Last year around this time we were asked by environmentalist and filmmaker Taina Uitto, author of the blog Plastic Manners, to collect our plastic for an entire year. We finished our plastic collection project last week. Finishing the project was such a liberating feeling – our plastic lived with us in the bathtub of our second bathroom for the duration of the year, with a handful of pick-ups spread out over the course of the project. As you can imagine, having several months worth of plastic staring back at you from your bathtub gives one a feeling of desperation and depression – desperation because I became desperate not to contribute any further to the amount of plastic trash we are creating, and depression because plastic is everywhere and while my efforts to limit my family’s plastic consumption were significant, we did still manage to accumulate a lot of plastic.
Our plastic collection was not limited to non-recyclable plastic, but included recyclable plastics as well. Plastic is tricky – recyclable plastic is often down-cycled into inferior products and not all plastic is recycled, so ALL plastic has to be considered trash. I feel like our family is reasonably conscious of our plastic consumption, and yet we still managed to collect 12-13 large black garbage bags full of plastic over the last twelve months. We use our own reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags, so there was not a lot of plastic shopping bags in the collection, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of packaging waste and a lot of garbage. I never thought about how much of our plastic packaging isn’t recyclable. Think of all the plastic that you toss in the bin every day that can’t even be recycled: plastic wrap on our cucumber, plastic bags on bread, plastic wrap on any food item you will find in your grocer’s freezer. It just never seems to end. I’m grateful that our family has been eating very little meat over the past year, as the few pieces of styrofoam that we added to our plastic collection seemed particularly offensive.
Why is plastic so awful? In essence, anything that is plastic today will be around pretty much forever. Plastic does not biodegrade, and a lot of plastic garbage makes its way into the oceans where it can seriously harm and even kill wildlife. Birds and fish often mistake plastic in the ocean for food and will ingest it, which ends up being deadly. Filmmaker Chris Jordan has created an eye-opening short film on the tragedy of wildlife plastic consumption in the Pacific called Midway : Message from the Gyre. After watching that film, I have not been able to think of my plastic consumption in the same way. Plastic does not go away. Ever. It just moves around the planet in different, and often lethal forms.
What can we all do differently to minimize our plastic consumption?
Refuse plastic: Consider the plastic you consume regularly and find non-plastic alternatives. Use reusable shopping bags, produce bags and bulk bags. Try to buy grocery items with as little plastic packaging as possible – this will mean spending most of your grocery dollars in the produce and bulk sections, but both the planet and your waistline will thank you!
Reduce your plastic consumption: Reducing our consumption of plastic and asking ourselves if we really need another piece of plastic in our lives is an important environmental responsibility. Using what we need and not a lot more will go a long way in reducing our output of plastic garbage.
Reuse what you have: Find a use for the plastic items you already own, and don’t buy any more! One idea is to reuse your plastic bottles to contain your homemade cleaning supplies or find a soap dispensary that sells soap in bulk, and refill your cleaning bottles when they are empty.
Recycle: When you have been refusing, reducing and reusing your plastic, you should have much less plastic waste than when you started. Recycle what plastic you do have left to prevent it from going into the landfill or making its way into streams and oceans.
What are you doing to challenge your use of plastic and reduce your plastic consumption? I’d love to hear from you!