For Plastic Free July this year, I decided to take a hard look at my monthly consumption.
I saved all the plastic I used and then would need to discard during the month. I did not count long term use plastics that I was not throwing away at the time. I cleaned items that had food or drink in them so that they would not attract any crawling friends.
Unfortunately, what you will see below is not everything. I was not able to keep some plastic cups while at a few restaurants. So multiply the plastic cups by a few!
I want to preface that I did A LOT of traveling in July, so I tried my best to be prepared and bring my own snacks or drinks. When I did buy drinks while out, I tried to get things in glass or aluminum cans.
I began the sorting by making 2 piles: locally recyclable and non-recyclables (or unknown).
Where I live, recyclable plastic includes numbers 1,2,5, and 7. It is important to do this research prior to tossing it in your bin. Wishful recycling, which is recycling an item with the hopes of it being recyclable or not knowing for sure, is unfortunately a hinderance to the recycling process. Read more here.
Now, within these piles, I sorted further into reusable items (that I actually have a plan for) and items TerraCycle will collect.
Here’s a rough breakdown of quantity and types of the plastics that landed in each category:
- 2 take out containers
- 1 bug keeping container (I have a pet bearded dragon!)
- 1 square almond container – I like to poke holes in the bottle and use these with the lids as pots for plants
- 1 olive oil bottle
- 1 juice bottle
- 5 pill bottles
- 1 camera packaging
- 1 small portion cup
- 8 to go cups and lids (add a few cups to this that I could not keep)
- 1 colored party cup – will be cleaned and reused
- 2 plastic forks – will be cleaned and reused
- 30+ daily contact packs – I can TerraCycle these and the contacts, but I did not save those (I ran out of my monthly and had to switch to the daily ones I have as back ups)
- 6 grocery store bags – I use these to line my small trash cans but can also recycle at my work (from takeout, drive through pharmacy, forgotten farmers market bags)
- 1 World Centric compostable container – unfortunately, from the website, it says that this breaks down in a commercial composting system and is not recommended for home composting, which is the only thing I have access to right now
- 8 clear plastic bags – I can recycle these at my work and also reuse them as I can for compost or food (from local granola, packaging for farmers market greens, few Ziploc bags from camera shipment)
- 1 large non-clear Ziploc from medical powder – will use to freeze compost
- 6 pieces of medical waste and their packaging including Humira pens, an at home antibody test, and poor contact lens case
- About 30 pieces of food packaging – including wrappers from candy, frozen burrito, tofu, flatbread, granola bars, chip bags, local tea, salad dressing, and local cheese
- 3 miscellaneous bits from SD card reader and camera shipment
109 pieces of plastic later…
After going through my consumption, I am both proud and sad. No matter how hard I try to reduce and reuse, I will have some plastic waste. I cannot stop using plastic altogether because how else will I be able to administer my medication?
I have come to terms with that and prefer to focus on the hundreds of plastic waste I have been able to avoid. For example, you don’t see much plastic silverware in this pile. I try to bring my own straw and silverware when I get takeout!
There are easy steps we can take to reduce our personal plastic consumption through individual action, including:
- Buy food and home items in paper, glass, or cardboard packaging.
- Bring your own silverware, straw, cup, etc.
- Use a reusable water bottle!
Ultimately, to make a large dent on our plastic problem, we need to hold companies accountable.
Some states like Oregon and Maine have already made some steps towards this “extended producer responsibility”, as you can read in this article from Grist.
Individual action can become a powerful movement.
#BreakFreeFromPlastic Movement provides pathways for our individual actions to come together and enact change. Not only do they have toolkits to assist with effective action, but this global movement is currently working towards getting support for plastic punting legislation.
What will you do hold large companies responsible?