“Disposable straws?” She asks nobody in particular. She answers her own question: “Plastic is NOT disposable.”
She’s right. I recently watched several documentaries about how our oceans are filling up with plastic. I learned that every single piece of plastic ever manufactured is still here on our planet. Lots of it has broken down into tiny particles that are mistaken for food by marine creatures and birds.
I decided to take stock of my own use of this material. How guilty am I? How am I contributing – or not contributing – to this troubling problem? I decided to keep a journal for one day – 24 hours. I will record every piece of single-use plastic I throw away.
It’s Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020: Six to eight inches of snow are predicted. By 8 a.m. snow begins to accumulate, but it’s pretty and fluffy and fleeting. It’s melting on most sidewalks and driveways.
Plastic toothbrush; plastic drinking cup; plastic seven-day flip-top pill holder. All OK. None are single-use items. Toothbrush is at least three months old. Drinking cup is 20 years old. Pill holder has been around for several years.
I notice the plastic liner in my wastebasket. It’s an LL Bean bag. I’ve re-used it. I have emptied and replaced it in the same wastebasket every week for the last few months. Thank you, LL Bean. Your forest green bags match my master bath décor.
My library book is covered with a thick protective plastic cover. It’s only for this particular book, but it will probably be loaned to several dozen people before it’s beat up enough to be thrown away.
Breakfast offers several ways to feel guilty: a single-use coffee pod for my Keurig coffeemaker, a single-use yogurt cup and a 52 oz. plastic jug of orange juice with a “please recycle” symbol on the bottom. But I don’t think my recycling facility takes these jugs. Cereal box is paper, but the inner bag is plastic. I feel bad about the pod and the cup and the jug and the cereal bag. Bad.
By the way, when my first and second daughters were babies, I used cloth diapers. I dunked them in the toilet to rinse them. I soaked them in a diaper pail, then I washed and dried and reused them. It wasn’t so bad.
My third daughter was born after disposable diapers had been perfected and I confess I used them for her.
Plastic containers for mouthwash, hair gel, shampoo, pressed powder, blush, lipstick, moisturizer and mascara. None of these are designed for just one use, so I refuse to feel shame. Good.
But my soap? Cetaphil gentle cleansing bar comes in a plain white paper box, but the actual bar of soap, for some reason, is sealed in a plastic bag. I emailed the manufacturer and asked the reason for double packaging and the reason for the plastic, when just the box should be enough. “It’s just soap,” I said.
Kara from Cetaphil's customer relations department actually called back two days later. “That’s the way Cetaphil decided to do it,” Kara said. That's not an answer to my question.
But she thanked me for reaching out to share my concern and promised to pass my feedback on to the manufacturer. Good, I sort of.
At 10 a.m. I drive to my exercise class, which turns out to be cancelled because of the snow. Since I’m out and about anyway, I decide to indulge in a guilty pleasure. I head for the nearby drive-through Starbucks to order a tall blonde with two squirts of hazelnut. It’s served without the green plastic stopper. Good. Starbucks’ policy is to provide the stoppers only if customers ask for them. I queried the friendly young woman at the window about this. “It’s to cut down on single-use plastic,” she said. Good for you, Starbucks.
My tall blonde with two squirts of hazelnut is served in a paper cup with a paper sleeve and a plastic lid.
Technically, Starbucks’ cups can be recycled under the right circumstances, according to an article by CNN business writer Danielle Wiener-Bronner. “But they usually are not.” Bad.
To recycle these cups, facilities would have to separate the cups’ plastic linings (which prevent leaks) from the paper. Plastic jams their machines. The separating process is generally deemed more trouble than it’s worth. Bad.
The paper sleeve, however, is made from recycled material. Good.
My kitchen trash bag, alas, is a one-use 13-gallon plastic bag with a drawstring tie and I purchase these in large quantities. Bad. But I can’t think of a better way to dispose of household trash.
Lunch. I dispose of one plastic bread bag. The chicken salad for my sandwich was made yesterday and instead of covering the bowl with plastic wrap, I used one of those reusable silicone lids. I’ve washed and re-used it hundreds of times. Good.
At 1 p.m., I attend a meeting at city hall – training for election inspectors who will work at the upcoming primary. While I’m there, I pick up a colorful flyer outlining recycling guidelines for my community. I see waxed cardboard is not wanted. Didn’t know that. And yes, large plastic jugs (this morning’s orange juice container) are recyclable. Good.
Mid-afternoon I have to dispose of a plastic bag inside a box of crackers. It wasn’t waxed paper. I checked. It was plastic. Bad.
I never buy bottled water. Well, hardly ever. I keep a glass of water on my kitchen counter during the day and drink every time I walk through the kitchen. I do keep a few bottles of water in the refrigerator for guests who think tap water is icky. They’re wrong, but they’re guests.
At the grocery store, I always ask that my stuff be packed in paper, not plastic.
It’s 4 p.m. and I’m feeling mildly virtuous.
Dinner puts a damper on that mood. I use a bag of salad greens. It’s filled with crisp triple-washed kale, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. But that bag contains two more plastic bags – one with dried cherries and nuts and seeds and yet another with some yummy poppy seed dressing. I also dispose of a bread bag, two plastic bag clips and a few Ziploc sandwich bags I used only once. Bad. I’m ashamed.
To further pile on the shame, later in the evening I have one of those single serving mini cups of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream -- Cherry Garcia, my favorite. I buy mini cups because it keeps me from eating too much ice cream. I’m satisfied with one 3.6 oz. cup of Cherry Garcia or Haagen-Daz salted caramel. But this comes with triple guilt: it’s a single-use cup AND it has 260 calories AND it contains 23 grams of sugar. Bad.
OK. Full disclosure. I had some popcorn, too, after the ice cream. The outer bag of the snack size microwave popcorn was plastic. Bad. The inner bag was paper. Good.
Am I average?
I don’t know. I Google around the Internet for more than an hour and can’t find an answer. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to how much plastic the average person discards on the average day.
I promise to pay attention to my environmentally conscious friend and from now on, I will also insist: “No plastic straws.”