Plastic Passion

I love a good endurance test. Whether it is some deluded tender-heart who exits society to commune solely with bears, or a shameless self-promoter who gorges himself on a merciless diet of fast food for the course of 30 days, you have my rapt attention.

So, when I heard about Chris Jeavans, a UK-based BBC journalist and new mother, who devised her own endurance test/environmental lifestyle experiment with the task of completely eradicating plastics for the entire month of August, I was intrigued.

Plastics hold a unique place in contemporary life. They have proven themselves to be enormously durable, cost effective and strong, and therefore enormously plentiful, ubiquitous and problematic. Simply put, they don’t break down, and they remain in our landfills, rivers, and oceans for untold years after their initial use. The United Nations Environmental Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean on earth.

Problem identified! But solved? Maybe not. There have been countless civic bans on plastic shopping bags, ambitious recycling initiatives, as well as creative solutions for a plastic-lite existence.

Still, a truly proactive solution to a steady diet of plastic, over the course of the past 50-plus years, has yet to be found. So, it is Jeavans’ unique experiment, which is equal parts sideshow and personal imperative, that reminds you that an individual could opt out (with varying ease/difficulty) and significantly alter their consumer habits.

Jeavans has documented her deplasticized month (August 2008) in her blog, brimming with formidable challenges like making her own deodorant and toothpaste (both products that routinely come in plastic packaging). Diapers (or “nappies” as she calls them) were probably the most daunting workaround for Jeavans and her husband.

Calculating a monthly usage of around 120 diapers for their toddler, Jeavans went the total cloth route (diapers and wipes!) after finding herself at a relative dead end with all the disposable options, considering all the composite plastics and plastic packaging it takes to make and market all those wonderful diaper accoutrements.

All in all, Jeavans’ blog is a good read, rife with startling stats and humorous anecdotes. Still, her struggles illustrate how our much lamented “oil dependency” is really more of a broad petroleum dependency, extending to our habitual lifestyle choices that include the consumption and quick disposal of tons of plastics–literally. If anything, Jeavans’ blog is an inquiry, not into the specter of climate change, but into the rigors and necessity of lifestyle change.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

Parenting at the Crossroads


Gloria Wood
Gloria Wood9 years ago

When I tell people that I used cloth diapers on my children, they look at me as if I abused them. How many people under 30 have added a ton to a landfill with their, um, body waste wrapped in plastic, preserved for eternity?

Patti C.
Mary-Kay L9 years ago

When I was pregnant, one of my big fears was that I was destined to fill my life with plastic once I had a kid. While I've never tried to live without it, even for a day, I have made a point to limit my plastic consumption and its working. I have to say that plastic alternatives like wood, bamboo, aluminum, cloth, cardboard, and other less harmful (to our environment and our bodies) are a lot nicer to live with too. In case you need more incentive to rid you life of plastic, I can vouch for the fact that these materials look, feel, and smell better than their plastic counterparts.

Lisa T.
Lisa T.9 years ago

What a great idea, but an even greater challenge! We do have some hope with products that simulate plastic, but are harmless and biodegradable. For example, the disposable utensils line called TaterWare, made out of, yep, you guessed it...potatoes!
But, until our societies CHOOSE to make the change, we are stuck with harmful, non-biodegradable plastics. As consumers , it's important to know not only the negative environmental impact, but the potentially large health risks. Here's an informative article that very simply and visually tells what plastics are the most hazardous and in what everyday products we find them in. It's called Safety in Numbers? Which Types of Plastics To Avoid, and I highly recommend taking a quick read.