It’s tough to travel and not produce a lot of waste, but there are ways you can really make a difference whether you’re in the air, on a train, or in the car. Coffee, hot tea, and water are a must for long trips. Make sure to pack your personal refillable thermoses and bottles, otherwise those single-use cups and plastic bottles begin to add up. Pack your favorite snacks in reusable packaging and toss them in your carry-on, this way you can say ‘no thanks’ to the free individually wrapped snacks and drinks provided on many flights. Bring your reusable utensils to avoid plasticware when eating on the run.

If you’re staying at a hotel, you can avoid the single-use products that are generally provided by packing your own refillable travel set. Want to try something new? Some of our team members recently tried shampoo and conditioner bars and toothpaste tablets, which can easily be packed in repurposed jars and into a travel bag. An added perk is that you never have to worry about the 3.4 oz liquid limit in your carry on with bars and tablets!

Reusable, single-use alternative travel set.
Reusable travel bottles, shampoo and conditioner bars, and toothpaste tablets are all excellent options for reducing waste while traveling (Photo: NOAA).


Grilling out is synonymous with summer and Independence Day celebrations. Unfortunately, many of these get togethers include lots of single-use plates, cups, utensils, and napkins. For your next barbeque, choose reusable items instead.  

Don’t have enough dishes? Checkout second hand stores for inexpensive dish sets or ask your friends to BYOP - bring your own plate. As a host, that may seem like an odd request, but most people will be happy to reduce their waste and may just need a reminder. An added bonus: there are less dishes for you to wash!

Get creative! Think about other disposable items you use and figure out a creative alternative. For example, instead of using individual, single-use cups for serving snacks to the kids or the kid at heart, save those orange, lime, and lemon peels as a biodegradable alternative.   

Orange peels repurposed as gelatin holders.
Use orange peels for your gelatin dessert. To make, cut an orange (lime or lemon) in half. After juicing, remove pulp. Pour gelatin liquid in peel half. Once the gelatin is solid, slice as desired (Photo: Sarah Latshaw)

Fun in the Sun

When visiting the pool, park, or beach, try the “leave no trace” approach. Whatever you bring should go back home with you. Every year, tons of chairs, toys, and floats get left at the beach. These items can get washed into the ocean during high tide and carried out to sea, or deposited back onto the shore. Further, items left unattended can become hazards to beachgoers, life threatening obstacles for sea turtles, and expensive to cleanup for municipalities. If you don’t want these items anymore, give them to someone who will use them or donate them to a donation center.

Overflowing trash can at the beach.
When you’re at the beach, you can prevent the further introduction of marine debris by properly disposing of your trash, and by packing it out and taking your trash home (Photo: NOAA).

The top five items collected during the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup were: 1) cigarette butts, 2) food wrappers, 3) plastic beverage bottles, 4) plastic bottle caps, and 5) plastic bags. Many of these items can easily end up as marine debris, unintentionally being blown out of our bags, out of trash cans or, stolen by gulls. When packing your cooler, consider alternatives to these items and pack your goodies in reusable containers.

Sometimes these items are unavoidable. Remember to properly secure anything that may fly away in the wind and dispose of them once you leave. Many people don’t realize that cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate, a plastic-like material that behaves just like plastics in our oceans. The UV rays from the sun may break the fibers down into smaller pieces, but they don’t disappear. If you are a smoker, consider using a pocket ashtray. These ashtrays can come in the form of metal boxes or vinyl pouches, and can easily fit in your pocket, purse, or backpack.

Many beaches throughout the US are banning smoking, single-use plastic bags, straws, and foam to address marine debris issues. Be in the know before you go.      

While visiting the beach or park, take a moment to pick up trash. You can even be a citizen scientist for the day and log the debris you find in the Marine Debris Tracker app (available in the App Store or Google Play).

Every good beach day includes ICE CREAM and you’ve earned it if you’ve helped to cleanup! Once you figure out your favorite flavor, ask for a cone, instead of a single-use cup and spoon. Every little bit counts, and boy is that cone yummy!

Family and friends eating ice cream cones.
Friends and family enjoying and ice cream cones after a fun day at the beach (Photo: Sarah Latshaw)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program challenges YOU to update your summer traditions with these and other tips. Do you have good ideas for summer waste reduction? We want to hear them! Share them in the comments so we can learn from each other. Because, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller