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A Sustainable Saturday – Keeping the Plastic Out of our Oceans and Streams

“O God, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past. I will cry to the God of heaven who does such wonders for me” (Psalms 57:1-2).

As Thanksgiving Day just passed here in the U.S., we now enter the delectable week of leftover meals of turkey and ham sandwiches (if you consume meat, of course), and re-heated potatoes, stuffing, squash, turnip, sweet potato and green bean casserole. We always make too much, wanting to have extra for that unexpected guest…or simply to have those leftover dishes for quick and easy meals over the next few days. We’ll do likewise for the coming holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or another holiday, there will likely be at least one other family gathering to share a special meal together…and this, too, will likely produce another mountain of leftovers.

And another mountain of plastic waste heading to our oceans and streams.

Plastic wrap and single-use containers often get displayed in supermarket flyers right along with the sales on stuffing mixes, cranberry sauce and turkey. For convenience sake, we buy them in large quantities the same day we go shopping for food for said gatherings. The reasoning is that folks can use them to take home those leftovers. They’ll keep everything fresh and clean, and nobody has to worry about returning a host’s favorite bowl or platter.

But what happens after we get those containers home?

As I’m a frugal fanatic, those leftovers usually get eaten. By Monday, Mom and I will probably be sick of stuffing and squash. Or my chickens and ducks will have had a feast of their own on whatever we don’t eat (minus any leftover meat that Mom does not consume). However, no matter how careful we are, sometimes containers of food get forgotten in the back of the fridge. A few weeks from now, we may find a container whose fuzzy, green appearance gives not the slightest hint as to what it once contained in life. I hope not, as I am cognizant of the fact that food waste in our landfills actually exceeds our plastic waste (14% versus 12% of plastic waste (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2015, pp. 476-477)), but it does happen from time to time. Either way, eventually, there will be wads of cling wrap and/or plastic containers entering recycle bins and trash receptacles across the U.S.A.

The former raises an “ah ha!” moment in many. If you are recycling it, what’s the big deal? However, some forms of plastic cannot be recycled, especially if there are layers of materials involved, such as in paper cups designed for both hot and cold beverages. And, as many of these containers and wrappings have been used to store food, even with careful rinsing, the aromas cling. If not carefully contained at the curb, they may get invaded by wildlife who scatter it everywhere in their search for something to eat. Gusts of wind, either from nature or passing traffic, may tip over a receptacle and/or blow lighter materials about. And, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t bother to properly rinse your recyclables, once they get to the recycling plant, the Zero Sort machine kicks them out and into a waiting garbage truck to be sent to the landfill. All is not perfect in the world of recycling. (Google The Pacific Garbage Gyre to find out where a lot of our plastic waste eventually ends up)

I have fallen far short of my goals of Zero Waste this year. As always, part of it stems from other family members not being on board with it, part of it my own inability in disciplining myself in whatever new behavior I’m hoping to adopt. I’ve wasted a lot of time talking, explaining, telling people about plastic waste…only to hear the response that everyone else does it so it doesn’t make a difference.

But every effort we make, makes a difference. It may be a small one, but we’re telling the world that it matters. The lives of sea creatures and birds and possums and raccoons…and countless other species of life matter. Our own health and well-being matter…because what so-called lesser creatures consume, we also consume.

So this year, knowing I cannot control the amount of plastic waste my family produces simply by telling, I decided to lead by example.

I always have tons of canning jars around the house from preserving whatever I produce in the garden. So I packed up several of the wide-mouth quart jars in a reusable shopping bag and toted them to my aunt’s house. When the meal was over, and my aunt was asking everyone if they wanted to take some of the leftovers home so they didn’t go to waste, I ran out to my car and grabbed the bag of canning jars. Though she offered the use of some of the plastic and/or aluminum plates she’d purchased for this express purpose, I politely thanked her, then told her I’d rather use the canning jars. I then filled the jars with what she’d offered. She watched me and then admitted it was a good idea because it was cheaper than buying the plastic wrap and single-use containers, which have gotten expensive.

No, it’s not exactly the reason behind my bringing the canning jars, but ecology and economy go hand-in-hand. The less we spend on things we don’t really need, the less we send to the landfills. This is true for pretty much everything. And, even if we can’t get everyone on board about plastic waste for the sake of our planet, saving everyone a few pennies can be an incentive. The end result will be the same: less waste overall.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Cunningham, William P. and Cunningham, Mary Ann. Environmental Science: A Global Concern, Thirteenth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education, 2015.

2 thoughts on “A Sustainable Saturday – Keeping the Plastic Out of our Oceans and Streams”

  1. Yes! Thank you for spreading the word. My intentions of recycling and cutting down the amount of waste far exceed what I actually carry out. But we are conscious, and we are trying.

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