Did you participate in “Plastic Free July?” If you did, you joined people all over the world committed to reducing their plastic use. According to plasticfreejuly.org, 120 million participants in 177 countries challenged themselves to refusing plastic throughout the month. However, the focus of this campaign isn’t durable plastic that gets used over and over. A fair amount of plastic has real purpose and does a lot of good. Think of the incubators keeping pre-mature babies warm right now at Central Washington Hospital, or any of the other medical equipment that helps save lives there every day. Many things are made of durable plastic which have improved our quality of life since becoming popular in the 1960s. Plastics aren’t inherently good or bad, it is how we choose to use them which can cause problems and single-use plastics are an easy target for re-evaluation.
These disposable products get used for an incredibly short amount of time before they’re discarded. Taking a moment to think about it, it’s hard to comprehend that we regularly use something for just a few seconds or minutes that took millions of years to create. Plastics are made from fossil fuels, so that straw, or fork, or bag that you’ll only use for a moment has come a long way to get there. Sure, some plastic is recycled so there’s a chance it’s been used or will be used again, but in reality, the likelihood is pretty small.
Only 9% of plastic that has been produced over the last six decades has been recycled, according to National Geographic. About 12% has been incinerated. That leaves 79% that is still out there somewhere, since plastic takes over 400 years to degrade. How much plastic has been produced since it gained popularity? Just over 8 billion metric tons.
Since a lot of that came from disposable products, the movement away from these one-time use plastics makes a lot of sense. With some planning ahead, it’s really not that difficult either. Many of the things that we toss every day can very easily be replaced with a durable and reusable option. We just need to make it part of our culture to use these options, not the convenient plastic we’re handed every day.
Throughout July, we shared ideas on the Sustainable Wenatchee Facebook page each week about how you might challenge yourself to go “plastic-free.” Often, these tips involve avoiding on-the-go single-use plastics, like beverage cups, plastic bags and water bottles. If you’re a beginner, just committing to bringing your own bag or bottle EVERY time is a good place to start. Once you’ve developed that habit, move on to the next step, like avoiding produce that comes in plastic (hint: that’s easier to do at the farmer’s market) or saying no to plastic straws. At home, there’s lots of ways to reduce plastic in the kitchen and the bathroom. Opt for reusable containers for food storage and see if you can go a whole week without using a Ziplock bag or plastic cling wrap. For personal care, opting for something that comes in a bar rather than as a liquid can reduce the plastic packaging it comes with. The amount of plastic in our lives can seem overwhelming, but when each of us make small changes, we can begin to shift from the norm and become a part of the solution.