No Plastic July Wrap up

No Plastic July Wrap up

This week marks the end of two months of active reduction of plastic consumption. My grand summation? It’s really hard! I’ve actually come to the conclusion that we are doomed! OK, that’s extreme but the reality is truly disturbing. The impact of behavior change by a single individual versus the continual output of the larger plastic-coated machine is, well, like a micro-bead of plastic in a pile of ocean waste!

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There are, of course, amazing efforts by individuals and companies to reduce their plastic footprint. There is the report of the Norwegian shipping baron building the largest yacht ever to clean up 5 tons of plastic per day. There are the companies working to develop plastic alternatives. There are scientists and researchers developing and analyzing  biodegradable or compostable packaging. And there are individuals taking their small steps to reduce consumption and educate.

Which brings it back to my experience. The personal behavior of carrying a bag, refusing straws, not using disposable water bottles – that top level stuff was pretty easy. Not buying new clothing is pretty easy for me too because I’ve been a thrift shop girl for most of my life. And it’s definitely better to buy used than new if you’re buying any kind of synthetic fabric because your synthetic clothing continues to release billions of microfibers for the rest of its life. This was new to me and one of the depressing things I learned. I’ve always preferred cotton but the reality is that all natural fibers are pretty impractical in this day and age. Think fleece, yoga pants, bras, socks – even many basic pants and shirts have their share of plastic because they add shape and stretch to our clothes. Going back to a linen and cotton culture is unlikely to happen and they come with their own intense environmental impact anyway. Maybe an all bamboo wardrobe…

Which brings us to household products. Most everything comes packaged in plastic and it’s hard to avoid. Just cruise the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond and the amount of plastic packaging is enough to make your heart hurt! It’s hard to buy everything used so if you’re buying a shower curtain rod, a comforter, new sheets – it all comes in these horrible plastic, non-recyclable bags or that dense, finger-slicing packaging that is the bane of shoppers everywhere (partly because you need a hacksaw to open it!) There are some alternatives and they are generally harder to find, cost more money and offer fewer style choices. (Think the Abnegation people in Divergent – all grey, simple and no stuff…)Related imageSo conscious consumption and not just mindless buying of the latest seasonal products seems to be the best approach here.

And then there’s food. I talked about bringing my own cutlery and stuff and that was fairly easy. I make some choices to not do take out if they serve in styrofoam. I accept plastic if it’s recyclable but it’s not ideal.   I did not start carrying my own bento box for take out. I might still try that. I’m fortunate to live in the ATL where restaurants are abundant and I can frequent ones that reflect my environmental concerns.

And then there’s food for the home.

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If we all just ate bananas and grains we could probably make this thing work. But that’s not who my family is. We don’t live off the grid growing our own food and I can’t make food a full-time effort. So this was the hardest and I’m not sure I made any progress here. Mostly I just added stress due to increased awareness.

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As a public health person, I’m all about behavior change so it was interesting to observe and explore where I met my own internal resistance, where it was easy to change, the convenience factor and all the other variables. Like I said, top level stuff was easy. The next level stuff – here in privileged America – is harder. It truly has to become a life style choice and there can be impact when a person holds the line about their choices. We see and experience impact from lifestyle choices all around us – vegans experience it every day as they move about society trying to make it work for them. Plastic reduction really falls in to the same category. Each person has to take their own stand and draw their own lines and be willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience on their own terms.

I do think there is a baseline though and that includes pushing back against things like thoughtless water bottle, straw and plastic bag use because consumer pressure makes a difference. Being an educated consumer feels important to me and so I’ll keep working on it. The experiment really is a lifestyle choice and I am committed to it. Those small steps do make a difference and, at the end of the day, at the end of this experiment, small steps are all I’ve got to offer.

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Be sure and visit My Plastic Free Life and Trash is for Tossers to get ideas about taking it further. Let me know how your journey goes.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I have set an experiment to see if it is possible to reduce the amount of plastic in my daily life for the month of June. I want to increase my own awareness around my general consumption, the amount of disposable items and the amount of overall plastic use in my life.  My goal is to not buy anything that’s not comestible or consumable and to have an overall emphasis on reducing extraneous waste.

My goals:

  • Not buy anything that isn’t consumable (household and hygiene items only,) comestible (food) or an experience ( haircut, concert)
  • Reduce the amount of plastic that moves across my hands
  • Not buy anything in packaging that can not be recycled
  • Not use disposable items (cups, bottles etc)

Who I am:

  • Working mother of two sons
  • I live in urban Atlanta
  • As a family, we are busy and often on-the-go
  • I am not a “back-to-the Earth foodie” though I buy local and eat organic as much as possible
  • Though we often eat at home, we eat a lot of simple or prepared foods

Week 1 – June 1-6

Didn’t buy a card for a friend of mine! Made one instead.

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Did end up buying dinner on day 1! We walked to our local market (all local produce and organic meat) and bought dinner to go. Ugh – right off the bat – there’s plastic! It’s all recyclable but I bought it without even thinking about it!

Dinner box Day 1

As I walked home, feeling chagrined about my plastic dinner container, I realized I had not yet set my parameters and, as my partner said, it’s not about being “perfect.” It’s about increasing awareness day to day.

I live in a household of 4 people, 2 of whom are teenagers and this is my experiment. Though I refused a plastic bag for my dinner, they had just accepted the plastic bag without thinking about it. So we talked about it. It’s a start.

 

Six days in, my greatest take away is the lack of choice we have in our plastic consumption. I traveled over the weekend and being on the road makes it nearly impossible to be in control of ones own plastic consumption.

 

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Friday night I was hosted for a community dinner and everything was served on plastic. At this point, I am not carrying my own plate and cutlery so, if I want to eat, I accept the plastic. As we blessed the wine and food, I added an additional prayer to be able to gracefully manage the heightened awareness and pain that this experiment entails.

Saturday my beloved went out into the early morning and brought me back coffee in a paper cup – I don’t have a way to recycle it and I have no idea where the cup is going to end up. At breakfast, the server brought me a lovely cup of coffee in a mug and a bowl of “mini moos.” I asked her if she had creamer not in plastic  so she brought me not one but two little silver carafes of cream. All of that cream ended up going to waste. Which would have been better – the plastic or throwing away a 1/4 cup of cream?

Friends

Saturday afternoon I gathered with friends at a restaurant on the beach. Food came out on real plates but every drink was served in a plastic cup with a straw.  I noticed that the table next to us had water in regular reusable cups but for some reason all of ours were disposable plastic. We each had water and a cocktail – that’s 10 plastic cups and 10 straws. This is when I recognized the lack of choice. Straws are given automatically and are often not wrapped in paper so when they’re brought out, even if I don’t use one, it’s adding to the trash because it can’t be given to someone else. It didn’t occur to me to ask for a drink in a real cup.

The rest of the journey was variation on the prior experiences – plastic cups on the boat ride, mini moos for coffee, carry out food on plastic. I was grateful to get home and be able to have two full days of complete control.

Choice is the main take away for this week – it’s always been easy to reject plastic bags and to carry my own water bottle – I have been doing that so long that’s it’s second nature. Knowing what to anticipate (straws, mini moos, disposable cups at restaurants!) I can at least now be on the look out for these opportunities. But if you are not cooking at home or eating at sit-down restaurants, your ability to control the amount of disposable plastic is limited. Yes, much of it is recyclable and but most of it is not being recycled.

Moving forward, I am going to be that girl with cutlery, a reusable travel mug, water bottle and reusable bag all tucked into my purse.  I hope I have one big enough because I’m not buying a new one this month!