Plastic has been a complex innovation that we’ve overused. It’s kind of a bad habit of opulence to burn through a supply of something without thinking. This is the story of industry. Plastics are handy because they’re lightweight, have the ability to be really resilient, and they have made a lot of things in computing, technology, and medicine possible because of their existence.
However, plastics can be super toxic and fail to break down. We put them into mass production and introduced a lot of reasons one might think they need something but only serve to become landfill fodder. Plastics are hard to recycle and most of the process winds up being just as bad, if not worse, than landfills. We didn’t ever really need plastic bags but we have them. We never really needed plastic bottles but we have them. We also send them around the globe because they lower shipping costs despite the fact that not every country has “waste management infrastructure” like we do. The landfill, wretched as it is, is the best case scenario for a lot of our plastic demand. It’s sure as hell better than in the bellies or around the necks of wildlife with its poison permanence pockmarking our natural landscapes.
I think it’s cool that the notions of reusing things is starting to catch on and as much of a pain in the ass as some might think it is, I do like bans on plastic bags in cities. (Pro Tip: If you constantly leave your grocery bags in the car of your city with a plastic bag ban remember that you can RELOAD your grocery cart and rebag at the car. Remember also that Costco Warehouses never issued plastic bags for their shopping and instead encouraged shoppers to reuse the leftover boxes from shipping to organize their goods.)
I don’t know if we’ll make change in behavior fast enough to reverse the damages to the planet but I do know that thinking about ways I can reduce my own waste output does help my overall awareness of what I consume. I do get hopeful as more places encourage reduction, reuse, and recycling. I hope that health codes continue to recognize the damages they’ve created by legally mandating use of disposable plastics despite their cost to personal and environmental health. I think it’s cool when coffee places drop the cost of their morning brew for people bringing in their own mugs. I think that’s awesome! I hope more places follow suit.
HOWEVER, all behavior change comes in waves and it isn’t always easy. I too feel frustrated and even shamed by clerks when I forget to bring a bag or I’ve already overstuffed my backpack. It feels like losing. It’s key to remember that, A) store clerks are trapped behind a register for 8 hours day after day and that makes them cranky , B) no one wants you to self-flagellate when you forget, and C) clerks are often in a bind when they have to remind people about anti-plastic bag legislation because people take their anger out on them and every time you have to ask is a chance for someone to flip out.
Once you DO start to get the hang of bringing your reusable hippie shit there are still more chores to remember. The biggest one of them all: clean your hippie shit.
- Throw your canvas grocery bags in the wash or clean the vinyl/heavy plastic ones with a sponge and some soap and water. Yes, it’s true, you DO have an increased risk of foodborne illness if you keep reusing and reusing those grocery bags. How to solve this problem? Clean them. The elevated risk of foodborne illness as a reason NOT to institute bans is as ridiculous as suggesting that cutting boards , sponges, pyrex, or tupperware should be banned because reusing them without washing elevates risk of illness. Make it a point to throw basking soda in the washing machine water every now and again and clean out the things you use in your life that repeatedly come into contact with food. Also take care of your sponges, cutting boards, AND your reusable grocery bags. No one wins if you lug a gross bag with old food bits to the farmer’s market or the corner store. While some advocate bleach, I think baking soda and vinegar are two of the best cleaning agents around for routine cleaning. It will do wonders to brighten a fabric without causing any fading and it’s non-toxic even though it can kill bad stuff.
- Cleaning your water bottle means more than a quick wash because it’s “only” water. Remember that your water bottle is coming in contact with your filthy, filthy mouth and that water incubates a lot of germs. A quick rinse isn’t going to cut it. Make sure to wash the CAP of the bottle and the THREADS where it screws shut. Lots of stuff likes to hide here. As a note, this was something that got drilled into me while doing disaster recovery. We all had our water bottles and those who didn’t make it a practice to seriously clean their bottles on a regular basis often came down with Giardia. This included my husband who can attest to the unpleasantness of water borne parasites.ALSO: you can help get rid of the metallic taste in your bottle if you take it home and let it soak in water and vinegar overnight. If you’re noticing some stains in your bottle from a smoothie or coffee, try throwing in some rice and vinegar to help shake it clean if you don’t have a bottle brush handy.
It’s so much easier to help those good habits stick if they aren’t making you sick. Make sure clean up to prevent yourself from getting sick when you’re checking out more sustainable ways to go about your business.