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Going green: One-time-use plastics can sneak into your lifestyle

Back in January, I challenged myself to avoid as much one-time-use plastics as possible during the month of February. The challenge was hard, but I feel like I learned a lot about myself and my plastic usage.

I thought that the challenge was going to be easy and I wasn’t going to use very much plastic at all. I was very wrong. I learned that plastic waste can be very sneaky and if you want to avoid it, you have to be thinking on your toes, at least at first.

As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Once I was on the lookout for one-time-use plastics, I realized they are much more ubiquitous than I had originally thought, and I already thought they were pretty common.

I decided to use this as an educational experience and not beat myself up over using plastic. I hunted down the hidden plastics in my life, even though they could surprisingly sneaky. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize that I had used a piece of plastic at all until my husband pointed it out to me.

One week into the challenge, I wrote about how the challenge had been going so far. I had some success — I made sure to bring my reusable cups and straws with me everywhere. If I didn’t have a reusable cup, then I didn’t go to a restaurant where they would give me a disposable straw or lid. I successfully avoided one straw because I opted to use my metal one instead.  

My “needs improvement” list for the first week included accidentally getting a plastic coffee lid with a fast-food coffee. I had totally forgotten the drink would come with a plastic lid. The month started out well, but became more challenging. Here is more from my log for the rest of February:

• My successes in February included avoiding three more plastic straws while eating out. I also avoided using a one-time-use cup with plastic lid four times. Sometimes this was because I brought my own cup, but when I forgot to bring my own cup, I just brought in my water bottle from my car and drank water instead, which is good for the earth, my wallet and my health.

I really liked bringing my water bottle. I had never really done it before but now that I’ve tried it, I might do it more often now.

• On two different occasions, I avoided plastic bags at non-grocery stores. I had predicted that this would be my most difficult obstacle, but it didn’t end up being too bad. I think that is because I already knew it might be difficult so I was very prepared for it. I also did well at grocery stores and made two successful trips with my own bags. I used zero plastic bags to carry home things I bought from grocery stores.

• My “needs improvement” items include that I did not avoid 6 wrappers on crackers. I usually like to eat salads, but I never eat crackers with them, so I always forget that at a lot of restaurants, they give you packs of crackers wrapped in plastic with your salad. These sneaky cracker wrappers avoided my plastic radar until it was too late.

I also didn’t think about the dressing for some salads coming in a plastic pouch or container, so sadly, three times I counted one-time-use plastic from salad dressings, and once I had plastic from a pouch of croutons.

It’s unfortunate that the healthier option for me personally was less healthy for the planet. I suppose I could have brought my own salad dressing or have gone without, but planning to bring salad dressing with me seems awkward and likely to create problems.

• Valentine’s Day was not helpful for avoiding one-time-use plastic. I was given some yummy treats in three plastic bags. Then I bought two boxes of chocolates, not thinking about the plastic wrapping around them or the plastic in the bottom of the box. Plastic really is everywhere!

• At a sandwich restaurant, they put my to-go sandwich in a plastic bag before I realized what was going on. I also had one trip to a store without a reusable bag.

• It wasn’t until my challenge was almost over that my husband asked me about my morning granola bar. I hadn’t even been thinking about that. So almost every day of February, it turns out I ate a granola bar for breakfast that had a plastic wrapper.

This made me decide that I’m going to start making my own breakfasts. I’m going to make my own granola bars, muffins and more so I don’t have to start my morning with one-time-use plastics.

• Ice cream also got me in trouble. I used a plastic spoon for a scoop of ice cream and a wrapper from an ice cream pop. I never had the opportunity to use my bamboo utensils because I was never faced with the use of plastic silverware, except that sneaky ice cream spoon.

Overall, I think I did well, but I definitely see where I need to improve. I’m glad that I did this challenge. I also realized that the more I eat at home and pack my lunch, the less plastic I tend to use, so I’m going to try to do that more.

If you have any great anti-plastic life hacks, please let me know. You can email me at amandawheelerphoto@live.com.

Amanda’s Animal Fact of the Week

Blue Whales are one of the loudest species on Earth. With good conditions, blue whales can hear one another up to 1,000 miles away. That’s like if you said something here and people in Miami, Florida could hear you.

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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