Kicking the plastic addiction
March 15, 2019
In part 1 of this focus on plastic, we explored our addiction to plastic, and how it is an abundant part of our lives. If you have not done so already, you can read it here. We can all benefit from more conscientious decisions in how we lead our lives, and the impact that we would like to have on our world. Thankfully, our societies are becoming more engaged in further conversation, awareness, and activity regarding the plastic paradigm we live in, and there are some inspiring organizations working hard to help us adjust to a brighter future. However, to get there, we have to start living it now, in our day to day lives. Create the future you want now, with your daily habits and actions, and it will be the future we can all experience tomorrow. We are all responsible for the plastic disaster we find ourselves in, not for the whole of it, but for our part. We will not be able to single-handedly enact a solution, but we can take responsibility for our contribution to it, and act accordingly.
Our own actions, taken in isolation, may only have a minimal impact. However, to consider it from this perspective is doing yourself a disservice, and undervaluing your own ability to influence your world.  We certainly would not take on any other societal-level, much less global-level concepts in the same manner. For example, whether or not you know how to read has a negligible impact on global literacy levels. Similarly, you personally having a job does not affect global employment levels in any significant way. However, both of these things make a huge difference in your own life, and critically, in the lives of those around you: the people you influence. Dealing with our plastic addiction is similar. What you do makes a difference, to you, to those around you, and in your local communities. With your actions you can inspire others to question the way things are typically done, and to consider new ideas and vantage points.
Maybe your local restaurant will begin to consider how to reduce their own plastic footprint based on your simple request for no plastic packaging. Perhaps changing the way you pack lunch for your family will encourage a discussion of plastic in your children’s class, and maybe start a school-wide initiative. An individual’s actions could inspire a story that the local media picks up on, and suddenly the government is being asked to weigh in. (Eventually banning plastic utensils and straws at restaurants, as occurred in Carmel, a small town in California, which helped give weight to a global initiative. Greta Thunberg’s weekly protests led to a meeting with the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker securing a commitment that 25% of the EU budget will be used to mitigate climate change) Is that enough to solve the problem? No, but this global addiction will not be kicked with a single solution. Hoping for that is reductionist and simplistic.
We face a deeply entrenched, multifaceted problem, and the solution will have to be similarly detailed. Every solution starts somewhere, with someone choosing to act differently, and to adjust their own habits. The network effect is powerful, and we can all take part, as an initiator, as a supporter, as an alert and active individual. Even if you don’t initiate a butterfly effect community-wide response, you can take responsibility for your own contributions to the plastic problem at hand.
Taking responsibility for your own contributions is a first step towards community-wide and larger systemic change. It also does not preclude systemic change, governmental regulation, or industry-led initiatives. This is not an either-or decision, on the contrary, both individual and systemic change are required, and are complementary to one another. In order to inspire politicians to enact or run on environmentally-focused platforms and legislation, they need to be assured of a voter-base in-line with these ideas. In order for industry practices to change, consumers will have to adjust their preferences and demands as well. In order for people like you and me to more readily adjust our habits and lifestyles, industry and government need to offer the services and products to facilitate this change. In other words, we are all in this together, and it is up to us to begin acting accordingly. Your initiative can help start the cycles we need to live in tune with our planet and the beautiful life all around us.
Simple steps to start on a plastic-free life
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
We’ve likely all heard the phrases before, but how can we actually put this into practice? Going plastic-free will take time, and is difficult to manage in our current societies. Be forgiving, of yourself, of others, and of our societies. Set yourself reasonable goals, perhaps taking out a single category at a time, or focusing on plastics in one-area of your life at a time. As with all change, it will take time, but it is possible.
What follows is a short list of some simple early steps you can take to begin making adjustments towards being plastic-free in your own life. Links to more guides are available below in the sources section. 
Tackling one-use plastics while on-the-go
- Carry reusable bag(s) with you
- Carry and use a reusable water bottle
- If you are in the habit of ordering coffee or drinks to go, bring your own cup, or just use your water bottle! (disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic, and are often rejected from recycling centers as a result)
- Similarly, if you tend to order food to go, bring your own reusable container and cutlery
Addressing the plastics we bring home
- Reject over-packaged items, or, if you are ready, all items packaged in plastics
- Bring your own containers and can shop at a bulk items or containerless stores if they are available in your area. Farmer’s markets are also great options for this, if you are lucky enough to have some nearby
- Consider making what you cannot find plastic-free elsewhere. Many cleaning items, cosmetics, and sanitary items can be made easily and for a fraction of the cost of plastic enveloped store bought versions
- Avoid synthetics and plastics in clothing. Washing these items creates microplastics contributing to the global microplastic epidemic
- Order less take-out from places that deliver it in plastic, or, if you are ready, simply don’t order anything that delivers plastic to you
- If you do end up consuming something with plastic, see if you can continue to use the item, either in a similar role, or find a new creative use for it. Old “one-use” plastic containers are often more than durable enough to store a variety of items in them.
- Similarly, if you already have something that is plastic that works just fine in its current role, continue using it – there is no need to create more waste simply to feel more “green”
- Recycle the plastics you do end up consuming (being sure to double check that your local recycling center can process that type of plastic, and that you give them a quick clean so they aren’t rejected and thrown away at the recycling center)
- Think twice about using even “plant-based” plastics, and be sure they end up in the right waste disposal as well, as some cannot be recycled with other plastics, and need an oxygen rich environment to decompose properly
Beware of Greenwashing
- Being environmentally friendly is thankfully becoming trendy. Enough so, that some brands and companies are trying to cash-in, without actually changing their own habits. Many brands are putting ‘eco’, ‘natural’, ‘plant-based’ or simply green colors and leaves on labels, however this does not mean they are necessarily eco-friendly. Some are actually worse for our environment and waste problems!
- OXO-plastics are possibly less environmentally friendly than intended. The EU has deemed them to potentially increase the problem of microplastics, and they still originate from fossil-fuel and various metals. OXO plastics speed up the time for plastics to degrade into smaller components, which in theory sounds good, but many of these smaller plastic components also do not biodegrade any quicker than standard plastics, and are just as toxic to our environment as “regular” plastic.
- Biodegradable isn’t the end-all. Some plastics “biodegrade” into toxic components, some only have a % of biodegradable components (and the rest is standard plastic). In short, there is no standard on what is biodegradable, and minimally impactful on our environment. It gets complicated, and many companies accused of greenwashing exploit this confusion and our general willingness to make better choices for our planet in order to sell higher priced products, at little to no real ecological benefit. 
- When in doubt, try to find a non-plastic alternative!
 The power of individual action & grass-roots campaigns
 More guides & tips on going plastic-free
 Comparing Bioplastics, Biodegradable plastics, and Compostable plastics