This blog was originally submitted by Dr. Jana Davis, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, to the Capital Gazette newspaper where it ran as in the opinion column on February 16th.
It may sound impossible, but I can say, as a (somewhat) normal person, it’s very possible to reduce buying plastic by 90% with very limited impact on lifestyle. Why did I try this? I looked down one day at my dollar-store plastic flipflop
s and thought: “These Ridiculous. Pink. Things. Will be in a landfill for billions of years.” I had also heard that there is almost more plastic in the oceans than fish and saw an image of a starved albatross on a deserted island with a stomach filled with plastic. I decided I could do something.
I, perhaps like you, am not a “super greenie.” I am not only not a vegan, I’m not even a vegetarian (gasp!). I don’t drive an electric car; I don’t even drive a hybrid (shame!). I don’t do yoga, though I respect people who bend that way. I love the dollar store, despite that it is filled with plastic. I’m just a normal person (except for the dollar store thing).
So, if I can do this, so can you. Over the last year, I kept using plastic I already owned, but I didn’t purchase new plastic.
Easy: You can still buy many items in regular stores with little extra effort. Examples: eggs (cardboard), yogurt (Oui brand in glass), ice cream (Turkey Hill doesn’t have a plastic layer lurking inside), produce (some groceries offer Brussel sprouts and mushrooms loose, not in packaging), spinach (frozen in cardboard). Cleaning supplies: Even regular stores, if you search, offer one brand of powder detergents in cardboard boxes.
Hard but not impossible: Cheese, meat, fish. Dust off your negotiating skills. You’ve got to order from the counter and gently convince them to wrap your stuff in paper. Some like the challenge. Some think you’re crazy. If they don’t have paper, offer them a container you brought from home or tinfoil.
You may have to get creative with toiletries. The store Lush sells shampoo bars with no packaging (work great), conditioner bars (work less great), and some kind of beeswax product for those of us who need mane taming (works OK, but my standards have lessened). For those who can’t wrap their minds around rubbing a bar on their heads, Plaine Products online ships liquid stuff in metal containers.
Tooth care is tougher. Apparently, it’s pretty easy to make your own toothpaste, but I don’t cook so I’m certainly not going to try some chemistry experiment I can’t eat. Nelsons Naturals ships glass toothpaste jars that don’t cost that much more than college tuition. (The taste takes some getting used to.) For other items, try packagefreeshop.com.
Impossible to date: Super processed snack stuff. (It isn’t good for you anyway.) A few brands have a paper or foil outside packaging and paper inside (e.g., Pepperidge farm Milano cookies). Hair dye (the Henna stuff just doesn’t cover grays. If I needed that sort of thing). Clothes (much of the microplastic in the oceans comes fr
om synthetic fabric). Look for cotton.
Eating out: I can’t count how many times I have said: “May I please have a water with no straw” in the past year. (Let’s be honest: It was “Vodka cran, no straw.”) I carry around with me a little set of bamboo utensils, and yes, it feels weird. You get to know which restaurants serve sides in unnecessary plastic containers and which you can ask to refrain from that, and how to still eat out but not result in an albatross stomach’s worth of plastic trash. For leftovers, ask for a piece of tinfoil.
If you want to start with just one thing, start with grocery bags. Plastic grocery bags are the worst; they really don’t get recycled, and they blow all over and end up in rivers.
Yes, I know: You left your reusable bags in the car. One day, as I was lamenting this great conundrum at the checkout line, I realized: Wait a minute. I walked into the store from my car in less than a minute. It isn’t a hike along the Appalachian Trail. But – someone might – steal my cart! Someone could look at my cart’s contents and realize “Holy cow! What an amazing shopper! This selection is SO much better than my own! I’m taking this cart!”
But you know, it’s not actually my food yet anyway. So, you could — just a suggestion — go BACK to your car to get your reusable bags.
This really isn’t as hard as you might think: It just takes a little getting used to and some changing of habits.
But my year is up, and I think there is only one thing I am adding back in: Hair dye.