Written by Brittany Shenk
Power Over Plastic
I walked into a grocery store yesterday to pick up a prescription, not my usual mom-and-pop grocery store with bulk sections and local produce, but a larger corporation. It was just a quick stop, in-and-out in five minutes kind of errand. As I made my way toward the back of the store, a small anxious feeling started to build in my chest as I really noticed for the first time the extent of the epidemic.
The plastic. It suffocated every product on the shelves, the shampoo bottles, beverage bottles, the granola bar wrappers, the deodorant sticks, the snack-sized bags of trail mixes, the bags of plastic inside the cereal boxes, the shopping bags, the seals on frozen meals, the floss boxes, the wrapping on meat, the produce bags, the straws at the coffee stop in the store, the milk jugs, the cleaning products, the laundry detergent, the packaging for the dog toys, the single-use utensils, the take-out containers sitting at the fresh deli.
I cannot unsee it, once I realized we are drowning in it.
Plastic has been haunting me. It doesn’t just go away when we take out the trash on Wednesday mornings. It takes up space no matter where it ends up, for centuries, unchanged. There is an unfathomable island of plastic waste that’s floating around in our oceans that each and every one of us has accidentally contributed to. I am terrified by the number of disposable products we use on a daily basis without a second thought on the impact that it will have on our Earth. Existing with unsettling fear is crippling, so I’ve transformed my fear into my inspiration – to live as close to zero-waste as I possibly can.
Every single one of us has power over plastic.
You, as a consumer, have immense power in what you demand from companies and corporations. You get to vote with your money, which is more powerful than you might realize. They cannot survive without you. Packaging in the United States is out of control. This is a plastic epidemic, a period of using mindless disposable products over reusable ones. Think about the decisions you make each day. Did you really need to use that plastic fork once, and toss it in the garbage? Could you have purchased the bunch of kale, rather than the pre-packaged kale in the plastic bag? Can you learn to make almond mylk instead of purchase cartons of it? What about the cup of coffee you bought on your way to work this morning – can you bring your reusable mug next time? Can you drink without a straw?
While researching zero-waste lifestyles and plastic-free shopping options, I found Lauren Singer’s website, Trash is for Tossers, and I absolutely recommend all of you take a look at what she’s doing in the world. I’m inspired by her dedication to a zero-waste lifestyle and have severely transitioned my life in the past few months following in her footsteps. I am far from perfect, I know I still have changes to make and goals to reach. But hey, I haven’t taken out my trash in over a month. High-five.
Transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle takes time, patience, preparation, and commitment, but over time the small habitual changes lead to living an almost waste-free life. Lauren provides tips on some easy swaps to make to decrease your carbon footprint. Whether you’re ready to jump into zero-waste or not, I do ask that you start to be mindful of your purchasing decisions, because you DO have the power to make a difference. Could you compost those food scraps? Can you buy the individual peppers, rather than the ones in the plastic bag? Maybe purchase some mesh/cotton shopping bags to store your produce in, rather than the plastic ones in the produce section. Do you really need to use that zip-lock bag, or could you put your food a reusable container with a lid? Give the farmer’s market a chance to wow you! Go support your local vendors in your community, and on the plus side, there’s typically very little plastic in attendance. Also: It’s pretty awesome to become friends with the person growing your carrots and sweet potatoes from the little farm down the road!
Don’t think your choices make an impact? Think again.
I’m asking you, as your friend, your family member, your previous employee, or maybe I’m just that one girl from high school, the classmate you sat next to in Epidemiology, the coach for your daughter’s running club, the random woman you sat next to on the plane, whoever I am to you, I’m asking you to take a step back and re-evaluate your plastic footprint. We don’t live in individual bubbles, the decisions I make affect your life as much as they affect mine.
Find your why. And revisit it every chance you get. Remind yourself of it with every choice you make.
My why? To preserve this Earth for our children. They deserve to experience this extraordinary planet with all the magic and wonder that we have been fortunate enough to see, touch, smell, taste, and listen to.
You do have a say. You have a voice. You get to choose what and who you support, and what you don’t. You get to choose eco-friendly products, that are conscious of their impact on mama Earth. They’re better for your health and the planet’s, so it’s a win-win. You get to choose plastic wrap or beeswax wrap. Plastic utensils or reusable bamboo sporks. Buying pre-wrapped banana bread, or baking your own. Shampoo bottles or shampoo bars. Take-out boxes or eating at the restaurant. Bottled water, or filling up your own.
You get to choose inspiration or defeat.
Which steps can you take right now to reduce YOUR plastic consumption and claim your power as a conscious consumer?