Sustainability Blindspots

Fashion was always a sustainability blindspot for me, and it’s still something I’m working on being more mindful about. But there are lots of other areas where–despite my religious recycling and knowledge of the hard effects of climate change– I could do better.

One of those areas is convenience items. What am I really talking about? PLASTICS.

My office has a break room, but until a couple months ago, did not have sink. For the three years I’ve worked there, I have most days brought my lunch in an effort to be more healthy, more financially responsible, and have less of an environmental impact. However! For lots of the things I brought for lunch, I needed silverware. And then I would use our office supply of plastic forks and spoons, which I would use and then throw away. So bad. So shameful.

Finally, in December, I bought a To-Go Ware set of reusable bamboo utensils. And with our sink, I can wash everything after they’re used and keep the set at my desk!

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These utensils are definitely larger and thicker than your average utensils (and definitely larger/thicker than plastic disposable silverware!) so it definitely felt a little different and odd when I first started using them, but after a few meals I got used to them and I actually appreciate that they kind of force you to take smaller bites and eat slower. As a human-hoover accustomed to eating quickly and running off to the next thing, I definitely need that encouragement to slow down.

Plastics are everywhere, and unfortunately, they last … practically forever. They are cheap to purchase, but the cost to the environment is high. Using plastic forks at the office was free to me, but over time that is a huge amount of plastic that is used, plus a sizable cost of purchasing plastic utensils for the office every month. Buying a $13 set of utensils one time makes long-term financial and environmental sense.

Where can you reduce your plastic impact? This chapter from The World Without Us,  by Alan Weisman, offers a disturbing look into the long-term impact of plastics on our environment. From Chapter 9, Polymers are Forever:

In 1975, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences had estimated that all oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic annually. More recent research showed the world’s merchant fleet alone shamelessly tossing around 639,000 plastic containers every day. But littering by all the commercial ships and navies, Moore discovered, amounted to mere polymer crumbs in the ocean compared to what was pouring from the shore.

The real reason that the world’s landfills weren’t overflowing with plastic, he found, was because most of it ends up in an ocean-fill. After a few years of sampling the North Pacific gyre, Moore concluded that 80 percent of mid-ocean flotsam had originally been discarded on land. It had blown off garbage trucks or out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers and washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers or wafted on the wind, and found its way to this widening gyre.

You can read the whole chapter online , which gets into much more detail about the sheer  amount of plastic litter in the environment. I promise you, it’s hard not to think of the phrase “polymers are forever” after reading this and looking around at how much plastic you have in your life.

I definitely have more sustainability blindspots, but trying to reduce the amount of plastics I use and purchase new is definitely going up there as one I am actively trying to address.

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