Giving up plastic: Not so easy? What do you think?

BlogHer Original Post

plastic-encased apples at CostcoThis post is supposed to be about "easy ways to reduce plastic use." But really, what's so easy about that? These days, our fast-paced lifestyles are centered on convenience and technology, both of which require plastic, right? Our beverages (water, sodas, sports drinks, iced lattes) and food (meats, cheeses, milk, energy bars, cereal, bread, frozen dinners, whole roasted chickens, and sometimes even produce) all come packaged in plastic. And our toys -- whether for grown ups (computer, iPhone, camera) or kids (from teethers to training wheels) are all made from and/or packaged in plastic, right?

How can it possibly be easy to give up?

It's not, if you try to do it all at once. And one thing that I've learned after nearly two years of blogging about plastic reduction is that people are not the same. A step that feels like no big deal for me might be truly difficult for someone else. I always assumed that bringing our own reusable grocery bags to the supermarket was an easy no-brainer first step. But Katie Woollven, who writes the blog, No Plastic For A Year, told me that it took her two years to remember to bring her reusable bags into the store with her! What finally got her seriously looking at her plastic consumption was seeing it first hand in the marine environment. A few days ago, she wrote,

It is important to mention that my beef with plastic was born the same time I became aware of the marine debris issue. The health of our oceans is very important to me, and I see what a pressing issue it is when I do clean-ups at South Point with Hawaii Wildlife Fund. 99% of the garbage we see down there is plastic, and so many of the items are familiar, single use items: bottle caps, lighters, toothbrushes, shoes, deodorant tubes, glowsticks, laundry soap bottles... One of the goals of this project is to educate people about how the problem of marine debris is exacerbated by our society's disposable mentality.

plastic litter on a beach in HawaiiPlastic Reduction Step #1: Do some reading. Learn why plastic is such a problem for our health and that of our planet in the first place. Throughout this post, I'll be linking to other bloggers who are working to reduce their own plastic footprint. Their blogs are a good start. But for me, the absolute best article about plastic pollution and what got me started on my own less plastic journey is Best Life Magazine's "Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic... Are We?". Some of the photos will take your breath away, as will the information about plastic's toxicity and potential harm to our health. After reading this piece, you may never look at plastic the same way again.

plastic collected for one weekPlastic Reduction Step #2: Start Where You Are. Trying to eliminate all plastic from your life in a week is the road to burnout and failure. Several months ago, a Chicago Tribune reporter, Trine Tsouderos, attempted to do just that. Her experiment was informative but less than successful and I'm afraid left some readers feeling that the effort was futile. Instead of going whole hog (unless whole hog is as fun for you as it is for me) try collecting your plastic trash for a week. Think of it as an educational experience and don't succumb to guilt. At the end of your week, analyze your waste as a scientist would. What does your plastic waste tell you about your lifestyle? And what would be the easiest items to give up or replace?

Like me, blogger Juli Borst of Plasticless NYC collects and analyzes her weekly plastic waste and has learned a few things. For example, "alcohol and plastic avoidance do not mix":

About the bar straws-- swizzle sticks are my weakness. This isn't the first time since starting my plastic pledge, either. When I am out and alcohol is involved, I forget to ask for no straw- I haven't remembered a single time. Tsk. I've got to get better about that- or start drinking things that don't come with swizzle sticks.

What can your plastic waste teach you and what items can you replace with reusable alternatives? When you're ready to take the plunge, figure out what your limits are, and be practical. Deborah from Pure Mothers Living Naturally began a 30 Day Plastic Cleanse this month, but made some rules that were doable for her situation:

Having a toddler has it’s challenges with making the best choice on behalf of the planet. As a sleep deprived and busy mom, I need some of those conveniences. And, I couldn't have lived without my Baby Cubes plastic freezer containers for storing my baby’s homemade food. So, I've decided to start with eliminating plastic that lives for under 1 day to 1 month in our home. Items like, Ziploc storage bags have been replaced with these great snack sacks I found on Etsy from WasteNotSaks.

ReusablesPlastic Reduction Step #3: Bring Your Own. BYO has become my mantra and it could be yours too, if you're in the market for a new one. In fact, blogger and anti-plastics activist extraordinaire, Anna Cummins, started bringyourown.org to encourage just this kind of thinking. Here are a few things I carry in my backpack on a regular basis:

1) Stainless steel travel mug for coffee and other drinks OR stainless steel water bottle

2) ChicoBags for groceries (although when buying just a few things, I'll just put them directly into my backpack or purse)

3) Ecobags cotton produce/bulk bags

4) To-Go Ware bamboo cutlery set

5) GlassDharma drinking straw

6) LunchBots stainless steel containers for take-out and leftovers

7) My favorite cloth napkin handmade by blogger The Green Cat. No, it doesn't replace plastic, but it helps me generate less waste overall.

Sound like a lot to remember? Start slow. Which item are you most likely to remember? Reusable bags? Reusable bottle? Begin with that. Get into the habit of bringing it every time. Of course, some people prefer the aforementioned "whole hog" route. Check out how far Seppie from Party of Six was willing to go:

So the kids asked if we could get a take-out meal from a local fast food restaurant which shall remain anonymous. I told the boyz that the only way we could do it is if I went to pick it up, and if the people there were willing to pack our food in containers I brought instead of in the usual Styrofoam. To make a long story short, they did, but JUST THIS ONCE and only after I telephoned the owner at home to ask.

I love Seppie's enthusiasm, but I also appreciate anyone who's doing what they can, taking small steps one by one to protect the planet. The steps I've listed here are my Top 3 for getting started, but there are plenty more all over the Web! Some other less plastic bloggers to read for inspiration are:

Fake Plastic Fish (my own blog, of course!)

Life Less Plastic

The Unplastic Life

Plasticless

Citizen Green

The Green Moms April Carnival on Plastic includes articles from nearly 20 more bloggers dealing with this issue.

But now I'd like to hear from you. Have you tried reducing your own plastic consumption? If so, what have been the easiest and hardest steps for you?

 

Beth Terry writes about finding creative ways to reduce her plastic consumption and plastic waste at Fake Plastic Fish and encourages others to join the fun. We only have one planet. Let's enjoy it instead of junking it up with plastic!

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