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Turning Plastic Guilt into Action

“We all make mistakes, don’t we? But if you can’t forgive yourself, you’ll always be an exile in your own life.” ~Curtis Sittenfeld I wanted to talk about plastic guilt. Have you ever felt really guilty because you used single-use plastic or plastic of any kind? I feel like we all have. As a family we try hard to avoid single-use plastics. However, sometimes it's unavoidable. For example, if we want to go out and get some coffee, not all places, especially because of the pandemic, will take our reusable cups. We’ve been trained to think that we need plastics; that it is the solution to everything. Check out this 1997 ad using children to push plastics. Who sponsored it? The American Plastics Council (now known as the American Chemistry Council). Watch it here: In the past I've really struggled with plastic guilt. We try so hard to do the right thing, but it seems like the one time you can’t or don’t, it feels like it erases all the good you’ve done. But we need to stop and remember that the system is built against us. It's the corporations and the businesses that are creating this plastic and pushing it on us. We aren’t often given an affordable alternative to single-use plastics. This shouldn't be an individual’s problem. It’s a problem caused by the corporations that are making plastic. We need change at a higher level. We need to have companies and the government say, “We're not going to use single-use plastics.” and then do it! They should be implementing sustainable options for all income levels. Plus, we need to penalize companies when they use greenwashing tactics to appear more sustainable but are only full of talk. If you say, then let’s just recycle, I’m here to tell you recycling isn’t the answer. Plastic producers have long touted recycling as the answer - pushing the responsibility to make the world a better place onto consumers and taking little to no action of their own to make sustainable changes. Check out this add created by DuPont in 1990: But producers knew way before 1990 that recycling wasn’t the answer. In fact, in April of 1973 scientists reported that, “There is no recovery from obsolete products.” It went on to say that each time plastic is recycled, it degrades further, therefore only being able to be recycled so many times (unlike glass). They even went as far as reporting that recycling would be costly and sorting it would be, “infeasible.” [1] Luckily some leadership is taking notice and taking action. California Attorney General Rob Bonta stated, “Enough is enough. For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis. The truth is: The vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled, and the recycling rate has never surpassed 9%. Every week, we consume the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic through the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. This first-of-its-kind investigation will examine the fossil fuel industry's role in creating and exacerbating the plastics pollution crisis – and what laws, if any, have been broken in the process.” [2] In fact, currently the U.S, plastic recycling is less than 6%, down from 9% just a few years ago. [3] These numbers are falling not necessarily because of individual actions, but because the system and corporations are making it harder for us to recycle, even when we try our best. Their reasoning? Better profits, of course. It is actually cheaper to produce virgin plastics than it is to recycle and reuse plastics. [4] For instance, where we live now the recycling plant is out of service so everything we dispose of is going into the landfill. There is no other recycling plant in the area or nearby. What can I do? I can contact companies and my local government and demand that change be made. We need grocery stores to be waste-free and sustainable. All grocery stores should have massive fillable areas where you can fill your glass jars and your food storage containers and be able to constantly reuse them and not have to worry about recycling and throwing away. The bottom line is, yes we still need to make every effort to use our own reusables and limit our single-use plastics. But we also need to be holding companies and the government responsible for not giving us the options to be able to affordably make better choices. You and I need to contact these people whether it's via social media, email, or telephone and tell them that we're demanding change! How to Write to Your Elected Officials:

Other articles you may be interested in: Corporate Responsibility: Stopping the Problem Where it Starts Sustainable Swaps For Your Home: Made Easy The Best Way to Start Your Family’s Sustainable Journey Sources:

[1] “How Big Oil Misled the Public Into Believing Plastic Would be Recycled.” Sullivan, Laura. Sep 11, 2020.

[2] “Attorney General Bonta Announces Investigation into Fossil Fuel and Petrochemical Industries for Role in Causing Plastic Pollution Crisis.” Press Release. April 28, 2022. [3] “U.S. plastic recycling rate drops to close to 5% - report.” Volcovici, Valerie. May 5 2022.

[4] “War on plastic waste faces setback as cost of recycled materials sours.” Ambrose, Jillian. Oct 13, 2019.


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