Low-waste living is trending all over the place. Adorable and chic Instagram posts of bamboo and coconut fiber everything is clogging up my feed. And, I’m loving it. But, I also have a problem with it. This type of living isn’t attainable. Plastic-free living isn’t attainable, at all. Unless you decide to make a drastic life decision and become a bush/mountain man/woman. Which, honestly, sounds pretty damn amazing.
Chances are, you’ll still find items made from plastic way out in the woods because plastic has taken over our lives. It’s an epidemic, we all know; we’ve all heard of the floating garbage patch, the sending back of North America’s garbage, but plastic isn’t necessarily evil. Yes, anything that ends up taking over your life, even good things, can turn out to be disastrous, but plastic itself isn’t evil. Everything in moderation, right?
Plastic started out on the right foot: it was made as a substitute for ivory. That sounds like a good thing, right? Less killing of animals for something that we don’t actually need? It also helped limit the strain between nature and humans, letting us delve into a world where natural fibers weren’t needed. Sustainable everything wasn’t top of mind in the late 1800s; people didn’t have marble en-suites to shower in, they weren’t going to be too worried about the abundance of nature outside. They were fighting nature.
So, plastic started out as a great thing. A thing of beauty that opened the world up for so many possiblities, it allowed those who couldn’t afford such luxuries as items made from ivory and tortoiseshell to buy similar products made of plastic. Over a hundred years later and we have computers printing things in plastic. Science is crazy, amazing, and revolutionary, even if it doesn’t produce the best outcomes. It’s the safety of science that has carried us as far as we’ve come, and will continue to carry us, if we let it. Mixing science with the natural world (spoiler: the natural world is science) has never seemed more important than now.
Plastics were made to protect natural resources, so we didn’t deplete them, running out and running the price up higher, especially at a time when people wouldn’t be able to afford them.
Nylon, made from the same building blocks as …plastic, aided the Allies in WW2, made stockings cheaper and opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
But, then, we got to overproducing the shit out of plastics and using it everywhere, not just in parachutes and ropes and stockings that last, but it replaced things that didn’t need replacing: furniture, most packaging, good clothing materials. Plastic changed from a revolutionary item to something to be loathed. We used it, and still use it, as a single-use, something to be tossed away quickly and without any immediately seen repercussions.
Sometimes, single-use plastics are there to keep us safe. Like, medical supplies. Contacts. Plastic straws used for those in hospitals who cannot move their heads. Bending a metal or bamboo straw isn’t possible and silicone straws aren’t sterile for hospitals. I, myself, use plastic straws whenever I have a very severe migraine. Because trying to keep myself alive in that very moment trumps trying to keep myself alive in the future. Environmental crusaders aren’t mad at those who use plastic straws because they have to, we’re not heartless. But, the anger comes from those who use them sparingly with their Starbucks drink or smoothie and toss in the trash or on the ground, ignoring everything around them.
Plastics also make items cheaper so that more people can enjoy them. These are usually items that last, even if they won’t last as long or look as good as that beautiful antique dining table that’s been taken care of and properly restored. They’re not built to last, but built to be available to the masses. These are the plastics that I’m for. The plastics that make sure people are safe, that allow those who wouldn’t be able to afford a natural resourced product to afford the plastic alternative.
Plastic has fiercely crept into our lives and is taking hold. Banning plastics altogether isn’t probably the best idea. Shifting an entire world of nearly 8 billion people to solely natural resources isn’t a good idea, either. We already have an Earth overshoot day as it is, is adding more strain to the Earth going to fix this? No. Is there a way to sustainably live off of natural resources with the Earth so over-populated? I’m not sure. I’m not a scientist and I don’t have the answers. But, plastics came out of the woodworks when something was needed. New inventions happen every day. There are shifts happening all around us as people start to wake up and realize just what the fuck we’re doing to our planet.
It took a while. We started to notice this in the 60s, but people weren’t ready to believe, they weren’t ready to change their mindset, to understand what was happening.
There were also so many other factors that needed to be addressed before the plastic issue was looked at. There are still so many issues that need discussing and changing and strides made. But, plastic may be the easiest one to start with at home.
It’s easy to say that you will rid yourself of plastic and throw away every plastic item in your house (I even have a lot of guides on how to reduce your plastic intake in the eco section on my blog). But, you can’t. Your fridge is made from plastics. Your microwave is made from plastics. Your car, if newer, is made from plastics. *hand up* ‘but, what if I don’t drive?’ Well, excellent, but for most of the people in the world, driving is something we all have to do to get where we need to go. But, back to that whole thing about throwing away plastic items. Stop it. Calm down, ignore the Instagram feeds and use what you have.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in how trendy a more environmentally friendly life is and how pretty bamboo everything looks. Like, damn, it really does. Switching to bamboo toothbrushes has really stepped up my bathroom aesthetic. But, use what you have, first. If you’ve a plastic container that is doing just fine holding all of your leftovers and veggies and delicious items, why throw it away just because it’s made of plastic? Keep it until it is ready to be disposed of and THEN buy the adorable bamboo and glass containers.
Living entirely plastic free isn’t sustainable. And, if we’re really committed to changing our world, we need to look at the sustainability of everything that we are doing and changing. Updates to your entire home is great. Simply buying less is even better. Which means that you don’t need to buy a whole new everything to be more low-waste and environmentally friendly. You just need to think a little bit about your habits, where your food comes from, how much packaging your food actually needs and understand why it has that packaging in the first place.
A banana wrapped in plastic? Ridiculous. But, cucumbers or broccoli or cauliflower or lettuce wrapped in plastic? A little less ridiculous. Breathe, I promise there’s an actual reason as to why I just said that. Vegetables that are shipped from faraway places (pretty much every vegetable that isn’t in season for your region) have a long journey ahead of them. They have to grow and become ready to pick. Then, they have to be sent off to another country. Then, they have to be put on the shelf of a grocery store and await someone to pick them and bring them home. Then, they need to sit in the fridge and wait for someone to actually eat them. That’s a long time between being picked and being eaten. The plastic keeps the vegetables fresh for longer and keeps them hygienic. Think about the store produce worker putting the produce on the shelves. Then think of how many other people touched and banged around the fruits and vegetables before that.
I’m not saying that produce wrapped in plastic is the best, but if you’re looking to buy lettuce in the middle of winter and it isn’t coming from a greenhouse nearby, it’s going to be wrapped in plastic. The same goes for any other vegetable that you’re eating out of season. The problem isn’t with plastic in itself, it’s in the way we interact with it.
Plastic is an amazing invention that has revolutionized the way that we live. Our dependence on it is, of course, out of control. Our education on why plastic is used and if there are any other alternatives is abismal. The problem isn’t with plastic, but with the way that we use plastic. Plastic-free living is impossible to keep up, at least until another invention is made. We need to stop lying to ourselves that plastic is the problem. We are the problem. Once we realize that and educate ourselves, we can start to live a more plastic-free life. But, until that happens, there will always be a divide between the masses, a War on Plastics.