Making Little Changes
I’ve been following the recent news about plastic straw bans, applauding companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks for promising to phase out single-use straws. I have long been passionate about taking steps to protect the environment, so bans on single-use items like straws and plastic bags always draw my interest.
Why plastic straws? According to a Chicago Tribune article, “Because straws are difficult to recycle and often end up in lakes or oceans. Which means they often end up in the stomachs of birds or, in a viral 2015 video that helped stir worldwide outrage, wedged into the nose of a sea turtle.”
Little by little, major companies are making positive environmental changes. Starbucks intends to introduce a compostable straw for their popular Frappuccino drink, but will offer a strawless lid (think adult sippy cup) for all other drinks.
The two major push backs against these bans come from people with disabilities, who argue that a straw is necessary for them to enjoy drinks. Starbucks and McDonald’s responded by saying straws would always be available by request, but that they were also working on developing other options, like the compostable straw.
The other dissenting voice comes from environmentalists saying that banning straws simply isn’t a big enough move. Marine plastic pollution is destroying our oceans. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Straws account for only about 2,000 tons of a 9-million-ton armada of plastic waste that hits the world’s oceans and coastlines every year. Closer to home, about 11,000 tons of plastic flow into the Great Lakes yearly, half of that into Lake Michigan, according to the Shedd Aquarium. That can be fatal to birds and other wildlife, which often mistake plastic for food.”
Many activists, however, hope that the straw ban will open the conversation about banning other single-use plastic items like bottles and bags.
After all, plastic is not biodegradable. Given enough time, some large plastics will degrade into microplastics, but these are potentially cancer causing, particularly bisphenol-A (aka BPA). BPA free plastic gets a lot of attention these days, since BPA acts like estrogen, which can disrupt hormones and lead to reproductive issues.
Most of the plastic used today ends up in landfills or the ocean, harming animals and wildlife. Coral reefs have been destroyed because of plastic in the ocean, which makes the reefs more susceptible to disease.
Even the plastic we use every day could have dangerous consequences. We simply do not know all the dangers of eating and drinking out of plastic containers, which are so ubiquitous that we rarely think about their impact on either our bodies or our environment.
Banning straws is only the first step. Globally, we need to think about how to recycle better. We need to ban all single-use plastics, from bags to bottles.
Ireland actually imposed a tax on plastic bags in 2002, which led to a 94% decrease in their use. As the movement picked up steam, moving away from single-use plastic became socially acceptable, even the norm.
While the United States is not one of the 28 countries that has banned or taxed plastic bags, states like California and Washington are leading the charge by making statewide policies intended to reduce the use of plastic in everyday life.
Personally, I’ve always taken recycling seriously. I remove paper from plastic containers. I check my township website to ensure I can recycle the plastic I use and we always reuse any plastic bags.
After struggling with infertility, I got rid of everything in my bathroom medicine cabinet and made sure that the majority of items I bought from then on were non-toxic. I also buy in bulk as often as I can to reduce the amount of plastic in my home.
With my children, I tried to make sure the majority of their toys were made from wood, rubber or silicon. This has gotten harder as they’ve gotten older, but I still do my best. I also only use wood, silicon and stainless steel products for their plates, utensils and cups.
I make my own cleaning products out of vinegar and water and reuse spray bottles every time I need more to reduce further waste.
Additionally, I make my own baby wipes and store them in a large wipes container so I’m not constantly buying new containers. I simply purchase dry medical wipes from Amazon, boil water, add coconut oil and baby soap and then pour the concoction on top of the dry wipes. This has the benefit of reducing plastic, and also allows me to know exactly what goes into a product we use constantly. I also save a ton of money!
Another way of saving money and the environment is to buy reusable snack bags. I am constantly packing snacks for my daughters to eat during the day and this year I ditched Ziploc in favor of Bumkins’ reusable snack and sandwich bags.
These tiny steps may not make a huge difference in the long run, certainly not as much as all out bans on single-use plastic will, but if everyone made the effort to take these small steps, we would do a lot towards protecting our environment.
I am cheered by the efforts countries, American cities/states and companies are making. Still, we have a long way to go.
We need to have conversations about our consumption and pollution on a global scale. We need to develop better methods of recycling. We need to support companies that are inventing alternatives to discardable packaging, like Saltwater Brewery in Florida that developed an edible six-pack holder.
By making small changes at home and supporting large scale efforts and new innovations, we can all make a positive impact on our planet.