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.