I have to be honest. When a minister at my church suggested we all pledge to never take another plastic bag, I felt a bit weary. Like a lot of environmentally conscious people, for years I’ve carried reusable bags to the supermarket. I fastidiously separate my recycling. When my town was not collecting number 5 plastics, I saved up the yogurt containers and brought them into the local Whole Foods, which had a bin for number 5.
But I was a little wishy-washy in my plastic refusal. I would let the bagger at the market wrap my meats in plastic, and if I shopped at CVS, I’d take one of their bags. I liked to use them to line my bathroom trash can. The wine shop would put my purchases in a plastic bag. And if I am really confessing my plastic sins, I have been known to occasionally use bottled water, especially when we spend our annual week at a Jersey Shore house where the tap water tastes bad. I’m not going to do that anymore.
At the beginning of our group plastic fast, we watched the documentary Bag It, which made it crystal clear that our addiction to plastic is truly frightening. Toxins from plastics have leached into all of our bodies, including the bodies of newborns. There is an island of trash in the ocean that has been estimated as somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of Russia, and a lot of that trash is plastic.
It takes hundreds of years for a plastic bag to decompose, and we use up to a trillion single use bags annually worldwide. I always bring my plastic bags to the recycling bin at the market, but the film highlights what happens to that plastic. It is shipped overseas, where it is sorted by impoverished people who are exposed to toxins. And anyway, the vast majority of plastic bags are not recycled.
Over 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the United States., Would we be that inconvenienced if we drank directly from the cup? I think not. The Plastic Pollution Coalition suggests that you refuse straws; when you place an order for a drink, indicate that you don’t want a straw. My minister says she’s learned that you have to say it three times if you want the server to hear you: “I don’t need a straw. I don’t want a straw. No straw.” When you are eating out, you are also supposed to suggest that the restaurant only give straws to people who request them, and that they use paper, glass or stainless steel.
The images of the animals in Bag It were heartbreaking and indelible. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of deceased sea turtles and albatrosses in the Galapagós Islands, because there is so much of it, that the animals think it is food. After watching this film, I was inspired to commit more fully to limiting my use of plastic.
So, I now bring reusable bags to CVS and the wine shop. And I’m sticking to only glass bottles of sparkling water. (I need to get my husband on board with this since it costs more.) Also, I found a new brand of yogurt–Oui–that comes in glass jars. And it’s affordable, French style and totes delish.
But there are so many products that my family uses that are packaged in plastic. I really wish plastic had never been invented. And I need to get my dry cleaner to stop putting plastic over my clothes. He won’t listen to me. I still haven’t purchased my mesh produce bags, or made myself bring my own container to the fishmonger or the butcher. But maybe someday!
With Earth Day on April 22, why not consider trying a plastic fast yourself? For ideas of how to do that, check out Life Without Plastic. We have so far to go, but progress has been made. I was really happy when I read in February that a Dutch supermarket opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle. I would definitely like to frequent a place like that. A few U.S. cities, including Seattle, have banned the sale of straws.
Click through the photos below for more ideas of ways to limit your use of plastic.