Let’s talk about plastic. Okay, I know your first instinct is to click that X in the upper right corner of your screen to avoid an environmental lecture and feeling guilty about your shampoo bottles, but hang in there with me if you want to become the world’s latest hero or even the noblest person living in your household. It’s on the news every day…plastic is choking our only home. You know this, I know this, all God’s children damn-well know this. The question then, is what to do about it. Can we, as individuals, break free from the tyranny of single-use plastic items and save the planet? We can, and together we will. I have a plan, but breaking the plastic habit won’t be easy. That’s where the adventure comes in.
I’ve been a good person. Years ago, when my neighborhood started a recycling program, I happily contributed. Lots of things were recyclable, but plastic had restrictions, labeled with a triangled arrow with a number in the middle. The city I lived in would only take certain numbers. It never crossed my mind to refuse to buy any single-use plastic item or product packaged with the wrong number. While visiting Boulder, Colorado, I met a woman who had made a conscious choice to totally reduce her trash to nothing. Apparently, I was not as good as I thought I was. The very idea was intriguing. Was such a thing possible in our world of wasteful packaging and disposable everything?
After that encounter I decided I wanted to adopt a similar mindset and began to look at my own output. Overwhelmed by the variety of stuff in my trash bag, I chose to start with one thing. Plastic! Plastic was evil! I later changed my mind. It is not plastic itself that is evil, but what we humans have decided to do with it that makes its presence in our daily lives so ubiquitous and a clear and present danger to all of life. We have become immune to the consequences of our actions. Okay, eco-lecture over. I’m now going to regale you with tales of busting the plastic waste calamity…one determined person at a time.
There are two ways of dealing with the excess of plastic permeating every environment on the planet. First comes RECYCLING: This sweet little website, mindseteco.co, has a wonderful mini-class in plastic recycling. The biggest challenge is getting people to do it! The obstacles are Ignorance, which can be fixed with educational opportunities, and Indifference, which can be fixed, but is a lot harder to accomplish because people are so very busy with their busy lives that they just can’t work up any enthusiasm for having more stuff to do, so resort to tossing that plastic bottle in the trash because it saves them a lot of time and effort.
Another problem with recycling is what MindsetEco calls “wish-cycling.” I wish it could be recycled, so I’ll just pop it in there and hope for the best. Plastic bags, straws, compostable materials, etc. bog down the system and cost money to sort and dispose. I wish I could hover around every place that has those bins for landfill, compost and recycle so that I could have the opportunity to monitor what people carelessly slot into the containers. Since there’s only one me, I’ll just continue to “help” whenever I am in any given sorting area and hope the police aren’t called to restore order.
The second way to combat plastic waste is to REDUCE: Oh, this is the prince of my anti-plastic dreams! It means to just plain leave it on the shelf. This scheme is a lot more work than recycling. At least, in my early days of reducing, I had to do research! People hate research. But I wanted to find products that eliminated plastic altogether. This makes me the enemy of “virgin” plastic manufacturers across the globe. (Insert evil laugh.)
I started my experiments with zero-plastic products (which are basically single-use products which have traditionally been either made of plastic or housed in plastic bottles) by buying stuff as gifts for my friends. I received my first product from a friend, so it seemed fair to foist this stuff on people who already like me and hope that they continue to do so. Laundry detergent sheets, bowl covers, shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes. I had to nag people for feedback because, let’s face it, once someone gives you something as lame as a silicone bowl cover for your birthday, you don’t expect to have to report your findings back to the source of this questionable present, which you may or may not have already recycled by regifting it to your sister-in-law.
My first purchase for my own use, since I got zero feedback on it, was silicone bowl covers, intended to eliminate the use of plastic wrap. They came in a set of 6, differing in size. They stretched a bit to cover a little more ground and stuck like glue to the sides of my food storage bowls. I felt these would be the perfect addition to my kitchen since I tend to cook for a family of 6 when there’s only the 2 of us in the household…and leftovers are our favorite lunch. The only flaw in using silicone to make bowl covers is that it tends to be attracted to dry surfaces only. My first attempt at uncovering a large bowl of soup to dish out a cup or two to serve with my sandwich proved to be something of a disaster. The container, cold from my fridge, left condensation around the rim as soon as I set it on the counter. As I attempted to replace the silicone cover onto the cold and wet bowl, a wrestling match ensued. I would get one side slipped onto the rim, but stretching it over the bowl to the other side caused all of it to slip off the first side and land, all floppy and goopy, into my soup. I had to develop a minimal-struggle, re-covering method in order to use these silicone covers effectively. A quick dry with a dish cloth works pretty well as long as I don’t linger too long before stretching that eco-friendly cover back onto the storage bowl and hustling it back into the fridge. And, they are pretty sturdy and long lasting, as long as you don’t plunge a knife through it or accidently roast one in the oven.
The next product I tried were silicone baggies. In short, I hate them. They are quite sturdy and have a pleated bottom for easy standing and pouring. The sealing device, however, is not within the making of the bag itself, but is a long PLASTIC stick that slides across a groove in the top of the bag. I have broken all but one of the five sticks that came with the baggies. I have resorted to folding the top over and securing it with a binder clip. This is not exactly a genuine seal, so I tend to place into it only food that can’t migrate across the refrigerator shelf and cascade all lava-like into my vegetable bin should the bag fall over when jostled by a hastily stowed milk container. Yes, I did learn this the hard way.
Experimentation is fun…messy sometimes, but worth the learning and adapting. My favorite swap-out is the bamboo toothbrush. It is not overly expensive, made of a material which will easily break down in nature and you can just toss it into your compost or trash when it reaches its replacement phase of existence. Bamboo toothbrushes have given me the boost I needed in the eco-friendly consumer department. Think of all the plastic toothbrushes lurking in landfills across the nation. Jordan Peele could make a scary movie about them. Surely, I’m not the only one who has nightmares about a vengeful, eternal toothbrush army conspiring to overwhelm humankind and give us back our tartar.
In the end, I’m learning to be a more informed consumer. Slowly ditching products that come in plastic bottles, buying items packaged in recyclable or compostable materials, searching out non-plastic replacements for single-use items and purchasing products made from recycled plastics aka the REUSE part of the environmentally-friendly trinity. Purchasing these products increases the demand for pre-used plastics and encourages more recycling. I also discovered a Hard-to-Recycle program in my area, which accepts more items than the neighborhood recycling program. My deepest hopes are everyone will start experimenting with kicking the plastic habit and the dolphins will start liking us again.
Rethink, Remind, Reinvent,