Causes Environment Lifestyle

How To Be Plastic Free: A Beginner’s Guide

Plastic Free
Written by Julia Eden

Right now, living a sustainable lifestyle means you have probably come across the concept of “living plastic-free”. We at Socially Conscious Living have been inundated by posts and groups and blogs all discussing this issue, which has only led to more questions. So, I have bravely raised my hand as a volunteer. I now wade through the mucky mess that is this tangled topic to bring you the answers you seek, in How To Be Plastic Free: A Beginners Guide.

I’m sure we all know about carrying reusable bags and buying glass or wood products over plastic, but is that really all it takes? If we consider, for example, technology, do we really believe that a completely plastic-free life is possible? Where is the balance to be had and how do we achieve that? Let’s dive in and find out!

It seems the obvious place to start is with the “what.” What exactly is made of plastic? In order to answer this question, it is important to note that plastic is a polymer derived from oil. So when we talk of plastic, we are really talking about materials and products derived primarily from crude oil.

How to be Plastic Free

How to be Plastic Free. Plastics are derived from organic products. The materials used in the production of plastics are natural products like cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course – crude oil.

The Reasons In A Nutshell

There are actually many reasons to go plastic-free, and new research is being done all the time that expose even more reasons. But, let’s start with what we know.

  • As mentioned, plastic is primarily derived from oil, which is a finite, non-renewable material, the sourcing of which is also polluting and problematic.
  • Plastic is not biodegradable and has a limited lifespan. Since it can only be recycled so many times (or more accurately, down-cycled), it will inevitably end up in landfills where it will sit for millennia.
  • Producing plastic requires the use of toxic chemicals. These chemicals affect the employees that produce it, as well as leaking out into the surrounding environment and compromising both land and animals.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) create a harmful effect known as off-gassing. This is especially prevalent in your synthetic clothes, bedding, furniture, and flooring. It is also one way that you are inhaling and absorbing harmful chemicals everyday.
  • Synthetic filaments from items like clothing are lost during processes like washing, and are ending up in our oceans, rivers, and along our shores.

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”
– Evo Morales

Plastic In Fashion

Since fashion is my forte, I’ll begin here. As you may or may not already know, all synthetic fabrics are made from crude oil (my brush is broad here and I am painting over a few details), the same basic substance that powers your car. While it can get a little complicated, basically this category includes polyester, nylon, and acrylic.

Synthetic fabrics are not the easiest to avoid, as there are many types of clothing that are hard to find made from natural or regenerated fabrics (think outerwear like jackets and sportswear like yoga or running gear). So, I recommend you look to the second hand market when shopping for these items. The sad truth is, even though many eco-friendly designers love it, recycled polyester is unnecessary and sometimes comes from new stock. The label may claim the textile is sourced from recycled plastic bottles, when those bottles were actually purchased new and then turned into fabric – for the labeling technicality, you see.

Plastic At Home

Looking around your house, you are probably thinking you can see most of the plastic you own: trash and shopping bags, the garbage can, plastic containers and lids, plastic packaging, and all of those lovely bath and beauty products tucked in the bathroom and packed in plastic. However, looking closer at the situation, you begin to realize that you also have to add: your furniture, your books, possibly your dishes and most of your cookware, your bedding and your bed, your carpet or your rug, and even the paint on your walls. (Should we dare look inside the walls where we’ll find plastic-coated wires and plastic-based insulation?)

Unfortunately, there are many products we would deem as necessary that are actually impossible to buy without some plastic content. If wood and metal and glass were as ubiquitous as we require for a plastic-free life, steampunk wouldn’t be a genre, it would be the norm.

Plastic Free Living

How to be Plastic Free: Plastic is all around us and may seem to have become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. From our food and drink’s packaging, clothing, eyeglasses, shoes, toiletries, phones, dishes, computers, utensils, toys, gadgets, etc.

Plastic Of Technology

Motherboards are made of fiberglass, which is a material composed of glass filaments in a plastic resin base. This is really all you need to know before you realize that current tech is almost impossible in a plastic-free world. All of your gadgets, now so pertinent for everyday life, have many plastic components – components that are difficult, and in some cases impossible, to replicate without synthetic polymers.

After a lengthy discussion about the materials used in our technology (with the smartest and most tech-savvy person I know, my husband), I have come to a conclusion. In order to live a 100% plastic free life, there are two options:

Don’t use technology. There is likely no way to replicate every element in the computer, much less just in the motherboard, without going back to the days of room-sized computers. And even if there was, nobody is currently making it.
Or you can advance technology in ways previously unthought of. If you can explain what a motherboard is, and how it is made, perhaps you can help tackle the problem…has anyone looked into using seaweed, for example?

How to be Plastic Free

How to be Plastic Free: Birds are struggling to survive due to their polluted feeding ground. Furthermore, by year 2050, experts say the oceans will then contain more plastic than fish by weight.

Did We Just Stumble On The Answer?

It seems, then, that a 100% plastic-free existence is not currently possible without making some major life changes – changes that I wouldn’t expect the world to make as I type this piece on my computer from the comfort of my memory-foam bed. So the answer has to lie somewhere in the compromise. I always try to leave you with some good news, my dear eco-apprentices, and today is no different. The first, and most important, challenge to living sustainably is to make your products last as long as possible.

This means that going plastic-free is not an overnight-toss-everything-and-buy-glass-and-wood-instead kind of movement. Rather, as items wear out beyond repair and need replacing, look to plastic-free/minimal options instead. Continue to use your Tupperware and sit on your couch and wear your favorite jacket, but when the tub cracks, the lid goes missing, the jacket no longer fits, and the couch gets eaten by your dog (true story), do your research and find something better. Make sure it will last, save up if you need to, just remember to consider the plastic content of the item and the packaging, and make the best choice you can. The more we make the better decision, the more companies will respond with better options.

Resources

The amount of information about living plastic-free can be mind-boggling! The following list contains some of the best sources I’ve found and my personal recommendations about where to start.

If You’re All About Digital

Plastic Pollution Coalition
A beautiful website full of useful information in an easy-to-navigate layout

My Plastic Free Life
The consummate blog on a plastic-free lifestyle, complete with tips, tricks, and challanges

Zero Waste Home
One family’s journey to zero waste, documented for your convenience.

O Ecotextiles
All the data you’ll ever need about synthetic fabric

Article about the research that discovered clothing fibers are a huge source of environmental impact, includes link to the original research paper by Mark Browne

If You Love Some Paper

Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too
Beth Terry, plastic-free aficionado and creator of the go-to blog My Plastic Free Life has a book, too!

7 Easy Ways To Go Plastic Free: Don’t Settle For BPA-Free Plastic Containers
A simple how-to for going plastic free by Elizabeth Swafford

The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory: A Guide to Fabrics’ Properties, Characteristics, and Garment-Design Potential
Though author Gail Baugh wrote this for those with an interest in sewing and design, it’s a wonderful reference for anyone who wants to know more about the clothing they wear. Plus, it’s full of beautiful pictures, and it makes for a stunning coffee table book.

If You Like The Pretty Pictures

The Great Invisible
A film about 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this piece highlights the dangers in continuing in the quest for an increasingly harder to obtain material.

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The documentary that brought mass attention to the floating garbage island in the Pacific ocean that is anywhere from Texas to Alaska in size.

Addicted To Plastic
Well-researched and presented, this film is a wonderful overview to the problem of plastic as a whole.

Plastic Planet
Filmmaker Werner Boote travels the globe to show you exactly how much plastic is in our lives, pointing out many unexpected aspects of its use.

If You’re A Facebook Fan

Plastic Pollution Coalition
The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of organizations, businesses, and thought leaders working toward a world free of plastic pollution.

Plastic is Forever
Plastic is Forever is a community dedicated to upcycling plastic into functional and artistic items in order to keep them off the shores and out of the oceans.

Socially Conscious Collective
This is a new group hosted by Socially Conscious Living (That’s US!!). It’s a group of people who collaborate and inspire one another to reduce waste, be mindful, protect the planet, care about fellow humans, take care of our animal friends, and make a difference around here.

Journey to Zero Waste
This Group is a large collective of people who share their journey to reduce and eliminate all waste. It’s an extremely knowledgable and supportive group, and very active. (Unless you blatantly post that you aren’t vegan, and then they devour you! Just kidding. Sorta. Haha. Let me put it this way … it’s a passionate group. There’s so much knowledge, wisdom, experience, inspiration and collaboration … that sometimes it just makes sense to keep on scrolling past the little bit of drama.)

If You Long For Interaction

Cool Apps
This link will take you to a list much more master than I could muster of all the appropriate apps.

The BULK App
The BULK app is now web-based and is an interactive way to find and share stores and markets offering bulk selections near you. From the family that brought you Zero Waste Home!

About the author

Julia Eden

With a passion born in rivers, Julia Eden has spent the last decade crusading for the environment. Educated in fashion design and English Literature, and skilled in dance, she is dedicated to finding the information needed to live a new and better life. While not quite a Luddite, she would very much like to live in a cave with a wolf and an internet connection.

2 Comments

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