Waging War on Plastic

Or: My Haphazard Attempts at Good Stewardship

The year is 2018. We are living in the age of “awareness”. Brands everywhere are jumping on the Green bandwagon and hastening to offer environmentally friendly versions of the everyday products modern society has grown so dependent on. People everywhere are turning back the clock and re-examining the methods of our grandparents and great-grandparents to rediscover lifestyle methods that, while often more time-consuming, are better for ourselves and the environment. This societal movement towards sustainability seems painfully slow at times, but at least it’s moving.

So why, in 2018, with the power of the internet, can I not find a reasonably priced biodegradable floss that I can feel 100% good about using?!? More on that later.

Though this topic is not groundbreaking by any means, I’ve only recently begun to think about my own place in this movement towards sustainable living. I’ve taken a first step by analyzing the nature of the hair and skin products that I use (soaps, lotions, etc.) and replacing them with all-natural substitutes – more on them in another post. While I’ve comfortably settled into this new beauty care system of mine, some remaining kinks notwithstanding, the next biggest issue I’ve turned towards is plastic.

I don’t think any reasonable person these days would argue the many faults of plastic – society is rife with information about its utter lack of biodegradability, plastic pollution in the environment, the chemicals they contain…the list goes on. I’m no scientist, but “we as a society should use less plastic” is an assertion I feel pretty comfortable making. And yet the modern world is rife with it – now that I’ve actually started looking, it’s all I can see. Kitchenware, bathroom supplies, even clothing – you name it, there is a plastic version. My retainers? Plastic. All the pens I’ve ever used? Plastic. The desk chair that I’m sitting in right now as I write this? Mostly made of plastic. Where does one even begin?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my lifestyle choices as a whole, and this self-examination has revealed an incriminating flaw in my character: all too often, I blindly accept packaging and the materials products are made of, select disposable products over reusable ones, and more often than not, end up chucking the lot into the garbage without a second thought. Certainly I care about the environment, I would like to recycle…but it took me almost a year to realize that almost every morning at work I was grabbing a plastic spoon for my breakfast, instead of one of the reusable metal ones. Once I made this horrifying realization (and promptly mended the error of my ways) I started thinking…where else have I been making blunders like this, simply because I hadn’t chosen to actively think about the impact of my actions?

Part of the problem is a social one – I don’t really think it’s part of our collective culture to live sustainably. The media bombards us with messages encouraging us to consume, to indulge, to live in the moment rather than planning for the future. The fact that it’s taken me twenty-five years to actually stop and think “wait a minute…” about my plastic usage is a testament to the lack of conscientiousness in our social dialogue (and a pretty alarming testament at that). An additional issue, at least for me personally, is due largely in part to a lack of proper recycling resources in my immediate area. Most of the people know would be more than happy to recycle plastics and other materials, but there simply aren’t facilities or pick-up services available.

Presumably, then, if we cannot recycle environmentally harmful materials like plastic, the next logical step would be to not use them whenever possible. When I started making a mental catalogue of the plastic products that I use on a regular basis, I was quickly overwhelmed not only by the extent of the list, but surprising places where plastic turned up, which includes but is certainly not limited to:

  1. Dental floss (and I am a fastidious flosser…25 years of plastic floss in landfills to my name. Fantastic.)
  2. Pretty much every toothbrush and razor I’ve ever used, also brushes, combs, etc.
  3. 90% of the kitchen products I see in the store (cooking utensils like spatulas, food storage units, drinkware, tableware, and of course disposable utensils.)
  4. All of the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup, household cleaners, etc. that I’ve gone through in my life.
  5. Food packaging – I don’t eat a lot of processed food, but a lot of unprocessed food still comes in plastic packaging (milk, bread, cutie oranges in bags of plastic netting, crackers / cereals that come in a cardboard box but are bagged in plastic.)
  6. Really, any product packaging (just today I had to practically use a chainsaw to get into a box of new PLASTIC toothbrushes and then nearly sliced my hands on the jagged edges.)
  8. Caveat to #7 – miles, and miles, and miles of plastic wrap.
  9. This is a lady issue, but most of the mainstream menstrual hygiene products (pads and tampons) contain some kind of plastic.

And more! And until a few months ago, I really gave no thought to the fact that when I was finished with these items, they went straight into the trash…out of sight, out of mind.

But no longer!

Now, plastic does┬ástill have plenty of uses. Sometimes using plastic products is unavoidable. For example, I’m not going to stop using my electric toothbrush – this process, for me, is about finding a balance. It’s really hard to beat the ease and convenience plastic provides, but I figure that cutting out at least some of the plastic usage in my life, at least to start, is still better than doing nothing at all.

As Rome was not built in a day, neither will a plastic-free lifestyle come into being overnight. Plastic isn’t the only issue with regards to more sustainable lifestyles in fact, there are many blogs devoted entirely to the subject of environmental sustainability. Like a friend of mine who recently committed to trying to live as waste-free as possible, I too am determined to revise my lifestyle one step at a time, and this is just the first step in a much longer journey. But instead of getting discouraged at how far there is still to go, I’ll share the progress I’ve made so far!

  1. Floss – I’ve been looking into alternatives, and I haven’t found a lot of great commercial ones so far, but until I find a product I can really feel good about (or am reduced to making my own) I’ve settled on trying RADIUS silk floss. Perhaps I will blog later about the experience!
  2. Toothbrushes, etc. – I’m a firm believer in the benefits of electronic toothbrushes, and I’m not entirely sure it would be possible to make one out of biodegradable materials…but for those who still prefer manual versions, there are quite a few wooden / biodegradable options out there! Razors I’m not sure about, but you can get wooden brushes and combs and so forth.
  3. Kitchen Products – I plan on buying non-plastic products when they are available and limiting my dependence on plastic versions. I have two glass water bottles that I’m currently using and glass snapware for food (which unfortunately still have plastic lids, but it’s a start!)
  4. Plastic product bottles – still working on this one
  5. Food packaging – ditto
  6. Product packaging – ditto
  7. Grocery bags – over the past year I’ve been using re-usable grocery bags and they are the BEST. The hardest part of using them is just remembering to bring them into the store with you, but once you’re there you’re set. I actually find them more convenient than plastic bags – they can fit a ton of groceries, which means fewer trips between the house and the car, and it feels so good not to have thousands of plastic grocery bags laying around begging to be re-used (I generally reuse them as garbage liners, but not using them at all would still be best).
  8. Plastic wrap – I’ve been seeing a ton Facebook videos for “etee” wraps and am seriously intrigued – basically they are reusable, biodegradable food wraps made from cotton permeated with beeswax. If I get around to purchasing some I’ll be sure to relate my user experience! I’ve also been trying to be good about using the glass snapware for my work lunches, which seems to have cut down on a lot!
  9. Feminine Care – I actually think this is where this journey in conscientious living all began, when I found out a couple of years ago that there were alternatives to regular pads and tampons (also, I think there’s something wrong with the fact that this only came to my attention a few years ago, but I digress). Menstrual underwear like THINX, cloth pads, and menstrual cups are all alternatives that can help cut down on waste, plastic or otherwise, and are arguably probably better for your body. I may do a separate blog post about this issue as well…we’ll see how brave I’m feeling.

This post got way longer than I thought it would, so I’d better wrap up here. What other, surprising sources of plastic can you think of? Do you have any tips, tricks, or product suggestions that might help me in my quest? Be sure to leave them in the comments below!