From bottled water to “disposable” utensils, prepackaged produce to disposable to-go containers, our living dynamic has been redefined by our insistence on convenience.
Since the 1950s we have created 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic and 80 percent of it is in a landfill somewhere. We have single apples, bananas, cucumbers and potatoes wrapped in plastic, we have stacks of yellow squash in sets of two, and 17 other things, on foam trays wrapped in plastic wrap, bags of onions, and walls of single-use containers of pre-cut produce.
Single-use plastic has become an almost daily topic in the news with reports of McDonald’s banning straws starting in the UK and Ireland, to California banning plastic single-use grocery bags state-wide following 120 individual cities having already banned them successfully.
The other types of reports we are seeing include 30 percent of the sea turtle deaths in California involving plastic ingestion or last week’s whale autopsy in Thailand finding 17 pounds of plastic in his belly. Most plastic weighs almost nothing, can you even imagine how much plastic that was to weigh 17 pounds? An entire large 100 count box of plastic bags only weighs nine ounces, so that’s the equivalent of 3,000 plastic baggies. There are also the images and video of that “island,” the great pacific garbage patch, equidistant between California and Hawaii that is twice the size of Texas- and is just plastic, roughly 88,000 tons worth, baking in the sun, releasing chemicals into the water and killing sea life.
So why haven’t we done more? As a country, an interesting dynamic is the availability of and participation in, recycling. Recycling is not inexpensive to participate in so many municipalities choose to forgo recycling because it’s cheaper to take it to the landfill than incurring the significant infrastructure costs to do it properly.
Not coincidentally, where recycling is available, those who regularly recycle are not the same people who are using plastic utensils as their daily preference. There are families eating every meal on paper plates with plastic utensils and then throwing the entire service away. There are two excuses that get used to justify this decision: time and money.
There is time required to get to and from the store to get them, there are triple the number of trips to the garbage can and trash bags(made of course, of plastic), keeping in mind an entire dishwasher can be loaded and unloaded in less time than it takes to even get to the store to buy the plastic-wrapped disposable replacements even once. Not to mention the gas used to travel to the store.
Ordering online, with all its convenience and pricing benefits it is one of the greatest contributors to excess single-use plastic. Especially since we’ve become so impulsive about how we order. We notice we are getting down to those last drops of lavender oil so we quick order it “buy now” and two days later it arrives and we continue our peaceful living without skipping a single step.
However when it arrived, did you notice it was in a box the size of a giant shoebox, filled tight with bubble? wrap All for a two-ounce bottle that would easily and safely have made it in a padded envelope.
The plastic padding, assuming it is recyclable and actually gets recycled, may find itself a new life, however only 9.5 percent roughly of all recyclable plastic is even recycled in the U.S. That’s 9.5 percent of 34 million tons…every single year.
According to a National Geographic study, The United States ranks far behind Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent) in recycling. Recycling in the U.S. has remained at nine percent since 2012. Even t
Ironically National Geographic’s issue about plastics in the ocean was delivered to homes wrapped in two layers of plastic. Why? Because subscribers were threatening to cancel their subscription and insisting on replacement issues because the magazine was arriving with blemishes or tears to the cover when they used to mail them unprotected. Due to the outcry, National Geographic is switching to paper bag protectors for service in the U.S, U.K. and India. So, who’s going to take responsibility?
Only we can, individually. It starts by getting over the need for everything we pay for to always be in perfect condition. Not only is it not sustainable, it’s unrealistic, unreasonable and leads to an unprecedented amount of waste.
To give all this waste a master timeline, The Marine Conservancy has published estimated decomposition rates of most plastic debris found on coasts:
-Foamed plastic cups: 50 years
-Plastic beverage holder: 400 years
-Disposable diapers: 450 year
-Plastic bottle: 450
-Fishing line: 600 years.
…and there are billions of pounds of it already in the landfills and oceans world-wide, hundreds of years away from being decomposed.
This is on us, we are making the choices that are driving the decisions that corporations are making. We are either demanding perfect, blemish-free produce that requires its own container instead of being willing to simply cut out that tiny bruise on the apple.
Start today, start now. Find a fabulous glass or metal reusable water bottle that you love or else it won’t get used. I resisted for a very long time until I found a glass bottle that was similar in size to a plastic water bottle. These really popular glass bottles come in a set of six so they can be pre-filled and keep them in the fridge for that same grab-and-go convenience that plastic offers. Or next time a single use water or tea is sought, buy one in a glass container and just keep reusing that. I have a whole set of Honest Tea bottles for my iced coffee and have restaurant to-go containers that I’ve reused for months.
Get yourself reusable grocery shopping bags, you may want to consider one larger for packaged things like cereal boxes, one for heavier things like drinks, one for cold things and a different style for produce. As for straws, consider getting a metal one with a cleaning brush. Straws will be full of bacteria overnight if all you do is run water through them.
Ask the dry cleaner to leave off the plastic bags. Upgrade to a reloadable razor so you only replace the blade instead of the whole thing. We could go on for pages about the things we could change but we’ve hit the largest impact areas for personal use and a difference could be made just picking one of them.
And when you order on Amazon, save it up in your cart until there are several things and ask them to ship it all together in one box. We must get to a place as a society where we each own our part, being responsible for where we are on the planet and do something that makes a difference.
Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Or want to share your experience? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com, CEO of Moxie Creed www.moxiecreed.com, skincare beyond chemistry. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
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