This political season has focused attention on macro environmental issues such as fracking, renewable energy and drinking water safety.
That’s promising, but it doesn’t take much looking around to see that a lot of environmentally correct, hybrid-driving, organic-eating Americans have a blind spot when it comes to disposable plastics. You don’t have to wait long in a grocery store parking lot to see a Prius owner pop open the hatch and load in a case of plastic water bottles, a gross of single-serve coffee pods and organic veggies in plastic bags.
Or, in my case, I resolve to stop buying and using those things, only to give in to temptation when the only coffee at a conference is Keurig K-Cups, or the only water at an outdoor event is bottled in plastic. Because, you know, I’m tired. I’m thirsty.
We see photos of 13 sperm whales that beached themselves earlier this year in Germany, their stomachs full of plastic waste, and our hearts ache. The problem isn’t a lack of caring, it’s a conflict between conviction and convenience.
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Increasingly, campuses, cities and countries are banning offending products.
The University of California-San Diego student council voted to ban plastic water bottles on campus last month. This month, Kennebunk and Freeport in Maine voted to ban plastic shopping bags, joining several other cities in the state that have passed similar bans. California voters will decide on a statewide ban in November.
Recycling the bottles is better than throwing them away, but it still costs 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture the bottles, not including the oil used to transport them. And only one bottle in five lands in the recycling bin.
Some towns in Kansas, including Prairie Village and Lawrence, have discussed banning plastic grocery bags. In Missouri, the legislature voted last year to bar any city from banning bags. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
In response to the staggering estimates of waste generated by plastic coffee pods, Hamburg, Germany, this year outlawed them in government buildings.
The good news is, you don’t have to wait around for more bans to protect the planet. Make a mid-year resolution right now: Stop buying and consuming single-use plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags and coffee pods.
Like most resolutions, the resolving is easy and the follow-through is hard. Like overcoming any addiction, the key to success is replacing bad habits with good ones.
For example, you probably already have a mental checklist of things you grab anytime you leave your home: keys, wallet, purse, phone. Add a reusable container of water to the list, even on short trips, whether you think you will need it or not.
I reuse 750-milliliter glass mineral water bottles that I fill with filtered tap water and store in the fridge. In summer, a cooler with ice lives in the back seat of my car, so I often have two or three stashed in there. Sometimes one is filled with iced tea.
If you already own a coffee pod system, several manufacturers make compostable pods. Or you could go back to making coffee in a French press or drip carafe, the way many baristas think tastes best. You can also buy refillable pods (still made of plastic), but that seems like the same amount of work as making coffee the old-fashioned way.
I always travel with an old metal Stanley thermos full of coffee, so I’m not tempted to grab a to-go cup at the gas station or a pod-cup in a meeting or waiting room. Most coffee shops and gas stations will let me refill the thermos and charge me for the number of ounces it holds.
Besides the cooler with glass water bottles and the coffee thermos, the other thing that lives in my car now is a plastic milk crate filled with various sizes of cloth totes. It took a couple of months, but I’ve trained myself, whenever I’m in a store parking lot, to pop open the trunk and grab some totes before clicking the lock button on my keychain.
I noticed it was easy to remember at supermarkets but took more practice to think of it at drugstores, computer stores and clothing stores.
It feels odd at first, but then satisfying when you catch yourself being good to the Earth in these small ways on a daily basis.