6 simple, pain-free ways to ditch plastics

plastic strawsI just met a pair of young Swedes, newcomers to Amman who were quickly appalled by the piles of plastics lining our city streets. They stitched up simple bags from mesh netting that they take to local markets, insisting on using their lightweight, reusable alternative in place of plastic produce sacks. Until the rest of the world wakes up and follows the French ban on single-use plastics, let’s all take control of our own behavior and ditch dump-filling fodder.

My youngest left Jordan for an American university this summer, leaving behind piles of unwanted stuff. Her old bedroom holds relics of a Middle East childhood, but I was shocked to see the imprint she also left in our kitchen. Um, maybe not so much her as me, since I do most of the household shopping. Witness cabinets full of things bought for kid parties over the years – plastic cups and utensils, coated paper plates, and a zillion plastic straws. How could I never have seen how duplicitous I’ve been?  Writing about the environment, while mindlessly contributing to its demise.

That pile of single-use plastic is in the recycling bin now. A struggle to part with the straws (they do make things taste better!) – but after watching a video of a straw embedded in a sea turtle’s nose, there was no other choice. (Viewer discretion advised.)

Like the turtle, this planet can’t digest plastic. Once made, it’s here forever, breaking down into increasingly smaller particles, but never completely degrading. Plastics in our oceans kill a million sea birds a year.  Sealife consume particles, which climb the food chain ladder, meaning we are eating chemical components of plastics, toxins which our bodies absorb.

Since we meet up with single use plastics every day, it is very much in our control to create change. Here are six simple ways to start:

1. Skip the straws – Little kids addicted to the so-fun tubes may whine, so invest in a “sippy cup” with built-in straws. Or start calling straws “babyish”, see how that parental psychology works. Pester your favorite drinks place to invest in biodegradable paper ones, or buy your own eco-straws and pop a few in your backpack to responsibly indulge in that guilty pleasure.

2. Plastic cutlery – Just say no. Channel your inner Girl/Boy Scout and toss a spork (fork/spoon widget) or splade (same, but with a knife function in the mix) into your backpack or desk drawer. Check out affordable versions at ReuseIt (link here). Or save some money, and just use trad cutlery, the weight of a few metal utensils won’t break your back.

3. Drinks in Plastic Bottles – Imagine one-fourth of the volume of any bottle you use filled with oil. That’s the amount of fossil fuel needed to make that flimsy container. Mind-blowing when you consider that – in the US alone – people use 1,500 plastic water bottles per second. Factor in plastic containers for juice, teas, and soda. It sends me looking for a bottle (plastic, of course) of aspirin. Turn to reusable bottles, or a collapsible, pocket-sized vessel like California-based Vapur’s Anti-Bottle (link here). 

4. Drinks in “paper” cups – perhaps not as bad as plastic bottles, and a step up the eco-scale from styrofoam, but the paper is often lined with non-biodegradable plastic, making the cups non-recyclable. So do like the Arabs, and Europeans, and Chinese, and sit down to enjoy that coffee or tea, using a real glass or ceramic cup. Who knew civility was so green?

5. Clear plastic wrap – go raid your mother’s cabinets, flea markets and garage sales for under-used Tupperware. Yes, it’s plastic, but the stuff was made with a lifetime guarantee good for decades of plastic-wrap surrogacy. Or buy modern versions of clickable-lid containers, just check that they’re PBA-free. They keep food fresher, and eliminate leaks.

6. All plastic bags – does this really need a mention? If you live in a nation where free-issue bags are still legal, load up on reusable market bags, tolerate the puzzled look on the check-out clerk’s face, and use them – all the time. Then take a page from my Swedish friends, and head over to Youtube where you can find easy instructions to make reusable produce bags from netting, fabric, even t-shirts. Then, buy yourself a few reusable sandwich bags and stop filling our landfills with single use plastic sandwich bags.

So start by clearing your cupboards, then take your best behavior on the road. It’s painless, and saving the planet feels good.

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