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Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste

Susan Vogt, Lay Marianist from the Visitation Marianist State Community sends us this update on World Environment Day.


In recognition of World Environment Day, June 5, 2024, plus the imperative that we need to drastically reduce the use of plastic on Planet Earth in order to be faithful stewards of the natural environment, I have summarized the work done for Laudato Si' Week 2024 resources especially as it applies to plastics - the area of environmental sustainability that I have become most directly focussed on.  The impact of plastics was the 2024 worldwide Earthday theme, and I was glad to co-lead with Bro. Steve O'Neil SM, the Planet vs Plastics program of our Integral Ecology Team of the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative /Marianist Environmental Education Center (MSJC/MEEC-IET)  My commitment is grounded in being a Lay Marianist for over 50 years. I am a member of the Visitation Marianist State Community, the St. Francis de Sales Marianist Parish, and Anawim Community (Marianist), both in Cincinnati, OH, as well as the MSJC-MEEC Integral.


"We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn." (LS, 160)


Single-use plastics (SUPs) are those that were designed to be used only once before being discarded and are one of the main sources of pollution on the planet.


WHAT TO DO?

  1. Refuse (or at least Reduce) plastic use when possible. For example, don’t use straws. Avoid clothes that contain microfibers such as nylon and polyester.

  2. Recycling can be beneficial to reduce plastic production, BUT it has to be done the right way. Ensure you understand your local rules and regulations on what you can recycle and how to recycle items properly.

  3. Participate in or organize local clean-ups.

  4. Calculate: What’s your plastic footprint? How much plastic do you consume and discard each year?

  5. Many plastic products (such as cigarettes & textiles) plus other larger plastic waste can become microplastics, which are harmful to cells in animals and humans. Find out if the products you buy contain microplastics: https://www.beatthemicrobead.org/

  6. Every minute, 17,000 plastic bottles are bought, and each year, 500 billion plastic bags are used. Take action to reduce landfill waste, especially plastic, by making changes such as switching to reusable cloth bags and saying no to plastic water bottles. For more plastic alternatives, read The Best Eco-Friendly Alternatives for the Plastic in Your Life.


WHERE’S THE PLASTIC IN YOUR LIFE?

If you answered everywhere, you’re probably not far off. This versatile material is in our appliances, computers, clothing, and so much more. Some of the most common places we find plastic is wrapped around the things we buy every day. After all, it’s an effective way to keep food and cosmetics clean and fresh.

But plastic is also lurking in some little-known places. When you take a careful look around your home, the sheer number of things you’ll find containing plastic may surprise you.


  • Food packaging. Cereals, crackers, snacks, and many teas and coffees come in plastic. Most cheese, meat, and yogurt is packed in plastic, as are many condiments.

  • Milk (including soy and nut milk) cartons. Waxed cardboard contains approximately 20% plastic and 80% paper.

  • Metal cans are often lined with plastic.

  • Personal care products. In addition to coming in plastic bottles and tubes, many shampoos, gels, creams, moisturizers, and makeup contain synthetic polymers (read: plastic). Some may also contain microbeads.

  • Dental floss and disposable razors are also often made from plastic-based materials.

  • Synthetic fabrics. Polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylic yarns and fabrics are all made from plastic. When washed, these materials shed millions of microscopic plastic fibers that eventually wind up in waterways.

  • Baby wipes and diapers. From their inner layer to their waterproof outer cover, disposable diapers are made from plastic. Super absorbent polymer makes up the absorbent inner core, while the outer layer is usually a petroleum-based plastic or a plastic-treated fabric.

  • Feminine hygiene products. The average disposable sanitary napkin contains about two grams of plastic.

  • Wrapping paper is often a mix of plant fibers and laminated plastic. Tape, glitter, and stickers also contain plastic.

  • Chewing gum. Yes, even gum. One common ingredient included in the “gum base” listed on gum labels is polyvinyl acetate.

  • Cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic.

  • Glues, including school glue and wood glue, contain polyvinyl acetate, a type of plastic. The glue used to seal tea bags includes polypropylene, another plastic.

  • Coffee cups. Even those that appear to be made from paper often have a plastic lining.


BEST ALTERNATIVES TO PLASTIC

Would you like to see less plastic in your home and less plastic waste in the world? Here are some long-lasting plastic alternatives available right now.

Stainless steel

Tough and easy to clean, stainless steel options for reusable food and beverage storage have multiplied in recent years. You can replace single-use cups, kitchen storage, lunch boxes, and more with this durable metal.

Glass

While not biodegradable, glass is inert, inexpensive, and infinitely recyclable. And since many food items come packaged in glass, upcycling glass jars into food storage is a no-cost way to give your food packaging new life. Jars from jam, honey, pickles, nut butters, and so much more can be added to your no-waste toolkit for shopping from the bulk bins. They can also be repurposed to store leftovers and homemade drinks, or decorated and turned into homemade gifts.

Platinum silicone

Made primarily of sand, food-grade platinum silicone is flexible and durable. It’s also heat tolerant, so you can boil, bake, and cook in these products without the danger of denaturing. Look for silicone products without plastic fillers.

Beeswax-coated cloth

Used primarily as a replacement for plastic wrap and plastic bags, beeswax-coated fabric is easy to use and easy to clean. It also smells great.

Natural fiber cloth:

Natural cloth can replace plastic bags. Sustainable clothing made from organic cotton, wool, hemp, or bamboo won’t shed plastic fibers when washed. Felted or recycled wool is a versatile, safe, and compostable material for children’s toys, household containers, and more.

Wood

A renewable resource, wood from sustainably-managed forests can replace plastic in household items like cleaning brushes, kitchen utensils, and cutting boards.

Bamboo

This fast-growing renewable resource can replace plastic in items like tableware and drinking straws. It is lightweight, durable, and compostable.

Pottery and Other Ceramics

Around for millennia, pottery and other fired ceramics offer a stable, waterproof alternative that’s good for food storage and tableware. Look for non-toxic glazes.

Paper

In days gone by, many things were packaged in plain paper. And while better than plastic, paper can’t be recycled infinitely because every time it’s reused, the fibers get shorter, limiting its use. Luckily all paper except the glossy kind is safe to put in your home compost.

Cardboard

Cardboard is fully compostable at home as long as it’s not coated in, you guessed it, plastic. Many companies are now packaging their products in plain cardboard to cut down on waste. You can also use cardboard boxes to replace storage containers in your home.


Keep in mind that anything you buy has an environmental footprint. Though longer lasting than plastic, things made from glass, metal, and so on still take energy to make and transport. For these swaps to make sense, you need to use them over and over and over again. Buying well-made, durable products will help ensure you get the most use from whatever you choose.


WHAT ABOUT BIOPLASTICS?

Bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable plastics made from natural substances instead of petroleum. The idea is that these new, earthier plastics can replace the harmful ones in our food and around our homes. This seems like a great alternative, doesn’t it?

*Unfortunately, most bioplastics don’t break down in home composts, landfills, or loose in the environment.

*Most require commercial composting facilities, which aren’t always available to the average consumer.

*Bioplastics can also contaminate municipal recycling programs when people unknowingly add them to their recycling. Many bioplastics even contain significant amounts of conventional plastic.

Scientists and manufacturers generally describe bioplastics in the following ways:

  1. Non-biodegradable. These bioplastics aren’t easily broken down by organisms. Like anything (even conventional plastic), they will eventually degrade after many years.

  2. Partially bio-based, “durable” plastics that are not compostable. Microorganisms can break these down, but the process generally takes longer than 3-6 months.

  3. Biodegradable, compostable plastics that need commercial facilities to decompose. While some newer bioplastics carry the claim that they will break down in home compost, these are not yet the norm.


Made from a range of materials like cornstarch and sugar to mushrooms and agricultural byproducts, bioplastics are the latest attempt to prolong our disposable lifestyle.


The solution, according to plastic pollution experts, is not to continue our reliance on single-use products with different materials, but to avoid single-use products altogether.


NATURAL ALTERNATIVE PACKAGING

Many companies are working on fully compostable (in some cases edible!) packaging. Here are some examples already on the market.

Mushroom packaging. A combination of agricultural waste and mycelium (mushroom) root, this home compostable product is “grown” on a hemp-flour mixture and then dried to halt the growth process. It’s most commonly used to replace Styrofoam packaging.

Seaweed-based packaging that comes in edible and biodegradable grades.

Pressed hay is being used as egg cartons in Poland.

Banana Leaves: In Thailand, where the plastic problem is reaching crisis proportions, one supermarket has opted to go plastic-free in favor of banana leaf-and-bamboo packaging. And while banana leaves may only be practical where they’re readily available, this does reinforce the idea of using local, compostable materials.


HOW TO BREAK THE PLASTIC HABIT

* Use plastic-free beverage containers such as a long-lasting water bottle. Bringing your own reusable cup to your favorite coffee shop means you can skip the cup, lid, and straw.

* Ditch the plastic bags. A staggering trillion plastic bags are used every year. Bring your own reusable shopping and reusable produce bags.

* Switch to non-liquid soaps. Liquid soaps, shampoos, and detergents have added enormous amounts of plastic waste to the environment. Look for bar soap and a shampoo bar for the bathroom, and opt for powders packed in recyclable containers for the laundry and kitchen.

* Choose glass, metal or unlined paper packaging when possible. You’ll often find you have a more environmentally friendly choice than plastic when selecting honey, oil, or dry goods.


25 PLASTIC PRODUCTS TO REPLACE NOW

SHOPPING

Single-use plastic shopping bags: Reusable bags (to replace single-use plastic bags).

Single-use produce bags: Reusable produce bags or leave your produce loose.

Items packed in plastic: When possible, opt for unpackaged or glass or metal packaging.

Plastic bulk aisle bags: Reusable cloth bags or containers from home.

EATING OUT

Disposable cups: Dine in or takeaway in stainless steel or glass reusable cups.

Single-use cutlery: Dine where they have reusable cutlery, or bring your own.

Disposable straws: Reusable straws in glass, stainless steel, bamboo, or silicone.

Plastic lunch baggies: Reusable lunch box or beeswax wraps.

IN THE KITCHEN

Food storage containers and bags: Silicone bags, metal or glass containers.

Liquid dish soap: Use a powder for the dishwasher and a bar for handwashing.

Cleaners in plastic bottles: Make your own cleaners with ingredients packaged in glass, metal, or cardboard. Use baking soda or a kitchen stone for tough cleaning jobs.

Plastic sponge and scrubber: Use a natural sponge, luffah, or wooden brush.

Disposable tableware: Skip disposables and use metal or bamboo plates and cutlery.

Plastic cutting boards and utensils: Bamboo cutting board, wooden or bamboo spoons

Plastic plates and cups for young kids: Bamboo bowls and metal cups.

IN THE BATHROOM

Liquid soap: Bar soap

Lotion in plastic bottles: Lotion bar or oil in glass bottle

Plastic toothbrushes: Bamboo toothbrushes.

IN THE HOME

Plastic trash bags: Reuse paper bags, line with newspaper, or skip the bag.

Laundry detergent in plastic bottles: Try plastic-free laundry strips or powdered laundry detergent

Polyester carpet: Choose wool, cotton, or jute.

Fabric softener or dryer sheets: Use dryer balls

Clothing, bedding, towels: Choose organic cotton, wool, bamboo, or hemp. If you do wash synthetic fabric, wash infrequently in full loads, in cold water, on slow spin cycles.


READY TO DO MORE?

* Video tutorial: How to compost at home Composting for Beginners.

As you eliminate plastic from your life, you not only cut your own contribution to the waste stream, but you model more sustainable living for those around you, and businesses change, too.


PRAYER FOR THE EARTH:

God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all beings on this earth, for we are not only human beings, but also children of the earth. May we serve nature, which sustains life. Help us to share the fruits of the earth without selfishness so that all may prosper. Amen


Resources summarized by Susan Vogt.


To download a PDF version of the above summary, click here.

To visit Susan's blog, Living Lightly, click here.



Images (left to right)

  • SUPs Single Use Plastics (SUPs) trash.

  • The large grocery plastic bag can also be avoided. Instead, use cloth or other reusable bags.

  • Plastic food containers. Some of these plastics can now be recycled at The HUB, but most are difficult to recycle.


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2 Comments


Thomas Spring
Thomas Spring
Jun 06

Susan!! Thank you!! What a wonderfully comprehensive summary of what we need to do!! Wow!!

Aloha, Tom Spring

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Dear Susan, your commitment to getting plastic out of our lives is very evident! Thanks for your example and for the suggestions. You are doing a great service to our planet and to all of us!

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