An Australian Foundation declared July to be Plastic Free Month. Questions jump in my mind when I hear this. Why July? Why only one month?
Can we even live without plastic?
To be fair, this group is targeting single-use, consumer plastic items, like straws, cups and grocery bags. We can surely replace those items in our lives. It will take some behavioral modifications (people who still litter and don’t recycle) and support from industry (what industry would voluntarily stop making their products?) and governmental policies, but we could go a long way to reduce some of the single-use plastic we use.
We do use a lot of plastic.
“Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.” (quote)
Pollution of the environment is a huge impact of our fleeting use of single-use plastics. Beyond the pollution we can see - on beaches, roadways, and waterways, we are also discovering that plastic molecules have found their way into our bodies and the bodies of wildlife. Some plastics can take up to 200 years to decompose.
We made this stuff. We love it.
To be fair, plastic keeps us healthy by keeping food and medicines clean and by keeping infectious diseases contained in hospital settings. There is great value in using plastic in medical and food environments. Plastic also allows us to transport products more efficiently; compare the weight and breakage risk between a glass jar of peanut butter and a plastic jar of peanut butter. Perhaps we need to keep making some things from plastic.
On the other hand, there are a lot of things we need that we don’t have to make from plastic. We know we can replace a plastic grocery bag with a cloth or paper one. That’s easy. There are lots of little things, like bamboo toothbrushes that can replace much of the single-use plastic we consume. What about some of the bigger things? Here’s a quick list of other plastic items that we could stop buying altogether or replace with non-plastic versions.
Storage boxes - Yes, cardboard is not as light or transparent (use labels) or as robust, but it works. It’s also good to review what we need to store and maybe cut back on possessions in general.
Decorations - Both durable (for example, Christmas ornaments) and single use (balloons, glitter, etc) decorations could be reduced or replaced with non-plastic equivalents.
Outdoor furniture - Metal and wooden outdoor furniture are more expensive and may need more maintenance, but can also be more beautiful and durable than plastic furniture.
Toys - There are many alternatives to plastic in toys (for both children and adults) Wood, cloth, metal, stone can all be part of our enduring and endearing playthings.
Clothes - Often the clothes we wear are made of various plastics. Reducing the number of clothes we buy and buying natural fibers (cotton, linen, wool) will reduce plastic production and the micro plastics shed from synthetic fabrics when we wash our clothes.
How else can we reduce our dependence on plastic items? What plastic things are you contemplating buying/using that could be replaced with other materials? Think beyond the month of July.
Review this USA Today article (https://reviewed.usatoday.com/home-outdoors/features/plastic-free-july-attempts-stem-single-use-plastic-pollution).
Take the Pesky Plastics Quiz (https://survey.thinkfieldpanel.com.au/wcfs/29402) to see what you might change in your home.
Take the challenge this July! We will check back in August. (https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/get-involved/what-you-can-do/category/getting-started/)