Use Less Plastic. Or None. I Mean It. Here’s How.

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Photo by Samuel Zeller

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.

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Photo by Simson Petrol

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.

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Don’t forget, whether you have children or not, this is what we’re leaving for them.

Stacy Selby is currently writing a book about her experiences as a hotshot & land development in the west. She’s a former wildland firefighter.

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