Making An Impact, something we can all do. While having lunch last month with a group of friends, I was once again appalled at the server who set down our water glasses, then haphazardly tossed eight straws on the table for five people. I immediately grabbed the one closest to me, and said loudly to get her attention “PLEASE don’t just drop these on the table, ask if the customer wants one.” Whereupon one of my friends said behind her hand to the server in a stage whisper loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear “just ignore her.” I get it, she believes that one person not using a straw will not make a difference. And, you know, she is right. Only one person doing one thing won’t make a dent in the avalanche of plastic in our oceans and landfills, but a lot of ‘one persons’ can be a force for real change. Even my new Farmer’s Almanac for 2019 is taking up the cause!
No, I am not saying that you cannot use a straw. If you want one, you should have one. What I am saying is that you should be ASKED if you want one, because many of us don’t. Every item left on a table must be thrown away after the customer leaves, whether it was used or not. So leaving a perfectly sealed straw on the table goes to the landfill, unused. Even worse are the straws put in your drink without asking. Again, the one in my drink will go to a landfill unused. The obsession with the ‘uncleanliness’ of the outside of a drinking glass is just baffling to me. Our immune systems are marvelous things, and can handle most casual contact with bacteria and viruses. Plus, servers are better trained than they were when this all started with a news story some years ago. The same person that is paranoid about the outside of a glass will readily use the plate and fork in the same restaurant that goes through the same dishwasher and is handled by the same people. There is a greater chance that you will get sick from the lettuce on your sandwich than from the dishware.
At that same lunch, another friend mentioned that the plastic dump in the Pacific ocean was from Asia, absolving our country in her mind of any responsibility. But, did you know that up until the beginning of 2018, 80% of our plastic recycling was being shipped to China? So much of that huge plastic mess in the Pacific ocean is partly our responsibility. Early in 2018, China passed a new law that their country would no longer accept waste or recycling from international sources. So, we are now going to have to deal with that on our own – 7.3 metric tons of plastic was shipped to China in 2016. But, the US doesn’t have the means to recycle all that on its own at this point, so all that plastic that you thought you were recycling is now going to landfills.
I want to give credit to Aurifil – they are supporting an initiative in Canada to create a market for plastic recycled materials, with plans to do more to use and recycle in the future. They promise that the future will see a change in their use of plastics, as they are able to shift over to a different way of making their spools. See the Auribuzz blog Making an Impact for more information.
So, what can one person do? Well, lots actually. Begin with asking every restaurant server to ask before throwing straws on the table. Ask for paper straws, or use a permanent one that is washable. At a dinner last week, another friend mentioned that she stopped using straws recently when she realized that the skin around her mouth was developing the creases like a long term smoker from years of straw use. So, another great reason to think about curtailing the use of a straw. We were enjoying dinner at my favorite restaurant in town, one that has begun asking customers if they want straws and has been amazed at not only the number of people who’ve said no, but the money they have saved.
You may already use your own bags at the grocery store, but expand that to every store. Take one into the mall, the department store, the boutiques, the farmer’s market, everywhere you shop. For those who say they need these to pick up after the dog or similar jobs, save your bread and hamburger bun bags, and plastic packaging from toilet paper rolls, paper towels and other household items for this purpose. Put the produce bags back in the car in your own bags and use them for the next round of veggies. When you forget your bags at the grocery checkout, request paper bags that can be used to transport your paper recycling. There’s even a term for this – precycling – meaning not accepting the single use plastic bag in the first place.
Recycle appropriately. You may believe that if it is plastic, it should go in the recycle bin, but much of what we throw in there is a problem. Plastic single use grocery and produce bags plug up machinery and need special handling, so put those in the bag recycle bin at the grocery store, don’t dump them in with the plastic recycle at home. Clean the plastic of contaminants. Use water bottles that are washable and re-usable. Try not to be a ‘wishful’ recycler, and I am guilty of this one. We often make recycling mistakes that send more to the landfill than we realize.
Most importantly, actively look for and buy products made of recycled materials particularly plastic. If we don’t create a market for goods made of the recycled materials, then putting your plastic in a recycle bin is useless. I already love Dream Green, made of 100% recycled plastic bottles. Every pound of Dream Green recycles 10 plastic 2-liter bottles, removing that waste from the landfill. This batting has a soft green color, best used in beige or darker backgrounds, but really doesn’t show through the higher quality white fabrics. It is soft, quilts beautifully, doesn’t crease, won’t hold stains, dries fast and doesn’t shrink.
I am so happy to see more manufacturers look at the impact they can have on the environment!! I’ll get down off my soapbox now, but I’ll keep advocating for a greener world.
What tips do you have for lowering our plastic consumption?
Psst, coming soon!!