My Plastic Journal


This month, I've decided to deviate from my normal sustainability update filled with tips for greener living in favor of a personal exploration of my own habits - specifically concerning plastic consumption.

I saw a bumper sticker once that I've always remembered. It featured the recycle symbol next to the phrase, "Throw it away? There is no away."

And it's true. Especially where plastic is concerned. Unlike organic materials, plastic products do not decompose quickly or easily through the process of biodegradation. Under the right circumstances (i.e. direct exposure to the sun), plastics are broken down by light in a process called photo degradation. However, researchers cite 500-1000 years as the duration of the process. In addition, the photo degradation process results in smaller sized toxic waste that ends up in the bellies of animals, in the soil, or, in the case of waste in the ocean, on shorelines where humans are most likely to end up in contact with it.
Scientists are currently monitoring the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a garbage mass nearly twice the size of the state of Texas roughly halfway between Hawaii and Los Angeles, that is comprised of the debris from human civilization, mostly plastic.
Horrified by the thought of this garbage continent, I have made concerted efforts over the years to reduce my usage of plastic by changing a few behaviors and habits.
In an effort to monitor my changes, I recently decided to take a look at my personal plastic consumption for one full week. I defined plastic consumption as purchasing or obtaining any new item that included plastic in any form that was specifically intended to be thrown away or recycled. Buying bottled water, bagging my purchases in plastic or taking a wrapped hard candy counted as consumption. Using Tupperware I currently own, drinking tap water out of a re-usable plastic container or buying a plastic laundry basket would not count. Maybe I was a bit too liberal with my definitions but those were my criteria.

I began my self-study on a Monday morning and I have to say I did pretty well. I did not make huge efforts to do anything differently or to deprive myself from my normal indulgences or change my usual habits. Here are my results and associated explanations:
Monday. No plastic use! (I went to Starbucks but avoided the use of a plastic lid by using my own mug. I brought my lunch from home.)
Tuesday. 1 item. I ate yogurt that came from a plastic container and had a plastic lid. (I recycled these but it still counts as consumption.)
Wednesday. 3 items. I purchased gum that had a plastic wrapper. I bought a Valentine’s card wrapped in plastic. I received a plastic spoon at a restaurant. (Bummer! Three missed opportunities. I normally buy Trident gum which does not come with a plastic wrapper. Local artists make great cards that are not wrapped. I could have eaten at a restaurant that uses real utensils.)
Thursday. 1 item. I bought juice in a plastic bottle.
Friday. 5 items. Two magazines were delivered to my home wrapped in plastic. I bought three packages of berries which all involved plastic containers.
Saturday. 3 items. Bought a bakery product and the box had a window made of plastic. Food delivery – plastic containers (though I keep and re-use them, that can only be sustained for so long). Bought milk – cardboard carton with a plastic lid.
Sunday. No plastic! I ate at home and did not purchase anything all day except for movie tickets made of paper!

What did I learn? Plastic has become such a normal part of daily living that it is nearly impossible to eliminate its use entirely. I did realize that, by being mindful and by planning appropriately, it is possible to employ life habits that significantly minimize its use. For instance, I order my drinks without straws, carry canvas shopping bags with me everywhere, keep metal utensils in my bag and have an impressive assortment of hot and cold re-usable cups.

Have you adopted similar habits and think you can do even better in the plastic reduction challenge?  Be on the look out for a challenge from the Sustainability Web team or a chance to win, and Happy journaling!

Posted on 03/14/2013 in | Permalink

Contact Info

The content of this site is managed by the Sustainability Web Publishing Team.  If you have comments or suggestions please contact us via email using the links below.  If you are interested in volunteering to support the team, please contact Kristen directly.

Kristen Adams, Department of Anesthesiology

Dorysel Mora, Department of Neurology