Just say 'no' to plastics
Ever since the City Council passed a plastic bag ordinance that will go into effect on July 1, a lot of really great questions have come in from the public and businesses about how to further reduce plastic consumption.
It fills my heart with enormous joy to hear feedback that we did not go far enough with our ordinance! We've all seen the video of the turtle with the straw in its nose. We have all learned that, yes, our plastic does contribute to marine debris as it continues to be sold to countries that are unable to process it correctly.
There is an abundance of single-use plastics in the form of condiment packages, cutlery, clamshells and straws, and it can feel very overwhelming for the average citizen to take responsibility for managing this onto their own shoulders. It is a lot to think about — not to mention a lot to carry — when people like me ask you to opt for metal straws, bamboo cutlery and reusable mugs, bags and water bottles. We are going to keep many a chiropractor in business as our personal load gets heavier.
So what should you do when faced with a supermarket aisle full of plastic? Or when you're caught off guard in an airport filled with clamshell and plastic cutlery?
Before we get into the details of what individual citizens can do, I want you to know that there are many great organizations out there working to reduce the amount of plastic you encounter in the first place. If you are interested in volunteering, I highly suggest getting involved with the Portland chapter of the Surfrider Foundation ( http://www.surfrider.org ), which works with businesses on plastics reduction through their "Ditch the Straw/Ditch the Disposables" and "Ocean Friendly Restaurants" campaigns. The nonprofit is working in Lake Oswego and would love some local help!
In the meantime, I put together 10 tips to help you reduce your plastic consumption:
Bring Containers to the Supermarket: We're not just talking reusable bags here, folks. Bring a set of mesh bags to replace produce bags. The tare weight is right on the side, making checkout easy. Mason jars are great for bulk flours and nut butters. And in a pinch, use those brown mushroom bags instead of plastic bags.
Buy Wisely: Do you need to bag up some squash? Probably not. Can you buy cream cheese packaged in foil and paper instead of plastic? Never buy pre-packaged produce. Buy meat at the deli counter, where it is wrapped in paper instead of plastic. Suddenly, grocery shopping is an adventure!
Refill Containers: Have you heard that bar soap is all the rage now? You can also refill shampoo and household cleaners from bulk at stores like New Seasons. If you're feeling crafty, you can make many cleaners at home.
Bring Your Own: That coffee cup or plastic clamshell that holds your take-out food or coffee for less than an hour will exist, basically, forever. Many cafes offer mug discounts now. Reusable straws made from metal (some with silicone tips for those who need to bite a straw) or glass are sold widely now, with brushes for cleaning. If you're dining in, opt for a durable mug or plate as opposed to disposable.
Skip disposable products: K-Cups, disposable razors and Lunchables-type products are all convenience items with simple, less-plastic alternatives. Buy a refillable K-cup insert or an old-fashioned metal razor, and try to minimize the quick, packaging-intense lunch options.
No bottled water or soft drinks: Aside from the many other horrific environmental impacts of bottled water, it's completely unnecessary. Bring your own water bottle. Choose other cold drinks that come in glass or aluminum instead of plastic. Because even though plastic bottles are recyclable, their reusable content is very low — and that lid is pure garbage.
Say no to takeout plastics: Yes, it can be difficult to convince a restaurant to use your takeout container, but when ordering, be very clear that you do not need plastic cutlery, 100 napkins and individually packaged (in plastic) condiments. I have plenty of ketchup you can borrow.
No plastic wrap or sandwich bags: This is an easy one. Aluminum foil is a great replacement for plastic wrap. Beeswax wrap is reusable, sticks well to the shape of dishware and can be washed. Sandwich bags can be replaced with reusable containers.
Use more glass: If you already have a huge stash of Tupperware, then continue to use it until it falls apart! But when you replace it, choose glass containers to store your food and Mason jars for everything from your smoothie to storing pantry items.
Avoid bioplastics: The words "compostable" or "biodegradable" really do not mean anything in a normal waste environment. California does have requirements for breakdown, and there are some brands that comply. However, in general these products do not break down at a traditional compost facility and behave exactly like regular plastic if they find their way into the ocean. We do not allow compostable anything in our curbside program. In some cases, these products also have a higher carbon footprint than traditional plastics!
Jenny Slepian is the sustainability and management analyst for the City of Lake Oswego.