Why I went on a plastic fast

With a group at my church, I tried giving up plastic this Lent
By Christina Kelly  Published on 04/20/2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Francis Ray

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.

Silicone reusable bags

One of the first ways to reduce your plastic use is by cutting out single-use plastics—and plastic food storage bags are a repeat offender. Replace the throwaway bags with Stasher silicone reusable bags. Available in a variety of sizes and colors, the silicone bags can safely store food or other household items. The material is resistant to heat and cold, so you can use them in the freezer or to sous vide. Purchase on Stasherbag.com starting at $9.99. (And if you take their Plastic Free Pledge, you’ll get 25% off!)

Bento lunchboxes

Make sure to skip the plastic bags when you pack your lunch as well. Instead try reusable containers, like these stainless steel three-in-one bento from EcoLunchboxes. Designed by a mom of two, the boxes are perfect for packing lunches for diners of all ages. Purchase on Amazon for $29.25.

Silicone and stainless steel straws

In the U.S. alone, 500 million straws are used every day. Since it’s a single-use plastic that never biodegrades, that is 500 million too many straws! Luckily, there’s a growing #holdthestraw trend—this past summer the city of Charleston, SC, launched a #StrawlessSummer campaign and more than 70 restaurants and bars banned the plastic products. This MCIRCO set has six reusable silicon straws, four stainless steel straws, and three cleaning brushes, so you can join the movement. Purchase on Amazon for $12.99.

Reusable food wrap

Bee’s Wrap offers a more sustainable solution than other plastic wraps—the reusable paper is made of organic cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin, so they can be used over and over then recycled or composted when needed. Using the warmth of your hands, you can wrap the product around bowls and food. Purchase this variety pack on Amazon for $18.

Grocery totes

Paper or plastic? Stock up on a few of these waxed canvas reusable grocery bags and whether you’re grocery shopping or at the mall, you can say “neither”! Purchase from WAAM Industries on Etsy.com for $49.

Mesh produce bags

If canvas bags aren’t your style, try these more Bohemian mesh bags. They’re perfect for loading up on produce at Whole Foods or the farmers market. Purchase from Anabelle Taylor Company on Etsy.com for $26.

Stainless steel water bottle

Have you banned the bottle yet? Consider this: More than 38 billion water bottles are thrown into the trash each year… just in the U.S. Recycling them is obviously better than putting them in the landfill, but you can eliminate the need for them completely with a reusable bottle. Take it with you to movie shows, concerts, and more—and save money, too! Purchase this stainless steel S’well Milky Way bottle on Sur La Table for $35.

Travel coffee tumbler

The cups you get at your favorite coffee shop may look paper, but they’re actually lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic resin. They can be recycled, but many places don’t have the infrastructure to do so. And that’s not factoring in the lid, stirrer, sleeve, etc. Take the guesswork out of it and bring your own mug. This version from Japanese home goods company Kinto is leak-proof, so you can toss in your (reusable) bag and take with you wherever you go. Purchase on Food52 for $35.

Travel tea bottle

And if you’re a tea person instead, there’s a product for you, too. Skip the same “paper” mugs and bring your own travel tumbler. This glass bottle design from Full Circle Tea Time has an infuser for looseleaf and a cork sleeve to keep the heat off your hands. Purchase on Target for $22.49.

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