Is #PlasticFree Realistic?
This past weekend, I went to Eastern Market to pick up my Nikki's Ginger Tea order for the store. I also stopped at the Detroit Zen Center's booth for kale chips. They were really good. So good, in fact, that I ate them all on the way home. I'm looking forward to carrying some of their vegan food options in the store, as well.
And yesterday evening, I worked on setting up the store's refilling station. I filled, stacked, and labeled six bins of our dry products (laundry powder, Oxy Boost, etc.). Customers will be able to refill their containers, not only reducing waste but saving money.
What do these things have in common? Plastic. The tea is in plastic bottles, the kale is in a plastic clam shell container, and my 5 gallon jugs and dry bins are plastic. While reducing plastic waste and reusing as much as possible are of course important, I feel like the #plasticfree movement is unrealistic, extreme, and unattainable.
I'm not exactly sure how I'd pull off the refilling station without plastic. The spigots are plastic. And, even if you're making your own cleaning products with baking soda, water, and vinegar, the trigger sprayers on the bottles are made of plastic. The laptop I'm typing this blog post on? The keyboard and the encasing are plastic. That glass bottle of facial serum I saw on the Instagram account of a 'hey look I'm #plasticfree' guru? The cap was plastic. Those bins you see at bulk food, packaging-free stores? Made of plastic.
What would my store look like if I was extreme about going #plasticfree? Well, I wouldn't be able to offer the residents healthy, affordable, convenient grab and go vegan food choices - plastic keeps the food fresh. The sandwiches wouldn't be wrapped, so the bread would get pretty hard and gross. I wouldn't be able to sell any cleaning products, because the trigger sprayers are plastic. I couldn't sell this locally made, black-owned, all-natural brand of delicious tea that my customers have been specifically asking for. I couldn't do the refilling, because I wouldn't have any containers to put bulk products in - they don't come in metal or wood! I also offer a free filtered water refilling station for my customers - I buy filtered water in refillable 5 gallon jugs, and take them back to the refilling station for a new jug when they're empty. But that would have to go, too - the jugs are plastic.
Plastic is remarkably lightweight, durable, and versatile. In cars, lighter plastic parts reduce fuel consumption by reducing weight - and reducing fuel consumption is certainly a laudable goal. Plastic is the ideal material for many medical devices placed internally. Most reusable grocery bags are made of plastic - constructing them from cotton would require far more water and pesticide use, and would be far pricier.
Did you know that food waste is a larger portion of landfill material than plastic? And food waste is what creates methane gas and foul odors. Plastic pollution is a huge problem - but it's not our only problem.
Yes, in the past (pre WWII, generally) the world was largely plastic-free. 'We did it once; we can do it again!' cry the #plasticfree social media accounts. But I really don't think we can - nor would we want to. At the risk of sounding cliche, the world has changed, how we live our lives has changed. We can most definitely reduce (but not eliminate) our reliance on plastic while we encourage the development of new technologies that provide us with renewable and sustainable alternatives to plastic without losing the most desirable properties of plastic. And that's no small task.