A long while back, I read an article in which the author saved and photographed every piece of single use plastic he used in a week. He did this to see how much single use plastic he was using. That article has disappeared into the depths of the web and no amount of googling has turned it up; but it inspired this piece. Recently I saved every piece of single use plastic I used in a week to see just how much I actually go through.
We tend to think that we’re not using THAT much, that it’s just one bottle, just one plastic bag. Just this one time, but just this one time adds up. When you toss as you use, you don’t see just how much ‘this one time’ really is.
I wanted to know just how much this one time was for me. I’m no green queen, but I’ve made an effort to reduce my consumption of plastic, starting by removing the easy offenders – plastic water bottles, shopping bags and straws. Putting in a water filter system was one of the best things we’ve done and made it easier to say no plastic and yes to filtered water. Yes, there have been times when those things have filtered back into my life, but for the most part they’ve become non-existent.
I didn’t adjust my behavior for the week – I wanted to identify the places I was using plastic without thinking. However, I documented only those pieces I threw out. This meant that any items I used during the week that came in plastic, which will eventually be thrown out (toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizer) weren’t documented. It also means that I counted items that I opened months ago (vitamins, pain killers) but only just finished.
I ummed and ahhed about whether I should share this. We don’t like admitting to the plastic we still use. It’s safer to show the glass straws, reusable shoppers and Eco-friendly coffee cups. The internet can be a judgmental place, but it can also be a place where we can learn and draw inspiration from. This guy saved his plastic for a year – all 4490 pieces of it and turned it into a mural to spark debate. So here I am sharing a week’s worth of plastic.
It would happen that the day I start my collection was also the day I did a big produce shop. I do this every 2 weeks and shop at an independent small grocer, the type who packs all your produce into reused produce boxes (win) but sells a large part of their produce in plastic (lose). Until I had to save each piece, I never realised how much plastic this was .
4 plastic bags from apples, pears, paprika and sweet potatoes.
3 pieces of cling wrap and Styrofoam boards from eggplants, peppers and pomegranates.
1 plastic “net” bag from lemons.
1 250g carton with lid from butter.
1 plastic packet from mini tissues.
1 empty painkillers sleeve.
1 courier bag.
3 plastic cartons from berries.
1 piece of cling wrap covering hummus.
1 snack bar wrapper.
1 tub from empty vitamins.
1 plastic bag from baby tomatoes.
1 Ziploc used to stores bones for bone broth.
1 packet from noodles.
1 bag from raisins.
1 plastic cover from coffee.
1 tub from micro greens .
1 piece of cling wrap and Styrofoam board from mushrooms.
1 plastic wrapper from cheese.
1 tub from baby tomatoes.
1 packet from lettuce.
2 plastic cartons from herbs.
At the end of the week I had accumulated 32 pieces of plastic I would never use again. Naturally the amount will vary from week to week, but if you estimate an average of 32 pieces of single use plastic a week, in one year I will toss out 1664 pieces of plastic. An amount that may not be astronomical, but when you consider that every piece of plastic ever made still exists, over my lifetime I’m going to create tons of waste that will forever remain.
At the end of the week I had a full bag of plastic. Not all that plastic is recyclable, in fact most probably isn’t. So, what do I do with the results of my experiment? Learn lessons of course – here’s what I picked up.;
Recycle – I have a weekly neighborhood recycle pickup, but not all plastic should be going there.
Reuse – any single use plastic that can be used again (think cartons, trays) should be reused (something I need to be better at). Some of these items can be given to playschools/nursery schools who make crafts out of anything.
Eco bricks – Eco bricks are made by filling a 2 liter plastic bottle with unrecyclable plastic waste. It’s then dropped off at drop off points and used in building.
Reduce – this is the best thing to do. Reduce the number of things in plastic you buy. And for me that largely comes down to produce and food packaging where most of my plastic is coming from. The hard part about this one is that change needs to come from suppliers too, if manufacturers started packing their products in something other than single use plastic, it would give us the consumer, the opportunity to still support the brands we love, without destroying the world we live in.