Unless you’ve been living in a bubble the world has made it loud and clear that plastic is problematic. We’ve come to a point where we think very little of how much plastic we use, accumulate, and dispose of everyday. Once the empty water bottle hits the trash receptacle it’s no longer on our minds.
The mass production of plastics has made it easy to overlook just how much of it is in our environment. It’s the bags we carry our groceries in, the bottles to feed babies, the cups that hold our coffees, the phones that we hold onto for dear life, the toys that we give children, the clothes we wear. Even residues of plastic are found lined in our bodies. (Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a building block of a commonly used plastic that lines the interior of most food, beer, and drink cans. You may have seen cans and bottles labeled BPA-free in grocery stores.) It’s virtually impossible to live in the modern world without plastic bombarding our lives.
We didn’t always live in a world of plastic. The first synthetic plastic called Bakelite was invented in 1907. Derived from fossil fuels the work of chemist Leo Baekeland birthed the new age of plastics that would change the industrial landscape forever. The use of plastic was greatly driven by war efforts to produce a range of military tools and equipment. Wars eventually come to an end, and as a result, production shifted towards the mass consumers infiltrating the market with plastic products. In 1941 polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, was introduced and lauded for its cheap and versatile qualities. Today worldwide store shelves are stocked with beverages, foods and condiments, and personal care products that come in PET bottles, jars, and packaging.
A world saturated with plastic is half the problem. The other half is where they go after use. In total we produce 300 millions tons of plastic waste worldwide every year. That’s enough plastic to circle Earth four times. But less than 10% of the plastic we consume actually gets recycled or incinerated. The plastic we throw out end up in the landfills or drift away into our oceans. And that’s where they’ll stay forever because plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Over time the plastics will break down into tiny fragments, which then will be consumed by unsuspecting wildlife creatures. We hear horror stories about bird stomachs filled with bottle caps mistaken for food or the turtle with a misshapen shell because it was stuck in a six-pack beer ring.
Continuing on the subject of waste, as a vegan, it was sensible for me to reject an industry whose business practices are wasteful, resource-intensive, and cruel. Animal agriculture takes up an enormous amount of land, water, feed, and antibiotics that all go toward billions of animals. Let’s not forget about the tons of manure these billions of animals produce that contaminate crops and causes diseases.
As I dug deeper and started to evaluate my consumer habits, I came upon a stark realization. With all my talk about the environment, veganism, and plastic consumption, I failed to see myself as a participant of the very plastic industry that I criticized. It wasn’t obvious at first because I had avoided purchasing water bottles and using plastic bags. After I surveyed my household it was clear that I wasn’t as free from the reign of plastic as I thought I was. It hit me so strong that I made several immediate changes. Change may not come swiftly for everyone but the hope is that we reshape old habits to leave a lighter carbon footprint on our planet.
Most of our plastic consumption generally come from food, personal care, and household products.
Here are five simple ways that you can incorporate into your routine.
1. Carry Produce Bags
Bring eco-friendly produce bags to hold your produce instead of ripping a plastic bag off the roll at the supermarket. It takes no effort to put them in your bag so you have them handy on those impromptu food shopping trips. Whole Foods sells individual reusable bags for $1. You can also purchase a set on Amazon.
2. Buy in Bulk
A lot of our food products come in with packaging. One effective way to reduce packaging is to buy from stores that sell food items in bulk. Whole Foods and Fairway are have a large bulk section. Some of your staples such as rice, beans, nuts, and oatmeal can be found. The best part is that you control how much you want to buy! If you’re wondering about storage purchase several glass jars for your bulk goods.
3. Bring your own beverage holders
If you regularly order beverages on the go, take your reusable take-out coffee mug. The one-time use cups from big-chain coffee stores are usually lined with plastic and therefore, are extremely hard to break down. Same goes for water bottles.
4. Make your own personal care items
Personal care and hygiene are highly valued in society but often come inside plastic. Good news is that many things can be made by ourselves with simple, everyday, low-cost ingredients. Try making DIY toothpaste, facial cleanser, and liquid hand soap!
5. Make your own laundry detergent
After you finish making your own hand soap, try creating this plastic-free and toxin-free laundry detergent with just three ingredients. A container filled with this homemade laundry detergent has lasted me longer than a bottle of liquid detergent. You can also make your own fabric softener using just distilled white vinegar with the optional essential oil.
To extend further support clothing brands that fall align with sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Brands like Reformation, Vaute, and Nicora Shoes keep the world in mind by using post-consumer materials and recreating them into beautiful, wearable products.
The goal isn’t to attain a plastic-free life overnight so don’t feel deterred. Start in areas that you can eliminate or reduce plastic. Research online, read blogs, and follow like-minded groups and people on social media. It may be impossible to avoid plastic altogether in today’s world, but as it’s been said just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.
Vivian Lee shares her love for movement, ethical fashion, and sustainable living. Since writing this article she has adopted ways to transition to a more zero waste lifestyle. She lives in New York City. You can find her on Instagram @iamvivayoung