Part 1 – Out and About
You don’t need to be an avid news watcher to have caught a story or two about plastic over the past few years- whether it be the viral video of the sea turtle with the straw lodged up her nose or the National Geographic article that came out this summer reporting that we consume thousands of plastic particles every year. So why the seemingly sudden spotlight on plastic in recent years? Well, while we might credit that sea turtle video for the initial exposure, I believe it is the stone cold facts being drudged up by experts that now have plastic frequenting the headlines week after week. There are even several social media accounts, including my teenage Hollywood crush-turned-environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, dedicating themselves to environmental issues with a particular focus on the dangers of plastic.
Let’s actually go back to that Nat Geo article for a minute–do we really consume plastic on a regular basis? Wouldn’t we know!? Well actually no; we wouldn’t know because the plastic we are consuming is in the form of “microplastics,” another term you may have been hearing as of late. According to the EPA, “It is estimated that approximately 90% of the plastics…are microplastics (less than 5 mm in diameter). Nearly every type of commercial plastic is present in marine debris.” Polyethylene and polypropylene make up the bulk of this (e.g. plastic bags, six-pack rings, food containers and beverage bottles), and all the plastic that doesn’t end up in our oceans, or almost all of it, ends up in our landfills.
For years we were all told that our plastic was getting recycled, but the truth is, the majority of it was being taken to the landfill. Check out the chart below from EPA.gov that shows just how much we’re talking about. Again, I will be doing a post on landfills in the near future, but one of the most important things to understand is that all of the plastic that is not recycled is estimated to take between 500-1,000 years to decompose. These numbers are just estimates; it could take even longer–plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to know. Therefore, it is just collecting and collecting and collecting…
To say “avoiding plastic is difficult” is a serious understatement. But unfortunately, until the major manufacturing companies assume greater environmental responsibility and stop producing everything in plastic, we have to take plastic reduction into our own hands. I have been working on eliminating plastic in my family’s life for the past 2 years, and we still have not conquered it completely, but we are close. What felt seemingly impossible, is now actually within reach and I want to share how I got here.
This post will provide tips on how to avoid plastic when you are out. In a future post I will provide tips on how to avoid plastic around the house, and as we approach Nov/Dec I will be putting together a special post on how to avoid plastic during the holidays.
Okay, so let’s get into it- since I am still on maternity leave for a few more weeks, a typical day of mine might go as follows:
Note: Some of these recommendations assume that your grocery store offers the features that we are lucky enough to have at our local Whole Foods. I recognize that not every tip is realistic for everyone. However, I do truly believe that exploring your local grocery options is really important. Please look outside of your go-to big store and see if you have a local organic or alternative grocery that you can support. These types of small door grocers often offer bulk options. But be cautious–they often come at a higher price tag. I have made the conscious decision to spend more on my groceries and less elsewhere. So, if you can financially swing it, you should really consider this option. It’s also always cool when you can support local businesses.
8:30 AM – meet up with neighbor and her adorable 15-month-old and grab coffee.
Bring a to-go mug/container with you when you leave the house. Every time.
I know most of you are daily coffee drinkers like I am, so this conscious decision will make a really enormous impact. It’s perhaps the lifestyle change that could reduce your use of plastic more than any other. Think about it- 1 cup of coffee a day x 365 days x 80 years (may we be so lucky!)= 29,200 coffee cups created just by one individual! Again, you are not alone, if you thought that cup was getting recycled. Check that chart again. Unfortunately, it’s just not happening.
Trick to help you remember – Don’t let yourself get coffee if you forget your mug. Believe me, you won’t forget it again and yes, you will make it through the day. *Added perk: if you get a good aluminum mug, it’ll keep your coffee hotter SO much longer. See some of my favs at the end of this post.
11 AM – I meet up with Shaun and we head to Whole Foods, which we are lucky enough to have 2 blocks from us! I’ve got more tips for you here than just bringing your own bags, which yes, is tip #1.
Tip #1: Bring your bags and bring enough of them.
If you forget your bags, paper is better than plastic, but not by much. Paper bags use a lot of energy during the production process. However, on a positive note, they are compostable (if you compost!).
Tip #2: Bring smaller reusable bags for your produce.
Do not use plastic produce bags even if you forget your reusable ones. We always just put the fruits and veggies we want in our cart- you don’t actually need a bag, you clean them when you get home anyway.
Do your absolute best to avoid produce wrapped in plastic. I know that it is more convenient to buy the pre-chopped fruits and veggies, but these are the small lifestyle choices that make a huge difference in the reduction of plastic. I promise you they get easier over time.
Tip #3: Bring even smaller reusable bags for bulk purchases such as nuts, rice, grains, pasta, etc.
If you are lucky enough to have a bulk section in your grocery store, this is one of the easiest ways to majorly reduce plastic.
Tip #4: Bring a to-go container that you already have at home for other bulk items such as peanut butter, hummus, pickled veggies etc.
Bring a Tupperware, glass storage, or bamboo container– whatever you already have at home. **This will be a theme throughout all my posts. The #1 thing you can do to live more sustainably is to USE WHAT YOU HAVE. This is the only plastic you don’t have to feel guilty about using. I have plenty of plastic containers that I collected throughout the years, prior to my lifestyle overhaul. I use them CONSTANTLY. If you don’t use them and you toss them- they are just going to end up in a landfill and you will be unnecessarily purchasing additional containers.**
Weigh the container and let the checkout attendant know the weight so they don’t charge you for it.
Tip #5: If you buy meat, buy your meat from the butcher, avoid prepackaged meat.
Prepackaged meat comes in plastic. Most butcher paper is compostable.
5 PM – Shaun and I are ready for dinner – yes 5 PM, come on, we have a newborn! If it’s Friday we tend to order in or take-out.
Tip #1: If you are taking out or ordering delivery- take note of the restaurants that only offer plastic containers.
Okay, I recognize this is a hard one, like REALLY hard. Shaun and I are down to 5 restaurants in ALL of Philadelphia that we can use and 2 of them are pizza places where the pizza comes in a compostable box, but we can’t order salad or sides because they still come in plastic. Perk: I overeat less than I used to and spend less. I mean do I really need half a pizza and risotto balls and a Caesar salad?
Always request for the restaurant to leave out utensils and condiments- they always come in plastic. You can note this if ordering in and tell them in person if you are taking out.
Tip #2: When eating at a restaurant, bring a container or two in your bag for left-overs.
This one might feel a little extreme initially, but the more people who do this, the more normal it will become! Help me start the change!
That’s a wrap (non-plastic, of course)! If you are even thinking that you can try to do this all at once, think again. Start incorporating one or two of the tips at a time. If you do too much at once, it will feel extremely overwhelming and you are much more likely to give up.
My favorite to-go mugs: