How to Outsmart Plastic

In my last post, I briefly mentioned how I’ve cut my plastic consumption in half. It took me over a year, but I did it. So now people ask me, ‘How did you do that?’

How, indeed!

Before I hand over all my secrets, let’s take a brief look at what we’re dealing with here.

Plastic is like the Voldemort of the consumer world; it’s powerful, influential, and deadly. Unlike the Dark Lord though, you can’t get rid of plastic with a wand and magical spells. In fact, you can’t get rid of it at all. It never decomposes. Put simply, plastic hangs around forever and ever. It’s like a gift that keeps on giving, only in a bad way.

That’s one part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that you can’t take two steps in any direction without running into something made of plastic. It’s everywhere. Just take a look around you. What do you see? How many plastic items can you name?

Fact: every minute, one million new plastic bags are in circulation worldwide.
Fact: on a yearly basis, 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic water bottles.
Fact: plastic in our oceans now outnumbers sea-life six to one.

To quote Jeff Bridges, ‘When did we become such a plastic society?’

In 1907, is when. That’s when plastic got invented, and since then it has increasingly replaced natural materials like stone, wood, bone, paper, metal, glass, and ceramic.

‘But what about recycling?’ you might ask. ‘As long as we recycle our plastic, we’re doing the right thing, are we not?’

That’s what I used to believe, but recycling isn’t a sustainable solution mainly due to the fact that the Earth cannot digest plastic. This means that every single piece of plastic ever produced is still here with us today. Until NASA figures out how to transform plastic products into organic baby-food, the plastic that enters into circulation stays in circulation.

That’s a problem.

So what’s the solution?

The solution, my dear friends, is to use less. We have to wean ourselves off plastic. This is just as easy as it sounds. Here is what I did. 

Phase one: I stopped using plastic shopping bags. To me, that was the easiest place to start. Owning beautiful tote bags made this transition super easy. Nothing beats putting my groceries in my Wonder Women tote-bag, or going shopping with the tote-bag I got at the Catlin Moran lecture. Another personal favorite is my tote bag from Highgrove, the royal estate where Princess Diana used to live. My point is this: when you love your tote bag, you use it. When you hate it, you hide it (and end up using plastic bags instead). Invest in good tote bags, people.

Phase two: I decided to stop buying all fruits and vegetables that came wrapped in plastic. OK, I said it was easy, but I struggled with this one. As it turned out, only everything came wrapped in some sort of plastic monstrosity. Why, world, why? Once I dropped the frustration, I noticed the plastic-free options. Mango, melon, pineapple, to name a few. When it comes to things like onions, potatoes, and carrots, I no longer harvest them in the complimentary plastic bags provided by the grocery stores; I throw them straight into my shopping cart where they roll around, happy and free. I mean, seriously, what’s the benefit of putting two onions in a flimsy plastic bag? There isn’t any, so I don’t. You don’t have to either.

Phase three: Since plastic is a fairly recent invention, many of the things that now come with plastic didn’t use to; like olive oil. Phase three was all about choosing the non-plastic alternatives. All my cooking oils now come in glass bottles. Easy! I only buy cans or glass bottles of Coca Cola. Also easy. Mustard and ketchup? Glass bottles! When buying peanut butter, I pick the brand that comes in a glass jar. Same with things like jams, olives, and pesto. For the stuff with no non-plastic alternatives – stuff like yogurt, shampoo, cheese, pasta – I try to be mindful and not overdo it. I know this will never be perfect, but I’m getting better at scoping out the plastic-free alternatives. So can you. 

All these changes might look like a drop in the ocean. I get that. It’s not like I’ve invented solar driven planes or found a healthy alternative to clean water. But when I say to the shopping assistant, ‘No, thank you. I don’t need a bag,’ for that brief moment in time I’m doing the right thing. It’s a statement. It’s a message. It’s insane how happy this makes me.  I might never get the chance to save a child from a burning building or prevent a terrorist attack, but I do get to care for our planet. That’s amazing!  

You! What about you? Where can you cut back? Talk it over with your friends and see what you come up with. One of my friends now always carries a spoon and a fork in her hand bag. ‘I haven’t used disposable cutlery in ages!’ she tells me. ‘ And I hardly ever buy bottled water anymore!’

I know exactly how she feels. 

Whether you feel inspired to do a lot or little, please don’t be afraid to start. Start where you are. You can never know the ripple effects of your actions. Everything counts.

I’ll see you all in a few weeks!


Hosted by Inger D. Kenobi, this column is here to answer all your burning questions, big and small, about whatever is on your mind about climate change. Just email, and it might be answered in the next column.

Inger D. Kenobi is a life coach and the author of the book, 'How Do I Look? The Year I Stopped Shopping?'