The Ethics of Going Plastic Free

Recently, I have noticed several of the environmental groups I am a part of filling with social media influencers. I’ve seen 5-6 different names, with the exact same picture of the exact same brand of bamboo toothbrush, all ready to sell them to us if we’re ready to buy.

I’ve also seen people who are just starting out on their plastic journey, asking how we can afford to get started. They say things like:

“I still have a plastic ______. Do I need to get rid of everything to be plastic free?”

“I can’t afford these products. Does anyone know of a _________ that is cheaper?”

It makes me a little sad to think there are people out there struggling with their plastic problem. Plastic waste is a big issue, and an important one, but it doesn’t mean giving up everything you know and going to live in a cave. It just means taking practical steps to reducing plastic wherever possible.

With that in mind, let’s talk a little about plastic ethics, and what it means to reduce your plastic consumption.

Yes, it’s okay to use your old plastic.

Plastic is a problem because it stays in the environment for a very long time. We don’t yet know how long, but scientists suggest anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years.

This problem is compounded by the fact that nearly everything is wrapped in plastic. You can’t buy anything without it coming wrapped in plastic, and that plastic is meant to be thrown away.

The result is billions of pieces of plastic getting thrown away every year, with centuries before they break down–if they ever break down. That’s why we are alarmed about plastic, right?

So why would you toss out your plastic items and add to the waste, simply because it is made of plastic?

The most ethical way to handle your plastic is to use your plastic items for as long as possible, and only look for plastic free options after your plastic items have reached the end of their lifespan.

Affordable plastic reduction

The second problem many people have is becoming overwhelmed with the cost of plastic free items. If you’re used to paying $5 for a tube of toothpaste and the cheapest plastic free option is $15, it’s easy to see how this can quickly become unaffordable.

The price of some plastic free options is definitely out of hand, so the solution is to put the expensive stuff on your list for last, and to make easy swaps first.

Reusable grocery bags are $2 or less, and can take an enormous amount of plastic out of landfill. Some swaps not only cost very little to start up, but can save you hundreds or even thousands.

Think about the plastic you use most often, such as ziplock bags or dryer sheets. Swapping these items out for reusable ziplocks and dryer balls is relatively cheap, and will save you money over the course of their lifetime.

Other things you can do include choosing plastic free for things you would buy anyway, such as cute and clever toys for your kids.

Food waste

If you can’t afford even a small initial investment, you can still reduce your plastic waste in a way that requires no more money than usual and can only save you money.

Most of our single use plastic comes from food. Right now as much as 50% of all food grown is wasted, and while a lot of that waste happens before we get the food, plenty of us are throwing it out on our end.

If you buy a basket of strawberries and the strawberries rot, that plastic basket went completely to waste.

You can slash your plastic waste indirectly, by focusing on wasting as little food as possible. You can do this by planning meals, monitoring produce so you know what you need to use next, and eating your leftovers.

By cutting down on how much you waste, you’ll save a lot on single use packaging and money because you won’t need to buy as much food in the first place.

Perfection is optional

I believe it’s our ethical duty to try and stop plastic pollution in every way we can. Cleaning up the ocean is a worthy cause, but until we “turn off the tap” it’s only a band-aid.

Even one small change can make a big difference, especially if a lot of people are making those small changes. If your only change was to swap to cloth diapers, you could potentially keep thousands of diapers out of landfill with that choice. If you can’t kick all plastic, don’t worry about it. Just try to reduce one thing, and then go from there as you find your feet.

Together, we can stop plastic waste. One tiny change at a time.

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