Green Cities

The Trials and Tribulations of a Plastic-Conscious Urban-Dweller

  David Ayer I work at Earth Day Network, and for Earth Day 2018 we are implementing a campaign to End Plastic Pollution. The idea is to help all of us to identify our plastic consumption patterns and the ways we can start to break out of them. During a recent conversation we had here, some of us argued that we all should examine our own consumption of plastics, specifically single-use plastics, and learn from our combined personal journeys. As we have realized that a person’s circumstances can have a large impact on what plastic products they frequently consume, and which products they can feasibly cut out of their lives, we will be telling plastic pollution stories from a number of perspectives; this is mine. As a 25-year-old apartment-dweller living in Washington, D.C., my plastic consumption and needs are different from a homeowner with a family or someone who lives in a more suburban environment. After using our Plastic Pollution Calculator, it was evident to me that the vast majority of my single-use plastic consumption comes from food and drink containers. Living and working in a densely populated city makes it entirely possible to forego shopping for food at grocery stores for weeks. The negative impact of this, in addition to those felt on wallets and belt lines, is the creation of a large number of (usually plastic) takeout containers. Combining lunches purchased near work and the less frequent but occasional dinners out results in me producing from three to five containers per week, or as many as 260 containers every year. If I’m going to work for a campaign to end plastic pollution, I certainly need to do better than that. Since many of these containers carry potential health impacts if used for reheating food, they are effectively a single-use plastic item. In addition to the food container, beverages purchased from these establishments frequently come in plastic bottles or plastic fountain cups with plastic lids and straws. While plastic packaging may seem like an inevitable impact of our cities’ carryout culture, there are a number of alternatives I have been exercising to reduce my impact on single-use plastics pollution. The easiest step was to switch from plastic bottles and cups to only drinking either water from a reusable metal bottle, or beverages packaged in glass or aluminum containers. Glass and aluminum can be recycled much more efficiently than plastic and don’t contribute nearly as much to our global waste problem. If a restaurant serves their drinks in paper cups, I can forego the lid and straw and the problem is solved yet again. The food container issue has been slightly more difficult for me. Since we began our End Plastic Pollution campaign and I noticed that the majority of my plastic pollution came from containers, I have made a few conscious changes to try to limit that impact. First, I started cooking more at home. I did this all the time in college and fell away from it after moving to D.C. and discovering all the food options around every corner. As I am trying to cook more I am not only reducing my plastic pollution footprint, I am noticing that some of these dishes and cuisines may not be out of my own reach in the kitchen. As long as I try to buy products without excessive plastic packaging and make sure to bring my own, reusable shopping bags, cooking my own food lowers my plastic pollution footprint. When I am forced by time constraints and fridge emptiness to venture out into the world for sustenance, I try to frequent establishments that are conscious of their products’ impact on the environment. Paper-based bowls and food boxes are ever more present around the city, and I know that by patronizing restaurants that provide them I am incentivizing other eateries to be more environmentally conscious with their container choices as well. This is just a short step in my journey to minimize my plastic pollution footprint, and I will continue to look for ways to reduce it further, but I hope it has helped you consider some of the ways you might be able to limit your footprint as well.  It would be great if you would share your stories with us! Also: Learn more about what you can do to join our campaign to End Plastic Pollution.