Changing Our Relationship with Plastic

 Me, Lily, drinking through a bamboo straw.

Me, Lily, drinking through a bamboo straw.

Happy Earth Day! This week the CLC office has been buzzing with thoughts on how we can celebrate a day meant to promote environmental protection. One of the greatest threats of our time is appearing to be a theme across many organizations this Earth Day: plastic.

According to EcoWatch, The Ocean Conservancy, Time Magazine (and others) researchers have estimated that 5-13 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans EACH YEAR. That’s not only harmful to aquatic life but also our health. Chances are, you and everyone you know has consumed plastic particles in some way. More and more, we’re learning about the presence of plastic particles in our environment, including food and water.

In response the increasingly understood impact of plastic waste, more people are choosing to opt for reusable alternatives. There are now many ways to reach plastic-independence, from re-using shopping bags to compostable alternatives.

Most of you environmentalists already know the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Below are a few tips CLC staff use to reduce their plastic consumption.

Join us in making every day Earth Day!

  Stop using single-use plastic shopping bags.  This is one of the easiest steps you can take on a weekly basis. I don’t know about you, but I grocery shop 1 or 2 times a week. At 4-5 grocery bags worth, switching to reusable bags has saved our planet 350 plastic bags a year from my family alone!    Pro:  You can use the same bags over and over again and every time you do you’re making a difference.   Con:  This practice requires a little investment in purchasing reusable bags if you don’t have any extra totes at home.   Pro tip:  Leave bags in the trunk of your car, the bottom of your purse, a drawer at work, or wherever you frequent most so you have them when you need them. Any tote or bag you have works; they don’t have to be store bought or fancy.

Stop using single-use plastic shopping bags. This is one of the easiest steps you can take on a weekly basis. I don’t know about you, but I grocery shop 1 or 2 times a week. At 4-5 grocery bags worth, switching to reusable bags has saved our planet 350 plastic bags a year from my family alone! 

Pro: You can use the same bags over and over again and every time you do you’re making a difference.

Con: This practice requires a little investment in purchasing reusable bags if you don’t have any extra totes at home.

Pro tip: Leave bags in the trunk of your car, the bottom of your purse, a drawer at work, or wherever you frequent most so you have them when you need them. Any tote or bag you have works; they don’t have to be store bought or fancy.

  Forgo the straw.   The National Park Service  estimates a total of 46,400 school buses worth of plastic straws yearly end up in landfills and the environment. Forgo the straw or opt to use a eco-friendly one. I carry a case of stainless steel straws with me everywhere, my busy friends have paper ones, and I’ve been to a restaurant that uses hollowed pieces of bamboo!   Pro:  Opting out of using a straw at a restaurant is free!   Con:  More durable reusable options can be quite pricey, but they’re worth, right?   Pro tip:  Get in the habit of telling your server right away that you would not like a straw. It’s as easy as saying, “Water, no ice”: “Lemonade, no straw.”

Forgo the straw. The National Park Service estimates a total of 46,400 school buses worth of plastic straws yearly end up in landfills and the environment. Forgo the straw or opt to use a eco-friendly one. I carry a case of stainless steel straws with me everywhere, my busy friends have paper ones, and I’ve been to a restaurant that uses hollowed pieces of bamboo!

Pro: Opting out of using a straw at a restaurant is free!

Con: More durable reusable options can be quite pricey, but they’re worth, right?

Pro tip: Get in the habit of telling your server right away that you would not like a straw. It’s as easy as saying, “Water, no ice”: “Lemonade, no straw.”

  Practice your power as a consumer!  Opt for plastic alternatives and items that are not wrapped in plastic: boxed/canned/glass food items, paper products, wood toys and tools, etc. When you start looking, you’ll be surprised by all of the options!   Pro:  You’re joining a movement that has an impact on an industrial scale. The more you opt for eco-friendly products, the greater investment in their production. This helps everyone!   Con:  Some stores are more eco-friendly than others. It may take a little research to find alternatives to plastic, but they are out there!   Pro Tip:  Don’t see a plastic-free option for the item you need? Let the store know. You actually have a reason to fill out that survey on the receipt, now!

Practice your power as a consumer! Opt for plastic alternatives and items that are not wrapped in plastic: boxed/canned/glass food items, paper products, wood toys and tools, etc. When you start looking, you’ll be surprised by all of the options!

Pro: You’re joining a movement that has an impact on an industrial scale. The more you opt for eco-friendly products, the greater investment in their production. This helps everyone!

Con: Some stores are more eco-friendly than others. It may take a little research to find alternatives to plastic, but they are out there!

Pro Tip: Don’t see a plastic-free option for the item you need? Let the store know. You actually have a reason to fill out that survey on the receipt, now!

  Go compostable!  Very often I hear a variation of the following excuse: “But I can use those plastic grocery bags as trash can liners!” Guys, something amazing has happened in the past decade. There is a compostable version of your most commonly used plastic items. Sometimes there isn’t a paper, glass, or metal alternative to plastic. I get it, there’s just something about that flexible, lightweight, waterproof material; that’s why plastic so rapidly grew in popularity! Fortunately for the planet, there is a material that mimics plastic’s wonder in a much friendlier way.   Pro:  It does the same job as most plastics. No excuses!   Con:  Compostable alternatives are not widely available and might take some research.   Pro Tip:  Bring compostable containers to restaurants for sustainable leftovers.

Go compostable! Very often I hear a variation of the following excuse: “But I can use those plastic grocery bags as trash can liners!” Guys, something amazing has happened in the past decade. There is a compostable version of your most commonly used plastic items. Sometimes there isn’t a paper, glass, or metal alternative to plastic. I get it, there’s just something about that flexible, lightweight, waterproof material; that’s why plastic so rapidly grew in popularity! Fortunately for the planet, there is a material that mimics plastic’s wonder in a much friendlier way.

Pro: It does the same job as most plastics. No excuses!

Con: Compostable alternatives are not widely available and might take some research.

Pro Tip: Bring compostable containers to restaurants for sustainable leftovers.

  Make sure the plastic you do use is properly disposed.  While many plastics are not recyclable, a lot of the heftier types are. Check the policy of your nearest recycling center and recycle everything you can. If it can’t be recycled, like a lot of food packaging, make sure it ends up in the trash and not outside. Plastic trash is is ending up in our water resources. Eek!   Pro:  Recycling provides jobs!   Con:  Not all plastic is recyclable and recycling is still less efficient than reducing consumption altogether.   Pro Tip:  If a certain type of plastic is not recyclable in your area, avoid buying it. Try to find alternatives to reduce the need of throwing it away.

Make sure the plastic you do use is properly disposed. While many plastics are not recyclable, a lot of the heftier types are. Check the policy of your nearest recycling center and recycle everything you can. If it can’t be recycled, like a lot of food packaging, make sure it ends up in the trash and not outside. Plastic trash is is ending up in our water resources. Eek!

Pro: Recycling provides jobs!

Con: Not all plastic is recyclable and recycling is still less efficient than reducing consumption altogether.

Pro Tip: If a certain type of plastic is not recyclable in your area, avoid buying it. Try to find alternatives to reduce the need of throwing it away.

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Because it bears mentioning, I will note that recycling can make you “feel” like you’re neutralizing your use of plastic. While a recycling center is certainly MUCH better than a landfill, it is still energy and resource intensive to produce and recycle plastic items. What’s more, plastic is not as recyclable as metal or glass. It’s not melted down into virgin plastic but instead re-purposed into a lower grade material. We should focus on reducing the need to recycle by consuming less and reusing more.

  Be creative.  There’s no right way to avoid plastic. Shift the spotlight to new and old materials and see what works for the task at hand. When I was traveling, I learned how to use banana leaves as lunch sacks. We don’t have banana trees in Indiana, but I bet there’s something around here that could do the trick!

Be creative. There’s no right way to avoid plastic. Shift the spotlight to new and old materials and see what works for the task at hand. When I was traveling, I learned how to use banana leaves as lunch sacks. We don’t have banana trees in Indiana, but I bet there’s something around here that could do the trick!

Thank you for caring about our planet as much as we do!