Plastic materials are an important part of our everyday life. A recent study estimates that we’ve created 8300 million tons of plastic since its manufacturing came into existence. Sadly, only 9% of this has been recycled, while 79% of it has ended up in landfills or has been dumped in the natural environment. None of these materials are biodegradable, leading to contamination of waters and soils, and a negative impact on marine life. Additionally, making plastics requires petroleum and a lot of energy, so the carbon footprint of these materials is significant. In this post, we want to highlight one simple way that we can decrease the amount of plastic we are sending to landfills: reducing our use of unnecessary plastic, which we have lovingly named CPC or cheap plastic crap.
We are not advocating for a ban or elimination of CPC. In some instances, cheap plastic items are needed and for some individuals, they make day-to-day tasks more manageable. In recent attempts to ban plastic straws, Disability Rights groups highlighted that the accessibility of plasticware makes it a necessity for people with disabilities. Other cheap plastics might be needed by individuals on tight budgets due to their affordability. But our collective experience and the sheer volume of plastic ending up in landfills suggest that in most instances, CPC is unnecessary and we use it, buy it, or take it out of habit and without thought.
CPC usually ends up in landfills. In many cases, it is made of mixed materials that are not recyclable. Items such as toys are often manufactured abroad, adding the environmental footprint from shipping. After speaking with family and friends about sources of CPC in their lives, we commissioned an infographic to highlight some of the biggest offenders that were also easy to replace when warranted (article continues after infographic). This infographic is also available in a smaller size for social media.
Talking to our kids about cheap plastic crap
Our experience suggests that talking to our children about unnecessary plastics makes our withdrawal from CPC easier. Once our children join us in the challenge of decreasing our use of cheap plastics, they are more willing to turn down the Happy Meal Toy from a movie they haven’t seen, and become active participants by reminding us to use reusable containers instead of ziplock bags or Saran wrap.
Our experience also suggests that breaking away from CPC might require a bit of courage. Being the only parent in a group that has a simpler birthday party with no/less plastic decorations or not giving a traditional goody bag might lead to feelings of judgment or social pressure. Instead of trying to make up or apologize for the absence of CPC, we suggest proudly announcing it, building parties around it, and encouraging parents to join this movement. Share with us how your family is decreasing use of CPC using the hashtag #PlasticCrap.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reducing our use of materials is always best. When we are unable to, findings ways to reuse or buy used is a good option. Platforms such as Facebook’s Marketplace or Craigslist have made this much easier, and local second-hand stores can be useful in our quest to find used goods. If you’re cleaning out your house or apartment, or are jumping on the Marie Kondo bandwagon, don’t dump your items on the curbside.
Although it takes effort, try to find a new home for your goods by giving, selling, or donating your unwanted items. Cleaning our homes of unwanted goods reminds us how badly we need to change our culture of consumerism and stop accumulating stuff in the first place.
Finally, using recyclable or compostable materials is ultimately preferable to sending materials to the landfill. It is important to become familiar with the types of plastics that your local recycling plant will process. There are also third-party companies that have partnered with various industries to recycle odds and ends such as toothbrushes, juice pouches, or contact lenses.
Throughout this endeavor, we must keep our eye on the prize: voting for elected officials who will step up with