When I was a kid, I remember a bottle of Prell breaking in the bathtub and spraying glass everywhere. Yep, that’s right—a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, shampoo came in glass and plastic was a rarity. Now plastic is about all there is. But growing numbers of us are finding ways to live without any at all.
For linguistically confused reasons, they’re called plasticarians, people who try to avoid all plastics. Nomenclature issues aside, it’s a good idea. We all know the perils of plastic—the stuff may be undeniably handy (when was the last time you spent an hour hunting down glass shards in your shower), and makes sense in some contexts (plastic automobile parts, for example, have made lighter cars that consume less fossil fuel), but it’s made from toxic chemicals, persists longer than a Terrence Malick movie, and is being produced in amounts that make Wall-E look like a documentary.
But how do we do without plastic? Because a life without space age polymers would seem to be one without food, clothing, shelter, and a few other less-than-optional items.
It starts with environmentalism’s simplest idea: conscious consumption. Every time we buy or use something, we should take a quick step back and ask ourselves if there’s a better alternative that uses less resources or creates fewer impacts. Identifying solutions like these may take some legwork or creative elbow grease, but taken together they can help us quickly shrink our overall environmental impact.
Reducing our consumption of plastic is part of this goal, and while it’s definitely a good idea, it’s also worth pointing out that when we start dissecting issues like this, the waters quickly muddy. If properly recycled, for example, plastic can actually have a smaller environmental footprint than glass, which takes much more energy to produce and is rarely recycled back into consumer packaging. In fact, each of humanity’s basic raw materials—glass, metal, paper, plastic—comes with its own set of pluses and minuses. In the big picture, plastic, when recycled or reused, isn’t any better or worse than anything else. But like any resource, that doesn’t make using less any less important —which is why it’s always a good idea to get into plasticarian habits like these:
- Bring your own containers to the store and buy more food in bulk.
- Watch out for “bulk deals” that consist of individually-wrapped items packaged together in additional plastic.
- Avoid marketing stunts like pump toothpastes, disposable cleaning aids, single-serve coffee pods, and other items made from 100% pure hooey and far more plastic than they need.
- Swap plastic-encased processed foods for freshly prepared dishes made from fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthier basics.
- Don’t use the plastic bags in the produce department. Just keep your produce organized at checkout.
- Carry reusable shopping bags in your car trunk and use them not just for groceries, but for other shopping, too.
- Freeze foods in reusable glass jars.
- Buy a reusable beverage bottle and bring your day’s drinks from home.
- Carry your own take-out mugs, containers, and cutlery for buying eats to go.
- Be your own manufacturer using homemade recipes for toothpaste, shampoo, and lots of other things. (Remember that Google is your friend.)
- Make your own ketchup, mayo, mustard, and more. (And discover how much better they taste!)
- Stream and download your movies and music to eliminate physical media.
Steps like these will help make you at least a part-time plasticarian and a full-time friend of the Earth.
Photo by: Moosicorn Ranch
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!