Dear Mother Earth:
I read today that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently released a report on the global plastics pollution problem. They reported that we cannot recycle or reuse our way out of this enormous problem, we must simply stop producing (and purchasing) so much plastic in the first place. Seems like common sense to me. If we as consumers can signal our intolerance for more plastic, perhaps it will have some impact. In that vein, I no longer purchase toothpaste in a tube, plastic toothbrushes, deodorant or dental floss in plastic containers, etc. I feel really good about the changes I have made and can really see the difference in my weekly trash. My problem now is, as I try to eliminate all plastic from my home, I would like to subtract the plastic bag that lines my trash can. How can the items inside of my bag effectively biodegrade if the bag itself will be forever on the Earth? Can you offer some solutions in this area?
Sincerely, Buying Less Plastic
Dear Buying Less Plastic:
I am so grateful for all that you are doing to reduce your use of everyday plastic items. Every little bit really does help. If we could eliminate plastic toothpaste tubes alone, we would save the equivalent of 50 Empire State buildings full of plastic tubes from going into our oceans and soils PER YEAR. That’s a lot of plastic for clean teeth. So, please keep up the good work.
Regarding your garbage liner bag, I know it can be very confusing. There is a lot of greenwashing going on out there, as companies try to trick you into thinking that their products are good for the planet. Beware of garbage bags labeled biodegradable plastic, compostable plastic, or recycled plastic. All of these are made out of plastic that ultimately will end up in human bodies or in the bodies of your animal friends. One trash bag that appears to be 100% plant based is the “If You Care” brand that is made from potato starch and is perfectly harmless to the Earth. The tall kitchen bags are not as tall as some others, so it works best in a shorter garbage can. But as you produce less garbage, smaller may be better. Many people have reported to me that they no longer line their trash cans with any bag, but use newspapers on the bottom and then dump the whole contents into their larger (hopefully metal) cans for the dumpster or trash hauler. The contents of our garbage cans should be very small if we are following best trash practices, such as composting all food scraps (the law in Vermont), and recycling all glass, paper, metal and cardboard. The only thing left is plastic, and if you don’t buy it, you won’t have to trash it. Try to eliminate plastic bags from your life. That means no liners for your bathroom trash containers, no black plastic bags for leaves and garden waste, and no plastic bags for returnable bottles and cans. Use cardboard, paper, burlap bags, or no liner at all. Bit by bit we can reduce the impact of plastic on our planet. There is enough plastic already on the Earth that we can’t deal with, we don’t need more. Stay committed and just say “no” to plastic.
Questions and comments should be directed to Lily French at her email firstname.lastname@example.org