Wednesday, April 16, 2014
With so much plastic creating so much plastic garbage, it’s easy to get demoralized. But there are actually very simple things anyone can do to start reducing the amount of plastic junk we generate.
Step One: Be aware. Stop and look around. What do you see that’s made out of plastic? Once you start seeing it, it’s hard to stop.
Now consider, at some point every last plastic thing around you will be trash. Either intentionally -- thrown into a garbage can/dumpster; or accidentally -- carried off by a storm or flood, fallen out of a car window or off the back of a pickup truck.
Trash escapes. It always has. Now that it’s plastic, it persists. Nothing in nature knows how to get rid of plastic. Nothing digests it, dissolves it, melts it away. The more we generate, the more we’re bound to lose. The more we lose, the worse our oceans get.
The ocean is, after all, downhill from everywhere. (The above image is from Superstorm Sandy's aftermath. How much washed into the ocean?)
So the less plastic we have in our homes, offices, and cars -- and the less we use -- the better.
Which leads to Step Two: Reduce.
* Bring reusable bags to stores. Single-use plastic bags are on the wrong side of history. Help make them history.
* Lose the bottled water. Keep a reusable in your car, at the office.
* Bring a carry-out box to restaurants. And skip the plastic straw. The US goes through 500 million a day! Insanity. Buy one of the top-quality high-impact glass straws now on the market. Buy some for your friends!
* Frequent stores that are plastic-conscious, and avoid ones that aren't. Get coffee from places that let you use your own mug. Or at least that prefer paper cups over styrofoam.
* Rethink the single-use coffeemakers and the little plastic servings of half-and-half. 3-5 empty plastic containers for every cup of coffee? Really?
* Keep a travel kit of small containers. Forget the single-use travel-sized toiletries.
* Buy in bulk. One bigger jug of detergent, yogurt, etc. generates far less plastic than multiple small ones.
* When buying toys, look for ones that aren’t overpackaged. And consider the good-old traditional toys. Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs are as much fun now as they were generations ago.
* Reuse. Get over the stigma. Use a plastic baggie for chips once? Wash it & use it again. Even if each one only gets used twice, you’ve cut the waste in half. Same with plastic forks & spoons. The plastic industry wants us buying & wasting as much as possible. We don’t have to.
* Buy local. Less travel usually means less plastic. And often local sellers at farm markets will gladly take back plastic packaging to wash & reuse.
* Bake a loaf of bread now and then. No, seriously. It’s ridiculously easy, makes the house smell awesome, and avoids the plastic wrap.
What isn’t on the list above? Recycling. There’s a reason. Plastic recycling is not what it is made out to be. Much that is plastic now wasn’t plastic just 10-15 years ago. It’s now made from plastic because of today’s dirt-cheap recycled feedstock. Arguably, plastic recycling has increased the amount of plastic in the world, not decreased it. (Much more on this in a future post.)
In 2-3 generations, we have become a disposable, plastic world. Sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to live a modern life while bucking the trend.
Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.
Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.
Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.