Minimizing Your Plastic Footprint: An Ever-Changing List of Ideas

Does anyone remember the scene in It’s A Wonderful Life when George Bailey is trying to figure out how he feels about Mary and his life and responsibilities in Bedford Falls? Sam, a friend of George’s and a beau of Mary’s, tries to convince George to invest in his plastics company. You know from Sam’s dalliances with a woman in his office that he is no good for Mary and thus a sleazy investment.

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Much like plastic, itself.

Plastic has gotten a bad saran wrap (guffaw). One cannot scroll through Facebook without coming across oceans that seem to be 80 percent plastic bag and 15 percent lifeless marine habitat (5 percent water if you need closure).

Plastic does have honorable roots. The need for resources during World War II gave rise to the use of synthetics as outlined here:

Nylon, invented by Wallace Carothers in 1935 as a synthetic silk, was used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows. A Time Magazine article noted that because of the war, “plastics have been turned to new uses and the adaptability of plastics demonstrated all over again.” (Nicholson and Leighton of Harper’s Magazine wrote). During World War II, plastic production in the United States increased by 300 percent (“The History and Future of Plastics“).

Plastic bags, the kind you can get with your merchandise, have been around since the 1950s and for all those grocery-toting consumers, it was a welcome change from their weaker paper counterpart. Plus, with plastic, we didn’t have to worry as much about deforestation; which is still a large issue.

How Do We Live without Plastic Today?

Plastic is everywhere…obviously. From the clothes we buy (synthetic poly blends), to the diapers and toys we get for young ones, to the fast food meals we eat (silverware, lining of wrappers, straws), and our toiletries, building materials, and cleaning supplies.

Let’s be blunt. That’s too much for one concerned adult to keep track of.

Just imagine running through a single day like this. You wake up and stumble into the bathroom, do your business and take a shower. There, you are greeted by one plastic bottle of shampoo, another for conditioner, and a third for body wash. Your razor is a disposable plastic one and even your shower caddie or water dispenser (depending upon your country of origin) is plastic.

Once you get out of the shower, you’ll probably use one of the following plastic-dependent items:

  • Lotion
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Hair brush
  • Hair product
  • Q-tips that you swear to your doctor you don’t put straight into your ears…but you do
  • Foundation
  • Mascara
  • Eye shadow
  • Lipstick
  • Blush
  • Makeup brush
  • Curling iron or straightening iron

You haven’t even gotten out of the bathroom and you are already stressed by all the possibilities of where the begin reducing your plastic use.

Here’s my advice: pick two things.

This may not feel like a lot but minimizing is not an all-or-nothing battle. My first day of plastic consciousness resulted in ordering two items from Amazon (this feels ironic somehow) which were reusable, stainless steel Keurig coffee filters and glass lunch containers for a week’s worth of meals. Later, I substituted body wash for bar soap and even my shampoo is now in a bar I get from a local vendor who sells vegan shampoo.

My life is still far from plastic free but in increments, one can accomplish incredible things.

What (Almost) Everyone Can Do

The easiest changes will also affect your pocketbook for the better
  • Limit your trips to fast food restaurants
  • Learn to make your own laundry detergent
  • Buy coffee in bulk for your Keurig and use a stainless steel K-Cup
  • Replace your bathroom items for other eco-friendly versions, for example, this toothbrush

What Parents of Small Children Can Do

  • Bring snack bags for goodies on the go
  • Take more bike rides with the kids
  • Go to the thrift store for toys but do this infrequently, quarterly at the most. Personally, I go once a year during the summer for a toy each
  • Get a membership to a local zoo, children’s museum, or another child-friendly play place
  • Go to the library often

What Pet Owners Can Do

  • Use compostable doggie bags
  • Use a wooden dog house
  • Don’t buy doggie toys with plastic or that require the use of a plastic bottle

Bottom Line

If you are trying to become a more conscious consumer, minimalism is the way to go about it. The less you have, the more you can control.

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