To Reduce Plastic Use, We Need to Embrace Inconvenience, Think Small and Act Now

PlasticPollution.jpg

Sometimes you need a disturbing photo to make a point.

The issue of plastic waste has been bothering me for some time. But, for some reason, in the last few weeks, my personal use of plastic waste has really bothered me, and I have to act now. I hope you will join me.

I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom. While the situation is dire, each and every one of us can ABSOLUTELY be a part of the solution. To effect real change, I believe we need to: 1) embrace inconvenience, 2) act now and, 3) think small.

Embrace Inconvenience
Remember Al Gore’s 2006 documentary and lecture series about global warming, called An Inconvenient Truth?

Gore hit the nail on the head with this title. Doing what is right for our planet is extremely inconvenient. If we are going to reverse plastic waste and the damage it is doing to our earth, wildlife, and food and water supplies, then I believe we are going to have to be a little inconvenienced—each and every one of us.

Think about it. Plastics were created to make our life easier, more convenient. And oftentimes they solve solutions that other materials can’t. But we can’t rely on plastic for convenience anymore, or our lives are going to become really inconvenient due to their deleterious effects on the planet and its ecosystems. Taking action now will be a lot less inconvenient than if we don’t.

Think Small
No one wants to give up their favorite products or be inconvenienced, but each and every one of us can take small steps that will collectively add up to big results over time. And many of these steps can be taken without major changes to our lifestyles.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and reversing plastic use can’t happen overnight either…but it does have to start now. We each just need to commit to making small, gradual changes and continually challenging ourselves to make more changes over time. Big change can often paralyze us into making no change at all.

Act Now
I love that the European Union and Canada have passed legislation banning single use plastics, but whether the United States will follow suit is yet to be determined, and we just cannot wait.

The time to stop using plastics is now, meaning today, the day I write this and the day you read it. And that means it’s up to us—consumers—to self regulate our use and say no. Ideally, I’d like to see retail buyers and foodservice/hospitality purchasers giving priority to food suppliers using better packaging, because manufacturers will hear the “ka-ching” loud and clear and alter how they offer their products and in what kind of packaging. The message needs to be communicated from all angles.

I’m Starting With Me.
Here are the three changes I’m making right away to reduce my plastic. And each month, I will add more items to my “better packaging change list.”

  • Forgoing fresh foods packaged in plastic at the supermarket. Do I love those heads of maitake mushrooms that are so delicious and easy to prepare? I do, but not so much that it warrants their double plastic packaging for one single serving. Is it faster to pick up the ground beef pre-packaged in plastic? Of course it is, but I’m taking the extra two minutes to have the butcher wrap it in paper. And I’ll have a nice conversation with them in the meantime.

  • Bringing my own reusable container for prepared take-out. I am dramatically reducing my reliance on prepared take-out containers, which are single-use packaging. And when take-out is a must, I’m bringing my own reusable containers for weighing at checkout. This is most definitely an inconvenience requiring behavioral change, but the harder the challenge the more rewarding it is to overcome it. I’m hoping others will see me doing this and be inspired to take action as well.

  • Switching to formats and brands with better packaging. Brand and format switches are an easy fix. Here’s what I’m doing. I love tea. I drink it every single day. However, I use tea bags and each single bag is wrapped in plastic. I just bought loose leaf tea and a tea infusion set to rectify that. I’ve been buying the same oats brand for years, but it comes in a plastic bag that is not recyclable, let alone compostable. There are many brands that come in paper packaging, and I’ve already made the switch. It tastes and cooks the same.

I’m Asking You to Join Me
Will you join me and challenge yourself to making three changes to reduce your plastic use over the next month (and to continuously identify new ways to reduce plastic use each ensuing month)?

Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can decide which changes are the best for you and your family to make:

  • Which single-use plastic items do you buy most often that can easily be switched to a family/value size pack and then re-packaged into a reusable container for carrying (if that’s even necessary)?

  • Which items do you buy that can be purchased in a format with better packaging? Are there other brands offering the same product but with more sustainable packaging?

  • What change can you make that will inspire others to follow suit, creating a movement?

Will it be inconvenient to make these changes? A little, but not to the point of negatively changing your lfe. In fact, I’m pretty sure the reward of making these changes will inspire you to continue making more, which if all of us do will lead to significant and positive change.