The first step in reducing trash headed for the landfill is to actually stop acquiring things that need to be thrown away. A lot of people are proud of their recycling habit, but believe it or not, recycling is always a third or fourth choice.
First, REDUCE the amount of single use items. Most are plastic.
How did we get into this habit? Plastic is a polymer and polymers has been around for a long time. (Check out this review of the history of plastic.) Basically, before the early 1900s, polymers in use were all derived from organic material mostly from different plants. But in 1907 the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was developed using fossil fuels, phenol, an acid derived from coal tar. New use of oil resulted in the development of polystyrene in 1929, polyester in 1930, polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polythene in 1933, as well as nylon in 1935.
Use of plastics exploded during World War II and after the war, manufacturers turned to the domestic market. I was born in 1954 and I remember my parents using aluminum foil and waxed paper for wrapping food. As plastic wrap became available, it was pricey, so my frugal parents held out for a while, but Mom was happy when she found plastic dishes and cups for our camping trips and perhaps that was the transition item that made her more comfortable using that new material.
Today we are surrounded with plastics and it is hard to think of alternatives but we are at that point in our awareness of how bad plastics are for the environment and for our health that we MUST start to transition away….REDUCE our use.
Evidence is mounting that the chemical building blocks that make plastics so versatile are the same components that might harm people and the environment. And its production and disposal contribute to an array of environmental problems, too. For example:
- Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
- Plastic debris, laced with chemicals and often ingested by marine animals, can injure or poison wildlife.
- Floating plastic waste, which can survive for thousands of years in water, serves as mini transportation devices for invasive species, disrupting habitats.
- Around 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process.
- Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater.
The City Of McMinnville is continuing to implement the Bag It Better campaign. Single use plastic bags used to carry home items from stores often are not reused by the consumer, but thrown away. Large stores implemented the ban September 1st and coming up this March 1st, the small convenience stores will also ask you to bring your bag into the shop or pay a small fee for a paper sack. Since most plastic bags either end up in the landfill where they will never decompose, or they get lifted by the wind before they can be covered and fly away, often landing in streams and rivers and eventually to the ocean, Zero Waste McMinnville has worked with the City and the stores to provide information to consumers to make this transition.
Other plastic items that are used only once and then discarded should also be eliminated from our use.
- Plastic straws were a wonderful improvement over the paper straws I knew as a child, but now we know plastic straws are also a problem. Paper straws are making a comeback and some people also carry their own reusable stainless-steel or glass straws.
- Alternative food wrapping is now available. Cotton fabric with beeswax and silicone circles that mold to containers help, or switch to reusable containers made from glass. Lots of people use mason jars. Here’s instructions to make your own food wrap.
- If you have been a bottled water drinker, switch to a reusable stainless steel container and install a filter on your faucet to help screen out the chlorine and other chemicals used to treat the water. This will improve the taste.
- Carry an insulated mug with you and ask the barista to fill it instead of handing you your fancy latte in a plasticized cup with a plastic lid.
- Babies need water too but a healthier bottle would be made from glass covered by a silicone sleeve to protect it from breakage.
- Rather than use paper or plastic plates for eating, switch to porcelain (yes, they must be washed to be reused) or bamboo which is biodegradable and compostable.
- If you’re going out to eat and you know you always get a doggie bag, bring your own container instead of using the clamshell offered to you.
- Stop using plastic forks, knives, and spoons when you picnic. If you don’t want to bother carrying your flatware from home, there are utensils made with compostable materials like bamboo.
- Improve your diet by eliminating sodas and other beverages that come in plastic containers. If you enjoy a carbonated beverage often, get one of the soda machines. Not only will you decrease the amount of plastic, but you can add interesting fruit flavors to make an Italian soda at home.
- Return the little containers that hold berries and your egg cartons to the farmer at the market. Or, if you shop only at supermarkets, bring a container from home with the tare weight (empty container weight) written on it so the cashier can deduct that from the overall package weight.
- Give up chewing gum. It’s also plastic.
- Stop eating frozen foods. This will be hard but as you improve your cooking from scratch, you will be eliminating more plastic from your life that can be found in the packaging.
- Buy from the bulk bins as much as possible. The unit cost is usually considerably lower than a similar packaged items found on the store shelves. By using mesh bags, you will also eliminate the plastic bag in the bulk section. For wet items like honey, syrup or peanut butter, bring a container (again, mark the tare weight) or wash the plastic container the store provides when you are finished with the food and put the clean container and lid into your bags that you carry for shopping.
So many more hints and tips are available online. If you want, please share any ideas you have developed either by commenting to this blog or writing a comment on Facebook.
Another blog will offer tips how to reduce plastic use in other areas besides food.