It seems to seep into our homes no matter how hard we try to keep it out. Long after you started bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store, buying food in bulk, switched to milk sold in glass bottles and stopped using shrink wrap, the plastic monster still finds ways to resist your efforts to eliminate its filmy, petroleum-based junk from your life.
Yet, even if complete elimination may not be possible, drastic reduction of plastic use – and very effective recycling – is a goal well worth striving for. Here are some of the many reasons to avoid plastic and learn to think around it:
- plastic consumer products and packaging are filling our landfills and take aeons to break down
- plastic is a petroleum-based product, and in an era of peak oil it’s a good idea (to say the least) to start weaning ourselves from our addiction to these products
- plastic debris destroys ecosystems and kills wildlife, as seen in these shocking images of baby albatrosses from the Pacific, living 2,000 miles from the nearest continent
- drinking water from toss-away plastic bottles means participating in and supporting the global phenomenon of water privatization
- many types of plastics leach harmful chemicals into your food, including #3 (PVC, in cling wrap), # 6 (polystyrene, in Styrofoam takeout containers) and #7 (the BPA plastic, in metal can linings etc.)
Many tricks and tips for plastic reduction are already common sense to a lot of us — for example, drinking filtered tap water out of your own reusable bottle, bringing a commuter mug to the coffee shop and avoiding buying individually wrapped anything. Here are a few steps to take it further (with thanks to the ever-inspiring Berkeley Ecology Center whose tip sheets made these habits into a part of my everyday routine a few years ago):
Reuse produce bags and transition into cloth bags for grocery shopping. I discovered that, for this to really work, I had to a) remember to bring my own bags and b) prior to that, set up a system for washing, drying, and storing the plastic bags I did accumulate. I got a countertop bag dryer, assigned dedicated drawers for storing plastic bags and small paper bags, and made a point of keeping my cloth, mesh, and recycled plastic produce bags ready in my grocery bags so I wouldn’t forget them when setting out to the store.
Buy in bulk and store in glass or metal. We’ve started eating so much better since I started keeping a well-stocked pantry and planning meals around what we already have. We have glass jars of all sizes, and use them to store the grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, popcorn and so on that we buy in bulk. Some stores and co-ops also sell oils, vinegars, nut butters, and body care products in bulk.
Make your own: make apple sauce, salsa, yogurt etc. and store them in glass jars. Make your own body care products and store them in glass or recycled plastic containers.
Buy used. Almost everything I’ve gotten off Craigslist or Freecycle, or from thrift stores and antique shops, has come without all that unnecessary packaging.
Slow down. Sit down and eat instead of taking food to-go. Or cook at home.