For those of you just tuning in, my friend Sara and I have decided to try an instagram-based plastic-free February challenge. That means through the month of February I’m avoiding all plastics. I’ll use plastic items I already have, but refuse single-use plastics and find work arounds whenever plastic comes into the equation. This challenge is going to incentivize me to rework my daily habits because I can’t purchase anything new with plastic.
About a week ago, even before February began, I started paying attention to all the plastic in my life and I’ve made a few changes to my routine. Going plastic free for a month is going to be a huge challenge. I’ve been reading a lot about Sea Shepherd and revisiting some of my favorite Edward Abbey books. Paul Watson and Edward Abbey are both men of action. Their lives prove to me that sometimes we have to really get radical for our ambitions. Plastic is something I have seen to be a problem and learning how to minimize my plastic usage is something radical I can do to contribute to a healthier future.
Plastic is an epidemic. Until recently I was desensitized to how prevalent plastic is in my day to day life. We use plastic in everything. The problem is where does it go when we are finished? Some is recycled, some goes into landfills, and some ends up as litter all around, but about 80% of plastic waste ends up in the waterways. You can find most plastic debris floating in the ocean, especially the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In case you’re curious, here are some interesting and appalling facts about plastic from www.conserveenergyfuture.com.
- It takes around 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
- About 97% of plastics ever made still exist.
- Around 50% of the plastics that people use are used only once.
- The amount of plastic that is thrown away annually can circle the earth four times.
- Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste annually. However we recycle only 1-2% of this amount.
- Plastic trash accounts for around 90% of all ocean trash with 46,000 pieces of plastic per each square mile of ocean.
- In the ocean there are 48 particles of plastic for each particle of plankton.
- Around 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year due to plastic ingestion.
- According to research done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the total amount of plastic waste will be greater than the total number of fish in the oceans by 2050.
Awareness of the immediate threat to the health of our oceans has awakened me to living a more conscious life. I love diving with sharks and mantas. To me, the nature therapy of being underwater with the vivid colors and schools of fish is meditation at its best. Therefore, it’s only logical that caring for the oceans will enhance all the other aspects of my life. I recognize the way the oceans contribute to my spiritual well being in addition to the way they keep the planet moving because they are a hotspot of biodiversity. Biodiversity is one of the rules of ecology. Without diverse animal and plant populations, the entire ecosystem suffers. If I can act in more responsible ways then I can help with conservation.
February has just started but I’m finding that living without plastic is helping me live the kind of life I’ve always want to live. First off, life without plastic is cheaper. Juice is one of my favorite splurges. It makes me feel healthy but it also usually comes in a plastic bottle or plastic cup with straw. The other day I took my reusable cup to the juice counter at Whole Foods to use instead of a plastic cup but the woman working told me she still had to make the juice in the plastic cup before pouring it into mine for health reasons. Since I’m really committed to no plastics and Whole Foods won’t allow me to bring my own cup, I’ve had to start making my own juices and smoothies.
Which leads me to the second reason going plastic free is benefiting me, it stops me from ordering take out so it’s also healthier. Most processed or premade foods come wrapped in plastic and are no longer options for me. As a result, I’m changing how I purchase and cooking more using whole ingredients. Yesterday I made roasted sweet potatoes and a spinach and chickpea topping with ingredients from the farmer’s market. Sara texted me to tell the challenge was making her healthier too, instead of eating a Clif Bar for an afternoon snack, she was eating an orange.
In addition to making meals, I’ve finally started making my own peanut butter and almond milk. My mom has had a Vitamix forever and though I’ve made smoothies before this is my first attempt to really use the appliance to its full potential. The plan is to start small and make things as the need arises. I’ve made a few batches of peanut butter and almond milk, but both are in the experimental stages. In case you’re like me and want to start making your own you’ll find my recipes in my next post.
Making my own peanut butter and almond milk has been fun, but as hard as I tried there was still some plastic involved. My boyfriend, Nichlas, pointed out to me that, while it’s good that I’m trying to make things, I need to be careful about the sneaky plastic in the ingredients. Nichlas is right, even though I’m trying to eliminate plastic, it is still everywhere. I brought my own containers to the store for nuts, but I also had to buy peanut oil to make the peanut butter. The peanut oil comes in a glass bottle, but the lid to the bottle is plastic.
It’s the same story with the hair conditioner that I plan to make because my conditioner is almost empty. Instead of buying a new conditioner in a plastic bottle, I researched recipes online and purchased oils from Amazon. After proudly announcing that I was going to make my own conditioner, Nichlas shattered my bubble reminding me that the ingredients needed to be shipped. It’s true I ordered oils in glass bottles, but they had plastic lids and came wrapped in bubble wrap. In the future I can buy the oils at a store, but even then most will have a plastic lid. I wonder if I’ll have to go to an actual apothecary or oil specialist to buy oils in bulk? There is likely someone of that description in the Phoenix area and I bet they have some really amazing products. If I’m really going to stay honest over the month of February with my plastics I’ll probably be looking for this person. Meeting a knowledgeable herbalist and shifting my spending to more local places are ways going plastic free is simplifying my life.
One way going plastic free has not simplified my life is in social settings. If you think it’s hard to go to a bar and not drink, try to do almost anything with your friends and see if you can do it without plastic. Until last night, my plastic free choice had lead me to explore natural options and fun recipes but I was mainly at home or on my own about town. Last night I went out with friends and felt awkward. A few girlfriends and I went on a sunset hike and had a loose group text about potluck dinner which ended in the idea of getting Thai takeout. I love Thai food, but decided to eat before the hike because I knew take out would involve plastic packaging. When it came time to order our food, I stayed silent and felt really uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me that my friends were ordering plastic, what bothered me was that my choice was making me stand out. I even considered just ordering spring rolls to make myself less conspicuous.
In the midst of my raging insecurity my friend Sarina came up to me and said “You aren’t going to order right? I thought about you already with the plastic.” Thanks to Sarina I realized it was ok for me to maintain my principles and let my actions follow my words. I didn’t order the food wrapped in plastic. Sarina’s acknowledgement of my plastic free month allowed me space to step into my confidence. I’m insecure about being labeled an activist, but the fact that she even took a moment to consider the plastic involved in a simple dinner makes me realize what I’m doing has a purpose.
All in all this week has been eye opening. Its shown me how desensitized I was to plastic and made me really rethink my habits. I’m learning that to stop using plastic I’m going to need to change the way I purchase. It’ll end up being more from bulk sections and farmers markets but to be really plastic free I’ll have to seek out a source of bulk oils and spices as well. I’m excited to see what wholesome local distributors exist. To stop using plastic, I’m also going to need to face my insecurity head on. It’ll be a daily battle speaking my truth and saying no to plastic in uncomfortable situations. Yet I’m optimistic about the February challenge and looking forward to how it’ll radicalize my life. I’m letting my intentions manifest into action and am excited to see what doors will open.
“Experience has taught me that the secret to happiness is detachment from material desires, a focus on the desires of the heart and a curious mind, regardless of what people might think. Happiness is not about what you own, its about whats in your heart, the things you try and what you do to make the world a better place, regardless of how you choose to get involved. Living outside the material world doesn’t mean lacking material assets. It means not being possessed by the things you possess. It means not being terrified of losing your material assets, if it becomes necessary, and it also means not betraying your integrity, your principles and especially your freedom in order to keep them. It means refraining from making decisions that are motivated by profit. It means making your dreams come true, whatever they may be.” -Captain Paul Watson