Plastic Free July has crept up on us! Haven’t heard about Plastic Free July? Find out more, here. Why live plastic-free? To improve human health and the health of the Planet. Plastic is made from petroleum extractions and does not biodegrade; it pollutes land, water, and air. Mirobits of plastic can be found in deep ocean canyons and in icebergs. It’s in every plastic beverage bottle you drink.
Once a week this month we will cover the 4 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, ReUse, and Recycle, and include tips for avoiding plastic packaging during the pandemic, which has likely impacted almost everyone’s purchasing habits.
To help us decide what to Refuse, we kept a log of our household’s plastic usage for a month. It’s pretty easy to do: just note the date, the quantity, and type of plastic item(s) that comes into your home. We did ours on a spreadsheet that tallied up the daily totals between 2 people. The first screen shot shows one person’s log for a week.The next screen shot shows the sum of two people’s log by the day and a graph of the numbers.
Another way to keep track is to keep a bucket or basket where you collect all the plastic items that you discard/recycle throughout the month. This gives a good visual representation. At the end of the month, you’ll know a lot more about where you need to focus to change your habits and reduce your plastic consumption.
So what does refusing plastic mean? Ideally this would mean refusing to purchase anything that is packaged in plastic, or made from plastic. Since plastic packaging is generally single-use, and much of it is not recyclable, it is considered one of the worst environmental offenders when it comes to plastic. With Shelter in Place and more home deliveries, more plastic has come into some people’s homes than usual.
Food shopping is an area in which it’s hard to refuse/avoid single-use plastic packaging. When shopping at farmer’s markets, you can bring your own reusable bags or baskets and ask vendors to explore non-plastic packaging options. For example, berries can be packaged in cardboard containers vs. the typical green plastic cartons. Sambrailo Packaging in Watsonville makes cardboard packaging for fruit.
Because grocery stores are currently not allowing shoppers to bring their own bags into the store due to the pandemic, you can put your groceries, unbagged, in your shopping cart and transfer them from the cart to bags at your car or bike, instead of having them bagged in plastic bags at the checkout counter.
If you’re shopping for food online, as many of us are doing during Shelter in Place, you know that this poses its own set of problems with plastic packaging. Look for vendors that use recyclable packaging materials. Fragile items are often packaged with styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap, but what did people do before these items existed? An “old fashioned” and much more sustainable approach was to wrap the fragile item in paper, padded with crumpled or shredded paper, place it within a cardboard box, and then place the box within a larger cardboard box with additional crumpled or shredded paper stuffed in between the two boxes.
It will take time to change your habits and find alternative sources for items that are not packaged in plastic. It may seem overwhelming at times. One approach is to focus on one area of your life at a time, such as “food” or “toiletries” or even “clothing.” It took one member of our group 1.5 years to reduce her household’s plastic consumption by 70%. Just do your best and keep trying!
Here are some great resources for reducing plastic in your life:
Beth Terry, formerly from the Bay Area, has an informative blog and comprehensive book dedicated to living plastic free. The recent film, The Story of Plastic, “takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it.” Berkeley’s Ecology Center is a wonderful local resource.
Rebecca Anaya for the Environmental Justice Committee