Bitter Sweet Plastic
I strongly admire people, who have managed to dust off plastic from their everyday life. As you begin to acknowledge the amount of plastic in its unimaginable forms and uses, it feels like those people have accomplished something incredible, as if they were living on an entirely different planet. In my view, plastic has corroded us, literally. In its microscopic size, it enters our bodies through water, food, cosmetics and clothes.
By observing my own life, I’ve become convinced that plastic goes hand in hand with our busy lifestyle. When you don’t have time to plan and anticipate your daily life, you easily choose plastic. You get hungry while on the run, well; most snacks are pretty much wrapped in plastic.
At home, you could have prepared a more nutritious sandwich out of fresh ingredients that you could have bought without plastic, maybe wrapped in paper bags. You could have bottled a smoothie made out of plastic-free fruits and vegetables in a recycled glass bottle. Instead of buying single packaged bags of dry treats, you could have bought nuts, seeds and other dry ingredients such as oats and different berry crushes and flours from no-waste style shops.
With simple planning, you could go on a refill journey to get more washing liquid in some shops eliminating the need to buy a new plastic container every time. You could also dedicate time each week to go to the forest and pick seasonal treats; Finnish forests serve wild herbs, berries and mushrooms from April all the way to late October.
New plastic free routines
I read about these issues daily, I know this by heart. But still, I have a long way ahead of me. Why don’t I always behave in the way I know I could and should do? What seems to get in the way, is the partly real and partly imagined hectic life and messy schedules. What I’d like to see, is me learning new routines, breaking old habits and replacing them with new ones, which would enable me to live a more sustainable, possibly more economical, plastic free everyday life.
According to the recent international study, the consumption of plastic will only rise in the future. Pretty depressing, right? Instead of focusing on grieving the amount of plastic, I suggest we pay closer attention to how, and in what we use it and how we can use our voices to demand the retail industry to reduce the use of plastic. This is something I believe us consumers have power over.
Additionally, recycling the already existing plastic is a far more efficient way of using it when compared to burning plastic. Relying more on recycled plastic means that we need less oil from the ground. Furthermore, in cases where the use of plastic for packaging is not absolutely necessary due to logistics or shelf life reasons, it should not be used.
As for consumers, many plastic containers and wrappings can actually easily be reused, or refilled. In the middle of all this plastic, it feels insane that we actually go to stores to buy more new plastic cups, containers, bags and other plastic things, mainly used for kitchen purposes. To put it straight, when we buy plastic, we buy oil. Similarly, when we simply throw away plastic without recycling it, we disregard huge amounts of non-renewable energy.
Reduce plastic, reduce food waste
The battle with plastic concerns both the supply side and the demand side of the story. On the one hand, we can tell our shopkeepers and favourite brands that we would like them to reduce the use of plastic. On the other hand, we as consumers can learn to change our own habits and consumption patterns. If a lack of plastic wrapping means a product won’t last forever, we have to face up to the natural life cycle of the product. Maybe this will mean buying less food but more often and maybe this will lead to less food waste as we become more aware of what exactly is currently in our fridges.
Us humans are made to adapt and evolve to our environments. Therefore, I want to believe that as less plastic is available to us, the less we will eventually crave it. As oil begins to run out and its drilling in places such as the Arctic is ethically so wrong, we have to start (actually, we should have started ages ago) prioritizing its usage to areas where it is a necessity and non-replaceable. In all other contexts, where it can be replaced, it should be replaced in the name of law.
What I’ve done so far and am still working on – maybe you want to try it out too?
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with one made completely or partly out of bamboo and other plastic-free materials. There are billions (estimations vary between 3.5 to 5 billion) of toothbrushes sold in the world – imagine if these were all plastic free.
- Refrain from using thin, easily broken plastics such as fruit bags. Ask your local grocery stores to replace these with biodegradable ones.
- Check your cosmetics – washing yourself or doing your make-up with products containing plastic, which is oil, doesn’t feel appealing. Cosmetic products containing micro plastic pearls burden the water systems and are a threat to fish and other marine life species. Us, people are the top of the food chain, so the microplastics eventually reaches back to us.
- Appeal to your favourite brands and stores and ask them to reduce the use of plastic in their products.
- Ask the politicians you vote for to take action on reducing the use of plastic.
- Reuse thick plastic containers as snack boxes or pick your berries in them. Once they become too broken or worn out to use, recycle them.
- Ask your local authorities politely to include a plastic recycling container in your local garbage disposal area.
- We can make many of the products we buy from grocery stores ourselves. Take time to learn new cooking skills: for example, how to make your own sour cabbage, bean patties, hummus and other veggie pastes.
- When you have a chance, pick wild vegetables and herbs, mushrooms and berries to live more more self-sufficiently. Learn to pickle, ferment and dry them for the winter.
- Your voice has power. Remember, you are a capable and meaningful person who has potential to make big and small changes – and both are equally important. Don’t be afraid to speak for the causes you find important. Pass on your information and learn from others. Speak from your heart and people will listen.
Photos: Aino Huotari