Monday, January 5, 2015

Reducing Plastic Waste

It's the new year and possibly a new you if you've gotten on the resolutions band-wagon. I decided to forego my usual goals, that focused on body and mind, and instead go a different route- drastically reducing my plastic waste. Completely eradicating plastic would be nearly impossible, however, reducing my usage is practical in many different ways.

Why am I putting plastic on my hit-list when it can just be recycled anyway? It turns out not all plastic gets recycled as evidenced in the photo above. Also, as recycling is a business, if there is no buyer for a certain plastic number (the number in the arrowed triangle stamped on plastic) then it gets incinerated, thereby releasing a potent toxic mixture of chemicals into our air.

It is also important to know how plastic breaks down. We... well, most of us (I hope) have heard of the word biodegradable. A word that may not be so familiar is photodegradable- which is the process plastic goes through to break down into smaller molecules. These molecules, which are toxic on their own, are like a vacuum for other organic pollutants like BPA and PCB's. It takes centuries for plastic to completely decompose, which means we are literally leaving poisonous time bombs for future generations. Think about all the unnecessary one-use plastic items that get thrown out everyday: plastic cutlery, plastic cups, plastic plates, sandwich bags, etc. It takes thousands of years for them to break down! An interesting and rather sad statistic is that Americans consume more than 25% of the world's resources and produces 30% of the trash and environmental pollutants. We manage all this and still make up only 4.5% of the world's population. (Yikes.)

Two of Americans worst (and in my opinion, unnecessary) offenders are plastic bags and water bottles. One-hundred billion plastic bags are used every year in the U.S. alone and under 1% are actually recycled. World-wide water bottle consumption is at fifty billion every year, however, thirty billion of that is consumed in the U.S. The national recycle rate for plastic bottles isn't any better at only 23%. That means 38 billion water bottles end up in the landfill or ocean. Every. Stinkin'. Year. Another sad statistic: 86% of all ocean debris is plastic.

Even after this bird decomposes, the plastic remains to poison a new generation of sea life.

In the course of researching for this post I came across this little tid-bit that really put drinking out of plastic bottles into perspective: it takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it. Due to the dangerous chemicals used in plastic production (are we really still eating off of this stuff?!) the water used during manufacturing is largely unusable.

You can go into any store now and see "BPA free" on a whole range of packaging from water bottles to baby toys and even small kitchen appliances. BPA isn't the only hormone disruptor in plastic and is really just the tip of the iceberg for dangerous chemicals that can leach into our bodies. PVC and phthlates are another huge issue. Phtlates have been linked to breast cancer, reproductive toxicity and even altered genital-development in baby boys, just to name a few. Unless the product states that it is PVC and phthlate-free, along with BPA, it will contain the former two chemicals if there is plastic involved. Plastics are so ubiquitous in our society that 93% of people have detectable amounts of BPA in their urine and 8 out of 10 babies and nearly all adults have measurable amounts of phtlates in our bodies. So- I'm thinking it's time to cut back on plastic use...way, way back.

Here are some tips and/or practices to help reduce plastic in your life:

  • Invest in glass straws that you can find here. We use a lot of straws in my household and this just makes sense. My kids use them, too.
  • Either invest or scope out the thrift stores for Pyrex, Anchor or other glass containers to store leftovers in. An economic option are mason jars that come in all sorts of sizes.
  • Drink out of stainless steel or glass water bottles. My glass water bottle with a silicone sleeve cost $25 at Whole Foods. I just saw the same thing from another company for $10 at Meijer. (Doh!)
  • Check out your local thrift store for old glass jelly jars. They are the perfect size cups for little kids and we haven't had one break yet. (They cost 49 cents each.)
  • Use foil instead of plastic wrap when a glass container is not feasible. (The foil is recyclable.)
  • Use bar soap for washing hands and in the shower. No plastic bottles and it will save you a ton of money! I'm currently in love with this soap. Make sure to use a non-plastic soap holder.
  • Use a shampoo soap bar. If you have hard water like me then this might not be for you.
  • Use soap nuts for your laundry detergent. Great for the environment and economical, too! They even worked on my toddler's soiled diapers.
  • Make your own cleaning supplies to drastically cut down on plastic bottles.
  • Carry your reusable bags on you at all times while out shopping. I keep mine in my purse. There are all kinds of reusable totes- even ones that can fold up quite small like this one.
  • Use cloth napkins to cut pack on the plastic wrap over paper napkins and their own subsequent waste issues.
  • Same with using rags over paper towels.
  • If having something shipped, request non-plastic packing material.
  • When shopping, if there is an option, choose the item that doesn't use plastic in it's packaging, i.e. tea bags wrapped in paper over plastic.
  • Really love something that is covered in plastic? Call the company and let them know- politely- that you are looking for a healthier option. 
Trust me, companies want to hear from their customers. They are in business to make money and want to hear how you would be willing to part with more of it. Use your voice to make change- it is stronger than you think!

Personally, I still have a long road a head of me when it comes to lowering my plastic usage but, like all new changes, I'm taking it one day at a time and feeling happy for accomplishments made so far. Throughout the year, I will post other ways to reduce plastic as I find new alternatives. Hopefully this is a journey we can take together!


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