Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Step Away from the Plastic

Plastic. It's so ubiquitous in our culture that it's hard to believe it has really only been available to consumers since around 1960. The below infographic shows us some of the awful truth about how much plastic waste we generate but it also provides tips for reducing it in our lives.

One habit that is now common among Americans who believe they are being "green" is taking t-shirt style bags (called carrier bags in the UK) back to the stores for recycling. One day it struck me as absurd when I observed shoppers carrying their plastic bags into the store, depositing them in the recycling bin, then leaving the store with brand new bags identical to the ones they had just dropped off. Once I took my plastic bags into the grocery store for re-use. I put them on the conveyor belt, just ahead of my purchases. The cashier took the bags and began to place them in the trash can. I'm not sure what went through her head at that moment. Did she think I was too lazy to discard or recycle my own bags? When I stopped her and tried to explain that I wanted her to put my purchases in the bags, she still didn't get it. Sigh. 

Two strategies (among many) I've implemented to reduce plastic (and other disposable) waste is to buy the necessary plates and drinking glasses at thrift stores so I have enough place settings for when we entertain. Another way we cut down on the use of plastic bags in our business is to go to a certain big box store (one that I never shop at), go directly to the large box where they accept plastic bags for recycling, and take some home with me. Often, the bin is filled with unused bags that are tossed by cashiers when they can't get them open fast enough when ringing up customers. (Heaven forbid they take an extra second or two to get the bag open.) I usually ask the person at the customer service desk if it's okay for me to take some bags. I've gotten some strange looks for that, but I want to make sure they know I'm not shoplifting. Of course, for my own shopping, I carry reusable totes with me. And we have a number of customers who bring their own bags because, like us, they hate plastic.


David said...

Cherie, Styrofoam is another product made from petroleum that is a quick use and in the trash product. In fact I believe California has banned the use of such products. Well, of course now I suspect in that state the use of light weight cardboard containers has sky rocketed which uses trees. Thirty years ago when my youngest child was born, we made the decision to use cloth diapers. Sadly, it wasn't for environmental reasons but for economical ones. At that time pampers and other disposable diapers were just hitting their stride and all our friends thought we were just nuts to still use cloth. Today a large percentage of the volume of trash that ends up in the land fills are disposable diapers. As you have stated, it takes thousands of years for all that plastic land fill to degrade. Any plastic with the number of 4 or higher is not recycled in my city and goes into the trash. That's a pretty large percentage of the plastic used.

I use all glass containers to store left overs in the refrigerator and even on the shelves for such things as flour, rice, beans, etc. They are mostly pickle jars or spaghetti jars. If the left overs are put in the jars hot then they will seal and keep for a week or two without any problems. In my opinion, that's much better than plastic containers which are only safe for two to three days. Dishes, glasses, and cups are all regular washable dishes. I do use the full cycle on the dishwater including the drying cycle to sanitize the dishes. It seems to help with staying healthy more than anything else.

What I do will probably never convince any one to change their buying habits nor will it really make a difference in the global use of plastic but it still is the right thing to do, don't you think?

Have a great non plastic day.

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

My first gripe is when a bagger starts to put things in a plastic bag, I direct them to the canvas bags and they take items out of the plastic bag, put them in the canvas bag and then throw out the plastic bag.

Second, I went fishing on Sunday and the area where I get to this amazing fishing spot the trail to the river is pretty much the neighborhood dump. This trip I brought a heavy mil bag (re-used from some paper I bought at the art store) and some gloves and went into the woods to clean up. Picking up so much plastic, I got to see how it breaks down after long-term exposure, which was quite disturbing. Styrofoam was the same, a lot of it just crumbled when I picked it up and it was next to impossible to get all the little pieces. And at the end of the day, what I thought was a gigantic bag, when filled, did not make a dent in the amount of trash in the woods.

Cherie said...

David, interesting comment on jars self-sealing when foods are put in them while hot. We use glass as much as possible for food storage, although sometimes I have to resort to my store of reusable plastic containers.

Last year I learned that most recycling facilities stopped accepting any plastics except 1s and 2s. That is because the remainder was shipped to China for recycling. However, China decided they no longer wanted our junk but we don't have the infrastructure for recycling those plastics so now they go to landfill. (Not sure if trucking across the nation then shipping overseas is any better for the environment than landfill.) I also learned that the recycled paper I try to buy actually comes from China, so now the dilemma - recycled or not? I do try to reduce our paper usage but cannot eliminate it. It's all a journey. :)

Cherie said...

Shona, I've had that happen,too - stopping a cashier from throwing away a bag after realizing I brought my own. When I realize what's about to happen, I tell them, just go ahead an give me the bag. At least I'll reuse it. We get tons of trash along our road frontage on our farm. I had to stop taking walks there because I'd get frustrated after cleaning it up and realizing the litter would just keep coming.