I’ve been recycling since the early 1990s and have made a point to buy recycled and recyclable products. We carry reusable grocery bags and keep leftovers in ceramic reusable containers instead of plastic. We don’t buy single use drinks that don’t come in glass or aluminum. We grow a lot of our own vegetables or shop at local farmer’s markets to eliminate waste and packaging. We went back to old fashioned bath soaps produced locally and packaged in paper. We’re committed to composting our food and yard waste. We buy as much food in bulk as we can to reduce packaging waste. We buy used or upcycled products and donate items we no longer need in order to reduce waste. And we recycle every possible thing we can.
However, since Chinese recycling companies stopped taking our plastics last year, I’ve made a commitment this year to work on eliminating single use plastic in every way I can.
In February, when I ran out of shampoo and conditioner, I replaced those empty bottles with bar versions from Ethique.
I bought reusable, compostable beeswax wraps to replace plastic wrap in the kitchen. I bought silicone storage bags to replace the ziplock plastic we have used in the past. I got cloth drawstring bags to take to the grocery store to use for produce instead of the plastic ones the store provides. I bought plant-based, biodegradable kitchen trash bags. And we have a small kitchen compost bin with compostable liners to make it easy to deal with fruit and vegetable scraps. These were not expensive changes to make, and the products are readily available online.
I’ve also actively been looking for skin care products that are not only ethically produced but which are packaged in glass containers with metal lids so every part of it is endlessly reusable. Those are more difficult to find, but the time is well worth spending, and the cost is comparable to other products.
But plastic is far more insidious than we consciously realize. Even if you’re making a point of seeking out foil, paper, and/or compostable packaging, it’s sometimes not obvious that plastic is being used. Nearly all processed foods are packaged with plastic either embedded in the paper wrapping or with a plastic seal over the top. Frozen foods of all kinds all use plastic, often multiple layers of it. While this is done in the name of food safety, the tradeoff is that even if China hadn’t stopped taking our plastic waste, most of this packaging plastic isn’t made to be recyclable.
It’s difficult to combat the flow of plastic that comes into our homes. But it’s difficult primarily because we don’t have alternatives that are convenient or inexpensive. Businesses don’t take eco friendly packaging into consideration for products geared at average consumers. As a result, there aren’t a lot of options on a wide range of products, unless you make a concerted effort to seek out alternatives. That requires time and effort and money many people don’t have.
Glass was once the dominant container for most items in the grocery store. Most people began buying single use plastics not because we wanted them but because companies shifted their products into that type of packaging because it was cheaper to produce and lighter to ship, leaving us with no other options. But the environmental cost of that decision has been devastating to our planet.
We can’t continue living a plastic life. Our planet is not disposable. All that plastic doesn’t just go away. It lingers for centuries. Every ketchup packet used for take out is still around, filling landfills or settling to the bottom of the ocean. We use it for thirty seconds, but it will remain unchanged, choking the life from this planet for hundreds of years into the future. Is it still convenient if it never goes away?
Change can happen, however. If manufacturers see that customers are passionately opposed to something they’re doing, particularly if they voice that opposition on social media where that complaint can gain traction, they will alter what they’re doing and cave to pressure in order to retain market competitiveness.
That’s why I’m not willing to sit back and wait for companies to change their ways on their own. I’m committing to asking about their packaging on Amazon, saying things like “Why is this product packaged in plastic rather than recyclable glass/aluminum/paper?” or “Why are there no bulk options for your product that don’t use individualized plastic wrappers which can’t be recycled?” I ask in the grocery store if they have products that don’t use plastic packaging, and voice my concerns to the store owners directly. When I see ads for products on Facebook or Twitter, and it’s obvious they’re using single use plastics, I comment beneath the post about their choice and voice my reasons why I won’t buy their product until they change their ways.
Yep. I’m that person. I’m going to keep being that person, and I won’t apologize for it. Because it matters for the future of our planet and for the survival of our entire species. I’ll keep speaking up because it’s necessary.
This strategy works. In response to consumer pressure, ALDI is removing single use plastics from the products they sell. After customers pushed for it, IKEA has announced plans to ship products in compostable protective packaging rather than styrofoam. Several cities have banned single use plastics, and the state of Maine banned single use plastic food and drink containers. More are following that trend as awareness grows.
One person changing their shopping habits isn’t going to change the world. But money talks, and if enough people voice their concerns publicly and give pushback against manufacturers so they see it’s going to hurt their bottom line for them to continue making unethical, unsustainable decisions, companies will change what they’re doing. Big corporations rely on our product loyalty, and they will change if they see that loyalty is in jeopardy.
Speak up, and help put an end to single use plastic.