I took the Earth Day Network’s Oceans Plastics Pollution Quiz recently and failed miserably. My 57% grade doesn’t even reflect my true lack of knowledge about the dire nature of the world’s plastic problem because it was boosted by lucky guessing.

According to a study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 8 million metric tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. That’s the equivalent of dumping one garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute. If plastic consumption remains steady, that equivalent will increase to two garbage truck dumps a minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. If we keep going at this rate, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

While I’ve happily trotted to market with my reusable bags, wisely eschewed overly wrapped fruits and vegetables, and casually tossed empty shampoo bottles into the recycling bin, I’ve had blinders on about how addicted to plastic I am. I turned to get a little help from my friends on how they’ve cut the plastic cord.

A high school friend told me her teens forced her off plastic straws over Christmas break. (On average, Americans use 1.6 plastic drinking straws every day, totaling to 500 million per day.) Each kid now has a stainless steel collapsible one attached to their key chains, and she keeps several in the kitchen drawer for home use. Or you could go without. After all, how many of us truly need straws?

“I didn’t think it was going to be as hard as it was to give up single-use plastics for Lent,” my colleague Katy Kennedy Riveria said. After all, she’d already developed the habit of carrying a metal water bottle and coffee cup, and she’d reduced her use of plastic wrap. She routinely packs her own lunch and owns a selection of reusable mesh bags for shopping.

But she hadn’t been paying attention to the packaging that went into her purse to sustain herself and her two daughters through their busy days. “Snacks are all wrapped in so much plastic. Cheese sticks, protein bars, yogurt, bags of almonds …” As a result of her Lenten plastics-control exercise, her almonds now come from the bulk bin, she slices her own cheese into reusable containers and eats many more apples.

Nancy Heiser, a fellow Brunswick writer, says weaning off plastics has been incremental for her and her husband. When plastics do come into the household, they are rarely used just once. The latest target is produce bags. “A difficult habit to break,” she said, adding that she’s looking for advice on what reusable items others bring to the grocery store to bag their lettuce heads — something that weighs nearly nothing at checkout and provides a germ barrier on the conveyor belt.

I met a woman at a seafood cooking class last month in St. Louis who washes and saves the mesh bags that potatoes and onions are sold in for that job. She’s careful to cross off labels and bar codes to avoid confusing the electronic scanner during checkout.

My cousin, Matthew, too daunted by the prospect of clearing the kitchen of single-use plastic, started his plastic purge in the bathroom. His tween daughter found bar shampoo and he’s good to go with one bar soap for everything except shaving; he bought a shaving cup, brush and a reusable metal razor.

A Pennsylvania farming friend is more methodical about tracking her plastic use to see what she can live without. She’s nixed all the low-hanging fruit but does find personal plastics (like the wrapping that keeps sterile the needles she uses to take prescription medication) and professional ones (like the plastic that encases her hoop house that helps extends her growing season or the plastic pots she sells plants in) are non-negotiable until non-plastic solutions are more widely available.

The Earth Day Network’s site, in addition to the quiz that will open your eyes to all you don’t know about plastic consumption, has an on-line tool that helps people calculate the ways plastic touches their lives, offers advice on where they can cut back and asks test-takers to take a pledge to do just that.

Plastics, plastics everywhere, not a minute to spare.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Plastic-free Aromatic Olive Oil Mash

One of the ways I intend to cut down on how much plastic I use will be to make sure any new recipe I try can be made with ingredients not wrapped in plastic. This recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Ottolenghi Simple,” fits that bill.

For the topping

1/4 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme leaves

2 teaspoons finely chopped mint leaves

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and black pepper

 

For the potatoes

2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces

6 thyme stems

3 mint stems

4 cloves garlic, peeled

3 strips of shaved lemon peel

Salt

7 tablespoons olive oil

Black pepper

To make the topping, combine the oil, garlic, thyme and mint leaves, and lemon zest and juice in a small bowl with 1/8 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Set aside.

To make the mash, put the potatoes, thyme and mint stems, garlic, lemon strips and 2 teaspoons of salt into a large saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by ¾ inch. Simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are soft enough to mash, 18-25 minutes.

Drain the potatoes into a colander set over a large bowl (you’ll use some of the cooking water later, so don’t throw it all away). Pick out and compost the thyme and mint stems, then return the potatoes to the saucepan with the garlic and lemon strips. Use a masher to mash the potatoes, adding the oil and about ½ cup of the cooking water slowly until you get a smooth mash.

Transfer the mash to a platter and use the back of a spoon to create divots in the surface. Drizzle the herb and garlic oil topping evenly over it, finish with a good grind of black pepper and serve.


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