Plastic, some would say, is the scourge of the planet, and it would be hard to argue. In former times, there were ages of bronze, iron, and various other earthly minerals and metals, but we … we have somehow managed to be the self-identified age of garbage, an era in which there is so much waste to be left on the planet that people in future times will likely associate us as much with landfills as they will with the technological advancements that have come to fill them.
It doesn’t matter what side of the global warming debate (as if!) one falls on. It doesn’t matter what someone thinks of recycling, the value of convenience, or how hopeless and helpless the situation is. We all know that producing more garbage, plastic being the long-standing offender, is not the answer.
On this topic, there’s no real cause for debate. There are no scientific studies claiming that garbage happens anyway. We all know it: We need to curb the waste rather than continually put more on the curb. If there is one thing we should be striving to do, that’s creating less garbage, and plastic is the place to start.
The number of thoughtless, careless plastic bags we all encounter on a daily basis is staggering. We seem to have made and continue to make an enormous difference at the supermarkets and convenience stores by avoiding plastic shopping bags. But, there are some other ways to lessen our use of plastic bags.
- Don’t. Find ways to not use them. Refuse to make more refuse. Put that quick item in a purse or backpack rather than putting it in a plastic bag. But, don’t just focus on the supermarket, either. Does a new t-shirt need a plastic bag? A new set of headphones? How often do we really need a plastic bag to carry something? Don’t take one unless it has a real purpose.
- Double-duty plastic bags are another way to seriously lessen our use of new ones. If last week’s veggies went in those little clear bags by the produce bins, then use those again, and again, until they are done. Then, use them to clean up after the dog or whatever else might have otherwise called for more plastic. Even better, take them to the farmer’s market and give them to a vendor to reuse.
- Reusable bags for everything just makes better sense for everyone. Businesses aren’t buying disposable items and giving them out for free. Customers aren’t adding another layer of stuff to carry: Ever received a double-bagged package of a single item? What are we supposed to do with all those bags? Keep a small reusable sack in your day bag, or just use the backpack itself.
Plastic bottles may be even more disconcerting than bags. They use more material, thus require more energy to make. They take up more space, may even come in a plastic bag, to begin with, likely have a plastic label around them, and are capped off with a … yep. That’s a lot of plastic for some water or a sugary soft drink that doesn’t do our bodies any good either.
- Go for glass. Sure, it might break. Life happens. But, plastic bottles and jars will most certainly end up costing us in energy and landfill space. They are often laced with chemicals leaching into our food and drinks that have negative effects on our body, much longer-term concerns than a nicked finger. Glass is a much better, cleaner option when it’s available.
- Water filtration is a much better solution for those people concerned about the chemicals and cleanliness of tap water. Honestly, there is no great guarantee that store-bought “spring” water doesn’t have unsavory elements, and having it from that plastic bottle is certainly not doing us, or the planet, any favors.
- Reusable is a word that all of us eco-friendly folks are reusing again and again. That’s because it makes obvious sense. Using things multiple times means we aren’t tossing them. With regards to bottles, it also means we can choose a healthier option. Get one of these instead of disposable bottles and go for clean, filtered water (or fountain drinks if soda is a must. We all have our vices.).
When examined, there are many other ways plastic sneaks into our lives where it doesn’t need to be, little unconscious moments in which mere awareness of the issue might suppress our daily use of plastic. In reality, there are hundreds of them, but let these next three thoughts guide a personal exploration into our own individual plastic uses and abuses.
- Going topless is a curious way to save plastic, but for those who often sip something on the go, not worrying with the top might knock some serious non-biodegradable guilt off the docket. This goes for the to-go coffees, as well as fountain drinks from fast food joints or convenient stores. So, go topless when possible. It will definitely mean less plastic used and likely less plastic in a garbage can, where most to-go cups and tops wind up.
- Straws suck because they are far more curiosity or habit than they are anything necessary in order to drink a beverage, be it cocktail, coffee, or cola. Who knows who started the straw craze, and we don’t wish to say they never serve a purpose, but … do we need them in every drink? And, if we do, could we not just carry around a straw to reuse?
- Secondhand shoppers can often be amazing plastic conservers because all the plastic from shipping to packaging to purchasing won’t be necessary. Secondhand products are often just as good, all we need, and much cheaper than their highly marketed, brand-spanking brethren. It’s a good thing in so many ways.
And, there it is: Go to a secondhand shop with a reusable bottle full of filtered water, no straw or top necessary, and buy glass products over plastic ones, especially jars of jam and peanut butter, packed away in that reused bag that the apples from the other day came in, all of it then tucked into the reusable bag that was just waiting in a backpack. Boom: That’s a lot of plastic that didn’t have to be made and will never see a garbage dump. Cool.