Eliminating Single-Use Plastic

The challenge:

Collect single-use plastic for a week. 


To face my single-use plastic waste.

What I learned:

Holy shit I use a lot of plastic. 

            I take pride in the steps I've taken to reduce my use of single-use plastic. I carry my jar, I use my metal straw, I decline plastic bags but plastic follows me everywhere! I oftentimes find myself in situations where I feel like I'm being tricked into using plastic.

           Grocery shopping plastic free is challenging and limiting. Trader Joes is almost impossible to go into without leaving with a bag full of plastic. All of my favorite and healthy-ish snacks from TJ's are wrapped in plastic, which usually make them convenient to bring with my on the go. Foods like cherries, grapes, any kind of berry, grains, pasta, nuts, meat, and breads are usually wrapped in plastic, and plastic-free options can be expensive. 

Where I found most of my waste:

  • Floss
  • Inflatable air bags from a package
  • Yogurt containers  
  • Food wrappers (tofu, berries, cherries, coconut flakes, rice cakes, CHEESE)
  • Accidental plastic utensils

Going plastic free takes a lot of planning. Plastic has made our lives so much easier because it can carry just about anything, it’s lightweight and we can throw it away.

            My boyfriend has type 1 diabetes and carries protein bars and drinks in case of low blood sugar. Protein is helpful for stabilizing blood sugar levels, and the individually wrapped servings are perfect for carb counting and portion control. While it was enough of a challenge to find products with the least amount of ingredients and sugar, he was shocked at the amount of wrappers he'd collected over the course of a week. To reduce his use of plastic we filled an embarrassing amount of mason jars in the whole foods bulk section, and meal prepped snacks he could eat throughout the day. We made roasted nuts both sweet and spicy, fat balls and dried fruit.

            I come from a family full of midwives and nurses. Some people close to me who took this challenge very seriously also had to work in a hospital while this for the duration. After a birth there are bags full of trash that need to be thrown away, and I was told the waste in hospitals would overwhelm me. While talking to a friend who works in a Vermont hospital she said her experience was similar. She noticed her hospital did take steps to make certain things reusable rather than disposable, but this remains difficult in the sanitized medical field. When I worked in kitchens I often worried about the amount of paper and plastic waste that was necessary for prep, but it wasn’t my kitchen to drastically change the most time efficient methods.

            Yes, there are parts of our lives that we cannot completely block out plastic but we can drastically reduce our personal use. Plastic isn’t going to disappear overnight; it is a lifestyle change that is spreading through awareness and education.  


My next steps:

Sipping on my metal straw as I type. 

            Attempting to eliminate single-use plastic has been a learning experience for myself and for those around me. I've had experiences when I'm able to start a conversation with cashiers over why I'm using a peanut butter jar to get my iced coffee and don't need a straw. Throughout this experience I also learned not to push my lifestyle on people too much. While it can be overwhelming to think about the amount of plastic waste everyday other people have a lot going on and they need to be slowly introduced to a more sustainable lifestyle. The whole reason we are so dependent on single-use plastic is because it makes our lives so much easier. Industries like the medical, food and cosmetic industries are so dependent on plastic that engineering, rules and regulations need to be put in place to drastically reduce waste in those fields. 

Completely eliminating single-use plastic might not be possible for some people right now. It's a huge lifestyle change that takes a lot of commitment of your time and money. Activities like collecting your plastic waste for a week can hopefully show you where you can try to be more sustainable in aspects of your routine. 

First steps to going plastic free:

  1. Ditch plastic straws and invest in a metal straw
  2. Carry your jar
  3. Invest in a reusable water bottle
  4. Incorporate tote bags into your wardrobe (trust me, this is easy)

What I recommend:

  • Cook for yourself!!
  • Go out to eat rather than take-out
  • Be understanding of other people’s lifestyles when making recommendations. 
  • Avoid the urge to need the newest version of everything. 
  • Try to make things yourself. 
  • Shop second hand 
  • Buy in bulk 
  • Invest in reusable products 
  • If you can't make a big lifestyle change right now start with little things.