Kicking the Plastic Habit
by Heather Looy
I grew up adoring shows like Wild Kingdom and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and the Planet Earth and Blue Planet series have pride of place in my DVD collection. So when a friend sent me a link to this delightful mockumentary, The Majestic Plastic Bag, I had to laugh at how it echoes this marvellous genre.
Then I had a dream that I was sitting on the beach when a plastic bag drifted by. And then another, rolling gently over and over like tumbleweed. A larger clump lolloped past like a stray beachball. And as I looked, there was a plastic bottle, and a lid, and a six-pack holder, and a shampoo bottle, and an empty sunscreen container, and suddenly an enormous wave of plastic gathered itself up and crested over my head, threatening to drown me. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, attacked by a deck of cards. Gasping, I woke up.
I rolled up my sleeves, rubbed my hands, and got to work. Cloth bags for shoppingâcheck. Mesh bags for produceâcheck. Make my own salad dressingsâcheck. Use butter, which is wrapped in foil, instead of margarine, which comes in plastic tubsâcheck. Reuse plastic bags that held buns for storing the bread I bakeâcheck. Buy relish, mustard, ketchup in bulk using refillable containers, preferably glass onesâto do. Do same with shampoo, conditioner, household cleaners, detergent. Dishwasher detergent already comes in a cardboard containerâbut whoops, the individual lozenges are wrapped in plastic. Consider switching dishwasher detergent to avoid this problem.
For a virtuous moment I thought I had the plastic problem licked. But then, just as in my dream, I began to see plastic EVERYWHERE. The chair I sit in as I type this blog uses plastic. My work light. My keyboard. Much of my CPU. The modem, the router, external hard drive, telephone, camera, clipboard, pens, mechanical pencilsâand thatâs just what I can see from where I sit!
I have a huge drawer full of Tupperware. All plastic. I hereby designate them family heirlooms. Watch out, all heirs of my ‘estate’:Â I am going to bequeath you my âfreezer mates,â âmodular mates,â ârock n serve microwavables,â spice carousel, serving bowls, measuring cups, cheese graters, unto the seventh generation. Because yes indeed, they will last that long!
What about all my âDutch tupperwareââpiles of old margarine tubs? Or with the plastic in my appliances, built into the house, shoes, or cosmetics, not to mention the bits you just canât avoid? Try buying socks that donât have a plastic hanger or are not wrapped in a plastic bag. Even at the farmerâs market the meat and the cheese come wrapped in plastic, and I canât ask for that to change because of health regulations. Am I never to eat yogurt again? And that bulk stuff Iâm putting in reusable containers just comes from larger plastic containers bought by the store. What happens to them?
Plastic, plastic everywhere. Whatâs a person who wants to live sustainably do? Live in a log house and wear skins and furs? Since I think Iâll pass on that one for a while, I need an alternative, and a good one.
Reduceâdefinitely the best option. I could buy a lot lessâexcuse my languageâcheap plastic crap. No more dollar stores for me! (Sigh.)
Reuseâat least it extends the useful life of plastics. RecycleâEdmonton is a leader in recycling, but only some plastics get diverted from the landfill.
Create a market for recycled plastic. Next time I have to build a deck or fix the front steps I could buy materials made from recycled plastic. And lobby my community league to used recycled plastic when we upgrade the neighborhood playground.
Finally, while I am not naively optimistic that technology will solve all our environmental woes, I could support creative ways of dealing with the tonnes of plastic waste already cresting over our heads. See for example this young personâs interesting idea.
So can I kick the plastic habit? I canât go cold turkey unless I head to the wildernessâthough that would have the virtue of considerably shortening the number of years Iâd be around to abuse plastic! Looks like I will have to wean myself off gradually, paying attention, thinking creatively, sharing ideas with others, and working to change a culture that is just as addicted as I am.
(image from The Victorian Web, http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/tenniel/alice/12.3.html)