After reading Eco-Warrior Princess’ post “Could You Live Plastic-Free?” a response to living without plastic in order to stop polluting the oceans, I had to ask myself if I could do the same thing. Living a life in transit and temporarily moving home, I thought it might be possible. However, after seeing the plastic packaging from groceries and having limited options for plastic alternatives in a small town, I began to think otherwise. Then, an answer arrived when Jennifer Nini of Eco-Warrior Princess announced the Plastic-Free July. Immediately, I signed up, the day before my family’s epic road trip to see National Parks and Historic Sites in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Originally I planned on giving up the top four: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws. Unfortunately, I signed up the day before I left, which didn’t enable me to make many adjustments ahead of time, but I still felt determined to give it a shot. Here are a few things I’ve learned about plastic and my future plans for handling this material:
Plastic, I found, is incredibly difficult to avoid while traveling. Plastic provides convenience, a concept I found as I stored each of my jewelry projects I brought in individual small Ziploc bags. Although I was able to avoid takeaway coffee cups and straws pretty well and had my own reusable water bottle, plastic bags were the hardest. Even though my family was fairly good at using our supply of fabric grocery bags for storage and shopping, a small amount of plastic bags still made their way into our travels. I also found recycling is not always available everywhere you travel to, making it hard to find where to recycle those plastic cups of iced coffee while at a pit stop.
I’m not alone in realizing how much plastic is integrated into our lives. According to the Plastic Industry Trade Association, the plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States. The plastics industry also accounts for more than $374 billion dollars in annual shipments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out that in 2013, 33 million tons of plastic waste were generated and only 9% of the waste was recovered for recycling. During this year the United States also made 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, about 12 million tons as durable goods such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as non-durable goods.
So, what can be done to reduce plastic waste while on a road trip? Here are a few ideas I had:
- Use individual cloth grocery bags to separate recycling from trash and recycle when you find a place on the road or return home.
- Keep cloth grocery bags stored in your car so you can use them for all kinds of shopping (grocery store, market, restaurants, etc.)
- Know what plastics you can recycle. The numbers on plastic materials indicate the type of plastic. Numbers 1 and 2 (soda and water bottles, medicine containers, detergent and shampoo containers, coffee cups, plastic cutlery) are easier to recycle. Numbers 3-6 are less commonly recycled plastic items (wrapping, grocery and sandwich bags), so check to see if the local recycling center takes it. I’ve also read reports that Number 6 is also the most difficult to recycle and is unsafe for the environment, which you can read about HERE. And last, Number 7 or no number usually means the item is made of plastic that is the hardest to recycle and most likely not accepted at recycling centers. Do your best to purchase items with plastic that is easier to recycle.
- If a restaurant or store gives you a package of plastic cutlery, clean and keep all of the used and unused plastic silverware for later.
- Pack utensils so you won’t have to use plastic. My mom found a great way to store a cutting knife in a box of crackers so that we could store and use it to cut apples, cheese, and other snacks. We continually washed and cleaned it to use over and over again.
- Find a reusable drinking bottle to fill up with water instead of buying bottled water at stores or gas stations along the way.
- Carry an insulated mug to refill and hold your coffee throughout your trip.
These are only the beginning of a few ideas. I’m not sure it is possible to completely have a plastic-free road trip, but with a few conscious steps to reuse and recycle the plastic items I do have, I can reduce my plastic waste. In the meantime, I’ll be researching more options to reduce the use and waste of plastic while I travel.
For more information, consult Plastic Free July’s website and “How to Recycle Different Types of Plastic” from Earth Talk of About News.
What suggestions do you have to reduce the use and waste of plastic while traveling?