When it comes to recycling plastic, the system is broken. Although we should recycle as much as possible, the true solution is to stop creating so much waste in the first place. I remember being a teenager in the 1990’s where I was raised with the misguided, though well-intentioned belief, that recycling meant we could use plastic for literally EVERYTHING. In 2018, the UN reported that out of all the plastic waste produced in the world since the 1950’s, only 9% of it has actually been recycled. It’s estimated 12% has been incinerated leaving 79% of plastic waste to breakdown into harmful microplastics, both in landfills and throughout the environment. Synthetic plastic is a carcinogenic which continues to exist in some form indefinitely. Plastic is extremely harmful to our environment, and all creatures on Earth. Researchers have even discovered plastic in blood and stool samples of humans!
From sandwich bags to paper towel and toilet paper rolls wrapped in plastic, our world is so inundated with single use plastic, it can feel overwhelming to even begin to look at a life without it. Don’t let that discourage you! Just like any other journey you just have to start. Perhaps you can start by giving up single use sandwich bags this month. Instead try using cloth, beeswax, silicon or other reusable food packaging alternatives. Perhaps you can invest in some reusable grocery bags or produce bags.
There are also many things you can do that are completely free. Think about opportunities where you can refuse plastics. When you’re shopping at a retail store, refuse to take their plastic bag. Instead, bring your own just like you would at the grocery store or simply carry your item out. Refuse plastic lids and straws. When eating at a restaurant, let them know right at the beginning of your meal that you are avoiding single use plastic. When shopping for goods, try to buy produce or other items not bundled in plastic. Bring your own container or reuse theirs and shop the bulk isle. Bring your own container to the butcher shop or ask them to wrap the meat in paper instead. Check out the bakery isle for bread in paper bags instead of plastic. Try doing most of your shopping in stores or from a company using sustainable shipping materials instead of plastic packaging. Bring your own cup when you get your morning coffee from the coffee shop.
Another great way to reduce plastic is by purchasing things second hand. Not only are you cutting out plastic, but since it already exists, it also reduces your carbon footprint and saves you money. Cutting back on single use plastics where you can and when you can doesn’t have to be stressful or absolute. It can be a slow, gradual transition. Just keep in mind the 4 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and then if there is no other alternative, Recycle.