WALKING GENTLY ON THE EARTH: PLASTIC, PLASTIC EVERYWHERE
Recently a friend lent me the book, Plastic Free, and I was surprised how much I didn’t know about plastic, given how concerned I am about both the health of the planet and the safety of our food, water, and air. But what is the problem with plastic anyway, or should we say what are the problems? Too make a long story short, not only does plastic endanger our health when plastic packaging leaches toxins into our food, water and personal care products, but the production and disposal of plastic pollute the environment, including our drinking water and food, and endanger many life forms, especially many ocean living creatures. Given that plastic really is everywhere in our daily lives, this seems like an unsolvable problem. But don’t despair. Believe it or not, there was life before plastic!
To start with, we can try to figure out which plastics we can’t avoid for the moment, such as the kind in many things around the house. Most major appliances, for example, contain plastic parts. The key is noticing what you use every day and finding alternatives, especially for single use plastics like water bottles, plastic shopping bags, and carry out containers. Start by carrying your own stainless steel or glass water bottle filled with tap water. Whether you filter your tap water or not, it should be just as safe or safer than bottled water. As for shopping bags, there are many woven, collapsible bags available now that are convenient, and even stylish. Eco Bag, Project Greenbag, and Chico are just a few brands. New Jersey is working on banning single use plastic shopping bags, but for now it’s still up to us to take the lead. By the way, the reusable bags that many supermarkets sell for 99 cents are made of plastic and don’t last long, so try to find cloth bags instead. Turn down plastic utensils with your fast food; I am so frustrated when restaurants put them in with my take-out order when I am going home to a drawer full of forks and knives anyway. I just have to get in the habit of telling them beforehand. Sets of bamboo or stainless-steel utensils are easy to find and carry with you for times when you eat away from home. Carry a few containers when you eat out, so you can avoid using their take-home packaging. Even the variety that seems to be cardboard is often lined or coated with plastic, which makes the container neither recyclable nor biodegradable. Finally, try taking your own stainless-steel mug to your favorite coffee shop. You might even get a discount for using your own mug. Until you get a mug of your own, you can still refuse the plastic lid. It really is all about being aware. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you start thinking about how to use less plastic in your life:
- Do I really need to buy it, or do I already own something similar?
- Can I borrow or rent it instead of buying it?
- Can I find a plastic-free or plastic “freer” version?
- Can I find it without the plastic packaging?
- Is there a version made of recycled materials? (For example, Preserve recycles #5 plastic into storage containers razors, toothbrushes, etc., and # 5 is one of the safer plastics for humans. Whole Foods Market works with Preserve to collect shoppers’ #5 plastic.)
Of course, this is just the beginning of freeing ourselves from plastic. There is so much to learn. I do recommend the book: Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry. You can probably get it out of the library, but it’s so full of information and resources that you may want to have a copy for yourself. Wherever you start, the earth will thank you!