By Chris Powell
Ever since I met Robert Swan, I have been inspired by his message of individuals doing small things that collectively can make an impact on our climate and environment. Robert does this by raising awareness of the threats posed to Antarctica and by engaging individuals, governments and companies around the world to think about how they use natural resources, and more important, how they can conserve them.
So, recently, I started mulling over an idea of going for one month without “single-use” plastic. Plastic is one of the greatest dangers to our environment. From the way it’s manufactured and destroyed, it pollutes air, land and water while exposing us to carcinogens. Plastic packaging – especially the plastic bags we all get at stores – adds to landfills and gets eaten by marine and land animals. It doesn’t biodegrade, and while we’re seeing some government efforts to ban synthetic plastic and Styrofoam, it’s not enough.
Taking Robert’s message and challenge of individual change, I started looking at my own use of plastic. It’s obvious to all of us that it’s part of our daily lives. I would have told you that I do my best to reduce the use of plastic and recycle as much as possible. However, quite honestly, as I simply worked to become more aware, I’ve come to realize it’s in every part of my life. I brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush with toothpaste packed in a plastic tube. I shave my face (sometimes my head too – the perils of age) with a razor encased in plastic. In my office, I use a white board with dry erase markers encased in plastic. I have a giant bowl of cellophane wrapped mints and candy in my waiting area. At lunch, I drink a soda out of a plastic bottle and eat my sandwich packed in a clear plastic box. I grab my afternoon pick-me-up coffee with its plastic top after using plastic stirrers. And that’s just my work day.
When you start to think about how much plastic is around us, it’s staggering. The other day I stopped at the grocery store on my way home. My mission: a plastic-free dinner. It was rough. Here’s why:
- Produce: Since I did not bring my own bags to pack fruit and vegetables, I struck out here. Oh, and of course, no pre-packed salads or pre-packaged items. Mental note: pack the bags to buy produce.
- Protein: Tough going here also, except for the fish or meat counter, but make sure it’s wrapped in paper only – none of the plastic they typically lay down on top of the paper wrapping.
- Cheese (sigh): No comment here, my favorite food group. I may need to figure out how to make my own cheese… or I may be limited to Philadelphia Cream Cheese – that’s not okay.
- Sushi??!!!: Ugh, nope.
- On and on it went. This particular store did not even have fresh bread I could buy in a paper bag. Come on, give a guy a break.
As I start down this path of a month without single-use plastic, I have a few goals in mind:
- To take an honest look at how I consume plastic. I’ve decided to stop making meaningless comments about the island of plastic in the oceans, and realize I am a small part of it. It bothers me to think I am culpable, but there it is.
- To show that you can do this without being a raving lunatic (I’ve recently discovered a whole community of zero-waste folks who are doing amazing things, and they don’t live in a cabin in the woods off the grid).
- To “reset” my plastic habit. After one month, maybe I will find a way to continue my abolition of one-use plastic. One thing seems likely though: I will reduce it.
So this Earth Day (which is April 22), I invite you to join me in raising your awareness of the plastic in your life. Find something, anything – and make a change. Can you choose beverages in cans or glass instead of plastic? Can you use powdered laundry detergent in a cardboard box instead of liquid?
I’m taking a few small steps at a time and hopefully will work my way to #plasticenlightenment. It’s what Robert would want me to do.