The primary responsibility of those wanting to make a personal difference in terms of plastic is to avoid it. There are many ways to do this: buying in bulk, using reusable items like shopping bags and water bottles, avoiding take-out containers, and steering clear of single-serving processed foods. We can also be proactive by choosing to buy certain goods secondhand and learning to change our lifestyles to avoid plastic, e.g. sitting for a meal rather than getting it to go or, better yet, cooking at home.
Nevertheless, with the exception of the most active eco-warriors, most of us are going to run into plastic from time to time. It’s almost of full-on occupation to evade it completely, so we also need to learn to deal with the packaging we get. It’s difficult to recycle some plastics, and even those that can be recycled often fail to make it through the process. In other words, to really take responsibility for the plastics with which we are involved, we need to learn to deal with them ourselves. That can be a tall order.
However, saving the environment from the age of plastic is just that. Since regulators, producers, and the government seem reluctant to truly take on this task, the onus has fallen on us as citizens of the world to do it. In our hearts, it’s something most of us would like to be part of. In our minds and habits, it’s a mountain that can feel insurmountable. But, do any of us really want to be the person who didn’t at least try to do our part for the good of the planet?
After reducing our use of plastic, repurposing it is the next best solution. Luckily, there are some ways of doing this that account for a lot of the plastic packaging we inadvertently get and won’t necessarily fill our homes with folksy plastic art that seems to have originated from kindergarten class.
There are lots of ideas about how to repurpose plastic bottles, so we won’t dwell too long on those in this article. Suffice it to say, they can be used as planters, pencil holders, piggy banks, art materials, lamps, and bird feeders.
Conversely, we mustn’t forget that plastic bottles are still one of the easier plastic items to avoid, so we should be doing that rather repurposing them. We can carry reusable bottles for water and opt for cans—a more reliable, less energy-intensive item to recycle—for other drinks.
Plastic Shopping Bags
Plastic shopping bags have been the one fight that many local governments and businesses have taken on. Citizens have made that happen. Now, they are being banned all over the place, so we are already on our way here. And, again, they are easy to avoid even outside of these environmentally enlightened locales because it’s as easy as carrying a reusable shopping bag or just carrying the item you’ve purchased without a shopping bag.
That said, a plethora of literature exists online for repurposing plastic shopping bags, with the most obvious and ubiquitous being a liner for small trash cans in the home office and bathrooms. The shopping bag as bin liner means it’s being reused, and we’ve avoided buying more plastic via tiny trash bags.
While plastic shopping bags are easy to avoid, plastic bags, in general, are much different. Many things we buy — organic produce, a pound of dry beans, an appliance, a dozen rolls of toilet paper — come wrapped in plastic bags/packaging. While some of this can be avoided by shopping at bulk outlets or buying secondhand, avoiding it all is extremely difficult.
There are a handful of time-consuming projects that can help us deal with this:
- Bottle Bricks: A plastic bottle can be stuffed tightly with plastic bags and cut-up packaging to create a building brick. While there is no way this would pass code for a home in the US (they are used for that in projects around the world), these bricks would be great for putting together small garden walls or borders. They’d work for making outdoor benches. They are useful, and it takes a long time — a lot of packaging — to accumulate enough to do a project. That means we can have a way of keeping plastic out of landfills for years and making something of it in the end.
- Pillow Stuffing: Outdoor pillows work much better when they are water-resistant, which is one of plastics’ more redeemable qualities. Again, plastic bags and soft plastics we amass can be stored somewhere for months at a time to create enough filler for a couple of pillows to go outside. Just buy or make some cushion covers and use the plastic for stuffing.
- Plarn: Generally made with plastic shopping bags, plarn (plastic yarn) could be something to make with large bags that are wrapped around appliances and similar items. Essentially, the bags are cut into loops, the loops knotted together and the resulting strand used to crochet or knit things, such as reusable shopping bags, outside rugs, table mats, etc.
Sometimes plastic containers, say for soy yogurt or blueberries, work their way into our orbit as well. We can try to avoid them or change our lifestyles, but sometimes life is as idyllic as we’ve planned it to be. The best way to handle plastic containers is to simply reuse them as containers. Rather than rushing out to buy organizers and such, hold out for them to be built with future containers that a yogurt habit will create. For any kind of packaging used for produce, visit farmers markets and see if vendors are interested in reusing them.
Once this effort to account for our own plastic waste is in full swing, we realize both how much disposable plastic we are responsible for an average and that, while we can repurpose it, life is much simpler when we don’t have to deal with it all. Plastic doesn’t just go away. We’ve only become accustomed to it disappearing into piles others have to climb.
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