Knowing all the downsides to plastic and its impact on the environment, you're probably thinking about decreasing your plastic usage. Maybe even trying to live completely zero-waste as well. Still, what would it take to live completely plastic-free? And would it be doable for a regular human being?
Decreasing your plastic usage
It will be hard to quit cold-turkey, so most people start by reducing their plastic usage. This can be done in multiple ways. For this article, we will look at the 5-step guide towards living zero-waste.
Stop buying plastic-packaged products like vegetables and fruits. Buy from a farmer's market instead and bring your own cloth/canvas bags. If you eat meat: take a glass or stainless-steel container with you and ask for the meat to be packaged in there. Some butchers also offer paper bags, this is a better alternative to plastic, although it is still waste.
Take cloth shopping bags everywhere you go and bring a reusable cup for drinks instead of buying a plastic/paper cup. Many coffee shops offer a discount when you bring your own cups. Stop using a straw or get yourself a reusable option like silicone or stainless steel.
Don't buy fast-fashion, inexpensive clothing typically sold by large box stores; these mostly contain plastic materials and often use slave-labour. Buy consciously instead. If you can buy your oats in bulk, why would you buy a carton box of them? Reduce the amount of waste you buy by looking at more sustainable options. This doesn't need to be expensive; you just need to know where to look!
If you've bought a glass jar of mayonnaise, you can reuse the jar. Just put it in the dishwasher, and you can use it to store oats, vegetables, soup and much more. You can also use the jar when you purchase at bulk goods stores. Reuse also includes buying second-hand, repairing what's broken rather than buying new, and upcycling like turning an old pillowcase into a new grocery bag.
What you can't reuse or reduce should be recycled. Ideally, there should be little to no items in this category, but there are some things you accidentally buy or already had in your home before you went zero-waste. Recycle plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass and even clothing. Just take them to the right bin/landfill.
Food waste usually gets burned at the landfill, resulting in CO2 excretion into the air. You can prevent this by composting your food waste. Cardboard and paper are generally compostable, as well. This compost can then be used to fertilize the soil to plant vegetables and fruits.
How can you live completely plastic-free?
When you look at YouTube videos of zero waste advocates, they almost always have a little amount of waste even if it's just one jar of waste collected over the years. To get this far, or even further, you will need to make significant changes to your living situation. But right now, we'll focus on plastic only.
Everything you buy should be plastic-free, which means you will always have to check for the right stores to prevent buying something packaged in plastic. You will need to look at every clothing-tag to see if it has any synthetic materials in it. The clothing tag itself must also be something other than plastic.
You can't buy and eat fish and crustaceans since they contain microplastics due to the plastic waste getting into the ocean. Going out for dinner will be hard since you don't know what the vegetables and meats were packaged in when the restaurant bought them. You will also always have to take your own cups with you and even containers to store leftover food and to buy drinks. Some stores don't accept your own containers, so you would need to find a location that does.
When you are looking to buy new electronics, you need to make sure they aren't packaged in plastic, but now that you think of it, your electronics are made from plastic fibres as well. Every new purchase, whether second-hand or not, needs to be checked for any plastic materials. When you receive a gift, you will need to let the gifter know not to give you anything that contains plastic.
If you're thirsty and out of a reusable cup, you can't buy bottled water unless it's packaged in glass or a carton. This makes the purchase much more expensive. You won't be able to buy an instant meal since they are packed in plastic, the same goes for frozen fruits and veggies.
If you're a medicine user, you will need to find a plastic-free supplier of pills, syringes, cords, etc. You will also have to talk to your doctor and/or hospital to let them know you'd rather use plastic-free alternatives.
The hardest thing about going plastic-free would be making purchases. You can't use a credit or debit card because they are plastic. If you live in a country like Canada where cash is made from plastic, you can't even use that. You could use American money, or another paper currency, and coins. It would be challenging to find businesses that would accept these forms of payment though and if they issue any change it will likely be polymer bills of their currency. You also have to be aware of what your coins are rolled in as plastic rollers are becoming more popular than paper.
So, it's not doable?
Living plastic-free is certainly doable, but it will be a tough challenge. It's also worth asking yourself if it would make you happier to live completely plastic-free. Plastic is not the only cause of the environmental impact we make. There are other ways to decrease your carbon footprint. And while plastic is the primary source of this negativity, that's the way the world has developed. There is plastic everywhere around us. In our cars, in our phones, in our fridges.
To live 100% without plastic, would mean going phone-less, car-less and finding an alternative for fridges.
To decrease your carbon footprint, you can also look into decreasing your meat-intake or going vegan. You can opt for taking the bike or bus, rather than a car or plane. Bringing your cups and containers when you go out to eat or for coffee is one of the best things you can do to make an impact.
Like the saying goes "We don't need one person doing Zero-waste perfectly; we need hundreds of them doing it imperfectly." Because, together, we're making an impact. It doesn't matter how small, but your changes will have an impact.