I am obsessed, I can hardly go a couple of hours without thinking about my plastic use, people’s use around me, and use as a community, nation, and global population. In all honesty, I don’t understand how people couldn’t think about it all the time considering that plastic surrounds us wherever we are pretty much every single day. Wherever you’re reading this from right now pause and consider what plastic is nearby you. Maybe it’s the bottle of water in your bag, the plastic casing of the device that you’re reading this from, or quite likely it is in your clothes and home items (curtains, carpet, upholstery, etc.)
As a 5 Gyres Ambassador I always make sure to say during every single one of my talks that I do not hate plastic, it saves lives in hospitals and via medical devices every day. I use plastic in ways listed in the intro paragraph in my home and when I drive my car (plastic dash and other parts) and work at my computer, but plastic production and consumption has really gotten out of control. Therefore, I always try to cut back on my use. I stopped drinking bottled water and other single use beverages a few years ago, I always refuse straws at restaurants, and take other such steps so that I personally do not contribute to plastic pollution. There are the well-known ways to cut back, refusing single use, but here are some larger ways to reduce your plastic dependence, because we all have it.
This is an obvious one, but it has many positive impacts. Ever since swapping to organic cotton produce bags I have bought more produce in bulk which means I waste less food (before shopping for a household of two would mean wasting a lot of food before we could ever get to it) and I also visit local produce stands more with my produce bags. When shopping at mainstream grocery stores the majority of the fresh section is sadly wrapped in thin plastic bags and if it doesn’t come that way then that’s how it ends up going home with shoppers from one of the giant rolls of flimsy plastic produce bags provided.
Shopping more locally and at a scale that’s better for a household of two means that the food that we eat travels less to our table and therefore maintains more of its nutrients once there. While visiting my in laws in France for an extended amount of time it was fascinating the market culture of the French – they shop frequently and eat fresh. I aim for that type of grocery shopping as much as I can now. Another added benefit is keeping money in the local economy and supporting a family run business.
Mend and Make Do
Modern American culture is extremely consumeristic, shopping has evolved into not just a hobby but into a frequent way of living for many, a lot of it to do with keeping up with the Jones’. It can take a lot of effort, but instead of allowing yourself to replace items when they break or when the newest must-have hits the store, ask yourself if you can repair, or if you know someone else who can repair for you if you lack the skills – Facebook and other social media outlets are a great place to ask such questions, and also ask yourself if you can get by without.
Clothes are the obvious example here. I have a bag set aside with my items that need mending and whenever a road trip comes up I try to remember to take my sewing for the passengers seat. It seems a really old fashioned thing to do, but it used to be the norm before fast fashion took over the world. Women mostly used to spend a large portion of their time mending the families clothing because clothes were either handmade and/or expensive to buy from a store.
The same goes for electronics. The hype around new iphones exemplify this. Not only does buying secondhand or getting your phone repaired if it bites the dust help keep plastic out of landfill, but it is also more ethical since in production and end of life our electronics are very polluting to those who mine for the metals that make them work and those who ‘recycle’ our electronics by burning them whole (air pollution via burning plastics) in order to retrieve the wires again.
Surround Yourself with Nature
When shopping for items for your home or closet opt for natural fibers and materials. This is usually much more expensive, say to buy a wool rug instead of a synthetic fiber rug, but if you cut back spending in general over the long run spending more on fewer items may balance out if you follow a budget. Lately I have been buying a lot of baskets for organizing, they’re easy to find secondhand and they’re pleasing to look at and to touch, as opposed to a plastic organizer that is far more likely to break.
As with all plastics they are not just harmful at the end of life when they often end up polluting land, water, and air, but they are also detrimental from the beginning of production. Plastics are made from fossil fuels meaning they have a direct link to global warming, they also have been found to off gas when littered on land or sea contributing again to global warming and throughout the time that we use our plastic products, plastics release possibly dangerous chemicals. All around bad.
This goes hand in hand with make do and mend, when something runs out do a google search to see if it can be made at home, saving you money but probably not time. Of course it will take more time and energy to do research and learn something new, but it is rewarding to realize how much you can do for yourself and your family. Say for example, laundry soap – I have two friends that make their own, it’s cheap and lasts a long time. I have yet to try their recipes, but did use soap nuts for a while years ago. Recently I was reminded of soap nuts on social media and think I’ll go back.
Other ideas for making for yourself include play dough for your kids, baking and making treats at home instead of buying processed, making your own skin care and cleaning products, and maybe try baking your dog treats. There are blogs and recipes galore on all of the ideas above and so many more to try.
These are just a few areas where you can cut back on plastic use if you’ve already mastered the refusing single use straws, cups, silverware, and more. Maybe you’re fresh on your plastic free life or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, aware of the negative side effects of plastic but still dependent, we all can do our part as the way we spend our dollars encourage companies to shift their packaging and production, so support less plastic production and packaging and be creative as you move away from this omnipresent material.