It's 2018, and facts are facts: We are in the midst of a plastic epidemic. It's in our trash cans, it's in our landfills, it's in our oceans. At this rate, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050, a number that's difficult to even fathom.
This raises the question: What the hell do we do? So much of our lives contain plastic, from our beauty products to our water bottles and trash bags—basically any packaged product you can think of. And lest we forget, most of the food we eat is wrapped in or labeled with some form of plastic. And unfortunately, recycling is not a cure-all. We need to start going plastic-free.
I know, I know: It sounds super daunting. I decided to go plastic-free for a week to 1) see if I could do it and 2) figure out what was stopping me from living this way all the time. I had so many preconceived notions of what the experience would be like, but the week proved a lot of them wrong. Here are five myths about going plastic-free that I'm not falling for anymore:
Myth No. 1: Going totally plastic-free is next to impossible.
You might have guessed that I would start here. I consider myself a conscious consumer—I buy organic as much as I can, I recycle everything that I can, and I eat a vegetarian diet to minimize my impact on the environment. But like I said, plastic is everywhere, including some places I did not expect. (Sticks of gum? Tea bags? Seriously?) Despite its prevalence, you can avoid plastic in today's world. All it requires is a conscious mindset, a little prep, and some patience.
Myth No. 2: I'm a conscious consumer, so I don't even use that much plastic.
I've always found the statistics on our world's plastic use galling, but this week forced me to take a more serious look at my own. Let's take a normal day in my life: I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and brush my teeth. I squeeze toothpaste from a plastic tube onto a plastic toothbrush. I pack my lunch in a plastic container and put it in a plastic bag I got from grocery shopping. I walk to the subway listening to music with my plastic headphones and swipe a plastic MetroCard to gain access to the train. I get to a spinning studio, where they hand out plastic water bottles to everyone in class, and afterward, I put my dirty clothes in a plastic bag. I shower using products in plastic bottles that I'll eventually throw out, get dressed, and swipe my MetroCard again to get to work.
All of this happens before 9 a.m. Every item that I use will eventually go in the trash. Sure, some items are multiuse, but the fact that I can use more than eight plastic items in the first three hours of my day is horrifying. Give me another 10 hours, and who knows how much I've used. Keep in mind, there are 8.6 million people like me living in the five boroughs of New York City alone.
Myth No. 3: Healthy places like farmers markets are usually plastic-free.
These days, even loaves of bread, loose produce, and flower bouquets at the farmers market often come in single-use plastic bags. Going plastic-free meant I had to find alternatives, but once I found them, the rest was easy. To avoid those plastic produce bags, I started bringing reusable totes, mesh bags, anything that wasn't plastic to the grocery store for storing loose items (these are starting to catch on, so no one gave me an issue). If I wanted a vegan sweet treat, I made it myself. If I wanted a salty snack, I went to the bulk section of the grocery store and used a Mason jar or silicone bag.
Myth No. 4: It's OK to use reusable plastic containers.
As someone who could get plastic containers for every birthday and be happy, this myth was harder to come to terms with. But while multiuse containers do last longer than single-use ones, they are still made of plastic, which can be harmful to your health and eventually the environment if you just toss them out.
So for the sake of this challenge, I started doing what I should have done a long time ago: I recycled the multiuse plastic food storage containers I still had and opted for more Mason jars and glass containers. Besides being better for the environment, glass containers are easier to clean, get food smells out of, and keep from leaking. Plus, I sometimes use the microwave to reheat food (I know, gasp), and I feel much better about doing so with glassware than plasticware because of toxins and all of that.
Myth No. 5: Going plastic-free severely restricts what you can purchase (and eat).
I thought going plastic-free meant that I would have to cook every single thing I ate—and I love cooking, but that still sounded like it would be a challenge. There were a lot of those foods that I could get without the packaging though. Whole Foods, for example, has dry pasta in their bulk section, so getting the equivalent of a box in a reusable bag was easy.
At the end of the day, going plastic-free was much easier than I thought it would be. My hope is that as we continue to vote with our wallets and shop with waste in mind, more and more companies will start cutting down on their plastic footprints—but that could take years.
In the meantime, the best thing we can do is mind our own footprints. I challenge you to go plastic-free for a week. What do you say?
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