Have you ever followed your plastic footprint throughout your day? Try it - take that first step out of your bed, look around your room, and play “eye spy” the plastic. Chances are you’ve encountered many forms a plastic within the first 15 minutes of waking, when you first head to the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth. By the end of the day, you’ve likely encountered it thousands of times.
The very first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 as an alternative to ivory and came with a $10,000 prize to it’s inventor John Wesley Hyatt. It wasn’t until after WWII that plastics became the material we are so familiar with today. Plastics aren't all bad right? They have aided countless innovations in technology, medicine, and of course take the form of everyday products from toys, furniture, and toothbrushes to single-use plastics like water bottles, ziplock bags, and takeout cutlery. It is those single-use products that we either throw away - or think, “I’ll just recycle it” that have gotten us into trouble. Many agree that our society values convenience over sustainability, I feel there needs to be a shift in that value and ,encouragingly for many on the Cape, it already has. (Recycling in the U.S. these days has a pile of challenges on its own - and that is a blog for another day.)
You may have heard that plastic waste in our environment is making waves - literally. From the microcosm of our own beaches here on Cape Cod to the macrocosm of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast of California. Plastics do breakdown eventually into microplastics, but never biodegrade, and our oceans and marine life are suffering because of it. After many years of pushing the urgency of our plastic problem, environmental organizations, activists, and scientists now have the ear of the media. The first big mainstream eye opener was National Geographic’s 2018 “Planet or Plastic?” issue. Since then, features on CBS’s 60 Minutes, various radio programs, podcasts, and magazines articles have been exposing plastic waste and bringing this big problem to the surface of our collective consciousness.
It is my belief that there is an interconnectedness of all things here on earth, and we have a responsibility as its citizens, not only for our own health but for the health of our planet, to reduce our personal plastic footprint. Now you may be thinking - ‘great, I already have a heaping portion of climate change fear on my plate - now another piece of environmental anxiety as a side dish?!’ Well, yes, you could look at it that way? But what I am suggesting is to transform any dread into hope and use that hope to propel you into taking action. I feel that we, as both citizens and consumers, can use our purchasing power and make changes in our daily routines that will add up as a community and make a big difference in the health of our planet. The plastic bag bans, Skip the Straw and Zero Waste movements, are examples of how we can work on a personal and local level to foster positive change - it’s really up to us!
My own worries about the direction our blue planet is headed, and the burden I was handing over to my children, led me to take action on a more extreme level last year. In May of 2018, I launched a business dedicated to reducing our communities plastic footprint while educating our neighbors along the way. Green Road Refill is a little store on wheels (Bettie Bus), a one-stop shop for all your earth-friendly home and body needs. The major focus of the business is on refilling bottles in order to reduce our communities’ plastic waste. Inside the bus we have over 40 plant-based soaps, shampoos, lotions, and cleaning products all sold by the weighted ounce. Customers can bring in their own bottles from home, purchase one of our glass or aluminum ones, or even pick one out of our free bottle basket. Additionally, Green Road introduces customers to the latest in plastic-free and zero-waste retail, like bamboo toothbrushes, shampoo bars, beeswax wraps, stainless steel straws, and much more. Bettie Bus and I travel around the Cape to festivals and farmers markets, so be sure to check out our website for our spring and summer schedules - coming out soon. I am so encouraged by Cape Codders. They get it. They want to go even greener than they already are, and I feel so fortunate to give them one more outlet to do so!
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” - Gandhi
Ways you can to reduce your plastic footprint
Pick one or two of these - don’t overwhelm yourself by trying them all at once. Small steps - when the change becomes easeful and second nature then pick a new one to add into your routine.
No more plastic water bottles - Bring a reusable glass or aluminum with you - you will taste the difference!
Invest in a reusable bag -Many of us have already done this, and now it’s second nature - it wasn’t so hard right? If you’ve got it down, try bringing your own reusable produce bags to the grocery store as well.
Avoid products with micro-beads- Microbeads advertised to exfoliate are microplastics and end up in our oceans and in the bellies of our marine life. Avoid facial cleansing products and hand soaps with the ingredients “polypropylene” and “polyethylene” in them.
Buy in bulk-Stock up at your local natural market or Whole Foods - even better, bring your own container - a mason jar or reusable produce bag.
Bring your own “TO GO” containers - They don’t have to be pretty! They can be old, washed out take out containers, or whatever you have at home to store food. Keep them in the trunk of your car. Don’t forget to pack your own cutlery as well - it’s one of the top culprits of plastic waste found in the ocean.
Don’t pocket hotel travel sized products -I know they’re cute, but try to bring your own products from home.
Glitter be gone - This is hard, especially if you have a 4 year old daughter like me. Glitter is plastic. It’s magical, but it’s pure microplastic.
Skip the straw - Or bring your own stainless steel straw. Keep one in your purse or car - the trick is remembering to bring it out before your server brings it to the table or counter in your glass.
Zero waste your mouth -Bamboo your brush, find toothpaste in an aluminum tube or glass jar and purchase biodegradable floss in a glass or tin container.
Time’s up, Tupperware -My mom was a Tupperware lady, and it does have nostalgic flair. But when your current collection starts to wear (especially those knock-off cheap giveaways), switch to glass storage containers.
Plastic wrap - Don’t be so clingy - ditch plastic wrap for beeswax wraps - they’re awesome!
Detach from Ziplock bags -If you can’t live without them, at least wash them and reuse as many times as possible, or better yet buy reusable silicone bags for storing and freezing food.
Bye-bye balloons -It’s hard to imagine that something that brings such joy can be so deadly, but when they are let go, they are almost certain to end up in our oceans, and so much wildlife has suffered because of them. If you really just can’t have a party without them, buy natural biodegradable latex balloons, use a natural fiber string, and be sure to cut it off before disposing the two into the garbage.
Flaunt your caffeine addiction - treat yourself a pretty coffee canteen and bring it with you when you order at a cafe - not only will you be going green but your coffee will stay warmer longer too. Did you know that coffee cups are lined with a coating of chemicals so that the paper cup doesn’t get soggy - this coating also makes coffee cups non recyclable.
Jess Georges is a washashore originally from Buffalo, she grew up with a strong respect for nature. Hiking and camping in her youth she has always took pride in considering herself a tree hugger. She studied theater and music at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and earned her Bachelor's in Fine Arts. She lived in NYC teaching yoga and played the role of starving artist before making her way to Cape Cod in 2003. Jess married a “Brewster boy”, she is a mother of two, an actor at Cape Rep Theater and currently wears the hat of entrepreneur. Her company Green Road Refill launched in May of 2018. Jess and Bettie Bus, her little earth friendly store on wheels, are now traveling town to town spreading the word of natural living and reducing plastic waste for the health of our community and planet.