Many of us have heard how harmful plastic can be for the environment and our bodies, but just what can they do and who do they affect?
Plastic pollutants threaten marine environments, “where they have the potential to impact aquatic life through ingestion and the plastic’s ability to attract and absorb certain pollutants” (www.groundwater.org). They also leach chemicals into the foods and drinks we consume. Each of these chemicals react differently in the body, some synthesizing estrogen (BPA), causing hormonal imbalances which studies have suggested affect brain development in the womb leading female children to have ADHD, anxiety and depression (ElBoghdady, 2011). Another of these chemicals is phthalates which is found in pacifiers and the nipples of baby bottles. This chemical is known to disrupt the endocrine system – glands that produce hormones to regulate growth and development. This disruption seems to adversely affect young males. These are major issues which stem from a product which, in many situations, is optional. Yes, plastic is convenient, but it isn’t our only option.
Plastic Free: The Why, What and How?
I heard about the idea of going plastic free from a podcast which I listen to regularly, The Urban Farm Podcast. This program hosted Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life (listen to the podcast here) and asked several questions about her reasons for going plastic free and how she accomplished minimizing her use of plastic. Her passion inspired me to look more closely at my own plastic consumption and how to sustainably reduce my plastic use. She encourages people to collect the plastic they use over the course of a week and decide which items could be most easily replaced with a non-plastic.
After listening to the podcast and going to her website I was inspired to kick my plastic habit. Looking around my house I realized how many items I used each day which were made out of plastic: my water bottle, storage containers for food (tupperware, ziploc bags, icecream containers, salad containers, humus containers AHHHH!). So I did just what Beth suggested. I collected the plastic film bags from the grocery store, the numerous ziploc bags, and the plastic tupperware containers I use each day to prepare and store my food. Looking at the pile of plastic at the end of the week I realized what the easiest change would be: upgrade from plastic bags and containers to glass, metal, cloth, or paper containers.
I knew upgrading to glass and metal would be more expensive, but an aunt of mine inspired me to go the second hand route (thanks Bev!). I set out for the thrift stores in the Boise area, going to four in one day, searching for an alternative. And Oh did I find it! Metal bowls, Pyrex containers, and Corningware filled my basket. For a very reasonable price I was able to outfit my entire kitchen in glass and metal containers.
Because I was using plastic film bags to get bulk items like cashews, lentils, and pecans from the grocery store to my home, then immediately transferring the items into glass jars, the plastic film was only being used for 30 minutes. I needed a replacement to stop my use of this plastic bag mania.
At a natural grocery store I asked a stocker if there was a product out there which didn’t use plastic and could be a replacement for plastic bags. She brought me right to what I needed, 3B Bags! The company is based near Denver, Colorado, made sustainability in China, and can save more than 1,000 plastic bags from going into a landfill near you. Another option she suggested was Natural Value waxed paper bags. These hold snacks and sandwiches well without having to use a ziploc bag. These two items were just what I needed to make the switch!
Lifestyle Changes: You Choose
One of the reasons I enjoyed Beth’s website and interview so much was because she was realistic. She emphasized sustainability when making changes in one’s life and taking small steps. It can be overwhelming to completely go “cold-turkey” with plastics. They are everywhere, in our phones, laptops, toothbrushes (please keep brushing!). There may be some plastics you always have to use, don’t worry! Look at what you use the most, what would be easiest to replace with a non-plastic, and take small, sustainable steps to replace/ reduce the use of that item. You can take Beth’s Plastic Challenge by collecting your plastic waste over a week and reflecting on the following questions:
- What can we learn about our habits and lifestyles by examining our waste?
- What changes can each of us make to leave the planet a little less trashy?
The Facts- Courtesy of 3B Bags
The average American uses between 300 – 500 plastic bags a year, for an average of 12 minutes, before throwing them out. That adds up to 100 – 150 BILLION plastic bags used last year in the United States alone!
The consumption rate of our plastic bag addiction is estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute
Four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. are now plastic
The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store
Only 6.8% of municipal plastic waste gets recycled in the U.S.
63 pounds of plastic packaging goes into landfills in the U.S. per person per year.