For those of you reading my blog for the first time, here’s a little background: from April 22, 2015 (which was Earth Day) through April 22, 2016, I decided to conduct an experiment to see how much plastic I use on a day-to-day basis. This “experiment” sprung from my worry about the plastic accumulating in our oceans and in other large bodies of water. I was curious to see how much a single person might be contributing to this problem annually.
My challenge dictated the following: I tried to give up as much plastic as I possibly could, but when I couldn’t avoid it, I tried to opt for recyclable or biodegradable plastic (the page called My Plastic Challenge lists my self-imposed rules). But whether it was recyclable or not, every plastic item that I bought and used within that time period and, normally, would have disposed of, I kept instead. I ended this spring swimming in a Pacific Garbage Patch of my own making.
It was strange—when I’d finished and gathered it all in one room—to stare at the heaps and piles of plastic, and it’s strange now to sit back and look at the numbers. In total, I used 1,441 different pieces of plastic in a year’s time.
This figure doesn’t account for the plastic I couldn’t easily count, such as weirdly sized sheets of bubble wrap and loose plastic stuffing pulled from destroyed dog toys, and this number is a little misleading: one “piece” of plastic counts as both a single plastic screw-off soda top as well as a gallon-sized jug of milk. I tried to count items individually because some containers might, for example, have a cardboard “body” but a plastic lid or straw attached (think juice boxes). I tried to capture numbers for each separate unit of plastic I consumed.
I did my best to capture everything I used in the following document, but you will quickly see that I’m no scientist. If you have feedback on how I could more accurately represent these numbers (or calculate my plastic usage), I would love to know your thoughts!
Drumroll…. Plastic Inventory April 2015 to April 2016
As I expected, the largest category of plastic usage was “#3: Eating.” I used 441 pieces of plastic in this category, from take-out containers, to plastic bread bags, to plastic silverware. Yet, the most eye-opening category for me was #4: Mail/Business. We all complain about getting too much junk mail, and now I have hard proof that it’s not only excessive in volume, but also in plastic. Those plastic-windowed envelopes sure make mass mailings easier, but they also harm our planet to a degree I had not before considered.
I was also surprised to reflect on how much plastic I use when buying homegoods (such as batteries or light bulbs)—I purchased a standing lamp from Home Depot that came in a Styrofoam box so gigantic it could double as a comfortable home for my fifty-pound dog.
All in all, I was genuinely surprised by how much plastic I accumulated. I tried really, really hard not to, and still I ended up with almost 1,500 items.
I hope you’ll look at my list and tell me your thoughts. Do these numbers surprise you? Did you actually think I would accumulate more plastic in a year’s time? Or, like me, do these numbers shock you and scare you, especially when you consider that I tried to accumulate no plastic at all?
I wanted to address the fact that I didn’t end up weighing all of this year’s plastic. Originally, I had wanted to get a number in pounds so that I could make a donation to charity equivalent to $10 per every pound of plastic I amassed. However, I wasn’t able to figure out a reliable way to weigh my load, and transporting it elsewhere for accurate weighing proved unmanageable.
I want to stay true to my word, though, so I’ve decided to give $144.10 (representative of my total number of plastic items) to a nonprofit working to educate the public about plastic pollution and fighting to reduce waste. Stay tuned for my decision—I’m going to do some research to learn more about organizations doing this work—I’m excited to see what’s out there! And, as always, I am wide open to suggestions!