“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead
It can sometimes get a bit distracting when trying to decide where you may have the most impact or make the biggest change. The good news is that there are a plethora of behaviors and activities you can undertake to curb your own addiction to plastic waste and reduce your carbon footprint.
It All Starts with a Thought
Like a great many things in life, changing the consumerist behavior you’ve been taught since you were little is going to take some time for most people. I am very (very, very) guilty of this particular vice but I’ve found that, again like most things that are worth having, the deciding and the doing become easier when it’s something that is personally important. The familiar feeling of inadequacy for not being the next Boyan Slat or Elon Musk is certainly understandable, but I wager, misplaced.
For most people who are not currently an inventive 23-year-old or a can-do tech billionaire, it can seem (at least superficially) that the problem is too big or that our power to affect change is too small. The good news is that you are likely already doing quite a bit for the environment.
Many, if not all of us, already recycle at home. Some of us even do so at the office or bring our own totes to the grocery store. Those are all super easy ways that we as a society have embraced the challenge that is climate change. If you find yourself here, then normally the next step is often education.
Learning Some New Tricks
Changing the world means changing your views about it. For some, that may simply mean looking at the planet as a finite resource and for others, it may take thinking about the world as an inheritance you plan to leave for the next generation. Regardless of what inspires this change, often the next step in this (or any) good plan is to learn more about the problem.
The stats concerning plastic pollution are very troubling. The United States alone produces more than 100 billion plastic beverage containers a year, or about 315 bottles per every man, woman, and child in the country. And if the social impact of increased single-use plastics entering the environment isn’t enough to frame the importance of getting ahead of this problem, perhaps the allure of an estimated $8 billion worth of recyclable materials going to the landfill every year can help with that. Additionally, when evaluating the lower cost of recycling versus the cost of creating materials from virgin components as well as the decrease in carbon footprint and in most cases decreased water need, it really isn’t difficult to understand why a shift to more eco-mindful professional and personal behaviors begins to show their true value.
Still, it is and would be completely understandable that one may still be confused about what more they can do. Below we’ve compiled a brief list of some of the more interesting ways you as an individual can affect a greater change. We even have a few suggestions for you to think about implementing at work to round things out.
You may be surprised to know how many low-impact, easy ways there are for you to do a little more to end plastic pollution within our generation. Below we go over a few of the lesser known trends to give you some idea of how easy it can be for you to get involved yourself.
One of our absolute favorite new activities around the Armpocket office has been the Scandinavian trend of plogging. We even wrote a whole post dedicated to the idea, but in a nutshell, plogging is the act of picking up litter during your regular runs or walks. Because no specialty equipment is needed and no training is required, it has a laughably low bar for entry. Besides the obvious benefit to your community and the environment-at-large, ploggers also can enjoy the knowledge that all that stopping and stooping has some physical benefit. Much like interrupting a run to knock out a few burpees, plogging offers the eco-minded jogger a boost of about 300 calories per workout.
— Plastic Pollutes (@PlasticPollutes) April 13, 2018
Rethink Plastics That Touch Your Mouth
It is often very easy to overlook just how many plastic items you come into contact on a regular basis. What can be even scarier than that to think about however, is how many of those products touch our lips or mouth. Most bio-researchers agree that we touch our faces between 2000-3000 times during the course of a day, and even if a small fraction of that is on our around our lips, it’s still a staggering amount of contact between the easiest point of entry on your body and any potentially dangerous chemicals or materials you may have picked up.
Plastic items, especially toys, should get particular attention as many of these single-use plastics like PVC and polycarbonate (PC) in their construction. Of the two, PVC is likely the tougher one to spot as it is frequently used in tandem with phthalates to make plastic more supple. While their use has been prohibited in toy manufacturing since 2009, PVC has found additional uses in other items you wouldn’t normally consider them in like shower curtains, raincoats and many of the inflatable items you see at the beach.
“A recent study from Harvard University found that college students drinking their cold drinks from polycarbonate bottles had 93% more BPA in their bodies than during the weeks that they drank liquids from other containers.” --Harvard School of Public Health
Polycarbonate, on the other hand, has become a huge problem within the past decade. Found in everything from takeout containers to water bottles, avoiding PC sources is and has become increasingly difficult. Of the chemicals that should cause concern, BPA is probably the most well known. bisphenol A (more commonly called BPA) is traditionally used to reinforce plastic structures, thereby increasing their usefulness. Unfortunately, many of the use cases for those items include the application of heat, which when applied to these containers, causes the chemical to leech from them and into whatever they had contained. Often times, this is a consumable item like food or liquid
Some things to keep in mind when deciding to switch your items from these kinds of plastics to other, more sustainable ones could be:
- Reduction in Carcinogens: As previously noted, many PC items contain several known and suspected cancer-causing substances. A recent study has even shown that even brief breaks in contact can have significant benefits.
- Glass > Plastic: When considering to replace your current water bottle, keep in mind that glass is the only packaging material the Food and Drug Administration recognize for being natural, sustainable, and 100% recyclable without loss in quality or purity.
- Plastic (mostly) Lacks Commitment: It's no mystery that plastic bottles can stick around for hundreds of years. What isn't so obvious is that of the estimated 1,000,000 plastic bottles produced per minute, 91% are destined for only a single use and then discarded.
- Everything Tastes Better in Glass: Some of you may already be aware of this, but the material can affect the taste of foods and liquids dramatically. Besides being generally designed to look sleeker, elegant, and more robust, glass containers are typically created in such a way as to enhance your other senses like smell. Additionally, as glass containers are made of inherently thicker and naturally non-porous silica, they make superior vessels for their sturdiness, lossless capacity, and their inability to absorb smells.
Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic
Outside of some of the obvious alternatives (like subbing a canvas tote for plastic at the grocery), it can be a little confusing and overwhelming to figure out good alternatives so we made a list! Below, you will find some of our favorite alternatives to plastic and they can run the gamut from practical to whimsical, but all seek to replace your plastic with an alternative:
- Instead of using storage bags (e.g. Ziplocks), try glass or steel containers like Tupperware.
- How about a pig-haired toilet brush instead of the plain plastic one?
- Cooking utensils are often overlooked, but with constant exposure to heat and the tendency for smells to stick, we vote for wooden or steel as an alternative
- Most people don't think about it, but even ice cube trays are available in stainless steel, silicone, or rubber...or if you have an automatic ice maker, then you are ahead of the game!
- CDs, DVDs, BluRays, and video games are other exceptional ways to avoid the plastic. These discs are themselves made of plastic, but then are often packaged inside of more plastic, then decorated with plastic, and then cellophaned for good measure. Next time, opt for a digital download or consider streaming the content instead.
- Trash bags are often a big problem for the household, but with the wide availability of compostable bags or simply resorting to paper when available, you can begin to see how easy it is to make small changes to your daily routine.
Every day, more and more eco-minded individuals and groups around the world come up with new and interesting ways to reuse some of the things we previously looked at as refuse. As more and more people and companies begin to recognize not only the importance of recycling but also the economic benefit, it would be fantastic if previously disposable materials like plastic found a new life and use away from our oceans and waterways.
Each Day a Battle, Each Day a Victory
For many, the goal isn't only to raise awareness on Earth Day, but to try to inspire sustainable action throughout the year. Many small acts can quickly produce big results not only in your individual home but also in the larger, global picture as well.