We need to be mindful about our plastic use

By KELSEY KO | February 15, 2018

PUBLIC DOMAIN Ko argues that we can reduce plastic use through smart shopping decisions.

Every year, one billion toothbrushes (roughly 50 million pounds) are thrown out and added to landfills every year. That’s enough plastic to stretch around the world four times. The average American woman menstruates for 38 years and uses disposable feminine hygiene products. That’s roughly 250-300 pounds of garbage during your lifetime, just from your period. 

Why is the amount of garbage we produce a big deal? Both toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products contain plastic, which can take up to a thousand years to decompose. Imagine those million plastic toothbrushes, just sitting in a landfill for hundreds of years. The solution is simple: Buy biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes.

It’s difficult to make smart, sustainable shopping choices because we do not fully understand how much the way we spend our money impacts the world that we live in. You wander through CVS and reach for the same plastic Oral-B toothbrushes that your parents have been buying since you were a kid. You buy either Kotex or Tampax when it comes to feminine hygiene products, because that’s just what has always worked for you. You grow complacent because it’s easier to not think about those everyday purchases.

After stumbling across the blogs by people who live zero-waste lifestyles (a life of no plastic is hard but possible) and having several conversations with environmentally conscious friends, I’ve realized that if there’s anything immediate that people can do to make a difference, it’s making simple choices with greater thought. I’ve personally been trying to make more environmentally conscious choices by changing how I shop for my bathroom, and you should too.

You might think: Why use less plastic when you can just recycle? Recycling is important, but the fact of the matter is that the Earth does not need more plastic in circulation. Chances are, every plastic bottle you’ve used exists somewhere on the Earth — whether it’s been sold to China or melted and reused. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we threw out around 33 million tons of plastic in 2014, and only around 10 percent of that was recycled. Why use plastic when you can just create less waste?

I’ve already mentioned bamboo toothbrushes that you can compost. But there are also other ways you can make your hygiene habits more sustainable, like using bar soap instead of buying big plastic bottles of body wash. I use a shampoo and conditioner from a company called Plaine Products, which sends you the product in refillable metal bottles. When you’re finished, you send them back to be reused. 

Reducing your environmental footprint doesn’t have to be expensive either. Any girl who uses the reusable menstrual cup (me included!) will rave about how it’s more comfortable, more environmentally sound and saves you the thousands of dollars that you would otherwise have spent over a lifetime. Yes, thousands. They call it the ‘pink tax’ for a reason. 

I personally think the bathroom is the easiest place to start when it comes to waste reduction. The kitchen definitely requires more thought: When you go shopping for food, everything you buy comes packaged in plastic. For me, the next step is buying more from farmers’ markets, shopping in bulk and taking my own glass containers when I shop.

The American dream is one that feeds directly into consumerism and thoughtless buying. When you have money, you spend it. Even though tap water has to meet rigorous standards that are set by the EPA, America is obsessed with bottled water. And companies like Coca Cola or Pepsi know they can profit off of this by creating products like Dasani, SmartWater or Aquafina. 

The good news is that you vote with your dollar. Every time you say no to bottled water and yes to that refillable bottle, you stand up for a more environmentally just planet. Every time you say no to plastic toothbrushes and yes to bamboo toothbrushes, you support the beautiful cycle of compost, where waste returns back to the earth and the dirt grows new life. 

Especially with our current presidential administration, our environment is threatened more than ever. If we all make small changes in the way we shop, we can support a cleaner, greener earth for generations to come.

Kelsey Ko is a junior International Studies and East Asian Studies major from Bethlehem, Pa. She is the Managing Editor.

Correction: In an earlier version of this piece it incorrectly stated that one million toothbrushes are thrown out in the U.S. annually and that 33 million pounds of plastic were thrown out in 2014. The correct figures are one billion and 33 million tons, respectively. 

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