“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
As Teddy and I walk the neighborhood and trails, he keeps an eye out for fire plugs and tree trunks, places to leave his calling card. I watch for local wildlife, friendly faces, and the occasional litter to take home and throw away. What little trash I find is almost always plastic: protein bar and candy wrappers, empty water bottles and many, many, plastic grocery bags.
I’ve never thought too much about litter because it isn’t a major problem in my neighborhood. My perspective has changed, however, after seeing plastic grocery bags snagged high up in trees, caught deep in the bushes on local trails, or lying in a muddy puddle on the street. Plastic litter is just one symptom of our addiction to plastic.
Recently, I was jolted by photos of baby albatross who died because their bodies were filled with plastic which their parents had mistaken for food. We’ve all seen pictures of sea turtles and other wildlife tragically trapped in plastic or dead from ingesting it. I can’t say why the baby albatross suddenly made me want to take action, but the young birds were my tipping point
This time I realized the plastic those babies had eaten might as well have been mine.
Not that I litter the beach with plastic, or toss it where it will be carried to the sea, but I’ve contributed to the problem with a great deal of complacency. My own plastic trash is in a landfill somewhere, and in our waterways. Some of it, no doubt, is in the form of tiny microplastics that exist in waterways the world over and have now found their way into our bodies.
Since the 1950’s, the use of plastic has grown so great, that when we look at pictures of suffering wildlife,or images of the Great Pacific garbage patch, we forget we have the power to do something. We once thought recycling was the answer, but very little of the plastic that we drop into our recycle bin actually gets recycled. In fact, tons of it is hauled from recycle facilities to landfills.
The largest collection of plastic in the world, the Great Pacific garbage patch, covers a huge span from North America to Japan. Filled with floating plastic trash, it is only one of seven such garbage patches in oceans around the world.
Why don’t we just stop using plastics?
Total elimination of plastic may be a pipe dream today but imagine what 70 more years of carelessly using and tossing plastic will do to our earth.
Anti-smoking campaigns that began in the 1960’s gradually changed our culture around smoking. Campaigns aimed at plastic, particularly single-use plastic, could bring about a massive shift in our culture.
On November 1 this year, I decided to quit plastic, starting with non-recyclable single-use plastic.
Within days, I realized the impossibility of quitting plastic in a day. Nearly everything is plastic, and what isn’t plastic comes to us wrapped in plastic.
Every day we face news of climate change, pollution, and problems that seem beyond our ability to help. It can feel overwhelming. Honestly, it’s easier to look the other way.
Plastic is different; it’s a problem we ordinary souls can tackle because, as consumers, we have to power to vote with our wallets. I started small in November and I plan to make progress each month in eliminating plastics. Every month I’ll share what I’ve learned. I hope others will join me in this effort.
Here are the baby steps I took, and the lessons I learned, in November:
*Cloth and Net Bags
I began faithfully shopping with my washable cloth bags and net bags (for my fresh fruits and vegetables). If I forget the bags in the car, I walk back to fetch them (the extra walk helps me remember next time).
Lesson: The bags I bought on Amazon are washable and attractive. I love them, but each bag was unnecessarily wrapped in single-use plastic and they came in a large plastic mailer from Amazon.
I’ve no longer buy packaged, pre-washed greens. Now I buy unwrapped and unwashed fruits and veggies, use my own net bags, and wash everything at home.
*Less Consumer Product Packaging
This will be an ongoing effort. As I run out of items, I look for suitable products that aren’t packaged in plastic. For instance, I replaced liquid shampoo and conditioner with bars. I love the product, by the way.
Lesson: I ordered the shampoo and conditioner from Amazon the same day I ordered the grocery bags. They came in a recyclable box packed in shredded cardboard, but they were mailed in a large plastic mailer, cushioned by a plastic pillow. See why reducing plastic is so challenging?
Only a day or two after committing to a major reduction of plastic in my life the family decided to order Thai for dinner. Without thinking, I ordered chicken satay which arrived in a hard, plastic container with an additional plastic container for the delicious peanut sauce.
Lesson: Old habits die hard. I’ll need to think about all food packaging, including take-out food.
Fresh fruits and vegetables were fairly easy to figure out, but every trip to the grocery store, every decision about what to buy, what to eat, and what personal and cleaning products to use, is challenging.
Plastic is a huge part of our lives. It’s in our cars, our computers, our phones, and our homes. Drastically reducing plastic means looking at everything with fresh eyes. There may not always be alternatives and then I’ll have to decide what foods and products I can eliminate from my “must-have” list.
Globally, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year (10% is recycled). Seven million tons of plastic end up in the sea each year.
The fact that cutting out plastic is so challenging tells us just how important it is.
Please consider joining me in taking small and large steps to drastically reduce plastic in our day-to-day lives and in our environment. Stay in touch and share the things you learn so that we can all benefit.
There is much in this world that we have no control over. My small efforts won’t make much difference, but if many of us decide to be part of the solution, we could start a peaceful revolution.
Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry. Ms. Terry is a well-known leader in the movement and has already done much of the work of finding alternative products. Her book is full of sensible information and it is written with humor and humility. Even if you are not ready to commit to reducing plastic, you will enjoy her writing.
Plastic, a Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel
I’ll add more books and blog sites in future posts as I read and learn.