Lessons From a Month Without Single-Use Plastic
This past month I embarked on an unusual social experiment: I resolved to go without single-use plastic for 30 days. Why? I decided to take on the challenge Robert Swan poses to everyone he meets: Think about ways to collectively reduce the energy and resources we use.
Why did I try to reduce my use of single use plastic? Plastic pollution is a very real problem - billions of plastic waste items are clogging our oceans, lakes and rivers.
Here are some scary, staggering facts:
- Single-use plastics are often not recycled. Eighty percent of the plastic we use is single use and ends up in landfills and the oceans. If we continue at our current rate, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
- Plastics that end up in landfills leak harmful pollutants into the watershed. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed potential risks of plastic in drinking water. Its analysis found more than 90 percent of the world’s most popular water brands contained tiny pieces of plastic.
- The United States throws away enough plastic bottles in a week to encircle the world five times.
So, you’re probably thinking: How hard can it be to go without single-use plastic? Trust me, not only is it hard, it’s pretty much impossible.
What I learned in the past month is: SINGLE-USE PLASTIC IS EVERYWHERE. Once I started making conscious choices about not using single-use plastic, I couldn’t stop seeing it. Going to the grocery store became an impossible chore. Think about a typical food run:
- You go to get produce – what type of bags are available to put your items in?
- Chicken or beef? Not if it’s wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. Other than going to the butcher with your own reusable bag or brown paper, you’re not buying any protein.
- Cereal? Sure, that comes in boxes. But the bag inside holding the cereal is plastic.
- Need body soap, shampoo, toothpaste? All packaged in plastic.
- I found the cruelest part of shopping was (not) buying cheese. You cannot buy cheese that is not wrapped in plastic.
It goes on and on. Plastic straws in restaurants. Plastic wrapping in your Amazon shipment. Drinks served in plastic cups on an airplane (or, everywhere).
How has my behavior changed? Besides becoming obsessed with single-use plastic and its pervasive existence, I have done a fairly good job reducing my plastic footprint. Have there been slip-ups? Yes – most of which were unintentional. I keep a mason jar to collect all the single-use plastic items I didn’t expect – a connector from a concert wristband; the plastic wrapper on the room service tray; the plastic label on a bunch of broccoli I bought.
Eliminating all single-use plastic may seem extreme (seriously, I brushed my teeth with a mixture of coconut oil and baking soda – it’s horrible). But you don’t have to go to extremes to make a difference to reduce single-use plastic in our lives.
There are a few easy things you can do to reduce your plastic footprint:
- Don’t use plastic straws and remember to ask for no straw when you are eating out.
- Use glass or aluminum water bottles and reusable coffee mugs.
- Choose aluminum cans for your beverages instead of plastic (remember to recycle them!).
- If you’re not using reusable grocery bags, use paper – and be sure to return your plastic grocery bags to the store. Don’t forget to take bread bags, produce bags and any other clean plastic bags back to be recycled.
Making small changes individually can collectively make an impact. After this month, I will never look at single-use plastic the same way. It is part of my consciousness now and my new truth is: Enlightenment is a terrible burden, but it might just save the planet for my daughters.