Plasticky July

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?

16 comments

  1. Then there’s all the polyester in our clothes. Even all cotton clothes often have polycotton thread used in the seams. It doesn’t biodegrad.

    I am likewise torn. Plastic is so useful – molding to any shape in any colour.

    I purposely bought a wood bath caddy instead of a plastic one. It wasn’t going to get too wet and the wood looks better – more spa and glamorous. But I can’t think of anything else more permanent that I purposely bought in a different material. Like you, we look after our plastic to make it last. I have a Tupperware container that was my mother’s in the 70s. I had to warn my sons, as they put one in the microwave and it melted.

    A recent TV show that was very popular on our national broadcaster, War on Waste, has given us extra impetus to reduce our waste. Our bin has not been even half full since.

    • I would love to see War on Waste. I was able to watch a few clips on YouTube (I liked the coffee cup tram!) I probably have Tupperware in the house, too. Yup, definitely lots of polymers in clothes and footwear. I am a fan of Lycra, Gortex, Coolmax and polar fleece. I just try to make it last as long as possible.

  2. Margie in Toronto

    I do my best but as you say – it’s more and more difficult to avoid it these days. I have switched over most of my kitchen & pantry storage to glass – but keep a few pieces of plastic containers as I send meals to an elderly neighbour and I’m afraid glass might be too heavy. He’s very good about returning them so they do get reused over and over again.
    I prefer leather over plastic – especially when it comes to shoes and I use metal for garbage pails and laundry hampers – my drying rack is metal but coated in plastic – my coat hangers are a mix of plastic and wood.
    The biggest problem is at the grocery store – especially those “clamshell” containers. I am planning to invest in some of those reusable cloth produce bags and don’t use plastic bags for just one item – I feel that every little bit helps and if we all make an effort it adds up,

    • I have glass food containers for reheating things. I am trying to use the plastic ones for unheated things until they are unusable. I completely agree that I bring home the most plastic from the grocery store. Grr! I keep trying to improve.

  3. I tend to hold on to my belongings, plastic or not. If it’s meant to last, I will make it last. It paints me throw out anything I bought to be used for a long time, no matter what material it’s made out of.

    FitBit: I have one, but I bought it used on eBay, very cheap. I do this with most electronics. When it wears out or breaks, I sell the old one and buy another one used. That saves mucho bucks and also means I’m not adding to the waste pile anything that wasn’t going there already.

    • Hi Norm, That is a good point. We should try to make everything last no matter what material it is made from. I hadn’t thought of buying a used Fitbit. My old one is dead/unsaleable, though.

  4. Good post.. I’m kind of with you, we do use/buy plastic, but try to make it last and I don’t like clutter/crap, so we’re not huge consumers of “stuff”. For reusable containers we buy glass, and if there are options, I’ll choose metal etc.. our drying rack is a metal clothing rack etc…

  5. Jamie

    This post makes me think about the Australian TV show The Gruen Transfer. It’s a bit of a satirical take on the advertising industry. Each episode they would get some ad executives in to compete at creating an ad on a particular topic – generally something people wouldn’t agree with. For example, one week the topic for promotion was plastic surgery for under 10 year olds. Another week that has stuck in my mind over the years was creating a pro-plastic bag ad. This was the winner of the segment:

    And this was the other ad created:

  6. Jo

    Like you I have plastic in my flat, it has it’s uses but as a material it lacks warmth for me.

    My material of choice for furnishings and hardiness is generally wood. The window frames and door of my flat and cottage are wood, I stripped, sanded stained and varnished the flat windows when I moved in and now 30 years later they probably need doing again. They’ve been in the flat about 140 + years and are still going strong. 🙂 All my furniture is wood, 90% of it second hand, all my shelving is wood (except a small sisal shelving unit in the bathroom), the laundry basket is wood and cotton, all my waste baskets are wicker.

    I’ve got a metal wheelbarrow for my allotment because I haul so much heavy stuff I new plastic would break or crack. Thought I do have a plastic trug for the allotment (it was on sale and I know I’ll use it). My watering cans are plastic (much lighter to handle) and I do have a number of plastic buckets which come in handy for all sorts of reasons!

    I use some plastic crates for storage in the attic, I’ve got a whole load of plastic plant pots which are useful for seed raising and plant exchanges at the allotment and there’s always people wanting spares.

    I do have a fair bot of disposable plastic (plastic water bottles, take away trays etc) but these get recycled or kept to use in the garden. Water bottles make good mini greenhouses for individual plants and I’ve been saving some to make a water bottle cold frame 🙂 Other disposable plastic makes very handy seed trays.

    • You are doing so well! My house is only 20 years old and it has wood construction with plastic siding over; typical here since the 1970s. It would be cool to start over in a new house or flat and slowly accumulate the things I need, all ecologically sound – but like most people, I scrounged, borrowed, bought used, bought cheap, replaced often, and only recently decided I have everything I need. Trug is a new word for me! I have one of them, too.

  7. You make good points about the plastic in technology and other things where there are no options. If you include polyester it is ubiquitous in our lives and would take a lot of effort to avoid. Buying secondhand or giving items away are good options if available as it delays sending the item to landfill. Disposable plastic, as you say, is another story and something I need to be more conscious of as well.

    • Agree! I think now that the key is to help everything last as long as possible which means storing it in proper conditions, avoiding breakage, etc. Then if I don’t need it, maybe someone else can use it.

  8. Jo

    Yes, Dar, looking after absolutely everything, because all our things are precious because they are all made out of the earth. Some will take longer to biodegrade than others though.. My mum is very good at this. She had one single plastic vegie peeler for about thirty years, and she kept and used my old nappy bucket for a similar length of time. I noticed the other day that the beach towels my parents bought on their honeymoon forty eight years ago are still in use in the bathroom (I mentioned this and mum said, yes, they have lasted so long as they don’t really like the beach..).

    When my plastic things break I try to replace them with a natural product – tin pails, natural bamboo or wood brushes, bamboo toothbrushes etc. But I won’t throw out perfectly good plastic products just because they are plastic. No, I will be like my mum and look after them as long as I can..

    • I have some good history there. When I left my parents’ home 30 years ago (!) I received some hand-me-downs and bought used items. A lot of it is still in use, especially kitchen wares, towels and blankets. (They may not be my best, but…) All of my seasonal stuff, for holidays and so on, has lasted that long. My kid is 24 and lots of the stuff in the house pre-dates Link – who still has the dresser purchased for their nursery! I don’t recall ever discarding anything plastic just to replace it with something natural – I want to get maximum use from it first. (For instance, I bought some glass containers for reheating food, but kept the old plastic ones for cold foods, transporting food, etc.)

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