The Problem with Plastic

Recycling Water Bottles
photo by Mr. T in DC

In this day and age, plastic is unavoidable. The very laptop I'm tapping away on is covered in plastic, and so is my phone, my eyeglass frames, and even the buttons on my shirt. These are all useful items that will (hopefully) be used over a long period of time.

And although plastic gets a really bad rap these days, according to Susan Freinkel in the New York Times, plastics were originally lauded for improving our environmental impact, replacing shrinking resources such as ivory and tortoise shell. And plastics make many good things possible today such as solar panels, lighter cars and planes that burn less fuel, as well as revolutionizing medicine (think syringes, IV bags, blood storage). 


Brightly colored drinking straws with flexible head

photo by Horia Varlan


Freinkel says that it's how we use plastic that's the problem. Single-use items like drinking straws, water bottles, grocery bags, food wrappers, etc. are the real issue with plastic--those are the things that end up in the ocean creating floating islands of plastic. Not to mention leaching chemicals into the food we eat.

So what's a mama to do?

Be a Conscious Consumer


Like I mentioned yesterday, the best thing you can do to reduce all types of waste is to consider the things you bring into your home more carefully. This is even more pertinent with plastic. We may not be able to avoid it entirely, but doing something as simple as buying a stainless steel reusable bottle can prevent the need to recycle over 2.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles each year.

Whenever possible, I try to select grocery items that come in glass or cardboard packaging. We've stopped buying pre-made salad dressing (which often comes in plastic bottles) and have started making our own in a reusable glass jar. And using cloth diapers on our kids not only reduces the plastics found in disposable diapers themselves, but also in their packaging.

Although plastic doesn't seem to be disappearing anytime soon, we can impact the non-essential things it's so often used for. Have you seen Seventh Generation's 100% recycled cardboard and newspaper liquid laundry detergent container? It still uses a plastic liner and cap (which they're working on replacing), but it uses 66% less plastic than a typical 100 oz. container.

There are countless ways you can limit the amount of plastic you bring home (and their demand for being made in the first place). Why not take a no new plastic challenge in your house?


Plastic Art?

photo by geoftheref


Turn Trash to Treasure


There are some pretty cool ideas for reusing plastic normally tossed out in the trash or recycling, including making jewelry, light fixtures, seed starters, wind chimes, and even yarn.  Check out Earth 911 for a list of recycled plastic projects by type of plastic.

Milk jugs are one of our favorite plastic items to reuse, and when the shirt I'm wearing eventually bites the dust, I'll rip off the plastic buttons to use for another future project (and save the fabric, too).

Recycle Responsibly


Don't be lazy about recycling. Rinse out those shampoo bottles and any other containers that take a little more time to prep for recycling. Wash and dry styrofoam trays. Don't have curbside recycling? Find a recycling center near you.  UPS takes old packing peanuts, Best Buy will recycle old gift cards and electronics, and Target has drop-off bins for plastic bags, cell phones, and ink cartridges. If there's something you're not sure how to recycle, look it up! There's bound to be someplace you can take or even mail it off to!

It's easy to fall into the trap of using disposable plastics. There are products we regularly buy shrouded in plastic (like meat or bread). And those Easter eggs the kids brought home over the last week? Well, we'll be keeping them to use again and again (I'm proud to say we didn't buy any new ones this year).

What are your plastic vices? And what changes have you made to reduce your own plastic consumption?
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