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Before we learn 8 Ways Your Family can Reduce Plastic Use, let’s find out:
What’s wrong with plastic anyway?
Most of the plastic that has ever been manufactured is still with us today.
Even as plastic degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, they are swallowed by marine animals and end up polluting our waters and food chain. Most plastics have additives, chemicals used to soften the plastic, among other things.
These chemicals have risks to the environment as well as humans and have been linked to cancers and hormone-disrupting effects.
Here is a recent article about a sperm whale that was killed by gastric shock after ingesting 64 pounds of plastic debris.
What if I recycle all my plastic?
Recycling of plastics is costly and the quality of the plastic decreases with each recycling.
Barely 10% of plastic is recycled, or down-cycled in reality. Also, it’s not cost-effective for companies to use recycled plastic so most of it is exported.
There is a new issue with that, however. On January 1, China, the world’s largest importer of international plastic waste, stopped accepting shipments. After decades of purchasing used plastic, the Chinese have determined that the costs simply outweigh the benefits. So, now what?
What about compostable or biodegradable options?
Sometimes, we need the convenience of disposable. When we are camping, traveling, having a huge birthday party……you know what I mean.
Instead of something made from chemicals that will sit in the landfill forever, companies are selling biodegradable or compostable dishware.
Watch out for greenwashing here. Companies are claiming eco-friendly, 100% natural and other claims to get you to buy their products. There’s a slight problem.
“Biodegradable” means that an object is capable of disintegrating by biological means. Technically, these items could be composed of almost any material since with enough time microorganisms can decompose almost anything.
Biodegradable products will not degrade in a landfill. You need to take the item to a commercial composting facility that has both the heat and means to decompose the product successfully. I searched Earth 911 and found no such facilities near me. Bummer. (Not that I would make a special trip just to drop off my biodegradable utensils!)
“Compostable” means that a product breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic compounds and leaves no toxic residue. When compostable products don’t end up in a compost bin, there’s really nothing green about them. In fact, when they end up in landfills, the compostable packaging just ends up contributing to methane emissions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a compost bin.
This is admittedly a tricky one. The best option, of course, is to use your everyday plates and silverware for your party. There will be more dishwashing, but no chemicals will be ingested and no landfills contributed to!
In reality, there are times we just want to use disposable plates. Make the best choice for you. Stay away from styrofoam or plastic.
Right now, until we get more composting facilities, recycled paper products may be your best bet or naturally composting products like bamboo.
A few more facts on Plastic:
Detectable levels of BPA have been found in 95% of the U.S. adult population.
According to Ecowatch:
enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
billions of pounds of plastic can be found in the oceans.
one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
What Can we do about it?
1. Nix the 6
One thing you can do according to 5Gyres is Nix the 6.
That is to refuse any plastic that has the #6 on it. This includes polystyrene and styrofoam.
These plastics are made from styrene, a known carcinogen. Polysytrene products are typically single-use items, from coffee cup lids to straws, cutlery and cups (even SOLO cups).
“The EPA ranks polystyrene manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation. These plastics are difficult to recycle and are even banned from many recycling programs because of contamination programs: Less than 2% of polystyrene was recycled in 2013. In our 2016 Plastics BAN List study, we found that polystyrene is one of the most common forms of plastic pollution in the environment.” https://www.5gyres.org/polystyrene/
2. Refuse plastic bags
Get reusable instead. Most of us have some reusable shopping bags by now. The key is remembering to use them.
A good option for reusable grocery bags is BagPodz Reusable Bag and Storage System, because they fit together in a nice little pouch and are easy to carry and remember. They are, however, made of nylon and when washed this releases micro-fibers in the ocean. (If you don’t wash your grocery bags, not a huge deal.)
The best option for reusable grocery bags is Simple Ecology Organic Cotton Deluxe Reusable Grocery Bag with Bottle Sleeves. These bags are made from organic cotton.
Even though I’ve been using reusable grocery bags for quite awhile, until recently I was still using plastic bags for my produce. I just got these reusable produce bags and love them:
3. Switch out your plastic sandwich and storage baggies
Use Stasher bags instead. They are made from of grade silicone. You can cook food in them, bake, microwave and freeze. The website also says they are great for sous vide cooking.
These are easy to clean, great for kids lunches, and double as a placemat.
4. Get alternatives to plastic wrap
Use Bee’s Wrap. This is eco-friendly reusable food wrap. This beeswax covered cloth has natural antibacterial properties from the beeswax and jojoba oil. Use the warmth of your hands to soften the wrap and mold it to a bowl or food.
Reusable Suction Seal Silicone Covers. They create an airtight seal. They can be used in the oven, stovetop, fridge, microwave, and dishwasher.
5. Use reusable water bottles
There are so many great options out there now. Klean Kanteen is a favorite in our house.
6. Decline the straw
Just politely say “No straw please”, when you’re out and about. When you’re at home try these great reusable straws.
7. Re-think your party decorations
“Whether latex or mylar, balloons blow away, burst, deflate and return to pollute the planet. These products made our BAN List 2.0 as some of the world’s worst plastic items—from both an environmental and toxic chemicals perspective. Animals mistake them for food or become entangled in their ribbons, which can be fatal. Latex balloons are not biodegradable and Mylar can get caught in power lines and spark fires. But the great thing about plastic balloons is: You can avoid them. Pledge to go #plasticfree at your next party.” https://www.5gyres.org/balloons/?rq=balloons
I know. This one is kind of a bummer. Next time you have a party, decorate with natural items.
Upgrade your glitter.
Most glitter is made of plastic, therefore will be around for a very long time and polluting our oceans. Here’s a good alternative:
GlitterRevolution. It’s beautiful glitter that is made from plants.
8. Find alternatives for to-go containers and cups
Try this Stainless steel bento box for leftovers. If there’s a restaurant you go to all the time, and you know you’ll have leftovers, bring this along. If you’re going to a new restaurant and don’t want to look CRAZY, share an entrée with a friend so you don’t have leftovers.
If you want to read more:
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