Living Life Without Plastic
Humanity has quickly become addicted to plastic. In just over 70 years, we've gone from a lifestyle with extremely limited uses of plastics to plastic in almost everything. Even your car is about 25 per cent plastic!
Plastic has infiltrated our lives because of its unique properties: the fact that it can be freely molded while hot and then retain its shape when cool has allowed industry to come up with an almost infinite range of uses. Also, different types of plastic retain different levels of rigidity when cool - this is why plastic can be as thin and flexible as plastic wrap or as solid and rigid as your car's bumper.
This is why we produce 20 times as much plastic today as we did 50 years ago.
Given the insidiousness of plastic, what would happen if you tried to live plastic free? Well, one blogger has tried to do just that, and is writing about it for the web.
Introducing "Living Plastic Free"
Envirowoman is the blogger behind the site Living Plastic Free. She has completed two full years of living with the pledge to bring no new plastic into her life. Her total plastic garbage for 2008 amounts to a mere .42 kilograms, or just under 1 pound.
While Envirowoman lives a lifestyle that may not appeal to you (she is a vegetarian who has been willing to give up her car to avoid plastic), she is an example of what you can do to limit your plastic consumption. In the end, she states that she's not only healthier, but the planet is too and her children have learned some valuable lessons about being a conscious and responsible consumer.
While you may not want to go as far as this woman (and not many of us would), she does show that it is possible to live a reasonable lifestyle in the middle of a large urban center (Vancouver) without having to buy or own plastic yourself.
Tips To Avoid Non-Biodegradable Plastic
Not willing to go "cold turkey" on plastic? No worries! There are a lot of steps that you can take to reduce your plastic consumption, and to make wise purchases that avoid plastic:
- Buy produce at the grocer's without those clear plastic produce bags. Those "film" bags are by far one of the worst things that you can throw out. However, you do want your produce to come home relatively clean and protected, right? Your best bet is to take your own cloth grocery bags - and make sure that they are washed at least once a month. Wash any reusable bags right away if they have had meat juice spilled on them. This way, you can cheerfully avoid using any bags but your own!
- Give up the car and take transit. An aunt of mine lived in downtown Toronto and never owned a car. She'd rent one periodically for a road trip to her hometown or for occasional errands that were either off the transit system or much easier done with her own vehicle. While not every family can do this, if you live in an urban area, you are a good candidate! Many urban centers now have car co-ops, which cost a fraction of owning a car yourself, yet provide you with the advantages of a car at a low cost. One vehicle can then service a large number of families. That single action on your part saves thousands of pounds of plastic, between the plastic in your single-family vehicle and all the plastic that goes into repair and maintenance.
- Buy fresh. There aren't many things that can beat this as a major way to reduce plastic in your life. If your grocery basket is full of fresh fruits and veggies (without produce bags), you'll have made a major step to reducing your plastic consumption. In fact, check out my article on buying less packaging and getting more food for more ideas.
- Buy a reusable water bottle. Plastic water bottles are a toxic garbage item that is growing in volume every year. The US addiction to bottled water has steadily increased to sales of over 31 billion liters of water. All those water bottles use up over 17 million barrels of oil, just for plastic bottles. There are a lot more useful purposes for that oil - including critical medical equipment that uses plastic for vital, health-saving treatments.
- Pick products with recyclable packages or minimal packages. If you have the choice of a product with no package, fully recyclable packaging or "conventional" packaging, always pick no package first; the one in the fully recyclable package second; and avoid buying if you can only get it in packaging that becomes waste. Think cardboard, paper, metal and glass for best recycling options.
- Buy local. It goes without saying that if your food is not travelling cross country, it needs less packaging (plastic) and it comes to you with more nutrients intact.
- Buy from companies that recycle. For instance, switch to toilet paper that is made from post-consumer waste. Do the same for any paper towels that you might use. Even better - use cloths for spills and wipes in your kitchen and put them in the basket of your dishwasher every night to have clean, bacteria free cloths in the morning. (Read my hub for more ideas on a clean kitchen without chemicals or waste.)
- Do it yourself! Let your creativity get the better of you. Make your own greeting cards from magazines and home craft supplies. Make your own gift wrap and gift bags. (My article on eco-friendly kid's parties has some good options for gifts and parties.) Need a new coffee table? Head out to a garage sale or auction and buy a piece that you can refinish yourself.
- Join a CSA. CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture. What you are doing is buying a share of the produce from a farm. Many organic farmers develop a CSA approach, in order to ensure a dependable income. Buying a share of the produce of a farm is a great way to learn more about your food as well as try new fruits or vegetables: most CSA farms will give shareholders a chance to either volunteer on the farm or tour it.
- If you are female, try a menstrual cup. You may not have heard of this, but it's a product that has been around for 75 years. This is a perfect example of a "reusable" product instead of a throw-away one. I started using a menstrual cup several years ago after the birth of my first child - and have never looked back. They are comfortable and virtually leak proof (as long as you are wearing it properly.) My menstrual cup is silicone and it's so comfortable, I forget I'm wearing it. You buy it once and can use it for up to 10 years according to many sources, without any garbage being created. Simply clean it as per the instructions, steam it to sterilize it and tuck it away until you need it again.
There are a host of ideas to reduce plastic in your life - for more, check out Green Living Ideas, a great site devoted to all things green.