Day 9: Turn Down the Plastic Spigot
"Packages don't litter, people do." — American Can executive
Two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic pollution enters the oceans every minute. Big Oil thinks that’s not enough.
Plastic is made primarily of fossil fuels. As we electrify our grids and cars, Big Oil needs a new market for its product. So it has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into building more plants to produce the stuff. Like burning fossil fuels for energy (and some plastics are burned for energy), plastic contributes to climate change.
In fact, according to a recent report from Beyond Plastics, in the US, emissions generated from plastic all along 10 stages of its polluting lifecycle—extraction of fossil fuels, transportation, refining, production, chemical recycling, waste incineration and so on—will exceed the emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030.
In other words, as geographer Deidre MacKay has explained, “plastic is climate change, just in its solid state.”
Ending fossil fuel subsidies would put a stop to this madness. (Take the Day 6 action: Register to vote!)
Now for some good news
Two states so far, Maine and Oregon, have passed extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws that will pass the cost of recycling packaging materials where it belongs—onto the companies that generate the waste.
And more laws have followed. In 2021, new laws in California went into effect to curb plastic waste, food waste and greenwashing. This year, the groundbreaking California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative will appear on the 2022 ballot. The initiative proposes a reduction in single-use plastic and would impose a maximum one-cent fee on corporations for each piece of foodware or each item packaged in single-use plastic. The money raised would pay for recycling and composting programs and restoration projects like beach cleanups. Of course, Big Plastic and Big Oil will spend obscene amounts of money in an attempt to defeat the initiative. But if it passes, we will see companies forced to address their wasteful packaging.
As the fifth-largest economy in the world, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. How businesses operate here, and how corporations outside of the state must operate in order to do business in this giant market, will export these changes.
I can hear you saying, “But companies will just pass these costs onto the consumer!” Please keep in mind that we do pay these costs now in the form of taxes for recycling programs that can’t possibly manage all of the plastic that corporations produce.
Actions of the day
I’ve included several here because many of you may have already undertaken some of them and I wanted to provide lots of options, kind of like an all-you-can-do buffet. Help yourself and take as much (or as little) as you want.
1. Quit the Top Four
Plastic Free July came up with the idea of the Top Four to help people wanting to cut plastic waste to feel less overwhelmed. These widespread types of plastics have quite simple and painless alternatives.
Plastic shopping bags and produce bags
You can buy cloth produce bags at health food co-ops, eco-friendly shops and online. Or sew very simple produce bags if you prefer. Stash your produce bags in your shopping bags so you’ll have them when you need them.
Needless to say, you can’t drink unsafe water. But clever marketing—not actual need—motivates millions and millions of Americans to buy bottled water. And according to Food & Water Watch, 64 percent of bottled water is merely filtered municipal tap water. Not only that, bottled water may contain up to twice as many microplastics as tap water.
Avoid the plastic waste by packing a reusable water bottle or mason jar. If you prefer to drink and cook with filtered water, install a water filtration system in your home.
Takeaway coffee cups
Thin plastic lines the inside of paper to-go cups to prevent coffee and tea from leaking all over you. To avoid these cups, bring a ceramic mug or thermos to your café. Or brew your caffeine fix at home, pour it in a thermos, take it to go and save a small fortune every month.
It’s not just a straw
Anti anti-plastic people like to claim that eliminating straws won’t make a difference. (I’ll talk more about defeatism another day.) However, anyone refusing plastic straws won’t likely stop there. No doubt they will become more aware of plastic pollution and more active in addressing the problem. Straws, like each of these Top Four plastic items, serve as a gateway to reducing more plastic.
Of course, no one advocates taking away straws from anyone with disabilities who needs them. But for those of us who can drink without a straw, we can either lift the glass to our lips or buy reusable metal or glass straws.
(Go here for 50 ways to kick plastic.)
2. Support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021
If you live in the US, please urge your representatives to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. This groundbreaking legislation shifts responsibility for waste management onto the corporations that have created the plastic pollution crisis. It proposes a national beverage container refund program, sets minimum recycled content standards, phases out unrecyclable materials and prohibits the export of our plastic waste to developing countries.
Please go here to write, tweet and call your representatives.
3. Write to a company you patronize (or used to) and ask them to reduce their plastic
You could write something like:
“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I love your [NAME OF PRODUCT]. However, I can no longer bring myself to buy it due to its unnecessary plastic packaging. As you know, plastic is made of fossil fuels, contributes to the climate crisis and pollutes our natural environment. Please change your packaging so I can once again spend my money with your company!”
Update 1/13: To make sending feedback to a nearby business easy, download the Remark app. Use it to find the company, choose several areas to rate (product packaging, bulk options, produce bags and so on), the app writes a letter for you asking the store to make changes (but doesn’t use your name) and emails it to the store. Many stores have made changes after receiving these emails.
4. Support organizations doing great work addressing the plastic waste crisis
These include (among others):
5. Start an initiative in your community
Does your (US) city not yet have a plastic bag law? Go here for resources to help get one started.
A small group of volunteers and I are currently working on a program to help connect local customers who want to shop with reusables with local businesses that allow BYO containers. Go here to read about Silicon Valley Reduces and how to can start something similar.
Please leave a comment below. Did you choose an action today? How has your attempt to use reusables been during Covid?
Excellent and clearly outlined call for action! It is especially useful to have action items on a personal level as well as the 'collective action' such as supporting legislation. For our family gatherings and block parties we bring all the plates, cups, bowls, silverware and cloth napkins. An initial investment in four settings for twelve for all of these, split between our household and another relative's (as it is also for our 'daily use') makes schlepping and clean-up pretty easy. We only had quizzical looks the first time we did this - now we see others copying this behavior...or borrowing our stuff for their big parties, which we encourage!
Another very informative letter and I thank you so much for all those links and clear explanations.
I am heartened to see so many initiatives but even Senate bills feel so minuscule, often aiming for recycling or reduction improvement of 25% to 35% by the next 15 years... and giving so many exemptions. But yes, yes it is progress.
Just seeing some fruit now packaged in cardboard at Costco ( where I shop for large bulk) makes me hopeful for changes. And in France where I come from, starting this month, they have about 30 fruit and vegetable that cannot be sold packaged in plastic in all grocery stores.
But every time I go shopping, all I can see is the mountain of plastic wrapped items on shelves and in carts... we have a LONG way to go...
As an aside, I share all I learn during dinner time and on the day you mentioned getting rid of credit cards helping finance fossil fuels companies, my 14 year old was wondering how you came up with the companies name. I explained that you had a link sourcing that information and he said: "One link? 1 link? Mom, do you know that you need at least 3 to 4 serious sources before you can actually consider the information?"... Told him that it is my responsibility to investigate further. I guess it reassures me that this coming generation will have good critical thinking skills and it will make FACTS stand out more and in turn it will hopefully help the environment.