We’ve reduced, reused, and fretted over Ziploc bags for an entire month, and now it’s time to turn all those lessons learned into words we can live by. Here are the 5 key strategies we learned, which can help anyone live with less plastic:
#1: Expect failure!!
As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in which failure is almost certain—and that’s OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminating all plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep past your defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it and keep trying.
Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of us experienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it’s a good idea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Once you’ve established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list. Here are some good starting points:
• Focus on food.
Following the lead of Beth Terry’s blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com, we each surveyed a week’s worth of trash to see how we generated most of our plastic garbage. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that food packaging is your number one source of plastic waste. Along with sheer volume, there are other reasons that food-related plastic is a good place to focus your efforts. Chemicals from plastic packaging and containers leach into the stuff we eat and drink, and therefore have the biggest potential impact on our immediate health.
In addition to avoiding over-packaged foods at the supermarket, swap out plastic food-storage containers and cooking utensils and replace them with glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials. And never heating up food in any kind of plastic is a pretty easy rule to follow. Read all about using plastic in the kitchen in Kitchen Plastic: Easy Greening.
• Ban those bags.
If you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probably NEVER forget your bags again! If you do find yourself with more items than you can carry, why not use a cart to get them to the car without bags? At the very least, use as few shopping bags as possible (and don’t bag items that already come in bags, like those oranges or potatoes).
Bring the plastic bags to back to the supermarket for recycling (along with any other stray plastic bags that find their way into your hands). Make it easier on yourself to remember your reusable bags for your next trip by stashing them with your shopper’s club cards, or in your car’s trunk or glove compartment. Or knit a reusable shopping bag!
• Stop using stupid plastic.
Some plastic is just pointless. A straw? Would it kill you to let your lip touch the glass? A plastic bag just to hold the greeting card you bought? Carry it in your hand! Plastic fork? It’ll probably break! Wash your hands and eat with your fingers. Plastic Halloween decorations? Use real bones! (If you eat meat, that is. Otherwise, probably not!)
#3: Reuse, recycle, recreate.
Have a backup plan for the plastic that gets into your life. Find other uses for it if you can, or find out how to recycle it when you’re done. Take plastic bags to the supermarket, know what your curbside program will accept, and know how to recycle your electronics when it’s time to get rid of them. If all else fails, call up a local nonprofit and see if it can be donated. When you’re shopping, buy products packaged in recycled plastic if there isn’t a non-plastic alternative, or even look for used versions of whatever it is you need.
Or, next time you find yourself reaching for something that comes in plastic, think, “Could I make this?” You’d be surprised at how easy it is to whip up hair-care products, body lotions, cleaning products, and pretty much every plastic-packaged food at the store. Or just go without. As Dani, one of the bloggers who followed our challenge on her site News from Nowhere, told us, “I would rather get in the habit of having and using less (of plastics and everything else), than be disgruntled about it when the situation is forced upon me.”
#4: Slow down.
Plastic exists to support the go-go-go lifestyle that we all think we need to maintain. Committing to cutting back on plastic gives you a reason to insert some helpful speed bumps into your day. So enjoy them! Take 10 extra minutes to eat breakfast at home, for example, or use a full 30 minutes to eat lunch at a restaurant, off glass plates using real silverware, rather than grabbing something packaged in plastic to eat at your desk. Along with the benefits of avoiding plastic, you’ll gain an opportunity to catch your breath, enjoy your food, and let go of some stress.
#5: Don’t be a jerk about it.
None of your plastic-addicted friends wants to hear a lecture about the evils of plastic (ours sure didn’t). Be relaxed and nonjudgmental when you talk about your decision to cut the plastic cord. Focus on why the alternative is better, not on why plastic and the people who use it are evil. And let your deeds, rather than your words, be the strongest argument.
Every time you tell a cashier you don’t need a bag, and walk out of the story carrying your carton of milk in your hand instead, you’re planting an idea in the head of everyone around you. And that’s how new norms are created.
By Emily Main, Organic Gardening