The last 5 years, I cannot seem to shake my keen awareness of waste, what goes into the trash, and wondering where each item will end up. I think many of us are realizing that waste is happening everywhere. Unfortunately, the trash that we throw away, the plastic we throw in the recycle bin, or the items we give away are too overwhelming to be dealt with appropriately. A vast majority of these items are ending up in landfills and oceans, threatening soil, wildlife, and our future generations.
For the sake of this blog, I want to focus on one of the largest sources of unnecessary waste: plastic. It seems to be my default focus in my own personal quest to cut down on waste. I have a mindset that eliminating plastic from my daily life, will actually help move us in the right direction as a culture. There is a growing value and desire for building up local business, living in closer-knit communities, and adopting cultural practices that promote sustainability. The gradually discontinued use of plastic becomes a natural segway into these endeavors-- with minimized waste, more intentional local shopping, and communities moving into more living holistically.
Most plastics we use serve the purpose of mere convenience and affordability, but are not truly essential to our lives. Take the lunch meat you buy for your family. The deli meat usually comes in a thick plastic container, but did you know you can bring a glass mason jar to the deli counter and they can put your sliced turkey and ham straight into jars? No plastic necessary.
Here are just a few stats on plastic:
*Since around 1950, over 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced, distributed, and discarded. 6.3 billion tons of that total is classified as waste, 79% of which is either in a landfill or polluting the environment.
*Plastic takes 500-1000 years to degrade.
*The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year, as a country, it’s about 33.6 million tons/ year!
*More than 1 million plastic bags are used EVERY MINUTE.
*In the LA area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments (grocery bags, straws, & soda bottles, etc.) are carried into the Pacific Ocean a day.
*Only a very small amount (only 6%) of our plastic consumption is RECYCLED. But even if we recycle more, we are still faced with the end product.
Changing our habits can seem daunting, but every little step taken to eliminate this problem counts! Even if each of us reused one empty plastic bag instead of using a new one, the effects are exponential! Here are some examples of things I do to avoid plastic in my daily life:
*Educate myself. Here are a couple of good resources to check out for information on plastic waste as well as sites to purchase plastic-free items.
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
*Buy in bulk as much as possible. (Using non-plastic containers, or at the very least, reusing plastic ones I end up with.) If you live in Redding, Orchard's Nutrition has a large bulk section where you can even refill containers with honey, maple syrup, olive oil, etc. Country Organics has a smaller, but thoughtfully curated bulk section as well. Ordering in bulk from companies like Azure Standard is also a great option.
*Bring produce bags, glass containers, and grocery bags to the store. Here's a great resource to get started. http://livinghomeblog.com/how-i-grocery-shop-bulk-bags
*Don’t buy zip locks for school lunches, etc. Use glass, cloth and stainless steel containers, or if something disposable can’t be avoided, buy paper sandwich bags. It would even be better to reuse plastic bags that you would've thrown away any, like empty bread bags, etc.
*Use fewer bathroom products, and find ones that are plastic free as much as possible. (see source above for ideas) Use bar soap, and moisturizer that comes in glass, etc. Check out http://Goldclover.co for an amazing product that utilizes high quality and minimal waste.
*Avoid buying grocery items in plastic. Ex) We use a lot of mustard, so I found some that comes in a glass jar. Now I only buy that kind. I also order toilet paper that comes in a box, wrapped in paper. Some stores wrap their produce in plastic unnecessarily, which can be avoided.
*Take your own thermos for coffee or tea. This is a biggie in a coffee world! Before I quit coffee, I used to challenge myself to try to only get coffee IF I brought my own thermos.
*Take the time to recycle, even when it's inconvenient. For example, if you're on the go and drink a bottled water, hold onto it until you find a proper recycle bin rather than dumping it in the trash.
*Buy things that are built to last or can be fixed. It's tempting to buy things that are cheap, trendy, or fill a need quickly. When possible, save up for something high quality. Take time to fix plastic items when possible, rather than just tossing and buying a new one.
*If I DO buy something plastic, choose plastics that have the 1 and 2 symbol. In most places, including Redding, those are the only plastics that will recycle.
*Buy plastic products second hand when possible. Ex) If I want to a buy a toy for my child with plastic parts, I try to find a used version. That way I'm not adding to new plastic production, and I'm keeping an old plastic product in circulation longer.
Parting thoughts...It's not about perfection, it's just adjusting our mindset that we are moving away from waste as much as we can, and knowing that it's our problem to solve. It's always better to "sweat in peace" so we don't have to "bleed in war." I believe we are still in a place of hope and can avoid a total crisis by learning and making adjustments in the way we live. We have so much abundance and freedom in our culture, and that means we have greater responsibility to be informed and make choices that positively affect the world we live in. It's a privilege! :)