March 1, 2011

Plastics Don’t Make Friends: 10 Strategies Toward Living a Better, Plastic-Free Life.

I remember those commercials like they played on my TV yesterday… my 10-year-old eyes glued to the screen watching the brave doctors, teachers and firemen who in their admirable and altruistic careers were saving and creating lives, all with the motto “plastics make it possible.” Some years and about a billion people later, our culture’s use of plastic is unfortunately doing just the opposite. Rather, it’s monumentally affecting the health of our bodies, our environment, and disguisedly, our economy… and not in a good way.

Now, I by no means think that the invention of plastic was a malicious scheme to ruin the world, but I would like to take a moment to respectfully dispute the tagline that I was brought up glamorizing. Rather, I think a life free of plastics would actually better our people, planet, and pocket-books.

Recently moving to Los Angeles, probably the last place on Earth I ever thought I would want to go, my friends and I launched a project to try to live in possibly the world’s single largest metropolis of excess, in a minimalistic and sustainable way. For one of our challenges, we decided eliminate the purchase of plastics, as much as possible.

It was quite an adventure that, at first, seemed absolutely impossible. The result, we were both pleasantly liberated by the array of ways in which cutting out plastics positively affected our lives, as well as disgusted by what we learned along the way. Basically, that the blinded disposition we have as industrial-age consumers has laid us victim to the false perception that cheap convenience actually “betters” our lives, and that plastics played a huge role in this.

Despite common thought, by beginning to think beyond plastics, we not only save resources, but we save money, and we purchase better products. Plus, now we take out our trash when it smells, rather than when it’s full … it’s great!

This motivated us to spread the word…

10 Strategies to Live Without Plastics:

  1. Sit Back, Relax and just Observe: Make a point, just for a day, to notice all of the plastic around you. When I first did this, it blew my mind!
  2. Bring your own bags, not just for groceries: not just big grocery bags to grocery stores but bring bags when you go clothes shopping, or to pick up a meal for the family to-go. Bring bags to re-use for bulk-foods and produce, both from the grocery store and from the farmers market. Ask for no bag when they’re not necessary. (No more bottomless pit of plastic bags in the closet!!)
  3. Buy Used Whenever Possible: It seems like everyone I know is purging all of the “stuff” they’ve accumulated over the years. Barter with friends, buy from second-hand stores and find other ways of obtaining recycled goods, such as craigslist and freecycle. This both uses less/no new-material and is much cheaper, even free.
  4. Eat at restaurants that use non-plastic material or let you bring your own: Whole Foods (and others) have great salad/to-go bars that come in non-plastic and often times compostable containers. If you bring your own fork, void the lid, straw and any extras. Chipotle, for example, is completely plastic free. Buy beverages in glass bottles vs. plastic… bring your own mug for coffee. Sometimes retailers will even give you a discount for bringing your own.
  5. Carry your own utensils: takes some time to start remembering, but keep a set of utensils in your bag, brief-case or glove-compartment to use when you eat out.
  6. Make your own! How easy it is to make things like hummus, soup, granola and even yogurt, which are difficult to find not packaged in plastic, at home rather than purchasing it. Plus it’s fun to learn how to do these things that so many of us were brought up thinking were so domestically mysterious!
  7. Discover the wonderful world of buying in bulk! You can get rice, beans, granola, chocolates, dried fruit, honey, coffee, tea… Uses MUCH less material, and costs much less! At our local co-op we can even get shampoo and soap! You buy the first bottle, fill it, then re-fill it when it gets low. Expanding the repertoire of buying in bulk, would be a great direction for consumers and retailers to go… utilize it, request it where it’s not provided, and expand it where possible. (And no, buying 100 individually wrapped packets of pretzels doesn’t count…) Remember, buying in bulk saves $$$!
  8. Buy for quality not efficiency: In the long run, this will always benefit you. Meditate on it…
  9. (Reduce.. Reuse.. Recycle..)… REFUSE: We found plastic alternatives that we once thought “had” to be plastic, such as household items like biodegradable kitchen trash bags, sandwich baggies, food and non-food items boxed or packaged in paper or beverages and milk bottled in glass. We thought we’d for sure have to contribute to the landfills with these! Refuse to buy products packaged in plastic… choose an alternative. As demand shifts, so will supply.
  10. Changing Habit: One of the most difficult parts of this challenge was simply remembering… but with time and practice, we did start to recondition our habits. We are all so conditioned to not think about what we’re eating out of or with, what products are packaged in, or what happens to trash once we use it. Remembering to bring bags to the grocery store or a fork to a take-out restaurant takes practice to re-condition the habits that are so deeply ingrained in us. If you have kids, get them in on the challenge too!

Okay, so I’m not saying that eliminating plastics is going to change the world overnight…

…Nor is it even possible at this point to rid ourselves of them completely. What I’m saying is that every thought and every action is a seed, and if we all keep planting seeds of consciousness and keep casting our little daily votes as consumers and citizens, then we’ll continue to see the increase in momentum of the paradigm shift that we hope for and see on the horizon. I’m also saying that our plastic consumption is a bit disgusting and highly unnecessary. I know, for one, my life is better without it.

The fact of the matter is that our consumer purchases are quite possibly our biggest vote as citizens. That means what we choose to buy and NOT to buy, really does make a difference. Maybe my dream of someone in production making a nationally-run commercial redefining the “plastics make it possible” paradigm will come true.  Just some thoughts to sit on… !

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