The Plastic Project

Can I rid my life – and my home – of single-use plastics by New Year’s Eve 2022?

The first draft of this post started with “It started with my pandemic walks” but that’s not true; my issues with single-use plastics started long before that, when I would take my kayak out and see plastic bottles floating in the water, or when I’d walk along Fort De Soto and plastic grocery bags caught on the sea oats.

My obsession with single-use plastics did intensify during the early stages of the pandemic, when I started taking lengthy walks, often through the Gulfport alleys. Our alleys fascinate me; I love the hidden art and Easter eggs you can find on the backsides of our architecturally diverse homes.

The secret side of one of Gulfport’s lovely homes. Not everything I find in the alleys is this picturesque. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

As I walked, I noticed more and more trash on the ground – on the streets and in the alleys. I started walking with hand sanitizer and gloves so I could pick up the trash, and I never took a walk without finding plastic trash.

As boaters, El Cap and I see no small amount of floating plastic jetsam, and as kayakers, it’s even worse. When we traveled the state this past September, camping our way across the northern and central parts of the state, I find plastic at every campground. Early one September morning, at the final campsite of our Florida road trip, I walked along Flagler Beach. Every morning just before sunrise I’d walk the beach. It’s the best time of day, because there’s usually no one on the beach and it’s just me and the sand and the rising sun. And, of course, the plastic.

On this particular morning, I saw a flash of color where the sand met the sea grass. I moved closer, toward a marked turtle nest. I saw a trio of deflated balloons, nestled in the sand. The hatchling turtles would literally have to crawl over these balloons to get to sea. The horror of this – sea turtles often mistake plastics for food and eat them, which can be a death sentence – left me angry and sad.

This was within striking distance of a marked turtle nest. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

In October, we spent a week camping at Bahia Honda State Park, home to arguably one of the most pristine beaches in the United States. We couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without stooping to pick up plastic trash and, when we happened upon a large plastic container (think: larger than a five gallon gas container but not as big as a 55-gallon drum) we couldn’t lift, I flagged down a park ranger and he and two others came to remove it. He told me they saw this sort of trash all the time, and that it washed in from the boats out in the Atlantic.

No matter where I looked, it felt as if plastic had conquered the planet. It was like a B-movie horror film, only more along the lines of Creature from the Bag Lagoon. My walks along the beach meant picking up plastic bottle caps, bottles, bits of broken sand pails and shovels, and whatever else had washed up onshore or been abandoned by the beachgoers the day before.

As I wander along Florida’s beaches, I keep flashing back to a 2016 video with Jeff Bridges, where he talks about plastics and the futility of recycling. Bridges suggests humanity has to find a better solution.

“Recycling is not a sustainable solution,” Bridges says in the video, produced by the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Since returning from the Florida Keys, the idea of eliminating single-use plastics from my life has danced through may brain. We already do some things: We have reusable bags for shopping; we use silicon or glass leftover containers and baggies; we don’t keep paper or disposable plastic plates, flatware, or drink ware in the house; we try to buy vegetables loose (rather than shrink-wrapped); and we look for foodstuffs like peanut butter, jelly and other staples in glass, rather than plastic, bottles.

That’s not even close to enough, though. I realize that. Over the past two months, I’ve found myself looking at my bottle of conditioner, my face wash, my dish soap… you name it, it’s in plastic and it’s probably in my home.

Which is why I’m committing – publicly – to get single-use plastic out of my life over the next 12 months. I’ll spend a month on each room, looking for ways to replace plastic with something more sustainable. I’ll look at what’s in our camper, on our boat, in our yard, and at the newspaper office, too. For one month, I’ll focus on swaps that our lifestyle – and our wallet – can sustain. I don’t have mountains of time, so I’m not about to do anything as severe as buy my own cow so I can milk it into a tin pail instead of buying milk in a plastic carton. I’ll have to find another solution.

I’ve thought about how to do this, and I have some ideas, and I have a loose set of rules:

• No throwing out something just because it’s plastic, or contained in such. When it breaks/ runs out, replace it with something not made with plastic.

• Don’t be an asshole. When a friend brings over a veggie platter for a party and it’s arranged on a disposable plastic tray, I’m not going to proselytize. I’m going to smile, dip a carrot stick in the ranch dressing, and remember that the goal is progress, not perfection.

• This does not extend to medical care. I’ve been fortunate to make it out of my thirties alive and will, in fact, would love to escape my forties alive by the end of 2022. This means that I have prescriptions. Those prescriptions come in little plastic vials. I’m not going to go blind because I won’t use the glaucoma drops that come in single-use plastic bottles.

• If I cannot find a sustainable material to replace the plastic item, I’ll find a way to reuse the plastic item. This does not mean bird feeders made of shampoo bottles; it means I’ll find a use for those pill bottles (Will CVS let me bring them in for a refill?)

• I’ll remember that not everyone in my home (read: El Cap) may be as committed to this as I am. The man loves English muffins, and they come in a plastic bag. Oh, wait… those are fantastic doggie poop bags. Nevermind!

Follow along over the next year. Every month I’ll post my successes (and failures) in ridding my life of single-use plastics. Happy New Year!

Do you have a suggestion about eliminating single-use plastics? Email me!