For the past few months, I have been trying to avoid plastic and reduce the amount of plastic waste I create on a daily basis. Let me tell you that it has been really hard to avoid plastic, because plastic has become this cheap, disposable material that is used for literally everything. Why am I trying to avoid plastic? I started my journey to reduce plastic to reduce cramps, but after recently watched a documentary called Bag It and learned some disturbing issues regarding plastic. At the time this documentary was filmed, the ratio of plankton to plastic in the ocean is 1:40. The stomachs of turtles, seagulls, and whatever other sea animals you can imagine are filled with plastic. The documentary does a great job of putting that into perspective: think about half of your plate being filled with plastic. Isn’t that a terrible way to live?
You might wonder, well why don’t the animals differentiate between plastic and food? It’s because plastic breaks down into tiny pieces and when sea animals open their mouths in the water, the plastic floats in alongside any plankton that’s in the water because it’s hard to tell which one is which. So why are they having to live through these terrible living conditions and inhumane diets? Because none of us have questioned the use of plastic. We use it for the sake of convenience, and we turn a blind eye. But we can’t outrun the consequences forever or push it off to the next generation, because it’s going to happen within the next decade. It’s not enough to sit here and trash talk Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord or to blame big corporations and expect “other people” to change. It’s not enough to think that “it can be recycled” because here’s the scary fact: plastic doesn’t biodegrade- it just breaks down into smaller pieces and never goes away.
I used to turn a blind eye and avoided responsibility, so I never really thought about the true costs of my convenience. I just assumed that as long as I put it in the recycling bin, everything was ok. After all, the garbage trucks come around every week to take it away. So all the plastic was out of mind, out of sight. But now I realize, every time I use a straw, it’s not just one turtle dead. It’s turtles, fish, polar bears, sea horses, and more. I can try not to think about it and leave it to environmentalists, but now that I know that plastic isn’t going away, I realize that this lifestyle is not sustainable. Because pretty soon the oceans will be full, and sea animals are projected to die out within the next decade, and who knows what kind of impact that will have on the whole ecosystem?
Once you think about the consequences, you also start to think about the chemical effects plastic has on the body. Sure, companies will tell you that their plastic is BPA free, but is that all? They didn’t have regulations around BPA until the side effects became apparent. There is no guarantee that BPA-free plastic has no chemical, hormonal impact on the body. Yet we use it every day. Why? Because consumerism runs on plastic. Nobody wants to pay the costs of fair labor and the work that goes into using natural, ethical materials. So they use plastic for the convenience and the illusion of plastic being “cheap.” Two generations ago people didn’t even use plastic. They used natural cloth, wood, metals, and glass. Now, it’s hard to even avoid plastic. Here are the problems I have run into while trying to avoid plastic over the past few months.
Even when I don’t need a straw, I am given a straw. Even when I don’t ask for a straw, they put a straw in my drink. Because the food industry has taken the straw for granted, and now it’s just common practice to include a straw. When I order a drink, I’m not usually thinking about the straw while I’m looking at the menu. By the time my drink comes out, it’s already too late. Because nobody is going to take that straw out of my drink, wash it, and give it to someone else. They’re just going to chuck that straw in the trash because their business could get sued for violating health regulations. So I have had to consciously train myself to order a drink, ask for a cup instead of a take-out cup (which are lined with plastic to prevent leaking), and request specifically not to include a straw. Sometimes they don’t include a straw, but there are other times when they put in a straw by habit, then take it out and throw it away because I requested not to include a straw.
When I was feeling sick and got prescription drugs at the pharmacy, they individually packaged my pills in plastic. Even when they give it to you in a prescription bottle, the bottle is always a plastic bottle. Vitamins come in plastic bottles. Eye drops come in plastic containers. It’s alarming just how much plastic we come across on a daily basis.
I purchased this coffee drink in a jar because I wanted iced coffee. Although many cafes have mugs for hot coffee, many of them don’t keep glasses for iced drinks and only offer plastic cups. Only I realized after I had purchased it, that the bottle cap was sealed in plastic, and the label on the jar was a plastic sticker.
I decided to try out the Face Halo, which is a cloth cleansing pad that removes your makeup without a makeup remover solution. I had been using micellar water for the past few years, which incidentally comes in plastic bottles. So I decided to stop purchasing micellar water to reduce plastic and try the Face Halo, only to find that it was wrapped in plastic.
Do you enjoy art or use pens or pencils at school or work? Well, nine times out of ten those are wrapped in plastic or come in plastic containers.
The final thing I have to show you, is that because I’m moving to the States at the end of June, I am trying to arrange my dog to come with me. I have raised Kip since he was 4 months old and I can’t bear the idea of parting with him. Well the airline will only allow him to travel if he is placed in a plastic carrier that fits their regulations. I understand this is a safety issue, but I feel like there should be a way to build safe carriers that are constructed with either wood or metal.
These days, I’ve committed to carrying a stainless steel tumbler for coffee, and I’ve declined straws and plastic bags whenever I could. You might think, what difference does one person make? But I believe that when I use my money on ethical, natural products that will be my vote as a consumer. I used to buy water and drinks in plastic bottles on a daily basis. Two bottles a day for a year is 730 bottles. Two bottles a day for 10 years is 7,300 bottles. If I had to live with 7,300 bottles sitting in my room, I would be miserable. I don’t want trash in my room; NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) right? But where are all the bottles, straws, and plastic bags I’ve been using right now? Floating in the ocean somewhere? In the bellies of turtles? How many animals have I killed for the sake of my convenience? I claim that I love animals and I adore my dog, but if he was out there having to eat plastic every meal, I would devastated. I would detest myself. Think about it, if you found out that your neighbor was blending up plastic and mixing it into their cat’s meal, would that be ok with you?
It just doesn’t sit right with my conscious anymore, and it’s really something that I struggle with because there are some things that I haven’t been able to let go yet. I can’t not take medicine when I’m sick, and I can’t stop buying Kip’s kibble because it comes in a plastic bag. But I’ve really began to start challenging myself to see if it’s really something I can’t avoid. I’m trying not to let myself be overridden by guilt, and my fiance constantly reminds me that I can’t avoid plastic 100% because of the environment we live in. But this awareness is spurring on change, and I find hope in the fact that I am not alone in this journey. There is a growing #zerowaste community on Instagram, which encourages and inspires me to do more. The Netherlands opened their first plastic free supermarket this year, and it shows that people are becoming more aware. Zero-waste shops are popping up all over the world, because there are more and more people who are trying to help this cause.
When I started bringing my own stainless steel cup and explained to my friends that I was avoiding plastic, it sparked interesting conversations with my friends. I found out that my friend also had another friend who was going zero-waste, and she was trying to be more conscious about the plastic she consumed as well. I told another friend who was so moved that she went and told her co-workers about it, and another friend tells me how she thought of me when she was habitually reaching for a straw. I was surprised and touched that my actions were helping others become more aware of this problem and that people were making a greater effort to reduce plastic. So I decided to write about it here on my blog. I don’t know how many people this post will reach, but maybe if more people share their stories about their struggles to go zero-waste this idea will spread.
I’m not trying to make you feel shame or guilt, but I’m trying to share my struggle to show you that this is not going to be an easy journey. If you would like to help in a small way, start by avoiding straws. Then carry an eco-bag instead of using plastic bags. If you’re up for a bigger challenge then try carrying a stainless steel water bottle or a coffee tumbler. Because nobody should have to eat plastic for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the sake of someone else’s convenience.
*Please also check out Michelle’s post on reducing plastic! She has an eloquent voice and shares tips avoiding plastic!