From Dean Dowd on December 31, 2008 in Green Remodeling
Plastic has become such a part of our lives that it is getting hard to imagine going even one day without it. But in the interest of creating a challenge for ourselves, let’s give it a try. The first doubt to arise as we press our imaginations will be, “Why bother?” Well, because the making of plastic involves fossil fuels, including oil byproducts in the plastic itself, and plastic is not biodegradable. Furthermore, plastic is involved in so much of our waste, especially packaging, and comprises 12 percent of our landfills.
That is motivation enough to try one full day without using plastic. So, the first step to a day without plastic is to note the many ways in which we use plastic on a daily basis. Let’s see, there is…
- Shopping: plastic grocery bags
- Storage: tupperware, ziplock bags, plastic wrap, etc.
- Packaging: Dinner-to-go from the market, groceries, etc.
- Disposables: plastic silverware, plates, cups, etc.
- Miscellaneous: toothbrush, hairbrush, etc.
Please note that I am ignoring objects such as TVs, stereos, appliances, and other items that most certainly contain plastic but that we use for long periods of time and (hopefully) recycle when they break or we tire of them. Also, I suspect my list should be much longer. Even I probably don’t understand the full breadth of plastic in my daily routine.
Curbing some plastic use is easy. For example, finding non-plastic, reusable grocery bags is a cinch these days and controlling the amount of food you prepare, in order to avoid leftovers, or storing food in glass or ceramic containers should not prove difficult. We can use wax paper to wrap up meats, cheeses, breads, and other items as well.
Actually buying our normal groceries without using plastic proves much more difficult. I suppose we could simply not go to the market on our day off of plastic. But for the sake of a true case study, let’s assume it is grocery day today.
At the supermarket we really see how much plastic is set in our lives. We are greatly limited in our purchasing power. Try finding meat and cheese without plastic wrap or cereal without a plastic bag inside the box. What about milk and condiments? Even glass jars tend to have plastic lids. Our best bet will be fresh vegetables and fruit which have no packaging (we’ll just have to buy them loose).
As you can see the grocery store is the biggest hurdle to a plastic-free lifestyle and I am not so sure that going without plastic is fully possible in today’s world. One day with a strict diet of fresh vegetables and fruit is one thing, but the modern family is unlikely to go along with that for long.
Toothbrushes and other plastic products that are disposable but impossible to do without present another problem, although not as intense as food buying. A wooden hairbrush may be easy to come by, but a wooden toothbrush? Not to mention lotion, hand soap, shampoo, and other health care needs. For most of these you can buy glass or ceramic receptacles (probably with plastic plungers, doh!) and repeatedly take the original bottle in for refills, which many supermarkets now offer.
Living without using plastic is opening quite the can of worms. Even for one day, you’d probably have to abstain from brushing your teeth, watching TV, eating leftovers, freezing anything, going shopping, or even typing on your computer. Going one day without purchasing plastic is much more possible, although much beyond one day begins to get just as difficult. Read about one family’s attempt in the UK.
Despite the inherent difficulty in this challenge, there’s no reason not to give it a shot. If nothing else, an experiment such as this increases your awareness of plastic, will change your shopping habits for good, and encourage greener living—in ways you might otherwise not have noticed. You can also start paying more attention to the types of plastic you are buying. Try to buy plastic that is recyclable in your area. Contact your local recycling center or waste management company to see what recycling programs they might have and to push for more inclusive plans.