In light of a recent study that discovered plastics found in drinking water, beer and sea salt, I thought it apt to enlighten you on the various ways you can minimize plastics in your life. This topic gets me all razzed up, but I promise you this post will have a happy ending!
Why do we care, anyway? Plastics can be dangerous for our health, and the environment for many reasons. First, they have been marked as carcinogenic or cancer causing. Second, even though we're consuming trace amounts of them, they can get trapped in our bodies and build up, causing real damage. Third, they don't degrade so they keep piling up in the far corners and depths of the earth with nowhere to go.
The sheer volume of plastic that currently exists in the world is obviously a huge problem that we've singlehandedly created and continue to perpetuate. Like most things, it's a problem with a solution and we are the solution. This is why we care.
When it comes to plastics and non-biodegradable waste in general, I can't help but think of the old posters we were shown in grade school when we learned about recycling. You know the ones..."Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"... and I will never forget my teacher telling us that "Reduce" should be top priority. I didn't really understand it then, but now that I do I have to agree. On the whole, we tend to focus a lot on the "Recycle" portion and not enough on the "Reduce" or "Reuse" portions, which work to slow production of plastics in the first place.
Now, come with me and shift your focus for a moment to revel in the many ways in which you can help limit plastic use and production. And trust me, they're simple, but they need your attention in order to make a difference.
HOW TO LIMIT PLASTIC USE AND PRODUCTION
#1: Stop buying so much plastic! The more you buy, the more that's produced, and I think we all know we have far too much to go around. It's hiding in the corners of the earth, so we tend to forget about it. Not good.
#2: Use glass. It has a never-ending shelf-life and doesn't leach or contain toxins. And it's pretty! It's also versatile - a mason jar can be a drinking glass or a food container - and fairly rugged, withstanding wear and tear and excessive heat. Just don't drop it!
#3: Pick items that don't have associated waste. When you make your next purchase, think about the end product. No, I don't mean how the thing you buy will make you feel. How will you dispose of the package and the product once you're done with them?
#4: Get as much use out of your plastics as you can before you toss them. Wash and reuse them at home, or share them with others who are in the market for them. As the saying goes, one man's garbage is another man's treasure.
#5: Use glass packaging from home when getting take out food and request no cutlery. You're eating at home anyway, what do you need them for? Your dishes and plastic waste are both reduced in this scenario. Double win!
#6: Carry a takeaway container with you when you plan on eating out. Bring a thermos for drinks and a mason jar or glass container for restaurant leftovers. Ever noticed how big takeaway boxes are at restaurants? Quite the waste for your small leftovers, am I right?
#7: Separate your packaging for recycling. Pretty please. It really doesn't take much time. I've heard horror stories of bags of good recycling being thrown in with the trash because it looked questionable. Don't be that guy (or girl).
#8: Recycle responsibly. Get to know how to recycle all items you use, including mixed items. Most importantly, get to know where it all goes. It'll influence your buying decisions that much more.
#9: Buy products made from recycled materials. Every time you purchase something it sends a message to the company that made it and the companies that didn't. Buying alternatives to plastic send messages that you don't want plastic. Let your voice be heard.
#10: Make intuitive purchases. Ask yourself if you need a product to survive, or at least to function normally. You'll quickly find that a lot of the things you buy, in general, are out of convenience and are nice to have, but not necessarily something you can't live without.
Phew! That's a lot of good reasons not to use plastic, right? Before you get too sad or down on yourself for using plastic, don't. Remember that change is cumulative. It's in the decisions we make, the time we give to sorting waste, and being creative with storage. Be a part of the shift. Every little bit helps.
And in the inevitable case you do use plastic...
Tips for using plastics
#1: Pick your battles. There are some things you can't avoid that are made of plastic, so don't. Do what you can and instead, limit your purchases of new plastics and think long and hard when you shop about whether you need something...made of plastic.
#2: Don't put hot food in plastic and don't freeze food in plastic either. These processes encourage toxic leaching. Likewise, don't put plastic in the dishwasher or the microwave. I don't care what the packaging says.
#3: Limit purchases of staple items that come in plastic. Try to be savvy and not excessively waste or burn through things you commonly use that are made of plastic. Conserve them. Make them last. And when you dispose of them, recycle where you can.