Wednesday, May 1, 2019

'Sup, Single Use Plastics?

Image result for recycle cartoon
Last Monday was Earth Day, and in respect for that important observance, my goal for the week was to reduce my single use plastics.

Plastics have done so much to make the world safer, more accessible, and more technologically advanced. But as you probably know, we're suffering from too much of a good thing. It is estimated that there are more than 150 million tons of plastics in the ocean. If we continue along this path, the ocean is projected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by the year 2025. That's an astounding number, and not that far in the future.

Those plastics choke, strangle, and foul up the digestion of thousands of creatures. Additionally, plastic can degrade in the sun and salt water, resulting in trillions of microplastic particles that work their way up the food chain to us. Super fun, right?

Like most modern humans, plastics make an appearance in all aspects of my life, but nowhere more so than food packaging and consumption. From clamshells to take-out containers to straws and stir-sticks, food and plastics are nearly inseparable. I may feel virtuous buying organic baby carrots, but they still come in a plastic bag.

An alien creature consumes my avocado
The good news is that there are options available for consumers wanting to use less plastic. But it takes some advance planning. Before the week began, I assembled my kit: metal utensils in a pouch that I could toss in my purse; mesh produce bags; cloth shopping bags; reusable water bottle and coffee mug; and a weird but fun product called Cover Blubber Super-Stretchy Foodsavers (that's the green one on the left). I meant to also pick up some of those cloth-and-beeswax food wraps, but I didn't get to it. (So I wrapped food in aluminum foil instead.)

Since going without plastic is virtually impossible, I focused on reducing items such as the water cup and "disposable" fork that get used for ten minutes at a fast-casual meal and then discarded. I wasn't perfect, but I did manage to score some eco-points over the course of the week:

  • At a dinner meeting, I had to use a plastic plate, as piling salad directly on the table didn't seem to be a great option. But when I took out my metal fork from its handy pouch, my fellow diners were impressed.
  • I brought a travel mug when I went out for coffee. Not only are coffee lids plastic, but the paper cups are plastic-lined, too.
  • I made the ultimate sacrifice a conscious choice to not purchase my favorite single-serving guacamole cups.
  • A woman at the grocery store asked where I got my mesh produce bags, and I again felt that I was setting a positive example.
  • On a quick errand, when I ended up buying more items than I anticipated, I refused to let the clerk bag them and, with as much dignity as I could muster, stuffed them in my purse instead.

These are not huge accomplishments, but I'm the kind of person who believes that small changes add up. That's pretty much the point of this whole Take It or Leave It experiment. Speaking of which, this week's reduced use of plastics is a Take It, no doubt about it.

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