Week 1- It’s Time to Break Up With Plastic
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You knew that reducing plastic HAD to be on the sustainability list, right?!? It’s such a significant and socially charged subject that it earns the very top two spots in the sustainable action series! This plastic break-up post is about awareness and alternatives, not shame. None of us are getting rid of plastic entirely (she says while typing on a plastic keyboard). You may be overwhelmed with all the “bad for you” stuff out there (I know I am sometimes), but this is one that’s affecting you whether you pay attention or not and we can make a BIG impact with minimal effort!
The good news is that the majority of plastics affecting us are designed for single and short-term use. Things like wrappings on consumer goods, cleaning supply, shampoo and water bottles, food wrapping, take out cartons, etc… which is something we can REALISTICALLY change. This week we’ll talk about ways to replace plastic around our food, next week we’ll talk about replacing plastic in other areas of our lives.
I’ll Join Ya!
I’m changing this aspect of my life right along with you this year! I thought I was doing well with the elimination of plastic. While writing this series though, I started noticing all the plastic in my bathroom, under my kitchen sink, and in my garden.
I was still prone to the belief that if the plastic isn’t heated, it doesn’t leach, and reusing BPA free plastic was okay. Oops! I was wrong. I am now keenly aware of just how toxic and pervasive ALL plastics are (yes, even the “eco-friendly, plant-derived, biodegradable ones); not only for the planet but our health and wellbeing. Hopefully, this post will enlighten you too!
Why We Care About Plastic
Obviously, this is a vast subject. Entire blogs on both sides of the spectrum focus on this single topic alone. Very few things are all good or all bad. I am eternally grateful for the life saving medical advancements that are possible due to plastic. There’s no denying though, what was once an innovative solution has become a problem.
Our plastic problem is connected to a lot of other world issues that we’re not gonna solve overnight. The systemic aspect of our disposable culture and drive for overconsumption is something that can’t be tackled in a single blog post. We can make a good start though by taking a quick look at how plastic is affecting us. Then we’ll get on to what to do about it.
For Our Health
- This study by Environmental Health Perspectives found that 70% of plastics leach toxic endocrine disruptors into contents at room temperature and 95% of all plastics leach them when exposed to normal use like putting them in the dishwasher.
- Endocrine disruptors leached by plastics have been linked to diabetes, reproductive harm, asthma, obesity and genital abnormalities in baby boys.
- Eco-friendly “bio-plastics” are made with the same chemicals as regular plastics, but because they are designed to break down quicker, leach endocrine disruptors faster.
- In producing plastic, toxic fumes are released into the air, affecting workers and surrounding residents.
- Ingesting enough endocrine disruptors found in plastic can literally change not only our genes but also 4-5 generations down our lineage.
For Our Planet
- An average of 8 million metric tons of plastic gets washed into our oceans every year. Envision FIVE plastic bags full of plastic trash for every foot of coastline in the entire world. Yikes! It’s projected to double in the next decade!
- 99% of plastic washed into our oceans ends up degrading into “microplastic” pieces which marine life consume, to devastating ends.
- The majority of the plastic pollution in the world is “use and toss” plastic, designed to be discarded within a year. Including plastic packaging, plastic bags, your toothbrush, plastic bottles of all varieties, etc…
- Making plastic uses more oil than the entire aviation industry per year.
- Plastic manufacturers are still increasing their production, thanks to fracking.
- Every time we wash our synthetic fiber clothes, thousands of “microfibers” get washed into our wastewater system and our oceans, resulting in contamination of the air we breathe, and the seafood/ sea salt we eat.
- Only 9% of ALL the plastic waste in the United States gets recycled per year. The rest goes into landfills or the ocean, where it wreaks havoc and has deadly consequences for marine life.
Why Reduction Is More Important Now
Typically, we send up to 30% of our recycling to China, but that’s a problem now because they’ve stopped accepting it so that they can clean up their environmental issues (yay China!). This has put a lot more waste to deal with on our doorstep. Recycling centers have become overwhelmed in the US, and many of them are asking to send what they can’t process to the landfill. Recycling is still important and a much better option than a landfill but until our recycling centers can handle more, reducing our waste should top the list of priorities.
What We Can Do About All This Plastic
Okay, phew! Are you still with me? That was rough. I’ll tell ya, in writing this article I had to walk away and do other things a LOT because researching the negative impacts of plastic was so depressing. I believe what we focus on expands though. So let’s focus on what you and I can do to be part of the solution. It’s an excellent time for a great quote:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Eliminating plastic from your life entirely is not practical. So do what you can now and work your way up from there. Start where it impacts you the most. Eliminating plastic is a process, and all efforts count!
The Biggest Personal Impact: Plastic around your food
Eliminating plastic around your food is a double whammy, because not only is it part of the most extensive contributors of waste, but it poses the most significant health risk. Here are all the ways you can refuse plastic when it comes to your food.
Get a laundry filter to catch the microfibers in your wash
This single act will SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the amount of microfiber pollution in waste streams! By doing that, we help the planet and cut our exposure to plastic in our seafood and in the air around agricultural fields.
Patagonia sells the Guppyfriend® washbag at cost. Wesco sells a microfiber filter that connects from your washer hose to the drain (it’s a little pricier but a great option). Soon, the Cora Ball will be on the market as an additional in-wash microfiber catcher. I’m looking forward to that one for the hair and fur catching benefits as well. Valentino and I shed a lot.
Just Avoid Using All Plastic Bags.
If everyone in the United States did this one thing, we’d save 12 million barrels of oil, up to 100,000 marine animals and up to 32 million tons of landfill waste per year. Remember to bring your reusable bags to every place you might be purchasing things! I now bring reusable bags to my plant nursery and transfer any plant purchases from their plastic pots into my cloth bags! I hand them their container and ask them to go back to burlap. It’s not like it’s the weirdest thing they’ve gotten, lol!
I’ve also switched to paper bags for my trash can. I’ve read that some people opt for no liner at all. If you’re not quite ready to give up lining your trash cans, consider using recycled paper bags and if you have a gross, wet mess to throw out, wrap it up in a small waxed paper bag. Or you can use compostable kitchen bags like these. They’re made from potato starch with ZERO plasticizers and ZERO polyethylene. I’ve used them, they’re a little fragile, but so is our planet, so…. there’s that.
Remember your reusable beverage holder, to-go containers, and cutlery!
I go nowhere without my Kleen Kanteen (thanks mom!). It holds hot or cold liquids and sometimes hardboiled eggs when I need them to stay warm, lol! I also have a dedicated pyrex container with a fork, knife, spoon and cloth napkin. I keep it in my car, just in case I am in a food situation like grabbing lunch at a grocery store deli or if I have left-overs at a restaurant. Some people use stainless steel containers. They are a lot more durable and weigh less. If you eat out a lot, it might be a better option for you!
Replace the Plastic in Your Kitchen
At home, go ahead and recycle all the plastic in your cupboards. All those Rubbermaid containers, all the stored up yogurt containers that double as quick fridge storage, all the plastic utensils you save from those take-out bags or food delivery and remember the cooking utensils too! Just get it out. Replace it with glass, bamboo and stainless steel. My cupboards, freezer, and fridge are full of mason jars and Pyrex containers!
If you’re accustomed to sealing food in plastic bags like in a FoodSavr®, you can use a jar attachment like this one for wide-mouth jars or this one for regular and seal your mason jars! I use them with my food sealer, and they work great! While they are made of plastic, they never touch your food and are designed for long-term use. It extends the life of your food sealer instead of creating more waste. If you order from Amazon, make sure to request “frustration free” packaging, and they’ll leave the plastic airbag padding out. The canning jars with no shoulders can be frozen, just don’t run them under hot water right from the freezer or fridge (ask me how I know, lol!).
Sustainable Grocery Shopping
Jars and stainless steel containers are a great way to get unpackaged goods home! Even WholeFoods Market will weigh and tare all the containers you bring with you before you fill them up! If you don’t want to haul all your mason jars in with you on your grocery adventure, natural cloth bags work too!
Always order meat from the counter instead of the pre-packaged display. Glass or stainless steel containers are great for meat purchases. Also, please take a picture of the meat counter attendant’s face when you hand them the container that you brought from home. Then come back and post it! I wish I would have had a camera the first time I passed the guy behind the counter my glass bowl with a lid and asked him to tare it before he put my meat order in it. He looked at me strangely. I enjoy making a splash from time to time, ya know?
Buy bulk bin whenever possible
Bulk bin reduces waste! Ask the store manager to order something if you don’t see it in the bulk offerings. If enough people request bulk items and avoid pre-packaged, it’ll catch on! Look at this well thought out No-packaging grocery store in Brooklyn, NY; and they’re not the only ones! No-packaging places are popping up all over the country! There’s one in Austin, Denver, and The Zero Market in NYC will even send the tools to go plastic free to your doorstep in re-used paper packaging! Check out the Bulk Finder site and see what bulk bins neighbors have found in your city!
Ask for better packaging!
How did places like Walmart get an organic section? People all over the country started asking for it and spending money elsewhere on organics. I’m DEFINITELY not recommending Walmart, but I am recommending getting vocal! Start a conversation with the companies you buy from and ask for paper packaging or better yet, no packaging at all. Notice the products that you would have purchased if they weren’t in plastic. Then send those companies an email! I recently emailed Organic Pastures and let them know that I would love to buy their raw organic milk, but I choose Straus instead because it comes in a returnable glass bottle. Will it make a difference to them? Probably not until enough people express similar sentiments. It starts the communication though! Companies spend a LOT of money to know what wins customers. Use your dollar AND your voice (well… or your keyboard anyway). I have some downloadable template letters at the bottom of this post, so you don’t even have to wonder what to say!
Start Where You Can
Okay, that’s a lot of information to digest! Try doing one thing this week and see how it feels. Pat yourself on the back for making a big impact. Every action counts! Remember to come back and share what efforts you’ve made in the comments! It helps others to know they aren’t alone in making a change!
Positive Change Around The World
Speaking of encouragement, action to fix the plastic problem is happening all over the world! Over 40 countries and 6000 individuals, companies and groups have officially joined the United Nations Environment CleanSeas campaign, committing to “turn the tide on plastic” and greatly reduce marine litter over the next five years. To take the #CleanSeas pledge yourself, click here! Plastic bag bans are happening all over the world! Over seven countries in Africa now have a bag ban or tax, Italy has a plastic bag ban, and New Dehli banned all single-use plastic! Here in the United States, Over 19 states have city-wide bag bans or taxes and California has banned them statewide!
Interested in connecting with other individuals from around the world who have joined the low-waste/ low plastic culture? Here are some groups and organizations that are working to support the global (and local) efforts!
My favorite plastic free group on FB (so far) is this one. There are over 13,000 members from all over the world that support each other in reducing plastic use. They’re kind, offer useful suggestions and have clear guidelines for how to treat each other in the group (aka be nice, and no drama).
These guys have up to 90 campaigns at any given moment and are a force for change. They focus on protecting our oceans.
Post Disposable. That’s the future that these innovators are creating. What I love about them is that they focus on positive action rather than fear and negativity. They are building their network of “citizen designers” to re-imagine and re-design the world as we know it.
Life Without Plastic
This is a great online shop to get non-plastic gear like stainless steel containers to take to the meat counter, or the restaurant, or wherever! They’ve got all sorts of goodies, information and all of their products are ethically sourced.
Do you have any resources that you use in your pursuit of breaking up with plastic? Let us know about them, please!
Downloadable Template Letters
You don’t even have to wonder what to write to companies to ask for better packaging! Download, copy and paste these short-but-sweet emails and start the conversation! Remember to add your specific details before you send them!
Next installment of 11 Weeks To A Green Home: The Sustainability Series, we’ll continue the conversation by addressing plastic in other parts of your house, yard and life, and alternatives that you can feel good about. Remember to share the efforts you’ve made or are planning to make and help encourage us all!