No matter how hard I try, I cannot get away from disposable plastics. I do my best. I keep reusable shopping bags in my car and small collapsible ones in my purse. I bring my reusable coffee mug and water bottles with me, and pack my lunchbox with fruit, soup and leftovers in glass mason jars.
But my grocery bag is filled with plastic-wrapped foods, my son brings home disposable water bottles from his sports meets, and whoever is driving my car on the days I carpool to work keeps buying iced tea in a tall plastic cup with a lid and a straw.
Straws are the latest bit of single-use plastic to be making headlines.
The city of Seattle announced will impose a plastic straw ban effective this summer. Scotland plans to ban plastic straws by the end of next year, part of a broader plan to reduce single-use plastics. The state of Hawaii is considering a similar move.
The issue: The lightweight plastic tubes are made of a low-grade plastic that is not recyclable. They get blown out of garbage cans and wind up on the street or in the water. They are pervasive on ocean beaches and dangerous to sea turtles and other marine life.
And for most people, they are entirely unnecessary, especially inside a restaurant where it’s pretty easy for most to put a glass down and lift it to their lips.
Unnecessary plastics in all the wrong places have been making headlines.
Plastic Mardi Gras beads — 93,000 pounds of them — are clogging storm drains in New Orleans, according to the Times-Picayune, which reported on cleanup efforts last month.
Tinier beads — the plastic microbeads used in soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste and facial scrubs – get washed down drains along with the lather, and find their way into waterways where they float onto coasts, clog up pipes and get eaten by wildlife. A 2015 study in “Environmental Science and Technology” found that U.S. households were responsible for washing 800 trillion microbeads a day down the drain, and 8 trillion of them ended up in rivers, lakes and oceans.
A U.S. ban on microbeads in cleansers and cosmetics went into effect last July. A ban in the United Kingdom went into effect last month.
That’s good. But lots of those disposable plastic bottles we use once also end up in the ocean, washing up on shores or breaking down into new micro-particles to be ingested by fish and other animals.
There are islands of plastic floating out in the middle of the ocean, there are remote, uninhabited Pacific islands with tons of plastic waste on their beaches.
This is on us.
It’s not easy to reduce plastic use. Our markets are allergic to handing out too much unwrapped product – from meat and cheese to toilet paper and dog food. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that water from a disposable plastic bottle is better than what comes from our taps. And a case of bottled water comes wrapped in plastic!
We’re not even good at packing up our plastics for recycling. China, the biggest industrial recycler of plastic, doesn’t want our baled plastic waste anymore because it’s too contaminated.
So what can each one of us do? Decline the straw, for a start. But recognize what a small step that is, and work on taking bigger steps. Buy as much in bulk as you can – if you can’t avoid plastic at least you can reduce the amount you’re using. Bring small reusable bags to the store to pack up loose oranges or onions – even if you’re reusing last week’s plastic produce bag, at least you’re not taking a new one.
Make a fuss — ask your grocery store manager why they sell individually wrapped cucumbers and potatoes.
Write letters to the chain stores.
Challenge yourself. Watch yourself. See how much you can reduce, beyond the straw.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on March 4. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.