I am not participating in Plastic Free July. I make reasonable efforts to reduce plastic in my life. But I need plastic and I have lots of it.
My computer, printer, tablet, phones, TVs, speakers and cameras are made with plastic. So are all the small appliances such as the microwave, slow cooker and kettle. I have a plastic bucket, watering can, water hose and wheel barrow. A plastic clothes hamper and clothes basket. Plastic litter boxes for my cats. Plastic garbage cans. I store things in plastic bins with lids. The siding and window frames of my house are plastic, and there is lots of it in my car’s interior. I have rugs, lamps and toys made with plastic. I have upholstery, clothing and shoes made with plastic. Even my eye glasses have plastic lenses.
Plastic is everywhere because it works. It is often the best possible material for the job. It is no-maintenance, colour-fast, waterproof and light. It’s also strong and extremely durable. Every piece of plastic I buy is permanent. For that reason, I take plastic buying decisions rather seriously. I buy it because it’s indestructible – so I have to live with the consequences!
I have also wasted a lot of plastic and learned a few lessons.
- My first plastic wheelbarrow was used to haul rocks in the yard. After dropping some heavy rocks in it, the bottom of the wheel barrow was pierced through, so I couldn’t haul soil in it any more (without adding a plastic liner!) I considered replacing it with a metal one but I knew it would rust in the shed in our damp climate. I improvised for as long as I could (duct tape, a tarp) and eventually bought another plastic one. I take care of it!
- I discovered dozens of plant pots in my shed – more than I’ll use in a lifetime. I cheerfully gave away the first 20 or so. Now I try to get new plants through sharing and trading. I can use the rest of my pots when I divide my own plants and give them away.
- I bought three drying racks – one for dishes, one for laundry and one for use as a shower caddy. They were all plastic-coated metal. Within about two years, the plastic started flaking off and the metal began rusting. The racks are all for wet things so I can’t use wood. It looks like I will end up with plastic again – no metal (hmm, my stainless steel sinks have not rusted but a stainless steel dish rack did).
- I went through several 5×8-foot size synthetic rugs and was not happy with their durability. My latest cotton rug is not holding up any better, but it will biodegrade!
- I have gone through three “pleather” jackets, all of which have eventually torn. I fear “plastic” coats, boots and shoes must be some of the worst environmental offenders. I struggle with using natural products that are more durable and more eco-friendly than their synthetic counterparts, such as leather jackets and wool rugs – because they’re animal-based. I know some who deal with that by purchasing used.
- Once upon a time I just had to have an iCat. It was an iPod speaker shaped like a toy cat that lit up and made purry sounds. It wasn’t a good speaker. I think I used it twice. It is sitting on a shelf looking like the obsolete plastic toy it is.
- My Fitbit conked out after just 4 months and was replaced under warranty. It failed slightly after the warranty period. I decided not to replace it because I feared I’d get in a loop of upgrading my plastic Fitbit every 18 months.
I will always have plastic in my life and I will always choose it deliberately for some uses. I just have to ask myself: Is plastic the only solution? What are the drawbacks of the alternatives and can I live with them? If it is a cost issue, what am I willing to pay as an “environmental tax”? Should I set a target date (such as, will last 10 years or more?)
This was not meant to be a love letter to plastic. It has its place. Maybe we should all give the same amount of thought to bringing home big plastic items as we would to buying a new car or a new kitten (albeit without the fun factor) – it is a weighty decision for the planet.
DISPOSABLE plastic is a whole other issue! That is something I like to tackle with a vengeance. I’ll post about it another time.
Which old-fashioned products do you own instead of the plastic versions (Metal buckets? Wicker hampers?) What are the “more permanent” plastic products you can’t live without?