Because I’m a zero waste consultant, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about waste reduction: asking myself how I can personally reduce waste and how I can help and inspire others to do the same. Actually it might be the other way around, because I think so much about waste reduction, I became a zero waste consultant.
I watched a webinar last month called Regional Approaches to Fuel Local Circular Economies: Great Lakes Region. You’re going to be hearing the term circular economy more and I hope that it is something you will learn more about on your own. It is the opposite of the linear economy that has created our throwaway culture.
I had two takeaways from that webinar. The first speaker was the CEO of an organization called the Council of the Great Lakes Region. He told us that 80 percent of the litter that is found on the shorelines of the Great Lakes is one type. Can you guess? Plastic.
The next speaker showed two side-by-side charts. One chart showed the type of materials that we were asking recycling facilities to manage when they were first built. The other chart was what we’d like them to recycle now. They were vastly different and the more recent chart had a lot of different examples of one particular material. Can you guess what it was? Plastic.
Hearing both of these things underscored what I already knew, which is that we need to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic. We can’t rely on recycling because plastic is difficult to recycle.
A small convenience like using plastic bags can have so many bigger and unintended inconveniences. Plastic is a petroleum product, so there are problems from extraction to disposal. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute documentary that does a great job of explaining the hazards of a linear economy. The Story of Plastic is a very recent feature-length follow-up to it. I watched it just last night, to see if there was anything in it that I wanted to add to this blogpost. The multi-national companies that profit from the production of plastic want us to believe that the problem is not the production of plastic but the disposal of it. Because they see the writing on the wall from the surge in renewable energy and electric cars, they are building up their infrastructure to produce even more plastic, with no plan for its disposal and no responsibility for it either. I encourage you to watch the movie, but if you can’t, here is the legislation to support: ending fossil fuel subsidies, banning single-use plastic and extending producer responsibility.
Because we’re privileged, we have not been adversely affected by the disposal of plastic like other less fortunate communities around the globe.
I saw a recent copy of Consumer Reports with this cover story: How to Eat Less Plastic. Because we’re interacting with plastic every day, it is now in our bodies. On average, we consume a credit card’s worth of plastic weekly—through the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. I find that terrifying.
My suggestion is that you start small but think big. Make yesterday the last day you said yes to a plastic bag but also support a plastic bag ban the next time it comes up. From the Consumer Reports article, I learned about some interesting national legislation that was introduced in the house in January: The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, HR 5845. Please support it!
Living a plastic-free life
One of the things you can do to reduce plastic is to compost your food scraps. The connection is not obvious so I’ll explain that. When you compost your food scraps, you’re separating your organic waste from your inorganic waste like plastic. When you do that, you can get a better handle on the kinds of plastic waste that you need to begin eliminating. Then eliminate them one-by-one.
This is the fun part. It’s best to use things until they wear out, but while that’s happening, you can scheme about what its non-plastic replacement might be. My next purchase is going to be a safety razor. I just learned about this new-to-me brand called OUI the People that has a Black woman founder and CEO and sells a safety razor made for women. That checks a lot of boxes for me.
Package Free Shop in Brooklyn, New York is a great place to find plastic alternatives online. They opened their store and launched their website on April 22, 2017. I get bamboo dental floss from them that comes in a pretty glass container.
A local woman-owned company, that is part of Chicago Market’s community, is Zefiro Waste. I just got a bamboo toilet brush from them.
You may be reading this some other month but as I write, we are in the middle of Plastic Free July, a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Here’s a little secret though, you can kick off your own plastic free campaign in any month.
If after doing these 17 things you want more ideas, Beth Terry at the website My Plastic Free Life has 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life. Yowza!
My original title for this post was Breaking Up With Plastic but watching the documentary last night, made me aware of another website, hashtag and global movement with which to become involved: #breakfreefromplastic
You could assume that I have personally eliminated all single-use plastic, but I’m still working on it too. It’s a hard but worthwhile pursuit. Zero waste is a game that I play, and like the lottery, you have to play to win. I win some days and lose some days but I play every day. Join me!