This is part 2 in my writing about reducing plastic. Part 1 explains what we’re doing on the farm. This post talks about reducing plastics in our lives.
In the last few blog posts, I have talked about my family’s coastal road trip and visit to the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium. What really struck me was SEEING how microplastics move in ocean currents and the water column. It was at once beautiful, mesmerizing, and awful.
Plastics are everywhere.
Sea life is eating plastic at every level, often because algae, the basis of the ocean food web, grows on floating plastic.
There is so much plastic in the ocean, it has formed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“–a floating island of plastics larger than Mexico.
Plastics are found in 90 percent of sea salt we eat. This fact burned me.
Why am I focused on ocean plastics when I live 300 miles from the ocean? Well, plastics cause terrestrial problems, of course, but everything goes downstream. Our garbage and, unfortunately our recycling, ends up in the ocean. The products and clothes we use shed plastics that end up in our water ways and accumulate downstream. Since we hide away our landfills–they are remote, covered, bulldozed–the ocean is the easiest place to see the true impact of plastic, which is why I keep coming back to it.
What if plastic was more important to us?
I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a while–what if the answer is not to feel guilty about plastic but to value it more? Today plastic is cheap, safe, convenient, and shameful. I’ll use or buy “unnecessary plastic items” when I’m tired or when my willpower is maxed for the day; when my kid wants a drink on a road trip and I don’t feel like having a long conversation.
What if we considered plastic a vital strategic resource to be use for the most critical reasons? What if we limited plastic use to health care and safety? What if it was as important as our stockpile of vaccines or the strategic oil reserve?
This idea might be a helpful way to think about your own purchases and plastic use. Is this plastic critical for health and safety? Or is is just convenient? Does this plastic purchase really match the value and impact?
What to Avoid
First and foremost, we’ve got to stop using PET single use plastic. This plastic has no where to go but the ocean. Mostly, it can never be recycled. No PET means no more plastic water bottles, drink bottles, plastic bags, party cups, cup lids, and no more straws. Do you really need to stir milk into your coffee with a plastic stir stick that can kill ocean life and will outlast your time on earth? I argue you do not.
Of course there are folks with disabilities who need straws to drink. This is a strategic and critical use. Otherwise, find an alternative.
Skipping the straw will not solve the plastic problem, but it will start changing how we behave and what we use. That is what we need.
Two Reason (besides the environment) to Change Your Plastic Habits
1. You’re getting ripped off! Plastic containers are used to sell you things in volume. Shampoo and laundry detergent, for example, are mostly water! If you buy liquid forms of things you can buy as a concentrate or solid form, you are paying too much.
2. Recycling isn’t working. Even if you put plastic bottles in the recycling bin, the chance that they are actually recycled is low. The recycling system is breaking down. We have been sending our recycling waste to China for decades and now they don’t want it.
Tips for Reducing Plastic in Your Life
1. Be that weirdo!
Lots of things we can do to reduce plastic will make us look weird. OH WELL. What other people think of you is none of your business anyway.
If other folks start doing weird things I do, I won’t look so weird. So, join me! Bring a glass container to a restaurant for put left-overs. Ask for a real glass or fork when plastic is provided–most of the time people oblige me without hesitation. Offer to wash the dishes at community events so they can skip the plastic. Take bags with you to pick up trash on your walks or hikes. Keep pint mason jars and forks in your car to use at events or parties.
2. Make avoidance a new habit.
Create habits for yourself and your family that mean you can avoid the plastic question all together. Give your kids the job of returning the re-usable grocery bags to the car. Buy a family of “to-go” mugs AND a thermos and pack it with you. Shop at second hand stores for the plastic things you need or want.
3. Break with tradition
Do we need balloons at birthday parties or can we just do with paper lanterns and crepe paper? Does your sandwich have to go in a baggie? Or can you put it in a piece of butcher paper or parchment or a waxed wrap?
5. Embrace the re-gift.
Re-gift things like excess kitchen wares and toys like Legos, GI Joes, and Barbies. They are usually abandoned, not worn out. ASK for re-gifts.
6. Make goals you can brag about.
My dear “weirdo” friend Sarah told me in October, “I haven’t drank from a plastic bottle in 10 years.” What?! Let’s give this woman a metal medal! I want to be like Sarah, and while she wasn’t bragging, I would. 🙂 What I’m really saying is, party without plastic.
7. Walk away.
Look for plastic free options, ask for plastic free options, then walk away. I almost never regret the thing I didn’t buy. You can always go back.
8. Buy Better Products
Here are my tips for products I appreciate or am going to try.
I’m avoiding plastic fabrics, and sticking with leather, cotton, wool, hemp and other plant-based fibers. I bought my husband a pair of wool running shoes for Christmas from All Birds and loves them. I’ve also checked out Astral hemp shoes and Rothys which are made from water bottles.
I believe in the power of vinegar, Bon Ami, and Boraxo soaps, which are old brands and widely available. There are lots of other products out there, but look for powders that come in cardboard, not plastic jugs. I’m excited to try these new laundry detergent strips. Also check out this site for numerous plastic-free, ecofriendly cleaning products.
We use Etee bags and wraps instead of baggies and cellophane. They are waxed cotton. Etee also has cleaning products.
Buy wooden and metal utensils, bowls, etc. instead of plastic. Use rags instead of paper towels.
To avoid the plastic bottles, try shampoo & conditioner bars, and just stick to bars of soap from the farmers market–we have a lot of local soap makers. There are so many options out there, you will find something you like.
Local company Growing Wise and many other companies are marketing deodorant in cardboard tubes. Growing Wise will also personalize what you need based on skin and needs at their Union, Oregon shop.
Other northeast Oregon companies that don’t use plastic include Wild Carrot, which markets their products in glass, and Dr. Lorraine’s Adventure Salves, which uses metal tins.
Things to Read & Watch
- A Plastic Voyage. Documentary about a group of women sail for a month researching ocean plastic.
- The Beauty Industry Generates a lot of Plastic Waste. Can it Change? National Geographic article.
- Plant Money episodes on recycling: A Mob Boss, A Garbage Boat, and Why We Recycle and So, Should We Recycle?
Is plastic unavoidable? Kinda. Can we significantly reduce our plastic use? Yes. Should we completely re-think how we use it? We must.
Thanks for reading!
Your grateful farmer,