Plastics Problem: Overview, Plus What YOU Can Do to Reduce Your Use of Plastics

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Yves mentioned in a post yesterday how hard it is to reduce one’s use of  plastics – a problem I’ll examine further in the latter half of this post.

Before I get to that issue, however, I first want to consider an article that appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, The plastic polluters won 2019 – and we’re running out of time to stop them. I encourage everyone to read this comprehensive, but reader-friendly account in full, as it well summarises some key issues about plastics, and is especially informative to any who might just becoming aware of this scourge..

First off: the scale of the plastics problem. Wednesday, I linked to a Reuters piece, A plateful of plastic, which visually represented the amount of microplastics we consume. Each week, that amounts to 5 grams of plastic – a soup spoon.  Every month, 21 grams, or enough to fill half a rice bowl; every 6 months, 125 grams, a cereal bowlful. Every year, 250 grams, or a heaped dinner plate of the stuff. And over an average lifespan of 79 years, at current consumption rates, we eat 20 kilos of plastic, or the equivalent of two mobile recycling bins worth. There’s precious little scientific understanding what this consumption of microplastics does to out bodies. But I fear the answer is: this isn’t health food.

Second, the Guardian piece discussed the mismatch between the amount of plastics produced, and insignificant clean- up efforts, despite the rise in public disgust and Sir David Attenborough’s claim that the world was changing its plastic habits. According to the Guardian:

…But he may have been wrong. Greenpeace and the Environment Investigations Agency showed that more plastic than ever was put on shop shelves in 2019 and only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s of the 10 biggest chains marginally reduced the amounts they used. Plastic water bottle sales, indeed, soared.

Academic research, too, confirmed that pollution was worse than ever in 2019 and that the fishing industry was considerably responsible. The Dutch Ocean Cleanup project, working in the Great Pacific garbage patch, found more than half came from discarded plastic nets and rope, fish aggregating devices [FADs], buoys, long lines, crates and floats. French researchers showed how plastic litter at the bottom of the Mediterranean had tripled since 1990 and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 if business was allowed to continue as normal.

Third, the US is a major contributor to the problems – not just due to its lack of a waste management strategy  (compared to the EU, which has in fact adopted a waste policy, albeit an inadequate one; see EU Plastics Ban: “Doesn’t Go Far Enough”). As problematic: US  producers continue to ramp up plastics supply; all that fracking product must go somewhere. Over to the Guardian:

Ultra-cheap shale gas from the decade-long US fracking boom continued to fuel a surge of billion-dollar investments in new cracking plants that separate ethane from gas to produce ethylene, the building block of most plastic. Since 2010 the petrochemical industry has invested about $200bn, and with $100bn more planned to be spent, plastic production is expected to grow 40% by 2030.

And a fourth, related point: the link between plastics production and climate change. Again, let’s look at what the Guardian has to say:

The implications for countries struggling to cope with climate change and thousands of communities fighting tides of plastic are only now being understood. From having little impact on the climate just 20 years ago, the production and disposal of plastic now uses nearly 14% of all the world’s oil and gas. Plastic production is expected to grow to 20% by 2050 by which time the industry’s climate emissions could rise to 2.75bn tonnes a year and plastic could be driving half of all oil demand growth.

Plastic, says the International Energy Agency, could take up to 15% of the remaining annual carbon budget and make the fast-growing industry the equivalent of the world’s fifth largest climate heating country, emitting more than Germany or the UK, twice as much as all African countries and nearly as much as shipping and aviation combined.

Even as anger mounted in 2019 against rich countries’ reluctance to act on climate change, it became clear that plastic was big oil’s great hope for expansion, and one of the world’s leading drivers of climate change. Shell’s giant $6bn ethane-cracking plant being built near Pittsburgh, will produce 1.6m tons of plastic a year but is just one of dozens of similar size plantsplanned for the US, India, China and the Middle East.

What Is to Be Done?

I’ll begin by considering  the low-hanging fruit. France and Thailand both launched a single-use plastics ban from  the start of the new year (see EGEB: France, Thailand launch single-use plastic ban on New Year’s Day).

We shouldn’t harbor illusions that cutting back on single-use plastics is any kind of panacea for the plastics problem. For starters, such bans are often honored only in the breach: I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve been served a straw or offered a thin plastic bag in places where such items are nominally already  “banned”.

When  one sees low-hanging fruit, however, what should we do?

Pick it, I say. So, say no to straws, ditto plastic cutlery, and carry reusable bags. Also, make it clear to the management of  grocery stores that swaddling everything in plastic isn’t necessary or welcome.

At the opposite extreme, I’m not going to reprimand myself – or anyone else, for that matter – for falling short of a plastics-free ideal. I try to avoid plastics, but I realize I cannot do so entirely. (Although for those serious about undertaking such a mission,  f, see No plastic 2020: The reason I am giving up all plastic bottles.)

Regular readers are probably aware of most of the following suggestions; still, it’s sometimes worth reminding ourselves of the obvious.

So, eschew synthetic fibers, including those microfiber cleaning cloths that although convenient, shed lots of nasty microplastics. I’m usually leery of recommendations to go out and try some new product; these dischcloths look interesting however, and are reusable and compostable; I’m not going to send off to Sweden for some, but I shall keep my eyes skinned for local sources (see I tried Swedish dishcloths and they are amazing).

Say no to plastic wrap and ziplock bags. It’s possible to substitute aluminium foil and wax (or grease-proof) paper – but those options still generate waste . Some people swear by reusable beeswax wraps, I rely on glass or handmade ceramic storage options.

Yes, I realize these require you to spend more money, at least initially. But those handmade ceramic s provide artisanal employment, which benefits the community and  the economy. And the seemingly lower cost of plastic alternatives is due to the fact that the negative externalities, e.g., disposal of plastics waste – is not reflected in the purchase price. With ceramics, there’s less waste overall: I have handmade ceramics that I’ve owned for more than 30 years: I use them until they break. I like handmade ceramics and I’m always on the lookout for pieces that come with their own lids.

Beyond hand thrown ceramics, some places have yet to surrender to plastic entirely. In parts of India, terra cotta is still in widespread use (but much less than was the case even a few decades before). One still can get cups of chai in small terra cotta cups – rather than thin plastic cups which only burn one’s fingers. Other things are still sold in terra cotta packaging: yogurt, or take-out biryani. Now, to be sure, unglazed terra cotta containers are intended to be disposable, but they  can be refilled, or reused for general storage. And when thrown away, the terra cotta breaks down, without polluting  the environment with pernicious microplastics.

Avoid plastic water bottles. I  know access to clean water is a problem even in the US  (and in fact, just this week, Bernie Sanders pledged to establish drinking water standards when  he becomes president; see Sanders vows to create tougher nationwide drinking water standards as president). There are many places in the world where it’s not safe to drink the water (and in which even bottled water provides false security). When possible, I already opt for filtered water rather bottled. Sometimes, I rely on a personal, portable, filtration system, which can be as simple as a Brita filter.

Shop at farmers markets. Not only do they cut out the middleman and help farmers, but they offer variety, and fresher local food – rather than the products of agribusiness, trucked across the continent or flown in from distant countries, trailing a massive carbon footprint. By patronising farmers markets, and carrying reusable shopping bags, one cuts down on plastic packaging.

I hope these suggestions don’t come across as banal, the plastics equivalent of saying look both ways before crossing.

And, I don’t mean to suggest that  individual action will produce an adequate solution. For that we need collective action, and comprehensive regulation.

But these small steps are not going to cause harm – as long as they’re not offered in the spirit of virtue signalling, and we understand that it’s necessary to adopt much more draconian, universal controls on production and use of plastics.

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  1. lyman alpha blob

    RE water bottles and unintended consequences

    A pet peeve (although with a looming environmental catastrophe I’d say it’s more than a peeve) is the “reusable” plastic water bottle. First of all, unless you’re traversing the Sahara, you don’t need a water bottle on you at all times anyway. It brings to mind my 2nd favorite story of the cynic Diogenes who had reduced his possessions down to the clothes he had on his back and one drinking cup. When someone pointed out he could drink water by simply cupping his hands, he threw away the cup.

    I don’t think anyone needs to be quite that austere and I’m sure people who make reusable plastic bottles had good intentions however it seems that everybody who wants to do some “green” advertising puts their logo on these things and hands them out with reckless abandon. I’ve tried to rid my house of them and they keep reappearing. My wife claims she must take them when offered as schwag at corporate events or else risk offending someone (she’s a charitable fundraiser) and my daughter’s summer camp requires each kid to carry a water bottle. If they don’t have one the camp gives them a new one and charges the parents for it. Since small kids inevitably lose them or mix them up with others, most families have a very good collection by the end of the summer. i had to argue with the mgmt last year to make them stop giving any more to my kid.

    I don’t the disposable equivalent of plastic contained in each of these sturdier “reusable” bottles but my guess would be about 10 or so. That’s a lot of waste for something meant to be sustainable.

    Also, try to find pretty much any condiment in a glass bottle. In the last few years they all but disappeared from grocery stores. The only glass bottle of ketchup I could find last week cost $5.95 for about 4-6 oz of some sort of minor gourmet brand and I bought one of the two that were on the shelf. That is not sustainable for anyone’s wallet when the condiment costs as much of more than what you’re spreading it on. There were zero non-plastic bottles from any of the major US brands.

    Anyway, lots of good suggestions in your article for reducing plastic but as you noted those alone won’t solve the problem. I’m been telling my kid that when I was her age about 40 years ago there was hardly any plastic packaging in stores. We got along fine then and we could do it again. But we’re either going to have to ban plastic packaging completely or literally throw a wrench in the works of the manufacturers until they get the message if no regulation is forthcoming.

    1. CloverBee

      I’m not sure where you live that reusable water bottles aren’t a necessity, but the West is very, very dry. I need access to fluids at least every 30 minutes. Instead of plastic though, I use a Stainless Steel bottle that doubles as a coffee and tea cup because the residual flavors wash out easily.

      In regards to camps, I was sent to a camp without a water bottle in 6th grade. Access to water was in bathrooms and kitchens. They did not have cups for use. It was horrible, and by the 2nd day I was deliriously thirsty. When someone was discarding a disposable water bottle, I took it out of the trash and used it the rest of the trip.

      The ability to carry around water securely is essential to me.

  2. Oguk

    I appreciate this theme on NC. I was raised right around the original Earth Day and 70’s oil crises. I was the one who lowered the thermostat religiously every night (because it was manual) and sorted the metal/cans/paper until single stream came along. I’ve always recycled, or tried to, and lately I carry my own reusable cup for coffee. Most baristas comment favorably; some have given me a free cup or a discount (regardless of the store policy, I think). It shocks me that I don’t see more people doing this; I’m in a relatively affluent area, and I see a lot of people carrying personal water bottles. The other thing I try to do is compost all soiled paper; there’s a lot more of this that could happen. I’m experimenting with composting pet waste (cat), and it’s actually not hard to get it to ~140-160°F which is what I read is necessary to kill the toxoplasmosis spores (“oocytes”).

    Regarding paper, it seems like paper & wood products are going to gradually, or quickly, replace a lot of plastic bags and wrapping for end users, if the plastic bag bans really become effective (and I agree, they’re not very effective at this point). I wonder what this is going to mean for the trees (slash-reforestation efforts, should we ever get to that). As so much of this market-driven change, consequences are often dealt with after the fact.

    1. CloverBee

      In regards to the paper bag issue, Denver is banning paper AND plastic bags. However, I see a hopeful sign in the return to using paper bags. All across the West, we have massive amounts of thinning to do in the National Forests, of live and dead and already burnt trees. If we could make it profitable to use these resources to create paper bags, it would be very helpful. The National Forests are massively overgrown and unhealthy, but it is “too expensive” to thin them.

      1. Titus

        Not going to work. That bio mass should be chipped and left in the forest. See the wood pellet industry for how quickly and badly that got out of hand.

        1. CloverBee

          But that doesn’t have an economic incentive, so we are back to the “its too expensive” whining.

  3. Stephanie

    I’ve used Swedish dishcloths and was unimpressed. They’re not large enough to absorb big spills and are otherwise useful only when wet enough to be flexible. I’ve found knitted cotton dishcloths are sturdier, longer-lasting, better for scrubbing, usable when dry, and are easily laundered.

    1. Discouraged in WI

      Then there are the old tried and true used cloth diapers; strong, absorbent, and last a long time. Easily laundered also. Of course, apparently not many parents use cloth diapers today, but perhaps they will make a comeback. The ones we used for our children went on to be cleaning cloths for many years. Also, my local grocery coop has compostable bags for customers to put produce into; not sure what they are make of — they are plastic-y, but soft.

  4. inode_buddha

    Over the past 5 years or so I have been replacing all my durable goods with even more durable goods — those that didn’t use plastic when they were new, or only used it sparingly. I insist on being able to repair everything I own, not only for economic reasons but for planetary reasons.

  5. grayslady

    I disagree with not using baggies and plastic wrap. A well made, zip-lock freezer baggie (not the kind you have to press down on to seal) can last for years. I think the ones in my luggage, that I use for cosmetics when traveling, have lasted at least 10 years and possibly longer. Very rarely do I find myself not re-using a zip-lock baggie. A friend of mine even turns his inside out and washes them for re-use because he finds plastic wrap frustrating. As for plastic wrap, the key is to use as little as possible for the task; but it remains the ideal way to portion and freeze food when placed in a freezer baggie. Sorry, but aluminum foil sticks to the food when frozen, and wax paper doesn’t prevent freezer burn. The green options you mention are simply too expensive to even try out. The key, IMO, is to re-use when possible and use in moderation when not possible. Since plastic can result in successfully freezing food, it also means I don’t have to food shop as often–which means I don’t use my car as much–so there are environmental trade-offs,too.

    1. marieann

      For freezer bags I use the plastic bags that dry cereal comes in. It is stronger than plastic keeps and easy to wrap. I don’t buy cereal but my sons do and they keep me supplied with bags. I reuse them all the time and when they a totally ruined I use them for cat litter.

      I reuse any bag that comes my way

  6. Karla

    “say no to straws, ditto plastic cutlery…make it clear to the management of grocery stores that swaddling everything in plastic isn’t necessary or welcome.
    Have done all that we can at home and in the market. However, the little plastic Stonehedges keeps arriving in our mailbox.

    We got an unsolicited 6×10” plastic card from who we have never dealt with, and after this, will certainly boycott forever, in our mailbox touting some special offer and their latest come on. No identification of what plastic it was made of, so Straight to landfill.

    Harry’s razors come in a nice plastic coffin with chasing arrows and “please recycle” on it. However, no number showing what plastic it is. Straight to landfill.
    Gillette razors at least come in a cellophane bag.

    1. George Stubbs

      The cable companies–Verizon, et al.–send those little plastic cards all the time. I’ve sent them back with notes advising that this plastic is not recyclable. And as for the numbers–don’t believe that a plastic item with a number and that arrow triangle around it is necessarily recyclable.

    2. Mike

      I eschew plastic razors and use an all metal double-edge razor that takes razor blades. Ditto plastic pens: instead, I use fountain pens refillable with ink from glass bottles.

  7. cm

    Instead of ziplocks, we have started using pint-size and smaller mason jars with plastic lids. The lids can be run through the dishwasher, and I don’t expect them to ever wear out. I don’t want to provide a link, but you can search Amazon for “White Plastic Standard Mason Jar Lids (24-Pack)” — which is what we’ve done for at least five years.

    On the razor front, males should be able to use “safety razors” which are composed entirely of metal and will last several lifetimes. The blades are also long-lasting, and have virtually no plastic packaging. Again, search Amazon for “VIKINGS BLADE The Chieftain Double Edge Safety Razor” to find a variety of blades. I find Japanese blades to be the best, but there are a ton of good options.

    I don’t endorse either product in quotes, they were just the first to come up in the search — do your research…..

    1. Tangled up in Texas

      I also use mason jars for storing and freezing food and have for decades. I use the metal lid and band that comes with jar – it works just as well as a plastic lid (and it’s not plastic). You can run the metal lid and band through the dishwasher and as long as you dry them after hand washing they will last for years.

  8. james wordsworth

    I find one key is to change a habit. By changing something permanently the impact is multiplied many many times over. My favourite is bringing my lunch to work in a glass container (but with a plastic lid). I do this EVERY day. That means no fast food, no bought sandwiches in wrap, no driving to a place to find food … basically no waste… every day. It does take some effort and planning (dinner almost always includes the next day’s lunch, except we do keep a few emergency meals in the freezer). On top of the positive environmental impact … it saves a whole bunch of cash. (Yes we do have a couple of microwaves at work).

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I agree with you about the importance of changing a habit – and then maintaining that change. Next, change another habit. I still generate way too much waste, but much, much less than before, and my trend is downward.

    2. Karla

      Microwaving destroys vitamins, nutrients and creates compounds that are bad for you.
      Do your research.

      •A study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture[5] found that broccoli “zapped” in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97 percent of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants. There were also reductions in phenolic compounds and glucosinolates, but mineral levels remained intact.

      •A 1999 Scandinavian study of the cooking of asparagus spears found that microwaving caused a reduction in vitamin C[6] .

      •In a study of garlic, as little as 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate its allinase, garlic’s principle active ingredient against cancer[7] .

      •A Japanese study by Watanabe showed that just 6 minutes of microwave heating turned 30-40 percent of the B12 in milk into an inert (dead) form[8] . This study has been cited by Dr. Andrew Weil as evidence supporting his concerns about the effects of microwaving. Dr. Weil wrote:

    3. tongorad

      I’m grateful to have been raised by parents who lived through the great depression and who were just one generation away from being farmers. Unfortunately I inherited little of their toughness and patience, but I think I did get a smidgen of common sense about cooking your own food vs eating out.
      I’m flabbergasted by my work colleagues who frequent fast food places/casual dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only is this a poor value in terms of food quality and nutrition, not to mention destructive and wasteful in environmental terms, but the money!
      It’s not hard at all to whip up a sandwich or salad, fruit etc from home for a fraction of the price.
      I don’t get it.

  9. Ignacio

    From 15th november, still germane:

    For a true circular economy, we must redefine waste

    Too often the concept of a circular economy is muddled up with some kind of advanced recycling process that would mean keeping our industrial system as it is and preserving a growing consumption model.

    This idea is based on a belief that recycling will take care of everything.

    From the World Economic Forum! Wow!

  10. Ignacio

    In the entrance of my house (urban territory) we have a couple of cotton bags so that if someone goes to the convenience store because we have run out of something, or to buy bread we do it daily, she or he takes one bag to the store. I am responsible for the weekly grocery purchase and always go with my own bags, including a collection of cotton bags for fruits and vegetables. Yet, we (4 adults at home) produce a lot of plastic garbage to the tune of two 30 liter bags filled per week (well, filled basically with air I should measure it in kilograms). Despite our efforts, we “produce” more plastic garbage than ever but, to be fair, it is not us but them who increasingly use plastics on everything. The increase on PET usage in the last to years is astonishing. My next solution would be to reduce consumptiom and eliminate certain items. Something I have already done with a few. Anyway, waste separation is a must because, at least, you facilitate the treatment of the organic fraction and that is important.

    1. Ignacio

      In the not so distant past, one would go to the store and order instant preparation of “2kg of tomatoes, please” or “two chicken breasts, please” after waiting a queue but now you go to shelves where everything is cut, prepared, and enveloped in one or various kinds of plastics basicaly as oxygen and water barriers to increase durability of the already prepared stuff. You don’t find exactly the amount required but an approximation to median demand of the prepared product and this results in more waste. These plastics have a very short life at home before becoming waste. Only when they go directly to the freezer these will last more than a single day. Many of those items are prepared in the supermarket but many more are prepared faraway in food processing facilities and require tighter conservation against oxygen and humidity, and not only plastics but dubious additives that, for instance in the case of the widely used starch migth be responsible for widespread obesity and other health problems.
      Convenience is well… convenience but we are sacrifizing a lot on the name of convenience and we should find other ways of making more or less the same but avoiding this insane production of waste.

      1. EMtz

        Farmers markets can help.

        What’s really sad is how many germ-phobic people in the US have been so conditioned that they would have a fit if they saw meat and fish displayed on tables in the open air as is the case in many mercados and small shops around the world. Have been buying my food from these places for years and have not gotten sick once. A major adjustment in thinking will be required to make significant inroads in the “prepackaged” mentality.

  11. Steven Bailey

    People I actually know are now asking for straws every time they go out to eat just to open them and not use them. These same people are now buying plastic straws in boxes for their homes, which they never did in the past, basically just to throw them away. Fox News has become a clear and present danger to our survival.

    1. MoBee

      Wow. The banality of evil never ceases to amaze.

      Agree that Fox (can’t call it “News” unless I change it to ‘Faux’ first) is dangerous.

      How can you, as an acquaintance of these fools, organize to change their behavior?

  12. J4Zonian

    All these things are fine, but in the end only political solutions will matter.

    Just like climate catastrophe, too few people care enough to do anything and almost none are able to do much. Cutting global plastic by .0003% is not going to matter. Government has to be progressive enough to respond to reality and science–especially ecological science–and strong enough to tell corporations what to do. And we have to change corporations; all of them should be like B corps are now–with a charter that prioritizes acting in the public interest, and entirely worker-owned.

    Too many people have fallen for the corporate and corporate government strategy of isolating each person and convincing him or her to act alone instead of people together mounting a real campaign of concerted action. We need to remove the lunatic right wing from power in the US and other countries and implement solutions to the climate and larger ecological crisis, including plastics.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It takes a persistent movement to force policy change on a society.

      It takes a culture-load of people who can identify eachother by their cultural behavior to be the living pedestal which can support a movement.

      Perhaps several million people doing the conservation-lifestyling described in this and other such posts and articles can find eachother and grow together into a durable persistent culture-load of people.

      That conservation-lifestyling culture-load of people can then support a movement for pushing policy corrections through the political and/or other power channels of a society.

      So where perhaps Lambert Strether might say that it is not either-or but rather both-and, we might consider that it is not this-or-that, but this-then-that.

      1. J4Zonian

        Culture and lifestyle mean nothing. Only power matters now.

        Power doesn’t depend on culture and lifestyling at all, only on organizing whoever will help, regardless of whether they’re falling for the self-tu quoquing arguments of the right wing or not.

        Using such things as organizing tactics may help some, but are irrelevant in themselves now; time is too short for anything but full-on political action.

        1. tangfwe’

          Living our values is critical for emotional health, but futile if not actually counterproductive at this stage: just look at the stats for current plastic production in the face of massive (rightful) recent propaganda against the industry.

          Nestle’ and other bottled water producers need to be SHUT DOWN immediately, especially if we acknowledge the groundwater depletion they wreak.

          Obviously many working class folks have pensions and other earned assets “invested” in these criminal behemoths; see also how teachers’ pensions are invested in entities that privatize education. The entire script and table need flipping.

          1. EMtz

            I won’t deny that Nestlé is evil – but not all bottled water companies are. I live in a place with toxic levels of fluoride, arsenic and heavy metals in tap water. I buy drinking and cooking water in 20 liter recyclable jugs of filtered water from Bonafonte, a Latin American company that is not an egregious predator. Then I filter it again through a Berkey countertop filter to clean up microplastics inherent in the bottling process. Filtering out the heavy metals with the Berkey won’t work because the technology is ineffective in water with the high pH we have here. So this issue is more nuanced than it may appear to be on the surface.

            1. fwe’zy

              Why not put the resources into providing clean water for all as a public good, rather than extraction via private profit machine and ever more “special” consumer items? I have a Berkey filter. Self-sufficiency is unsustainable.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well . . . . that certainly is a TOC ( Theory Of Change) among others. Just like my TOC is one among others. And you can certainly try and find people who agree with your TOC to join you in forming a TAG ( Theory Action Group) to pursue actions based on your TOC. And if the rest of us see you having measurable success, some of the rest of us will support your TAG’s actions in pursuance of your TAG’s TOC.

          But as you try to get other people to exercise the full-on political action you call for . . . without any cultural or other solidarity-building personal-identity-signifiers by which full-on political action-seekers might find eachother . . . you will be asked by some people about your own level of plastics use or non-use, as people decide to assess your personal sincerity and standing for recruiting them into your TAG in pursuance of your TOC.

          And you will be ready to answer these questions . . . or not, as you see fit . . . or not.

          1. tangfwe’

            Virtuous Plastics Lifestylers Against The Sinful Others just doesn’t have the same ring as Workers of the World Unite, sahhhhry.

  13. David in Santa Cruz

    I follow most of the consumption strategies outlined above, but I’m pessimistic for one of the reasons also stated above: the need to deliver safe drinking water is spinning out of control and will only increase as population is expected to pass 7.8B by 2025 and reach 9.7B by 2050 — mostly in areas where the already poor or non-existent water/food/human-waste infrastructure is going to be even more stressed by the certainty of a minimum planetary warming of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

    Cheap and disposable plastics meet the needs of people in the regions most under stress from population growth and climate change. These people appear to be uninterested in being lectured about their consumption and waste-disposal habits by people from regions with abundant water and food. Drinking tap water filtered through a Brita and driving to the Farmer’s Market simply aren’t options for people who don’t even have access to a toilet, and there is little hope of building the sort of infrastructure that might create those options for them.

    I’m sorry, but I‘m filled with despair about this issue.

    1. tangfwe’

      Excellent comment. We disaffected progressives are not the motive force of history. The masses are. What vision are we really bringing for them? We can and should afford state-of-the-art infrastructure for them.

      Composting toilets and growing their own food are soothing fantasies. There is a compost surplus already and localized food production may be worse for the environment due to land use considerations.

      *Wholesale systemic change now: private capital accumulation is the root rot.*

  14. Schnormal

    Thank you Jerri-Lynn!

    I also feel like I’ve made real strides over the last ten years in cutting down my use of plastic, from cutting out things like plastic wrap and plastic bottles, to cooking more and bringing lunch and ordering less takeout. I’ve switched to metal razors and paper-wrapped bar soap (I <3 Dr Bronner’s), and have just started using bar shampoo.

    But I feel like all this is near meaningless compared to what should be done to control the source of plastic pollution. What meaningful limits have been placed on consumer packaging in the last, I don’t know, 20 years? It seems these companies are allowed to choose from thousands of different plastic combinations, all based on marketing considerations.

    There should be like a dozen grocery packaging options, tops, all of which should be selected for ease of recycling. How the [family blog] are these [family blog] companies still allowed to select their own non-recyclable plastics for single-use junk food packaging, with no regard whatsoever for what happens to this material downstream? It’s beyond ridiculous.

  15. drumlin woodchuckles

    I have recently noted the introduction of yet another plastic technology, which goes to show that the Establishment is still working to plastify the world at large faster than we concerned individuals can de-plastify our lives.

    And that technology is Keurig coffee podlets. And the whole new Keurig system for making one cuppa coffee at a time using these little unit-dose coffee pods. I found a picture.

    The picture makes pretty clear that these are little plastic coffee dispensing unit-dose cups.
    You put them in the fancy Keurig coffee pod machine and punch a certain lever down and turn it on and you get coffee. These things have spread around like herpes in just the last two years. We got one at work and had our Mister Coffee machine thrown away. There will probably be a billion Keurig coffee pods a year added to the thrown-away plastics burden.

    With a name like “Keurig”, it just has to be German. The little plastic pods themselves looked like the ideal size for starting seedlings in for the garden. So I took one apart. Inside the little plastic pod, with its cap and base, is a tiny little pod-sized coffee-filter-paper coffee filter with a unit-dose-amount of dry ground coffee in it.

    Since the empty Keurig pods are an ideal size for starting seedlings, I have decided to fish as many as I want out of the trash, take them home, tear off the top, tear out and save the decayable paper and wet coffee grounds for the garden, and wash out the tiny podlet for growing seedlings in.

    That will help solve MY problem of where to get nice little seedling cuplets, but it won’t solve THE problem of endless billions of plastic Keurig coffee pods entering the plastic waste pile.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        You are most welcome. And thank you for the kind words. It doesn’t solve THE problem, but it can help solve OUR little problem of durable re-usable seedling starters. And I think that if one jammed two or even three Keurig pods together, one would have an even stronger and more durable little seedling starter cup.

        The only way to cure THE problem would be to outlaw Keurig coffee-pods all over the world. And force people back onto the multi-dose loose-coffee-in-a-filter system ( which used to be modern, until it wasn’t).

    1. Moshe Braner

      Recently I saw such coffee “pods” that have the thin paper filter exposed (no plastic cup), leaving “only” a (much thicker) plastic ring at the top, with the attached foil cover. And of course the remaining (just as much mass of) plastic is claimed to be “sourced from plant materials”. (No word on energy used to make it.) Any concern can be co-opted.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        One wonders if the exposed thin paper filter which is stabilized with a much thicker plastic ring at the top . . . could be stabilized just as well with a much thicker bamboo ring at the top. Bamboo stems are hollow and can be cut into rings. If they could be grown ( or maybe shape-refined) to be the exact right size for a stabilizer ring, then one could have one’s unit dose coffee pod without any plastic at all.

        1. Moshe Braner

          I like my French Press, made from glass and stainless steel (and a bit of plastic). Nothing to throw out after I make the coffee and compost the grounds.

  16. drumlin woodchuckles

    I see we have two virtue signallers in the comment thread, according to the narrowest technically-correct definition of virtue signalling.

    Making sure to be seen in public signing a petition about how “other people” should do “something about something” is an example of virtue signalling.

    Making a public show of telling people how they need to be political and radical and do some mass-action something is an example of virtue signalling.

  17. drumlin woodchuckles

    I just ran across an interesting article about someone’s project on working out many different uses and re-uses and re-re-uses for 5 gallon plastic buckets. He leads into the article in part this way . . .

    “One of my favorite philosophers Ran Prieur, says that five gallon buckets are the best use for fossil fuels. Prior to the plastics revolution, we didn’t have any storage container with the sanitary, strength and airtight qualities of a plastic bucket.

    And yet, today these buckets are so ubiquitous that we don’t even notice them, and they are often thrown away. Of course, this means you can usually get as many 5 gallon buckets for free as you want! Read more about sourcing buckets…” ( and that sourcing buckets phrase in the article leads to this link . . .

    Here is the link to the master article.

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