“Just one word. Plastics.”

Do you remember how smart that sounded in The Graduate? Plastic. It was new and exciting.  Sexy even. And, now look at us, just 46 years later we’re drowning in it. Literally.

Bag It - the movie

Jeb from the movie Bag It!

Plastic is very hard to avoid. Just remember every time you accept a plastic bag, container or product, you are creating demand for another one to be produced, shipped, sold, and in many cases thrown out within in minutes of its use. As the movie Bag It eloquently puts it: “Just because plastic is disposable doesn’t mean it just goes away. After all where is away?”

Before you go into a depression spiral about all of the shorebirds, marine mammals, fish and the like dying from eating and being trapped in plastic,  let’s quickly look at some steps we can take to alleviate the situation in one area of our lives: grocery shopping.

Many cities are taking action to reduce plastics. Concord, MA  has banned single-serving plastic water bottles, and even our City of Bainbridge Island recently banned plastic bags (ordinance 2012-06). Now, single-use plastic carry out bags are prohibited. This includes all plastic bags less than 2.25 milimeters thick provided at check out or point of sale. But, that doesn’t really end the plastic issue, does it? There are still a ton of plastic bags available in grocery stores for fruit and vegetables.

Good news is when you cut back on plastic, or any form of packaging, you’re often eating healthier, plus, saving money as well as the environment. Here are some quick tips:

  • Reduce your meat consumption. Eat a vegetarian meal a couple times a week (or better yet, go vegan!). Watch Forks Over Knives if you’re on the fence.
  • Put fruit and veggies loose in your cart or bring more recyclable bags with you. Lightweight stuff sacks are good for this. If you’re not a camper (you probably don’t live in the NW) you can purchase reusable mesh produce bags.
  • Avoid ready-made solutions. I know it’s more time consuming to prepare food from scratch but its better for you. If you’re stuck on what to make, check out FoodGawker, PunchFork or Feast of Joy.

Ideas to Reduce Plastic/Stuff/Trash
Trash Backwards is a new web application (still in beta, but usable), which allows you to enter the type of trash you have then see a list of ways to reuse and/or get rid of it responsibly.

For instance, I typed wine corks in the Name Your Trash field and clicked Reuse it and saw ideas for cork stamps, key floats and cork birdhouses – great for the Do-It-Yourself-er, crafty set. Then I saw listings for recycling (Whole Foods takes corks – good to know).

If you’re local, Sustainable Bainbridge has put together a list of places to recycle just about everything from clothing to yard waste.

Another idea is just to own less, share more. I know, not an entirely American idea, but in a small community, does everyone need their own lawn mower, for instance? Sharing can seem too time consuming to bother with but here’s an idea that can be easily reproduced in other communities: a lending website. To see an example, check out IsLenders Library: “Helping Bainbridge Island Neighbors Share Their Stuff.”

Carbon Emissions to Create a Plastic Bag
In case you were curious, plastic bags generate about 3-50grams of carbon emissions per bag to produce. Paper bags are even worse (12-80 grams of carbon emission). So, bring your bags to the store including: drug store, clothing store….

This entry was posted in Food, Green Ideas, My CO2 Footprint, Recycling, Saving Money, Shopping and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “Just one word. Plastics.”

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi Jane. What about cleaning up dog poop. Any non- plastic suggestions that aren’t entirely disgusting?

  2. Liesl Clark says:

    Thanks so much for the mention, Jane! For Islanders to get local recycle (and reduce and reuse results, too), all they have to do is choose Bainbridge Island in the drop-down menu at the top right of the Trash Backwards app. We have other regions in there, too, so users can get results for their own regions. Love your article. Thanks so much for getting the word out.
    – Liesl at Trash Backwards

    • Jane says:

      Liesl – my pleasure. I think what you, Rebecca and Zero Waste are doing is AMAZING. I had no idea about the lending library. And, now that I’m learning more about waste my mind is boggled.

  3. Nicola Bloedel says:

    I was shocked when I visited Lord Howe Island (off of NSW, Australia) last year and saw a large mosaic art piece that the local school children had made out of plastics that had washed up on their pristine beaches. And, then saw a video about migrating sea birds that nest on Lord Howe – the parent birds feed the baby birds bits of plastic plucked off the surface of the ocean that they mistakenly think are fish! Locals do after dark rescues, pumping the stomachs of the baby birds to rid them of the plastics before they leave the island. The video showed an autopsy of a baby bird that died, which had 200 pieces of plastic in its stomach! Water bottle caps and cigarette lighters are the most common, washing up on beaches.

  4. Jane says:

    Nic – I know it’s so sad to think birds, fish and other marine mammals are digesting and dying from plastic. And, much of the plasic breaks down into planton-size bits so there is no way for wildlife to distinguish between it and real food. Pity the filter-feeders. Of course Lord Howe Island is not an isolated case. One of the best uses for discarded plasic is artwork – anything to keep it out of our bio lifecycle.

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