A month to ponder plastic


LONGER LIFE Tomato seedlings in small upcycled plastic yoghurt cups.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Plastic Free July has become a global movement, with people trying to find alternatives to single-use plastic in their lives.
At this point, you’ve heard a lot about the swaps you can make: reusable coffee cups, water bottles, straws, lunch boxes, tote bags, beeswax wraps, bamboo toothbrushes, natural sponges, packaging free food, etc. All of these are brilliant steps to take, and we’ve seen people take massive individual changes over the past couple of years.
It’s not yet possible to totally rid ourselves of plastic, as it is constantly being produced, so it is still up to consumers to try to refuse and reduce it.
I grew up in a house where it was normal for my mom to wash plastic takeaway cutlery, Ziploc bags, all types of plastic tubs from food, and to reuse single use plastic water bottles until they literally crumpled, so very little was considered single use in our household.
We now know that there are some likely health impacts to overusing types of thin, brittle plastic, so if something is not designed to be especially hardy and safe for regular use, it’s best to refuse it or dispose of it as intended (ie. don’t put a plastic water bottle in the dishwasher and use it again).
Opt instead, where possible, for using reused glass jars or stainless steel containers. Additionally, it’s a good idea to ensure that the items are not cracked or shedding pieces, as those small shards of plastic should be kept out of the environment. Plastic plant pots, for example, should be put into a bin before they break down and leave bits in the soil.
For more rigid plastics that are made to last longer, I try my very best to reuse all plastic that I reasonably can. We do occasionally buy food items in plastic tubs, and we use some of them for freezing foods – just make sure you let any cooked food cool completely before putting it into a plastic container.
We have also used pots and tubs to organise our home office and craft supplies, like paper clips and push pins, sewing needles, crayons, pencils and rubbers, clay, etc. Small tubs are also great for storing seeds over the winter, and larger ones can be used for watering or planting outdoors. If we can all extend the useful lives of our materials for a few more months, the impact of their manufacturing, use and ultimate disposal will be lower overall.
Plastics used in any medical or healthcare applications are nearly impossible to avoid, so I’m definitely not advocating avoiding items that are necessary for health. It’s important to note, though, that containers and packaging for medicines cannot be recycled, as even those are considered hazardous waste. Please return all empty packaging and any unused medicines to your local pharmacy for correct disposal.
Plastic eyeglasses can generally be returned to an optician, and the Lions Club has a campaign to collect them for charity.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.