Ever since the state of California passed a law earlier this year that bans plastic straws at sit-down restaurants, I’ve become more aware of how mindless I am about my own plastic use. I didn’t realize how big a problem plastic straws had become. According to National Geographic “in just the U.S. alone, one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.” You might enjoy reading a brief history of how the plastic straw took over the world.
“By only providing plastic straws when requested, we can significantly reduce the disposal of single use plastic. Such a simple action will not only save on overheads, it will have incredibly positive and far reaching effects on our planet.”~ Straw Wars, UK
Since reading up on the issue with plastic straws I started to wonder what would happen if we changed the default. Rather than automatically receiving a straw with every beverage you order, what if the default was no straw unless you asked for one. Sounds so simple, but involves changing our behavior and increasing awareness of choices. I started by giving back the straws to the servers. But that wasn’t going far enough.
I began to pay closer attention to how often I came into contact with plastic. It is everywhere I go. In fact, as I write this blog in a hotel room in California during a business trip, I am shamefully sipping out of a plastic water bottle given to me by Embassy Suites as a thank you for being a Hilton Honors member. I suppose I could have refused the gift, but I thought I might need it (and it’s free). Staying hydrated is important to our health, you know. That is unless you are a turtle or a fish or a beach that is being inundated with our plastic straws, plastic bottles, and discarded rubbish. Watch this one-minute video by the Canadian Wildlife Federation about the need to save our oceans by reducing single use plastic. Seems like the least we can do! #StopSingleUse
Raising Awareness – Changing Behavior
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh
I started writing this blog post last June. I thought I could just knock out this article in a week, but it took me much longer to pull this together. I felt I really did need to do some deep reflection on my own practices and habits. I grew up with the motto of “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle.” I didn’t realize at the time that this was part of a social movement of becoming environmentally conscious in the mid-1970’s. Since that time there have been a few more R’s added including Refuse and Repurpose. But it seems that the forces of global commercialization, consumerism, and convenience have put plastic use on an unstoppable trajectory. Too bad it takes 450 years for even a single plastic bottle to break down.
But What Can We Do?
We are busy people living busy lives. We travel. We commute. We are on the move…constantly. We are faced with many demands. We can’t pay attention to every little thing, like a plastic straw, right?
Is there anything that you, your family or your employer can do at work to reduce single use plastic? Of course there is. You don’t have to be the boss or a legislator to make real change. Ordinary people with ordinary resources can make a difference.
This blog highlights real people with simple solutions and a passion for solving this very real problem. Please read on…and find something that you can do to begin to reduce your own plastic footprint.
Educate Yourself and Then Take Action
Meet Amanda who in 2015 founded an educational website LessPlasic.co.uk. Amanda and her family live in South Devon in the United Kingdom. They became dismayed by all the plastic trash strewn about the shorelines. So they decided to do something about it: educate, raise awareness and motivate people to action. Amanda is clearly a resourceful and creative leader. She offers these 9 ways to reduce plastic in your workplace cleverly laid out in an attractive infographic poster (which you can order and post in your workplace). She even has an infographic poster with ideas for reducing plastic use for festival goers. Well done Amanda!
If you own a restaurant or are in the hospitality industry consider swapping out your take-out containers for eco-friendly options like this one that I got at the Tupelo Honey Cafe in Greenville, SC. It’s 100% compostable (even the lid). That made me smile and they moved up one notch on my top restaurant list. Why? Because they not only care for their patrons, they care for the planet on which their patrons reside.
According to the website GoodStartPackaging “Compostable means that a product is capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil. This typically must occur in about 90 days. Some companies advertise their products as merely biodegradable. This is not necessarily a good thing since nearly everything will biodegrade in 10,000 years!”
If you own a manufacturing company or your have your own product line, consider redesigning your packaging (primary and secondary) to be more Earth-friendly. And you can sign the manufacturer’s pledge like Maggie Hanus, Soap Bartender and owner of A Wild Soap Bar, did. She is part of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild (HSCG), a non-profit 501(c)(6) trade association founded in 1998 that is taking an active role in reducing plastic waste. Maggie recently sent her customers a bold email and invitation. She wrote: “As you know, we recently made a conscious decision to stop selling products in plastic and now we’ve taken the manufacturer’s pledge to Reduce Plastic Waste. Even though our shower gel bottles are 100% recyclable, the fact is that the vast majority of people do not recycle and these bottles are still ending up in the landfill….or worse yet…our overburdened oceans. We can’t feel good about that, especially since bar soaps clean just as well (or better) with very little or even zero waste if you get our naked bars. We cannot continue on the destructive path we’re on. It’s time to make a change. Even if it’s small. Together, we can raise the bar.”
- Check out this website https://www.reduce-plastic-waste.com/
Things You Can Do at Home
I polled a few of my Facebook and LinkedIn connections asking for examples of what they do to reduce their single use plastic. Their responses are inspiring. I was also reminded that reducing our plastic footprint needs to be a family affair. As parents we need to model responsibility to our kids so that they will care about the planet that they will inherit.
The first person to respond to my social media query was Anne Marie Smith who told me that her household has been working to reduce single-use plastics for some time. When I asked if it was difficult to get everyone in the family to participate, she said this: “There was no resistance from anyone in my family to any of these measures. All of us (husband and son) were committed from the start. Some of the suggestions came from each of us. My son now lives with his wife, in his own home, and they have adopted all of these measures, so we have a second success story. The biggest single difference is our awareness of the need to continue to reduce the use of plastics, and to reuse what can be reused, re-purpose what can be made into some useful, and to recycle as often as possible/practical.” ~Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D., VP of Education, Chief Methodologist at EWSolutions, Inc.
Below are a few of the other responses I received. They are from ordinary people doing simple things to live a more eco-conscious life at home and at work. Perhaps you will find an idea that you can implement?
- “We have always use refillable pods for our Keurig, saving tens of thousands of the single use ones from ending up in the dump.~ Stephanie Dalfonzo
- “I use beeswax wraps instead of plastic. Glass canning jars for storing metal straws and I use cloth and mesh bags for my veggies at the store.” – ~ Cindy Donaldson
- “Use recycled paper bags for your kitchen trash liner, not plastic bags.” ~ Kathy Fleming
- “I use metal straws with cleaners. They are AWESOME. I keep a couple in the car, and always remember to tell drive-through attendants & waiters: “No Straws please!” Also if you purchase canned drinks, ALWAYS cut the 6-pack plastic yoke packaging. If you cut it into smaller pieces it diminishes the risk to sea creatures, large and small. Finally, if you like sparkling beverages, consider purchasing a Soda Stream. Add a little lemon or lime & it’s really good! ~ Heidi Seay Daniell
- “No more plastic water bottles. Instead I purchased a big Yeti cup (stainless steel tumbler) and fill it with ice water everywhere I go. If I’m on the road, I refill it at gas stations. If I’m at a hotel, I take it to my room and refill it there.” ~ Gurye Johns Smith
- “Forget using those disposable make up remover pads/cloths, invest in a MakeUp Eraser. It’s a fantastic product, cleanable, machine-washable, soft, easy on your face and eyes, and travels well. Manufacturer says it lasts 3-5 years. Yahoo!” ~ Kathy McAfee
- “We switched from plastic food storage containers to glass.” ~ Stephanie Dalfonzo
- “Anything I buy online that comes to the house, the packing material gets folded up, cut up, stored, and reused. Many businesses throw away boxes and packing materials. They’re usually happy to give it to you to get it out of their way. Win win!” ~ Tori Adora
- “I buy the largest sized detergent / fabric softener / shampoo / conditioner / etc… to reduce the number of plastic bottles. Also, we take canvas bags to the supermarket and to the local convenience stores – no plastic bags – for many years. The canvas and other shopping bags are in the car all the time so they are ready for shopping.” ~Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D.
Want more ideas and information?