Sustainability: Plastics

Image Source: Plastic Problems : How Do Plastic Bags Affect Our Environment?

I had started this project last week, but since plastic has come up in several conversations recently (this one being the coolest, by far), it must be a sign that plastic is on peoples' minds. Consider the plastic in your life, please. It's quite astounding once you realize how prevalent it has become. In many ways, plastic has benefited our lives greatly by making the things we use lighter, cheaper and more convenient. It's brought us portable music, cool ways to organize our space, carry things with us, communicate. It's even been a leading element in saving lives. Plastic is cool, right? Cool like Katy Perry.

Plastic is created from various combinations of petrochemicals to make polymers that are derived from the mining of petroleum. Deriving items from hydrocarbons not only supports the domestic and foreign reliance on a finite resource (finite, based on the rate of human consumption vs. rate of replenishment), but the overuse and abusive treatment of plastics can be intensely detrimental to [the future of] our environment and to our human health.

It should be easy to guess what the most plentifully plastic monstrosity is: plastic bags. These babies are everywhere, and every store you go to in many US states have well-trained clerks at each check out that robotically place your purchased items into plastic bags like clockwork. It has become so effortless now with plastic bag turnstiles at places like Wal-Mart, licking fingers to separate and open flat-pressed bags like separating the pages of a book, rotating that turnstile round like a carnival carrousel. Plastic is no joy ride. How many times have you taken your reusable bag to one of these places only to have a clerk look at you confused because they cannot find the price tag before you have enough time to explain to them that its yours. You brought it, took the time to carry it around the store with you, and placed it very strategically at the front and on top of your items at checkout. I've even had clerks look at me blankly, handing me the bag and standing there lazily while I pack away purchases myself. Do not be discouraged, frustrated, and especially do not give up taking your reusable bags to these places. Repetition is good. Society will get it after a while. I've had many pleasant conversations with attendants about eating healthy or why I bring my own bags while they learn how to organize items in said canvas satchels. And what if you forget your reusable bags and must choose, paper or plastic? Choose paper. You may not see paper bags out in view, but they are almost always under the counter or can be fetched from another register (and yes, you probably should feel bad that it was once a tree, but it will stop you from making this mistake again). At least you can use the paper bag to place your recyclables in for the regular curbside recycling pickup (unlike plastic bags, which must be taken to a special facility in most places). And if they are out of paper bags? Buy a reusable bag for $1. It's only $1. If you're fretting about owning too many reusable bags, then make a point not to forget them next time.

Aside from the plastic bags given at checkout, many merchandise comes packaged in plastic. Here are some items that come in plastic that can be recycled in areas that recycle plastic bags. If you're going to purchase items packaged in plastic, try only purchasing brands that use bags that can be recycled. If you are already a label reader, it should only be a small adjustment to seeking out the recycling symbol on the back or bottom of the packaging. Here are a few examples:

Ezekeil Bread Bag

Shipping Packaging Bag

Carrot/Produce Bag

Merchandise Packaging Bag

Udi's Bread Bag

Kitty Litter Bag

Toilet Paper Bag

Produce Bag

Bag Ties--Reuse These!

In addition, try and find these types of items in plastic that can be recycled:

  • Coffee bags are not recyclable, unless you find a brand that comes in biodegradable paper (Allegro brand has one). If you do not buy your coffee in bulk, you can buy most brands in recyclable plastic or tin containers. Also, transport your java in reusable cups. If you must get java from a coffee shop and do not remember your reusable cup, please at least recycle the plastic lid and cardboard sleeve. The cup itself is not recyclable because it is wax or plastic lined. Americans throwaway 25 billion coffee cups per year.
  • Candy wrappers--individually wrapped and loose candy
  • Produce that already comes bagged--apples, greens, peppers, etc. can be found in recyclable bags, or buy loose and use reusable fabric produce bags or none at all. Often times I don't even use produce bags because I'm going to wash my produce anyway.
  • Those plastic bags found in corrugated cereal and snack boxes--they generally are not recyclable (they do not have a label). Processed foods are notorious for this.
  • Writing utensils
  • Bags of frozen foods, rice, pasta, grains, baked goods (like loaves of bread)
  • Clothing, like socks, underwear, undershirts--I used to work in retail and every non-food item you see in a store comes individually packaged in plastic that is removed and discarded before placing items on the shelf. It's terribly wasteful and most stores do not recycle.
  • Avoid using cellophane, when possible (BUT I just found out that cellophane is compostable (if it truly is cellophane)!). It's not dangerous when used properly (never heat it, never wrap it around your face, etc.). If I am storing food in open containers in the fridge, I will place a ceramic plate over it. It makes it more substantial and you can stack other things on top.
  • I do use ziplock bags, over and over again. Same with produce bags. Rinse them out, turn them inside out and hang them on the faucet to dry. If you pack your childrens' lunches in ziplock baggies, tell them to put them back in their lunchbox when finished and wash them in the evening so they are dry in the morning to pack lunch again (tell them why it is important and take part in the responsibility. Stop telling your kids that it is to save money and start telling them that it's because you care about the environment--the difference between positive and negative reinforcement--think about it). If you pack lunch in the evening, have two sets that you can cycle through.

What are some ultimate ways to avoid plastics?

  • Buying fresh produce and using reusable produce bags or none at all
  • Buying in bulk--places like whole foods use recyclable produce bags that you can reuse at home or the next time you head to the grocery, or you can recycle them at places that recycle plastic bags.
  • If you must, use biodegradable plasticware. Even better is to use the real stuff--ceramic, wood or stainless steel dishware and real silverware instead of the disposable stuff. Plus, it's very cool and classic. May I also suggest cloth napkins, while I'm at it?
  • Using reusable stainless steel or glass drinking bottles
  • Alternate food storage containers also found in stainless or glass--I often save old PB or salsa jars to store grains, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast. Soak them in water and then peal off the label. I also use small and large pasta mason jars for drinking glasses--great for juices, smoothies, and beer.

If you have any suggestions that you would like to add to the list, please feel free to leave them in the comments. Special thanks to L&L for taking the time to collaborate some of these ideas.


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