After despairing about the world that we are leaving our children, I vowed to change the only thing that I could…myself. I began with my environmental habits.
My first mission: reduce my use of plastic. When I mentioned my mission to friends, many were interested and suggested that I write a column about it, to share what I have learned.
The first step was to educate myself…and I learned a lot, all the good that I thought I was doing, I wasn’t doing so good.
It quickly became clear that with a few simple changes I could reduce my plastic use by 12 pounds a year. Doesn’t sound like much does it? But when you think about how little plastic weighs, it actually is a lot…and imagine the impact if everyone did it!
Why is this important? Our plastics crisis has reached scary proportions. There are now 3 islands of plastic floating in the oceans, one island, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Path is two times the area of the state of Texas. Every year 12.7 million tons of plastic enters the ocean. Our seas, rivers and landfills are choking. Here are some of the sickening numbers:
- 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- More than ½ billion plastic straws are used daily.
- More than 480 billion plastic water bottles were sold in 2016.
- 500 trillion plastic cups are used per year.
The plastic isn’t going anywhere. It takes 1,000 years to decompose. My first inclination was to say that this problem was too big for me…but of course, that is the reason to do it.
So, I have simplified reducing plastic use into 3 basic areas; all easily “doable” without a major lifestyle change.
Reduce single-use plastic. Single-use plastic is just what it sounds, plastic that we use once and discard. Imagine if we reused all plastic, definitionally that would reduce our plastic use by half.
So, how to do it? Well we all know about bringing our own grocery bags, not using bottled water. But there is a lot more. I challenge you to walk down the supermarket aisle with an eye toward finding single-use plastic. You will be amazed at how much there is.
I now choose products that use the least amount of plastic. There are simple choices, for example, I don’t buy pre-bagged produce; I select my own and use re-usable produce bags (available through Amazon or any environmentally focused website). (You can also just bring in the produce bags that you used the last time and re-use them.)
Here is a simple example. Raisin Bread. I noticed that one brand was cellophane wrapped and then sealed in a bag, the other was directly sealed in the bag without the cellophane wrap. I purchased the one without the cellophane wrap. Then I reused the bread bag. Yea, it can be that simple.
There are opportunities at home as well. Rinse out plastic storage bags and re-use them. Use containers to store leftovers instead of plastic wrap.
I would love to hear other suggestions from readers.
Increase Demand for Recycled Plastic. There is also a recycling crisis. The amount of plastic recyclables dramatically outstrips the demand for recycled plastic. China is now refusing to take our plastic recyclables.
Let’s face it, most containers are plastic. I look for products sold in recycled plastic containers (e.g., shampoo, laundry detergent, frozen dinners). I also buy toilet paper, paper towels, etc., made from recycled paper. My goal is to increase the demand for recycled products.
Be Smart about Recycling. The last step is being smart about recycling. In the past, I tried to put everything in the recycling bin, only to find out that they were not properly prepared, so they were headed for the landfill. Our recyclables vendor, Republic, has a simple mantra—empty, clean, dry. Make sure that recyclables are empty, rinsed out and dry (I now put them in the dishwasher before I put them in the recycling bin). Here are some sites that help:
What can be recycled in your area:
There is a lot more, of course, I bought shoes made of recycled plastic (that’s right, Rothys!). I use durable plastic storage bags (that can be cleaned in the dishwasher); beeswax cloth to replace plastic wrap (not loving it yet); containers to store leftovers rather than plastic wrap. It is easy to get creative.
WARNING: if you drank the “reduce plastics” Kool-Aid, do NOT throw out plastic containers, plastic bags, etc. that you already have, they are going to the landfill anyway. Just replace them with eco-friendly products when you run out.
There is a lot of information available on the Internet and online stores that offer eco-friendly products. More good news, eco-friendly products are available on Amazon.
It has been a fun learning experience. I am enjoying the challenge. I hope that you can be inspired to join and help make this right.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.