Living Without Plastic
According to a
report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the
World Economic Forum, by 2050, there
will be more plastic floating around in the sea than fish, with about a
truck’s worth of waste dumped into our waters every minute. The report has
helped push for bans on single-use plastic items around the world and
created a tidal wave of movements pushing for us to recover from our
addiction to plastic.
The main thrust towards eliminating plastic must
start at the top, from manufacturers and packagers. I believe it is naive to
think that the oil industry will give up producing plastic; as the
climate crisis pushes threatens its fuel profits, we will see an even
greater push to shift towards increased use of plastic. Estimates predict a
40 percent rise in plastic production over the next decade.
You may believe that the ultimate solution to the
plastic problem lies in getting everyone to recycle. But that is not the
case. In fact, the plastics industry and the major corporations use
recycling as a way to evade responsibility for the waste they create by
blaming and shaming individual consumers. There are some small markets for
certain types of plastic that can be downcycled into other products. But
less than ten percent of manufactured plastic is recycled, and even much of
what consumers put into their blue bins and bags ends up in local landfills
or is shipped to developing countries for disposal.
Of course, even if
we were to cease using single-use plastic today, what is already in our
landfills and oceans will be around virtually for ever. However, there are many
things consumers can do to keep the problem from worsening, including refusing overpacking and lobbying for
producer responsibility. We can also reduce, if not eliminate, our
personal use of plastic. Here are some relatively easy suggestions:
Store foods in glass jars or
Buy cheese and meat from a dairy
and butcher, or deli counter, and ask them to wrap your purchase in
paper rather than plastic (or in your own container).
If you drink milk, buy it in
reusable glass bottles.
Shop at farmers markets, using
your own reusable cloth bags.
Replace grocery store plastic
bags with your own reusable cloth bags.
Buy or make a couple of cloth
bags specifically for bread from the bakery.
Buy foods like peanut butter, as
well as laundry soap, shampoo, and other products in bulk, using your
own glass or metal containers.
Avoid take-out food, or take your
own non-plastic container.
Invest in stainless steel ice
cube trays and popsicle containers.
Pack work/school lunches in
reusable metal containers and paper or cloth bags.
If you can’t find foods like
yogurt, juice, and condiments in glass containers, make your own at
Make your own ice cream, or buy
it from an ice cream parlor and have them pack it into your own reusable
Buy eggs in paper cartons and
return them for reuse or recycling.
Give up bottled water and take
your own from home in a refillable container.
At coffee shops, take your own
mug or, if you’re not having it “to go,” ask for a china mug.
If eating out, refuse plastic
straws, plates, and cutlery; instead, carry your own stainless or bamboo
cutlery, glass or metal straw, water bottle, etc.
Avoid personal care products
plastic microbeads and that are packaged in plastic.
Use cardboard-packaged baking
soda for cleaning and personal care.
Buy or make wooden and cloth
toys for your children.
Download music from online stores
rather than buying records or CDs; watch films online or borrow DVDs
from the library.
Avoid synthetic clothing and the
microfiber pollution in favor of natural fibers.
Composting wet food waste will
reduce the need for plastic garbage bags. Lobby your local municipality
to allow other types of garbage to be collected loose in metal garbage
cans or wrapped in newspaper
If all else
fails, and you must buy something that’s packaged in plastic, refuse the
packaging. You can make a substantial statement to the store staff/owners as
well as your fellow customers by opening the packaging on the spot and
leaving it behind. This is most effective if you can explain what you’re
doing and/or leave behind a written explanation of the problem with plastic
If you must buy
something that’s not available in anything other than plastic (cat litter
box, computer, for example), buy second hand.
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine, has been a
journalist for over 40 years, and is the author of thirteen books, including
Natural Life Magazine's Green & Healthy Homes.