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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: May 16, 2019

A Single Step on a Difficult Journey

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,


I want to be environmentally responsible. I want to reduce the negative footprint my life leaves on our besieged planet. But it's difficult to do, so I have decided on one new short-term focus to augment other things I already do. My goal is to reduce the amount of plastic I use in the kitchen and for food/drink.

Our country alone generates 300 million tons of plastic a year. Only about five percent of that total gets recycled so most plastic is used a single time and then discarded. Since it takes plastic between 500 and 1000 years to completely degrade, that means nearly all the plastic ever generated in the United States still exists somewhere, whether floating in the ocean, taking up space in our landfills or lurking around somewhere else.

There is good evidence that both the chemicals used in the manufacturing process of plastic and the inadvertent consumption of plastic particles we are exposed to are toxic to our bodies. As plastic eventually does start breaking down, tiny bits of micro-plastic are created " and these contaminants are already being found in fish that we consume. The plastic waste covering our land and our waters kills millions of seabirds, mammals and fish. Beyond the health hazards to people and other creatures, plastic waste mars our beautiful landscapes. Billions of those nasty plastic bags are caught in trees, blow across our fields and float in our water. Once you start looking, you see them everywhere. (There is no excuse for littering. None. But that's a topic for another time.)

No other species on earth requires plastic to live, and the human race lived for eons without plastic; we can (with some exceptions) do it again. Remember when stores used paper bags? Yogurt came in pressed board containers? Eggs in cardboard boxes? And potatoes came in paper bags with fiber mesh "windows" in them. All of those containers eventually degrade both on land and in the water, releasing natural cellulose fibers.

So for the last month, I've been assessing my ability to get plastic out of my kitchen and my bought-outside the home food and beverages. It's not going to be simple, but I can make some changes pretty easily. I have been using cloth grocery bags for a long time. Yes, they must be washed periodically, but they stand up neatly in my trunk instead of slouching open and releasing food to roll around on the trip home. (One time during a hot Oklahoma summer a cantaloupe escaped one of these bags and I didn't find it in the trunk until the stench became intolerable.) One cloth bag holds what takes 2 or 3 plastic bags, meaning fewer trips to unload at home. An easy change and no sacrifice for me-I like the substitute better. At convenience stores, I request no bag unless I have too much to carry, in which case I reuse the bags I collect.

About 100 billion plastic beverage bottles are made each year in the U.S. Let that set in for a moment. BILLIONS of plastic bottles and caps. They can be recycled, but increasingly other countries who traditionally took our plastic no longer want it (maybe because they generate so much of their own!) I buy glass and aluminum containers whenever possible. They are readily recyclable and I can actually get paid for my aluminum. A whopping 57% of those plastic bottles contain water. For me it's easy to travel with one BPA-free plastic water bottle of my own which I can safely refill at any potable water tap and wash as needed. It will last for years. And I save a lot of money over high-priced bottled water at the same time. Another easy change to make.

The closest grocery store to my home wraps many of their vegetables individually in plastic wrap. Every green pepper has plastic on it, and many people then put that in a plastic produce bag on top of it. I buy loose fruit and vegetables, favoring paper bags when available. I avoid anything packaged on a Styrofoam tray or in a plastic container with a lid in produce, although it is really difficult to avoid the plastic and foam trays for meats. My Mom used to buy meat wrapped in white paper and wrapped with string " but I won't let my current inability to replace this plastic in my life from working on things I can change now.

I hunt for eggs in cardboard boxes instead of foam, and avoid single-serving foods in plastic cups. Those individual servings of apple sauce, snack foods and veggies with dip are convenient, but it's cheaper and better for mother earth for me to buy a single big jar of applesauce and put portions in re-useable plastic ware as needed " cheaper too. I love individual cups of yogurt, but will start to buy the larger containers, cutting back the amount of plastic I throw away.

Re-useable plastic ware is still plastic, but it can be washed and used until it cracks. So that's a better option for food storage than single-use plastic zipper bags. I have to admit, I love the speed and convenience of zipper bags but I am weaning myself off of them.

When we go out to eat, I often end up with one of those clamshell foam boxes. I despise those. Some restaurants provide cardboard boxes now, but if I bring my own plastic ware from home, I don't have to hope the restaurant cares about the environment like I do.

I know people who mock the gesture of avoiding plastic straws. I just ordered my own re-useable straw, and I don't let any fast food place put a plastic lid on my drink either. I see the need for toddlers, but not for a grown-up like me. I prefer pressed paper beverage cups to foam or plastic at fast food restaurants, especially for coffee. I see lots and lots of those gigantic plastic fast food cups in the ditches and if I don't pick them up they will be there for years.

Each grocery store purchase now takes a little more consideration. A trip out to eat means remembering my own container. But I know I am not on this journey alone. If even ten percent of consumers start making choices for plastic reduction when reaching for their wallets, change will speed up. We can educate our children and grandchildren (and in some cases, they can educate us!) Our leaders are not leading on environmental issues; but we are capable of starting significant change without them, until they decide the problem has become too big to ignore.

I see the need for plastic in medical devices and other applications where no readily available substitute currently exists. But for 80 percent of what I eat and drink, another option is available with a little planning. I'm going to try to save a few cubic yards of landfill space and clean water for my great grandchildren, and I am starting now.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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