The Anti-Plastic Project: A Final Purge

03/19/2008 12:00 AM |

Welcome to week three of the Deplastification Project. If you’ve been reading this column for the last few weeks you’ll know that we’re questioning the place of plastic in our lives and trying to figure out how to use less (or none!) of it. We’ve already talked about changes to make in the bathroom and kitchen, but what about the rest of our lives? Plastic is everywhere, and many consider it essentially unavoidable.

One important approach I’ve discussed bears mentioning again — buying used. Why not hit the local Goodwill next time you need an electric fan, or vacuum cleaner, or record player? There’s just no need to buy new all the time when perfectly good goods are waiting to be rehomed. There are tons of plastic products that are easy, and WAY cheaper, to buy second-hand. For higher-end items, like computers and their components, other consumer electronics and small appliances, turn to Craigslist or Freecycle.org. We’ve been conditioned our entire lives to always be upgrading — and all we’re really doing is spending hard-earned money to help fill up some more landfills.  

If you have a kid, or kids, start weaning them off plastic as soon as possible. Axe the crappy plastic toys and give them pads of paper, colored pencils, books, all-natural stuffed animals and more books. No, just because everyone ELSE has it doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Kids love to cook, plant seeds and string (non-plastic) beads. When I was small, origami kept me busy — all I needed was a sheet of (recycled) paper and one of my origami books. Or, what about knitting? Needlepoint? Papier-mâché? The longer you keep the kids away from the TV, the longer you’ll keep the consumption monster at bay, and if you let them have fun making their own stuff, they’ll find those stupid pre-programmed toys bo-ring.

If you’ve chosen dogs or cats over children, keep them plastic-free too: cotton-rope chew toys get a lot of love from my dogs, and once they’re shredded I can throw the strings in the compost pile. My dog flipped out for a toy I made her last month by tying an old, holey sock into a bunch of knots. Kids and pets are easily satisfied with simple things: you know how cats feel about cardboard boxes and paper bags, both of which are recycleable and plastic-free (and free!).

Buy metal garbage cans and buckets, coir (material made from coconut-shell fibers) doormats, and wooden flooring instead of vinyl. Wooden dishracks and solid wood (instead of laminate or particle board, which contain plastics and adhesives) furniture are better, biodegradeable choices. And on it goes… I suspect you’re beginning to get my drift.

Because plastic is everywhere, from the coating on your orange juice carton to the stuffing in your couch, the most important thing to do to help you cut down on plastic use (and all kinds of consumption, actually) is to get in the habit of constantly asking yourself “Do I REALLY need this [insert desired object here]?” If the answer is “Yes,” then ask yourself if there isn’t a simpler/plastic-free/greener option for the thing desired.  The point isn’t to spend all of your time obsessing over lifestyle choices, and crossing town to get just the right hemp shower curtain — you need to leave time and energy for more important things than endlessly contemplating your own consumption/navel.

Because ultimately it’s consumption itself that is the problem, and you should act accordingly. But plastics are a great place to start “editing” your life for greener, simpler and cheaper choices.