By Madison Martinez – MB Communications Assistant
Could you go a month without generating a single piece of plastic waste?
Plastic has become almost impossible to avoid in our everyday lives. We see plastic in our electronics, in our kitchen appliances, in our transportation vehicles, in our clothes and wrapped around nearly every consumer good. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we appear to rely even more on plastic for hygiene and sanitation purposes.
It is undeniable that plastic is a very useful, even vital, material for many aspects of society and life. However, it is also true that plastic presents serious environmental threats, especially in regards to the ocean. In fact, marine plastic pollution is a major environmental problem. In a 2016 report, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the world’s oceans are already polluted by roughly 150 million tonnes of plastic! If trends continue, by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. It’s shocking to know that the world God created and entrusted in our hands is being polluted to such a devastating degree!
Single-use plastic is a significant contributor to plastic pollution. Evident in its name, single-use plastic is designed to be disposed of immediately after use. The problem with this is that the plastic material doesn’t just go away. In landfills or natural environments, the highly durable material lasts hundreds of years, and it breaks down into arguably more troublesome microplastics.
Recently, I came across a movement called “Plastic Free July”, which essentially challenges people to envision a world without plastic waste by trying to eliminate the use of plastic throughout the month of July. Depending on who you ask, 31 days without plastic may be considered an impossible feat, but I was determined to give it a try. This past month, I challenged myself to avoid single-use plastic. Unsure if I would be able to completely eliminate plastic waste, I decided to hold onto every piece of plastic waste I generated, rather than tossing it away absentmindedly. Eventually, I began to collect it in a take-out cup, which I kept on my desk so that I would have to face my plastic waste every day.
In doing this challenge, I realized how much plastic waste sneaks up on us in our everyday lives. Grocery shopping became a frustrating task. Many of my favourite snacks were encased in plastic! Sighing in frustration, I learned to cut out this plastic waste by doing more home cooking, and by opting for alternatives that were packageless or contained in recyclable materials. I also set out to bring and use bags from home to easily cut out additional waste. If I didn’t bring a reusable bag with me, I either wouldn’t buy something or I would make myself hold my items loosely in my hands. This almost ensured that I would have a bag handy whenever I went out.
Plastic also snuck up on me in restaurants. When ordering sometimes, I would forget how common plastic cups and straws were. I started to accumulate single-use plastic accidentally until I became more assertive about refusing plastic waste. Simply saying that I didn’t need a straw, asking to use my own cup or asking for a glass helped ensure that I wouldn’t collect single-use plastic. On the go purchases were difficult too, but bringing coffee from home was a small adjustment that saved me from collecting a lot of waste. Determined to reduce my waste further, I found creative ways to reuse my plastic as much as I could. I held onto my plastic cups and straws to reuse or repurpose for storage and crafts.
In the end, I wasn’t fully successful in eliminating single-use plastic entirely, but I definitely became more mindful and developed techniques to reduce the amount of plastic waste I produced on an everyday basis. It’s also important to note that making these types of changes isn’t necessarily accessible for everyone. For instance, while I, being able-bodied, can easily go without straws, other people with disabilities may require plastic straws, and they should be able to use them without any shame or judgement.
From this experience, I was reminded that the most important thing about living sustainably is making the changes you can make; not being perfect about it. We also need to lean on God to sustain us in our efforts to reduce our own waste, help those suffering from plastic pollution, and guide leaders to create policies and make decisions to address plastic problems.