A few weeks ago, reader Kay Pere left the following comment on Facebook:
Beth: I’ve received your “Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge” update emails for a while now. I was hoping it would be encouraging to see so many other people working to reduce their plastic waste. Instead, it’s making me feel vaguely discouraged knowing that even after weeks and weeks of effort so many are still taking pictures PILES of wrappers, tubs, bottles, taps, bags, etc … How do you deal with this and keep your chin up? Just by knowing that it’s better than it would have been?
I agree that seeing how much plastic waste people still end up with while doing their best can be disheartening. But what the Show Your Plastic photos don’t show is how much plastic these guys have actually REFUSED while doing the challenge. One participant, Michelle Cassar from Portugal, sent me a list of all the plastic items she has refused in the past few years. It adds up to over 10,000! That’s a big impact.
Here’s a “BEFORE” photo of Michelle in 2008 blissfully bringing home a bag full of plastic, unaware of the consequences of her actions.
And here is Michelle’s Tally of Refused Plastic and story in her own words:
My boyfriend and I live in a rural town on the West Coast of Portugal, just minutes away from the Atlantic. All totals are approximate. But I have under, rather than over estimated.
- Plastic bags (including, produce bags, bin bags, bread bags, bags to put the bags in bags….) @ 25 per week = 4,000
- Bottled water. 5L bottles (for 6 months of the year while living in a camper van) @ 4 a week = 288 bottles, 288 bottle tops, and the plastic that wraps the bottles together.
- Small bottled water out and about @ 2 a week = 312 bottles, 312 tops.
- Shampoo, shower gel, conditioner 1 of each every 3 months = 36
- Deodorant 1 per month = 36
- Mouthwash @ 4 a year = 12
- Cotton bud/Q tips. 2 boxes of 200 per year = 1200
- Plastic cups at events and in bars, approx 10 times a year, 4 drinks a time = 120 (They won´t refill a plastic cup because of “hygiene” so for every person they have a new cup with every drink.)
- Plates, crockery at events. Countless!!! At one event alone I´d refused about 10 items and we have loads of outdoor events here.
- Straws approx. @ 3 a week = 500
- Boxed wine (i.e. plastic bagged wine with plastic tap) @ 2 a month = 72
- Fruit punnets: @ 4 a week = 624
- Pasta bags: @ 2 a month = 72 (the boxes still have a small plastic window, but it´s far less)
- Crisp packets: @ 3 per week = 468 I still eat crisps, the Portuguese ones are to good. Now it´s a rare treat, maybe once every 2 months, rather than 3 packs a week like before. Which is probably better for me to!
- Peanut butter @ 1 a month = 36
- Tomato sauce @ 2 a month = 72
- Butter tub @ 1 a month = 36 (though I´m sure I eat more butter, but would rather not admit it to myself!)
- mayonnaise, brown sauce 2 a month = 72
- Cheese. 1 a week = 156 packets
- mini butter sachets / tomato sauce / mayonnaise when I eat out. (arghhh I love butter so this is always a hard one) 4 a month = 624
- Bottled water while eating out. @ 2 a month = 72 bottles & 72 tops
- Tampons. I now use a mooncup. 3 a day. 7 days of a month = 756
- Cling film. 2 boxes a year @ 5 metres. = 30 metres
- Clothes. All clothes are delivered to the shops individually bagged and a lot of them are made from plastic fibres. I´ve not bought any new clothes in over 3 years. (A big change from my Student cheap high street days!) How many items in 3 years??? Alot! Approx 4 items per month = 144 Now I go to charity shops, bootsales and have lovely friends’ hand-me-downs.
- Take Away cartons: The first one opened this year and was at the bottom of the street. So @ 2 a week for 4 months = 8
Total: Over 10,389 items! + crockery at events.
Individuals DO make a difference! Refusing single use plastic did sometimes feel lonely & I look around it can be disheartening. The online community has been truly amazing for me the last few years – well, it if wasn´t for the internet I would probably think our beaches were isolated events & wouldn´t know about Plastic Pollution. Knowing people out there are doing the same has kept me going, it really has. But now I have another reason. Over 3 years I´m really starting to see my own individual actions add up. I wonder what the plastic I´ve refused in the three years since I learnt about plastic pollution would look like. A huge pile. I could probably fill my house with it! More so if I include all the plastic that wraps plastic. I´m by no means plastic free – yet. But these small refusals are adding up.
Inspired by Kay’s message and Michelle’s Refuse Tally, I have added a question to the Show Your Plastic Trash form: List of plastic items you REFUSED this week. If you’ve waited to take the challenge because you feel guilty about the amount of plastic you have consumed, why not instead jump in and focus on what you refused? We all need to pat ourselves on the back for our successes, right?
What plastic items have you refused lately?