Lately I’ve become more and more grossed out, pissed off, and overwhelmed by the presence of plastics around me. I should actually say surrounding me, not just around me. Not only that, I have also become more annoyed at my own lazy consumer habits when it comes to plastics. I seem to excuse my plastic consumption for the sake of convenience way too often. Then, I end up looking around and feeling repulsed, because I know, both intuitively and factually, that plastics are negatively affecting my health and the health of the planet. Particularly the oceans! And oh how I love the oceans.
So, one day not so long ago, I had this idea that I would join the ranks of the others making changes, drastic by many standards, when the world around them simply doesn’t feel right. Starting January 1st 2010, I embarked on my year without plastics.
What does a year without plastics entail? Leading up to 2010, my friends started calling me randomly with numerous “what are you going to do about ____” inquiries, as they began to think about the ramifications of this experiment. At present –along with the caveat that this list might be amended as I go on- here are the rules for the year (Note- I am grateful for the guidance of others plastic-free spirits out there):
- No acquiring (buying or accepting) of any new items containing plastic or contained in plastic (applying to all categories of goods). This includes recyclable, biodegradable, and recycled plastics. If there are other types of plastics out there, I will create a rule for them depending on their degradability (and/or toxicity?). Note- I will be making every effort to find out where plastics exist, but realize that I am no plastic expert, and will probably unknowingly consume plastics in my ignorance until enlightened. Amendment! 100% non-petroleum based, biodegradable/compostable plastics are OK in some cases.
- Documentation of all plastics acquired out of “necessity”. Birth control and other pill/health supplement packaging spring to mind as a few examples of such “necessary” exceptions. Throughout the life of this project, I anticipate many documented contemplations of the “necessary”.
- Collection of all plastics acquired, purposeful or incidental. An example of incidental plastics would be a toothpick with that frilly plastic end on it, which miraculously ends up in your lunch sandwich without consent. All efforts, however, will be made to try to avoid such incidents.
- A purge of existing plastic use and/or ownership in the categories of hygiene/cosmetics and food preparation/storage. This is because many toxic plastics live in the bathroom and kitchen, and many toxic products live within those plastics. Slight amendment: Existing kitchen items with plastics that do not touch the food when prepared are OK to stay. I’m mainly thinking plastic handles here.
- A gradual phasing out of existing plastic use and/or ownership in the categories of clothing/footwear and many office and household items.
- Allowed use of office and household items containing plastic, for as long as they are not phased out. My computer and cell phone are examples.
- Allowed dining at restaurants and friends’ houses (where plastic would have been used in food preparations) as long as I am not directly consuming plastic. Examples of direct consumption would be an individually-wrapped dessert item (e.g. an ice cream bar), bottled beer (with its annoying plastic lining inside the cap), or disposable cutlery/dishes.
- No consumption of new plastic-wrapped items, including food, that are in my house, as bought and/or prepared by others.
- No getting others to buy plastic items for me.
- Re-gifting of plastic-marred gifts acquired after January 1st.
- No borrowing plastic items from friends.
- Reuse of all the plastics in the Vile Pile at the end of the year (that birth control pill package must have a use somewhere else…).
- Allowance for touching plastics where they exist in my everyday. For example, a bus seat.
- Allowed consumption of items that likely touched plastics somewhere along their production/transport (this is sadly probably most things).
This is a very personal project for me. It has the primary objectives of:
- Increased self-discipline. If I don’t agree with plastics, and plastics don’t agree with me, why would I keep consuming them? I don’t want to be just another person in a sustained consumption coma. I believe, that with a little bit of effort, I can cut out the majority of my plastic consumption.
- Self education. I don’t really know where plastics hide in my everyday. By cutting out out all plastics, I will be forced to pay more attention and learn to evade this sneaky substance. And! the prospect of discovering healthier and more natural substitutes delights me.
- Personal health. I know that many plastics do funky things to me. And, their accumulation in our environment is affecting the health of our planet, and hence me. In addition, I think that if I cut out plastics, I will simultaneously be avoiding a whole gamut of other things that aren’t good for me. Processed foods and cosmetics are two examples of things that I often get fooled into conveniently consuming.
- Clarity. I probably don’t “need” many of the items containing plastics that I currently use/own. By not allowing any new purchases, and by phasing out use/ownership of plastics currently in my possession, I hope to gain clarity on the frivolity of many items. I also want to gain clarity on what level of plastic use is OK in my own, and currently cloudy, personal judgment.
- Personal challenge. This project will not be convenient. In fact, I get a little terrified thinking about it some days, but also welcome the excitement that brews in my belly about it.
The reasons that I am making this project public are:
- Peer pressure. When self-discipline is waning, there’s nothing like an audience to keep me on the right track.
- Community support. I am hoping that there are people and companies out there who can help me find substitutes.
- Making connections. I like talking about this stuff, and connecting with other people who care.
- Education and leading by example. If I can learn from this project and reduce my use of plastics, others can too. I don’t, by any means, think that everyone should feel guilty about their plastic consumption and turn eco-Nazi overnight. However, I think that all of us can become more aware of how pervasive and dangerous plastics are, learn about alternatives, and make small positive changes.