-Marielle Scheffers ’19
Plastic is ubiquitous. In saying this, I am not making some earth-shattering statement. Even if you spend very little time thinking about or engaging with sustainability you are most likely aware of the very present problem of plastic in our environment. Notoriously undegradable, plastic has been found everywhere from the summit of Mt. Everest to the depths of the ocean and everywhere in between. Plastic is not just problematic after it is used but also during its creation. A major component in creating plastic is crude oil which is heated and refined to separate out the specific molecules required to form plastic. As a response to the numerous problems associated with plastic consumption, Plastic Free July was organized. Plastic Free July promotes the elimination of all plastic use, but especially focuses upon one-time use plastic. As a part of Plastic Free July, I decided that for a single weekend I would document all my plastic use, from one time use plastic like plastic bags to multiple use plastic like my reusable water bottle that I have owned since my first year of highschool, to better understand to what extent plastic is a part of my daily life.
As I began to embark upon the weekend, I started to think about what areas of my life utilize a large volume of plastic. The first thing that came to mind was each and every bathing and self-care product I use is neatly packaged in a shiny, brightly colored plastic packaging. The second was the plastic produce bags used at the grocery store to purchase vegetables, my refrigerator is full of them. Those two things seemed to be the major offenders, but other than that, I approached the weekend believing that while there were parts of my life that plastic had a large presence, plastic use was not incorporated in every aspect of my life. I was wrong, very wrong.
After documenting and examining my weekend plastic use, I will detail the main results here. I will specifically focus on Saturday morning because of the similarity between my plastic use on Saturday morning to the rest of the weekend.
- I wake up and put my hair up with a plastic hair tie that I got as a present. Yes, a plastic hair tie, this weekend could have started on a better foot.
- Enter self-cleaning routine, as a suspected earlier everything is packaged in plastic. Bathing is composed of utilizing items that are so regularly used that we hardly notice them anymore: shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, lotion, and list goes on. If you wear makeup, this list is even longer. These items vary in their ability to be recycled. Most toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and makeup packaging are composed of one-time use packaging. Shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles are usually recyclable; however, even if they are recyclable, fossil fuels are still required to create the packaging and then again later to create the energy to recycle the product. It is better to not use the plastic at all.
- I get dressed, putting on t-shirt and leggings. The t-shirt is 100% cotton, but the leggings are polyester. Polyester is really just plastic in disguise, so like most plastic it is composed of petroleum.
- Breakfast at Flour and Salt, where I need a spoon to eat my oatmeal. I grab on of the plastic spoons they provide. Well, it is just one more piece of plastic to add to my exponentially growing list. The spoon does state that it is compostable plastic. Compostable plastic is a newer type of plastic that is often composed of a renewable material. The most popular material is corn. Compostable plastics are capable of degrading in a commercial composting facility where the temperatures can get quite high.
- I buy vegetables from the farmers market, which are given to me in a plastic produce bag. I thank the farmer and then place the bag in my reusable shopping bag and laugh at the paradox that is placing a plastic bag inside a reusable bag.
- As I open my fridge to make lunch, I notice the volume of plastic in my fridge. It is very possible that there is more plastic in my fridge and pantry, than there is food. Vegetables are stored in plastic produce bags, condiments like ketchup and peanut butter are in plastic bottles, and leftovers are stored in plastic tupperware. Because of this, every meal I prepare for myself throughout the course of the weekend utilizes a large amount of plastic. Even my cutting board is made of plastic.
Before this weekend I thought I had a general grasp on how much plastic one uses daily, but really, I had grossly underestimated what my plastic use is. There is not an aspect of my life that does not include plastic consumption. I acknowledge that every person’s plastic use varies, so the plastic use I have detailed here will not be identical to your own. However, I hope that through reflecting upon my own plastic use, it will encourage you to examine your own.
There are a number of ways one can decrease their plastic use. An important place to start is by focusing on single-use plastic. In my own case, as a result of this weekend, I replaced the plastic produce bags that hold my vegetables with reusable bags and replaced my toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush. Other easy options are to start using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic bags, to use a bar of soap instead of a bottle, and to stop using plastic water bottles in favor of a water filter and a reusable water bottle. Bonus points if your reusable water bottle is metal or glass. While it is easy to get excited about eliminating all plastic in your life and begin replacing every plastic item that you own with a nonplastic substitute, this is not necessarily sustainable either. For example, in the case of the plastic tupperware I use, it is multi-use plastic. I already own the tupperware. Recycling it and replacing it with a nonplastic option, while decreasing the amount of plastic I use in my daily life, will only increase the amount of unnecessary waste I produce. For multi-use plastic items, it is better wait until the end of their lifespans to replace them with a non-plastic alternative. Finally, when analyzing your daily plastic use remember the 4Rs. First, refuse to use any unnecessary plastic, then try reducing your use of plastics that are more difficult to refuse, after reuse any other remaining plastic, and finally as a last resort recycle it.