Have you ever bought something new, like a blue car, and then you see that same blue car everywhere? Or someone you love gets pregnant, and then every other woman you pass is pregnant? It’s like we suddenly develop a hyper-awareness.
Same thing happened to me with plastic. Once I saw the problem I couldn’t un-see it. Plastic was EVERYWHERE.
Now, plastic is an awesome invention and I am grateful for the many life improving and life saving things that have come about because we have plastics. That said, when a material takes 450 to 1,000 years or more to biodegrade we need to proceed with caution. We need to give that material the respect it deserves. We need to be intentional in our use of that material and in its disposal.
We have not been.
We have created billions of items out of plastic that are, by design, meant to be used for minutes and then disposed of.
Really? That is the definition of insanity.
Everything mankind has EVER made from plastic still exists, and it’s not going anywhere. Plastic is now in the deepest parts of the oceans, in the dust in our homes, in the bottled water that we purchase, and in the foods that we eat. Every time we wash our clothes microfibers enter our water systems, every time we drink bottled water we add to a landfill.
While the trash man hauls our plastic waste out of sight, it doesn’t magically cease to exist. Plastic is piling up on land, washing into rivers, blowing in the wind. We console ourselves that we recycle, but only 10 percent of plastic is ever recycled, and even then there is a limit to the number of times plastic CAN be recycled. Recycling is not the solution, it just postpones plastics journey to the landfill.
And a great deal of that waste is single use plastics (SUP), like a Starbucks cup, or a straw, or bottled water. 70-80% of marine pollution is a combination of single use plastics and fishing debris. By 2050 we will have, by weight, as much plastic in the oceans as fish. The plastics floating on the surface are crowding out the phytoplankton that we depend on to create oxygen.
We need to be far more intentional and circumspect when it comes to plastic.
The solution to our plastic addiction is complicated and will require creative, innovative people co-operating with corporations and governments. There will have to be a multitude of solutions requiring regulations, education, and innovation. Changes need to be made at every level of our society to achieve the needed results.
So, given the scope of the problem why worry about taking one straw or using a plastic bag. It’s a good question, and one that could easily defeat us before we even start.
So here is where I started, why I continue to fight my personal plastic battle, and why I’m participating in Plastic Free July.
As I look at the pictures, read the statistics, and walk through the grocery store I find I need to confront my excessive consumption, my love of convenience, and my bad habits. In short, I need to take responsibility for my part in the problem.
I learned as a Girl Scout that we leave an area we visit better than we found it. My generation has done a pretty dismal job of leaving our physical world better than we found it. Our approach has been to use and exploit our resources for our own pleasure and ease without much thought to those who come after us.
We’ve failed to be stewards of the creation we were entrusted with.
As a culture we’ve become so accustomed to the overuse of plastic that we feel it’s abnormal, even deviant, for someone to cut back. Bring your own cup, use a metal straw…What is wrong with you? It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
The use of plastic is a relatively new addition to the story of humanity. My grandparents generation, coming out of the great depression and World War II, were resistant to the very idea of a single use product. Why would you pay good money to purchase cups and plates to use once and throw in the trash? The idea was absurd.
One generation, slick advertising and a growing consumer culture changed everything in a few short decades. We now enthusiastically embrace a disposable culture.
In 1518 a rich merchant in Siena, Agostino Chigi, wanted to demonstrate just how wealthy he was, and so, during a lavish garden party he had the table silver thrown into the Tiber river after his guest used it. (Spoiler, the silver was caught in a net and retrieved the next day.)
Tossing silver in a river is absurd, but so is tossing in a material that will never break down. In both instances our relationship with the physical materials in our lives and the value we place on them is out of whack.
Individual behavior won’t save the world from plastic, but we also won’t solve the plastic problem without a change in individual behavior. And I believe when many individuals change their behavior they drive cultural and societal changes.
Do companies need to change? Yes! Do supply chains need to change? Yes! Do governments need to change? Yes!
Do individuals need to change? Yes!
Change begets change. One seemingly insignificant change on our part can ripple out creating more change. What starts small can grow.
I’ve now had dozens of conversations with people in the grocery store who stopped to ask about my mesh produce bags. Over the years I’ve used those bags I’ve personally kept hundreds of produce bags from the landfill. If even one of those other people I spoke with moved to reusable produce bags then there are a few hundred more.
I started shopping at the bulk bins to avoid packaging. I don’t know if it was my inquiries about bringing my own containers that prompted change, but I do know that the entire chain I shop at now allows customers to bring their own containers to purchase bulk items. I also know that every time I’m at the bins with my mason jars someone asks me about them.
I contacted a company I purchase from to ask about their shipping packaging and was told that due to customers requests they were in the process of changing over to more sustainable packaging. If individual customers hadn’t voiced their concerns the excess packaging might never have been noticed. Even Amazon has been responding to customer complaints and has options for shipping with minimal packaging.
Thanks to the internet it’s pretty easy to find plastic free options for most of our products, and with each purchase we make we vote for the kind of society we want to live in. Personally, I’m happy to support companies that are seeking more sustainable practices.
My personal relationship with plastic has changed, it is now intentional. I don’t avoid plastic entirely, but when I bring it into my home I do it mindfully. Awareness, just awareness, could profoundly change the discussion about plastics. That’s one of the reasons I’ve participated in Plastic Free July. Simply to raise awareness that we have a problem.
As more people are aware, more people make changes. As more people make changes societal norms shift.
I feel like a wave of change is happening right now with the overuse of plastics.
On January 1st China changed their recycled material guidelines. This change means the US will no longer be to ship tons of plastic trash overseas. Every minute the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans, We need to deal with this sooner, rather than later.
Every change matters and so many of them are simple…
- speak up
- spread awareness
- educate ourselves
- support businesses making changes
- eliminate single use plastics
- write letters and call legislatures
- carry a reusable cup and fork
It’s about being intentional, aware and slowly adopting more sustainable habits. It’s about changing our relationship with plastic and the other resources we consume.
It’s not about changing everything overnight. It’s never about perfection, or guilt, or denying yourself.
Mainly it’s about being a good steward of God’s creation and protecting that creation for future generations.