Clean Consumption, Clean World

Individual efforts in reducing plastic waste are essential in trying to reduce pollution, slow climate change, and protect the environment. If each one of us starts making small changes in our lifestyle, we will all see a huge change in the amount of trash that we produce. It can be a little discouraging when we can’t see how our actions are impacting the environment, however, we need to remind ourselves that our actions are indeed changing the world for the better.

Before this class, I already started making small strides to reduce my plastic use and consumption. I use a reusable water bottle, avoid using plastic straws, and bring reusable bags to the grocery store. These small changes are important, however, there are many things that would be very difficult to replace with more eco-friendly alternatives. For example, I can’t replace my retainer, credit cards, shoes, and bedding. When reading Beth Terry’s ideas on how to decrease plastic use, I realized that going to the farmer’s market would be a great option for me to try out a new way to reduce plastic. After finishing my container of strawberries last Saturday I decided to go to the farmers market to purchase my fruit. At the market, I picked up strawberries, and instead of them coming in a plastic container, they came in a completely compostable one! Luckily, I take part in the composting program in my dorm so once I am finished with the container I can throw it away in the compost bin. Taking actions like the strawberry container, though small, can feel very rewarding. 

As I continued to develop my list of things to change in my lifestyle and shampoo and conditioner came to mind. I go through about a bottle of each every month due to my long thick hair so replacing the plastic bottles with an eco-friendly alternative would be a huge change for me. I did some research and found a company called Davines which has a shampoo bar catered towards people with thicker hair. This company also uses clean ingredients and is a huge climate activist and does its best to offset carbon emissions which is an added bonus. This product would be perfect to reduce waste and keep my hair healthy. Shampoo and conditioner bars have been increasing in popularity so I hope this product starts to catch on and more people start using them. The only drawback with the Davines shampoo is the price of the bar. Sadly, one bar is $35 which is a huge change from my $10 shampoo. Unfortunately, I was not able to make this switch from my current products to Davines due to time and money constraints. I will definitely continue to do research and try my best to adapt to a cheap, plastic-free lifestyle.

I do think we all should be searching for eco-friendly alternatives however it ultimately comes down to being a conscious consumer. It’s very important that we eliminate the careless, throw-away, single-use mindset. Then, with the combination of getting rid of single plastics with more eco-friendly alternatives, we will start to see a lot of change!

Step By Step

Changing your lifestyle is not as easy as it might seem. I never really thought about how difficult it actually is cutting out plastic until recently. If you asked me 2 months ago to think about the plastic items I used daily I could only think about a couple things. It wasn’t until I created a list on how much I use in a day. Since making that list I have started cutting it down item by item. But there’s only so much I can do. It is fairly easy to stop using plastic water bottles and bags but when it comes to makeup, food, and grocery items it can be difficult. Everyday I wake up use the same hair, face, and cleaning products that are all made of plastic. It feels like you can’t ever escape!

After filling out Beth Terrys checklists I was shocked with how many items could be replaced. Things I had never even thought about before. Starting last week after I filled this out I ordered new laundry detergent and ordered bar soap. It isn’t a big impact but I needed to start small changes before I started making big ones. I also stopped using plastic bags at grocery stores and started bringing my own. This not only helps our environment but it encourages and helps me live a healthier lifestyle. 

There are quite a few plastic items that are almost impossible to live without. Items such as  cards, for example my credit card and driver’s license. These are things you never think about but they are used almost everyday. Nowadays we have apple pay but it still is not everywhere. Another plastic item that I could not live without is my phone and computer. I mean I couldn’t even be writing this right now! Although people may be able to live without these items I surely can’t as I use them every day. Lastly, a plastic thing I can’t replace is my car. I use my car as my main source of transportation. Being at college I haven’t had my car but even just ubers still count. 

Change is certainly hard especially when I’m already experiencing many changes transitioning to college. After being in this class I am very motivated to decrease my plastic consumption to better the environment. Even though I have started small I am going to gradually make steps to make my plastic consumption less and less. I advise you to do the same and start making small changes that will help the future!


The Price of Change is not Pocket Change


I am a very habitual person so change is not something I look lightly upon. However, when it comes to plastic pollution, its clear something needs to change. Each year, the average American produces 250 lbs of plastic waste (NPR, 2019) and they’re 329.5 million people in America. That’s around eighty-two billion pounds of plastic waste every year. But, even if I used absolutely zero plastic for a whole year, there would still be eighty-two billion pounds of plastic waste. 250 pounds is an insignificant amount of waste compared to the total. Looking at the plastic problem from this lens can be discouraging. However, I find it more motivational to look at the issue from a personal perspective. How might using less plastic enrich my own life? How much would this change cost?

Given how ingratiated plastic is in our consumer economy, I figured I should start there. Consuming. Using Beth Terry’s checklist for Grocery Shopping, I recorded what plastic products I bought and then looked for less plastic alternatives. The table below shows the results.

Type of Grocery Item Brand I Buy Now Less Plastic Alternative
Peanut Butter Harris Teeter Crunchy Peanut butter Buy Smucker’s Natural
Ground Beef Harris Teeter Rancher Beef use less
Cheese Harris Teeter Mexican Blend This brand uses the least plastic
Yeast Fleishmann’s Buy the glass jar instead of individual plastic bags
Sugar Dixie buy the paper bag packaging
Milk DailyPure Buy Harris Teeter milk
Flour King Aurthur buy paper bag packaging
Tortillas OldElPaso make my own

Many of the grocery products I buy have less plastic alternatives. The only product I could not find an alternative for was beef. All beef was packaged in plastic and any alternative such as ground turkey or chicken was also packaged in plastic. Using less was the best option to reduce plastic waste. For peanut butter, I bought the Smucker’s natural brand that was packaged in a glass jar  instead of the brand packaged in a plastic container. It tasted much better than the brand I was buying before and it was only 35 cents more. For the yeast packets I used for baking bread, I bought a glass jar full of it and it has saved a few trips to Harris Teeter for yeast. The jar also cost a dollar less than buying the individual packets. For tortillas, I decided to try and make my own to avoid throwing away the packaging. I had mixed results, and ended up buying the processed ones again instead of trying to perfect my homemade ones. Making homemade tortillas would save me a few cents but I have yet to make a good batch of them.

Based on the results, the price of changing to sustainable products seems to be mere pocket change. The peanut butter was only 35 cents, I saved a dollar on the yeasts, and I could save a few more cents by making homemade tortillas. However, for products like beef, the only less plastic alternative was to consume less. On a personal level, these changes don’t cost much, but if we revisit that discouraging societal lens I mentioned in the beginning, how much would consuming less beef cost? A beef manufacturer isn’t going to feel the loss of my $4.99 purchase of beef, but what if millions of people suddenly stopped consuming beef? The manufacturer would lose millions of dollars in revenue and most likely downsize their operation, furlough workers, and maybe even go out of business. We saw what happened to the airline industry during COVID when no one was flying. Consuming less may seem insignificant on a personal level but it can have a severe impact if enough people stop buying products in our consumer economy.