“Women still prefer steady relationships to casual sex on dating apps” a headline shouted. The article continues to describe the findings of a recent study where friends-with-benefits relationships and one-night hookups are actually the least desired types of relationship sought on dating apps. Interesting. I stopped a minute to think about how one progresses from a swipe to a meaningful relationship. I guess I’ll never know I’ve found that ONE without having to fast-swipe.
My gaze turned towards that man as he wraps a sandwich in tin foil and potato chips in a plastic Ziploc bag to bring for lunch. He is well aware that he is expected to bring back the Ziploc and what is salvageable from the foil, where then we would proceed to clean and reuse them. There are no one-time hookups in this household. Great idea but not so practical as we both know there is a drawer full of plastic Ziploc, and rolls of tin foil and plastic cling wrap at our disposal. Although personally, I’ve had success in phasing out of other single-use items such as straws and plastic bags, I was mystified at how many different single-use packaging items there were in my household. Now as a new wife and stepmom, my scope of responsibility had suddenly expanded.
It’s not easy, our relationships with these single-use items are utilitarian and casual. They are annoyingly omnipresent and easily accessible. But it’s not a no-strings-attached situation, even with our best recycling efforts; some of these will end up in the oceans or washed up on beaches. If I were living in Indonesia, which lacks garbage collection systems like most developing countries, the amount of garbage that ends up in the oceans would probably be larger. Only China dumps more plastics in the ocean than Indonesia. The New Plastics Economy report suggests that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish (by mass) in the world’s oceans. Plastics have entered the food chain and are already reaching our plates and our stomachs! Another study found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted yet the worldwide use of plastic continues to rise. Talk about an unhealthy relationship.
Tap water is highly contaminated by plastic. Guardian Graphic. Source: Orb Media
Photo: Yours truly, finding tiny plastic debris washed up on the beach of a supposedly remote island Gili Lawa Darat, Komodo National Park, Indonesia
As a response to this problem, there has been a flurry of activity in consumer goods companies involving ocean plastic. Dell now uses ocean plastic collected from beaches and waterways as a new packaging system for their laptops. As a Pharell fan, I stopped in my tracks when I saw his ocean-plastic denim range display at a clothing store. Adidas also uses recovered ocean plastic for their footwear and football jerseys. Makes you feel just a little bit better. But unless these companies plan to phase out of virgin plastics (in their products and packaging) totally, therefore, cutting off demand, their behavior is equivalent to my washing Ziploc bags while pulling out another one from the drawer.
Cities are at the forefront of this battle. How is your city treating single-use plastics? Living in Washington DC gave me further evidence that there is always room to improve. With residential recycling collection system already in place, it has now set requirements for residents to separate plastic bags and wraps including those annoying crinkle bags, zip-close bags, bread bags and bubble wraps from their recycling pile. You can drop off these plastics at grocery stores and retailers voluntarily participating in a plastic recycling program. They are then recycled into many products including new bags, composite lumber, pallets, containers, crates, pipes, and more for the city's use. We should also encourage plastic bans and taxes as a measure because they reduce their existence in the first place.
A new UN agreement on ocean plastic waste signed by close to 200 countries is also in play. It's voluntary for now, but it could grow to be a binding global framework and create demand for entirely new types of packaging. The timely spur of innovation in bio-plastics (e.g., made out of cassava or seaweed which are fully biodegradable) provides another piece of the puzzle. Their challenge now is how to compete on a larger scale in both price and function to the conventional plastics. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly floored by the idea that I can eat a wrapper alongside its contents. These are all promising advancements that offer hope and better yet real solutions. The question I always ask myself in any situation is am I being part of that solution?
Photo: Plastics and wraps drop-off at Wholefoods, DC. WIth systems and infrastructure in place, it is definitively easier to recycle here.
Photo: Designed to disappear -edible cups and packaging. Credits: @Loliware and @EvowareWorld
KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE
So don’t get clingy there is nothing in that relationship for you. If that first study is any indication of our desire to be more cautious, more picky, more careful in choosing what provides meaning in our lives, then we should be extending that behavior to the things we buy, eat and wear too.
I also had to find a solution for my household’s attachment to a frivolous relationship with single-use items. I continued to audit the contents of my fridge where around 40% were either covered, wrapped or comes in a single-use container of some sort. I figured intent was my biggest defense. When given a choice we always go for the biodegradable or recyclable packaging or no packaging at all. We now have started to use washable beeswax wrappers and reusable sandwich bags, which lasts a whole lot more than a few minutes before getting tossed out. I like them; they are growing on me. My efforts may be minuscule in the big picture, and I have ways to go, but I am practicing what I believe, and that puts me at peace. I think I want to have longer, more meaningful relationships with both people and things in my life, but that’s just the kind of girl I am.