Breaking the Plastic Addiction
We Americans have an unhealthy relationship with discarded packaging. Our food and goods often come encased in multiple layers, each composed of entirely different materials. Until recently, much of our domestic plastic and mixed-paper were getting shipped to China for sorting and recycling but they have quit accepting much of what they would before. In the absence of a much-needed, intelligent, universal recycling system, this puts the burden of reducing our plastic usage on us, the consumers. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to reduce how much plastic we are using.
Aluminum cans are frequently recycled. It's estimated that 75% of all aluminum ever produced in the US is still in use. 70% of corrugated cardboard is recycled into more cardboard and other forms as well. As long as you're recycling, you can use these materials without too much guilt. Under 30% of glass is recycled, domestically, putting it under even plastic bottles at 35%. To help facilitate reuse, make sure to clean containers well and separate them into different colors, if requested - make it as easy as possible for whoever is on the receiving end to deal with them. Many areas recycle certain types of plastic but, even for those that don't, the following solutions will work anywhere.
Things you can do to help:
#1 - Quit buying bottled water! According to an article from earthday.org, Americans consume over 50 billion bottles of water a year! Globally, 91% of plastic bottles aren't recycled and much of this ends up in the worlds oceans. It's projected that, by 2050, the worlds oceans will have more plastic (by weight) than fish. The easiest solution? Quit buying water entirely. Purchase a reusable stainless bottle that will last forever and buy yourself an appropriate filter to remove impurities or toxic additives like chlorine and fluoride from your tap water. You'll save lots of money and cut down on your contribution to the world's plastic waste burden immensely.
#2 - Quit accepting drinking straws, take out boxes, plastic cutlery, or to-go cups. Bring your own reusable versions of these with you.
My family has a favorite, local Chinese restaurant we've eaten at for a long time. Not long ago, my wife encouraged me to quit using the straws they hand out with every meal. We just set them to the side for reuse. There are many reusable straw options for home now as well, including stainless steel and plastic versions. The stainless straws should last practically forever and, for a small, one-time investment, you can be rest assured you won't be putting that form of plastic in the landfills again...ever. If you really like a straw with your drink when you're out, take one with you. Each time you turn away disposable straws or any other kind of unsustainable container, you'll be making a statement. We have a favorite Mexican restaurant in a nearby city. Their take out containers are the worst - styrofoam! Styrofoam is an inexpensive option for restaurants and will last approximately forever in the landfill (or at least until the sun goes nova). An easy way to avoid them is to either finish your meal or take reusable containers to put leftovers in. We ordered a collapsible set of silicone storage containers that we can leave in the car so we don't forget them. I also bought a couple of spoons to store in the glove compartment for places that only have plastic cutlery. When I order coffee out, I make sure to have my big ole 30oz stainless coffee cup with me.
#3 - Get reusable shopping bags. These can be made of fabric that will decompose and return to the Earth when composted.
#4 - Quit buying crap plastic toys. These are going to be broken and heading towards the landfill in no time, anyways. There are wooden and steel options available for most toys.
#5 - Be creative! What I've suggested here are just a few possible solutions. If you can figure out how to reduce your plastic usage even further, please share it on this thread!
Being natural builders, we use glass bottles in our bottle walls. Bottle walls can be a beautiful, basically free addition to even conventional structures. In the future, I'd like to build a tiny house using mostly plastic bottles. Stay tuned!