Taking on Single-Use Plastics in the Home

By Katie Turner Getty

With the support of the Melrose Recycling Committee, I’ve decided to embark on my own #SingleUsePlasticChallenge during which, every month in the new year, I will try to take steps toward reducing my reliance on single-use plastics. I plan to document my personal journey in the hopes that other Melrose residents will feel inspired to join me in minimizing our usage of single-use plastics.

This personal challenge was recently spurred when I looked into the trash container in my kitchen one day and saw a mound of discarded, non-recyclable single use plastic products such as sandwich bags, freezer bags, and plastic wrap. It’s been established for decades that plastic never biodegrades. Rather, many plastics merely break down into tinier and tinier particles, which then insidiously contaminate the environment.

Days passed, and I reflected upon how the heap of single-use plastic in my trash would end up in a landfill, eventually contaminating the ground and water. I also remembered, as an elementary school student way back in the 1980s, learning about the danger that plastic posed to the environment. Now, thirty years later at the dawn of 2019, I feel disheartened to realize how little progress we’ve made toward eliminating this environmental hazard.

I had also been ruminating over the recent release of the federal Climate Assessment report and feeling great anxiety about its dire outlook related to climate change. I felt an overpowering sense of hopelessness and despair for our collective future. Certainly I do not wield enough power to single-handedly reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. I desperately wanted to take action to protect our environment—but what could I, one powerless individual, do? The problems seemed so insurmountable: how could I make a difference?

Then one night I was packing my lunch to take to work with me the next day, as I usually do. I put a sandwich in a single-use plastic sandwich bag. But then I realized—I had an opportunity to take action. It was a small action, no doubt, but action nonetheless. I could choose to stop using the sandwich bags. I could stop contributing to the heap of plastic in my trash barrel by simply choosing not to use a baggie and, instead, putting my sandwich in a reusable container every day.

So I did. It was such a simple thing. I’m almost embarrassed to express how great it felt to take action. I was finally—albeit in a very small way—aligning my actions with my values. It felt amazing to consciously take on the responsibility to fight for our environment in a very tangible way. In my excitement at making a tiny difference, I started wondering what else I could do—and thus my own personal single-use plastic challenge was born.

Admittedly, starting the new year by simply using a reusable sandwich container instead of a baggie is a very small step. But it is something that everyone can do. I’m just a regular person with a busy schedule and an ordinary amount of environmental awareness. But I feel that, as climate change and environmental pressures continue to worsen, it’s incumbent on me as a citizen of the Earth to do better. My plan is to set realistic goals and then implement changes to my daily routines that will be sustainable over the long term, and I will encourage my family and friends to do the same.

I know that many people are much further along the path toward eliminating plastic consumption than I am. Others might have already come up with great solutions to reducing reliance upon single-use plastics. If so, I encourage you to help me and others learn by leaving some tips and tricks in the comments section of the Melrose Recycling Committee blog, or by sharing some tips on social media or to the Melrose Free Press and the Melrose Weekly News. My hope is that we as a community can all move together toward our common goal of mitigating the hazards of single-use plastics and protecting our environment.

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