We rant, rail and we fume about the destructive consequences of fossil fuel dependence, yet many of us need only look inside our own fridges to see one of the major culprits behind the environmental crisis: plastic. Seriously, this stuff is a by-product of gas, oil and coal—so every time we buy something that comes in plastic packaging, we’re supporting those industries. Five percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the making of plastic, and that’s before we even get into the toll that these materials take on the environment and our health once they’re out there in the world. It’s so bad that there are microplastics in many of our bloodstreams. Eek.
So, what can we do about it? We can each do our best to reduce the (small, but cumulative) part we play in planetary plastic poisoning. Here are a few ways to get started breaking that plastic habit:
Avoid Single-Use Plastic
Most plastic items can’t be recycled. Instead, they end up in the ocean or in landfills. (Fun fact: 8 million tons of plastic go into the ocean every year.)
One way to cut down on this kind of waste is to shop in the bulk sections of stores instead of buying the same items in non-recyclable packaging. In doing so, you’ll reduce your impact on the environment, and you’ll often save a little cash in the process, all the while sidestepping the health risks associated with plastic.
Avoid buying produce that comes in plastic or plastic netting (even if those citrus Cuties look super sweet). There are usually similar fruits and veggies available that don’t come wrapped in trash. While we’re at it, we ought to steer clear of frozen foods, most of which come in packaging that’s harmful to the environment and to human health.
Some Simple Habits to Form:
- Take a cloth bag to the store (and when you forget, consider whether you can just carry your items back to your vehicle. If not, opt for paper over plastic.)
- Bring your own mug or tumbler to the office or the event.
- Use refillable water bottles—never single-use plastic ones.
- Carry reusable utensils.
- Cover your food with a reusable bowl cover, tupperware or a good old-fashioned plate instead of cling wrap.
- Consider switching to products that don’t come in plastic packaging, such as shampoo bars, chewable toothpaste pellets and dish soap blocks.
- Party using mason jars instead of those red plastic cups.
- If you’re a business owner, install a water refilling station instead of providing bottled water for your employees. Kick all disposable cups, utensils and dishes to the curb (no, not literally) and replace them with reusable ones. Café owners can also offer discounts to customers who bring their own mugs.
Join a Cleanup
Groups like this one and this one can help you find a cleanup in your area. You’ll be spending a day in the great outdoors, bonding with other environmentally conscious folks and helping rid this world of a little plastic—and other toxic debris.
Reuse and (When Possible) Recycle Your Plastic Stuff
Whenever possible, reuse your plastic items. Can you make use of that big plastic jug somewhere in the garage, or reuse your plastic cleaning spray bottles in the garden, for example? If you did end up with plastic bags, can you at least reuse them as trash bags (rather than using brand new plastic bags)?
And when you can’t reuse your plastic, try to recycle. Most plastics of all kinds can only be recycled once, but it’s better than not at all. There are centers that will recycle plastic bags and other plastic goods in most cities, and several of the items on this list Green America created are made of recyclable plastic. Chances are, some of them are taking up space at your house at this very moment. Luckily, the same list points you to skilled facilitators who can help guide these temporary plastic forms on to their next incarnation.
Start a Campaign
Here’s is an inspiring little tale of how a town in Wales went plastic-free through community action. Here’s the story of how one man started a movement that led to a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags in Kenya.
Getting the idea? It’s not as hard as it might seem. Sometimes all it takes is one person changing their plastic habits to get the ball rolling, mobilize the necessary forces and grab the attention of folks in power who can turn ideas into reality.
Damon Orion is a writer, musician, artist, and teacher based in Santa Cruz, CA. He has written for Revolver, Guitar World, Spirituality & Health, Classic Rock, High Times and other publications. Read more of his work at damonorion.com.
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