Photo by katerha.

What would it be like to live without using any disposable plastic items? Recently, I tried doing just this for one week.

In this age of green awareness, there has been a renewed emphasis on how personal choices impact the environment.  Sometimes we need a little encouragement to be better environmental shoppers, which is part of the reason behind the five-cent bag fee in DC. 

But it’s not just bags. While I am pretty consistent about bringing my own reusable bag when I shop, I still use a lot of plastic for everyday things. I’m a coffee junkie, but my morning coffee comes with a plastic coffee lid. I don’t usually carry water with me, instead opting for bottle water from the store. 

If I grab a salad for lunch, I usually end up using a plastic container. While a lot of the plastic items I use daily are recyclable, there was really no need for me to be using this much plastic in my daily routine in the first place. Therefore, I decided to go plastic-free for one week.

To truly go plastic-free would mean a complete lifestyle change, one that I am not sure is entirely possible or desirable. While plastic has a lot of harmful properties, it also has it benefits. It is light and cheaper to ship, which means less fuel used to transport items. Plastic helps keep things sanitary, thus reducing the spread of germs.

There are already many items that I use every day that are in plastic: shampoo bottles, storage/food containers, credit/debit cards, smart trip card. My goal was to simply avoid plastic where I could find a suitable alternative.

Overall, by consciously trying to use less plastic, I reinforced some of my current behaviors. I consistently turned down disposal bags in favor or my of reusable canvas bags or I just simply used my backpack. I planned better about packing my lunch for work to avoid buying lunch at work, where most items come in plastic containers.

I was also much better about bringing coffee with me to work in a reusable mug. My own coffee is much better and much better for my pocketbook. On the day I forgot to bring my reusable mug, I went without the plastic lid on my coffee. Also instead of buying snacks that would have come in a plastic bag or container I focused on eating fruit.

I also realized how I could reuse other types of plastic items that I hadn’t considered before. The plastic bag that my tortillas came in served as a handy kitty litter bag.

For a couple of days, I reverted back to my old ways. These were usually days where I didn’t plan ahead or felt that I was too busy. The bag fee encouraged me to reduce my use of plastic bags, but I still bought a bottle of water when I could have brought my own or that bottle of soda I got with my Chinese food after a long day at work and a night of teaching.

What else can we do? Has the bag fee lead to other non-bag conservation efforts on your part? For my part, I intend to keep trying to avoid generating plastic waste where possible, by planning ahead more so more wasteful options don’t seem so convenient.

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Lynda Laughlin is a family demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau. She holds a PhD in sociology and enjoys reading, writing, and researching issues related to families and communities, urban economics, and urban development. Lynda lives in Mt. Pleasant. Views expressed here are strictly her own.