By now most of us have seen the heartbreaking pictures of how human plastics consumption is impacting our oceans. The pictures of beached whales with their stomachs gaping to reveal pounds of plastic debris; photos of tiny fish with bands of plastic tightly wrapped around their delicate bodies, seabirds dead by starvation because they’ve swallowed too much plastic, a sea turtle carrying a plastic bag in its scythe-like beak.
There is no denying it. Our addiction to plastic, and to convenience, is irrevocably harming the world around us.
And it’s not only our oceans. According to a recently released article by National Geographic, microplastics are raining from the sky and landing in remote mountain regions, the wind currents carrying them in the same way the ocean currents do.
You can actually see microplastics in the air with the use of a special light.
We’re breathing in these tiny particles every day.
And drinking them.
When will it be enough?
We have very little data on how these plastic particles affect us- and we need to rethink the way we’re living in order to tackle the problem.
I’ve always been pretty conservative when it comes to my plastic use: I wash and reuse my Ziploc bags, I often have a reusable water bottle handy, and I bring my own bags to the grocery store. In general I consume less than the average American (partially because I don’t have a lot of money).
But in assessing my plastic use I found some issues. I shop at Trader Joe’s, a store notorious for their plastic packaging (they’ve promised to change, but still). I treat myself to takeout coffee and often forget my reusable mug, which results in me using a disposable container. Many of the things I eat, like nutrition bars and string cheese, are wrapped in plastic.
Research shows that when we wash out our plastic and throw it in the recycling bin most of it’s not actually getting recycled. We can’t toss our waste into a bin and wipe ourselves clean of our guilt and responsibility as consumers.
In fact, we need to think deeply about the ways that our culture of convenience erodes our planet and leaves a mess for the generations left to salvage something from the wreckage. Is the convenience worth it? Really?
Here are some ways I’m changing my consumption habits, because I think it’s not only worth it but vital to my own sense of self. Studies show that making fundamental changes to our lives requires thoughtful, slow integration of new habits.
We need to do that with plastic. My suggestion is to implement ONE of these changes every couple weeks. Make the effort and take the time to integrate it fully into your life, then start with another one, adding on and on. The last thing you (or I) want to do is make a superficial, unsustainable change.
Remember, this is for future generations all over the world, not just ourselves.
- Buy two reusable water bottles. If you enjoy cold water, keep one in the fridge or buy an insulated one you can fill with ice. These are meant to replace disposable plastic water bottles, millions of which end up in our oceans, floating around and waiting to destroy the lives of whales and other important species.
- Buy a bunch of disposable grocery bags. I recommend cloth or woven or recycled plastic. Store some by your front door or in your trunk- remember to put them back in their proper places after you unpack your groceries, so you don’t forget them. The point is to use them every time.
- Buy cloth (or other earth-friendly material) bags for produce. Stop using the plastic bags that grocery stores provide. Even if the grocer’s bags are compostable it’s worthwhile to use your own. I promise you’ll feel very purposeful tossing your fruits and veggies into these bags.
- Make your own cleaning products, or buy earth-friendly cleaning products in bulk.
- Make your own health bars. That’s right. Health bars are easy to make and there are recipes online to accommodate anyone’s dietary needs. And you’ll know exactly what’s in them. I’ve also found that homemade health bars are a conversation starter.
- Make fresh juice at home rather than buying plastic bottles of juice. It’s healthier, too.
- Meal prep. This is great for your health, your wallet, and the planet. Use reusable containers to store your lunches and meals instead of getting takeout. And if you do get takeout or have leftovers, bring your own containers with you or make sure the restaurant you’re patronizing is using the proper materials.
- Take stock of your skincare routine. Can you buy anything in bulk? Look for companies who are conscious of their packaging and have recycling programs (such as Lush and Noto Botanics). Buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk. Put pressure on the companies you love by writing letters or commenting on social media.
- Reuse the plastic you already have. That small hand soap bottle? Refill it. Those Ziploc bags? Wash them and reuse them. Those water bottles? Use them to water your plants. And stop buying them
- Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters, or use refillable lighters.
- Use cloth or biodegradable diapers. This is huge. As a nanny, I know what a hassle cloth diapers can be, but they’re incredible for the planet. When your baby is done with them you can hand them down to the next parent in line.
- Use hand-me-down baby toys (make sure they’re free of toxics) and buy toys made from earth friendly materials.
- No more disposable razors. There are so many great companies selling reusable razors now.
- Utilize the bulk bins at your grocery store. If it doesn’t have them, find a store in town that does. From here you can bring your own containers and buy many of the snack and cereal that often come with plastic wrappings.
- Patronize companies that care for the planet. Do your research.
- Lastly, think about each thing you buy. Do you need it? Does it, as Marie Kondo says, spark joy? There are so many things you can buy on Amazon or at Target, but do you really need them? As I’ve lessened my consumption I’ve come to enjoy buying one nice thing for myself a week. A book, or a body scrub (in a glass bottle). I especially enjoy shopping at small local stores and supporting my local community. Feeling and touching each thing rather than ordering online. I buy something I love and will enjoy using. We need to think more deeply about what we buy and how we will use it, and where it comes from.
Don’t forget, whether you have children or not, this is what we’re leaving for them.