“60 Minutes” recently aired a segment about the plastic choking our oceans in “The Great American Garbage Patch: Cleaning up the Plastic in the Ocean.”
My mother called me, alarmed, to tell me I should watch it. I already knew most of what was reported by the show, but seeing all that plastic accumulated on atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific had a heck of an impact.
According to National Geographic, there are five floating garbage patches. Even worse, “Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean.” That means fish and sea mammals are eating it. Aside from the obvious fact that plastic is choking the life out of animals we rely on from the food chain, it also turns out we are eating micro portions of plastic that has been ingested by fish. And even if we aren’t eating actual pieces of plastic, we are eating fish damaged by the plastics they eat and the chemical waste in which they swim.
What I actually found most useful about the program was the science writer who decided to spend a day not touching plastic. It proved impossible. It did, however, give me the idea to count all the plastic in one room in my house. I chose the bathroom simply because it is the smallest. What I should have considered were the amounts of lotions, potions and cosmetics in a bathroom shared by two women. Most of them, of course, are encased in plastic. I counted over 200 items including caps, bottles, toothbrushes, lipsticks, make-up applicators, bandage boxes, medicine bottles, hairbrush handles, a hot iron and even the bathtub. It was both mind-blowing and eye-opening to really take notice of the indestructible materials we use day in and day out.
It also raises a dilemma. What can we possibly do to break free from this addiction? I think it is easier to do this in the kitchen because one can buy nuts or grains in bulk, but there is rarely a way to buy mouthwash or deodorant (even the crunchy, tree-hugging varieties we purchase and don’t swear by) without also purchasing plastic. My daughter and I long ago replaced plastic containers with glass jars and containers, though some lids are still made from plastic. We use little pouches instead of baggies, silicone containers and lids, as well as a wrap made of cloth and beeswax. But we still use plastic trash bags and the occasional baggie and much of our food comes to the house in some form of plastic.
Some items can be worked around. I recently bought a lip pencil instead of a tube of lipstick because I thought there was less plastic involved, though the sharpener for the pencil is made of plastic, as is the cap. I did try bar shampoo, an old-fashioned substance available from both progressive stores and those that are mired in the past, like the Vermont Country Store. I hated it. My hair was dry and looked like straw.
Instead of using cotton pads, we are trying round, washable pads made from bamboo. They arrived in a small mesh bag so, after using one to remove make-up or to use toner, we drop them into the bag and then wash them. So far so good.
Since one cannot bring a glass jar to a pharmacy and buy mouthwash, I found a recipe to make my own that is very simple. But if you truly want to get rid of plastic, you will have to plan on spending some time in the kitchen. I found lots of information about making my own toiletries on www.thekindplanet.com. Realistically, however, making a few products is not going to make much of a dent in our addiction to plastic. According to the aforementioned “60 Minutes,” recycling isn’t really working and we are, so far, losing the battle with the pollution in our oceans.
Alternative packaging, such as those made from bagasse and bioplastics, is being researched and manufactured, but not at a rate that will impact change any time soon. Perhaps the best way to proceed is at a community level. We could ban single-use plastic in towns, then cities and finally throughout the state. We can challenge local residents to reduce their use of plastic. My daughter and I leave cups, straws, cutlery sets and bags in the car so we never have to take any. It becomes a habit very quickly to reach for your supplies when going into a store or coffee shop.
Earthday.org has a nifty calculator to help us reduce plastic. If you look around the site you will find a lot of useful information, including community initiatives.
If anyone has ideas regarding the diminished use of plastics, feel free to put up a post. We all need to put our heads together if we want to alleviate this issue for our children and grandchildren. I would love to hear how other people are contributing to this cause.