Single-use plastic in the kitchen

Some months later…

Plastic-Free Life Redux

I am happy to report that I received a response to my plastics letter. Before I tell you what happened, let me relay a completely unnerving statistic that I read the other day, that is, only two out of ten people consider themselves to be environmentalists – a mere 20%.  Now maybe it’s me, but we’re in the midst of a sixth global extinction where dozens of species die off daily — up to 1,000 times the background rate as a result of human activity — and yet, only 20% of the population is tuned into that.  Por que? Por qua? Say what?! Exsqueeze me?

Does that mean we’re going to blow up in a final brilliant conflagration of CO2 and methane igniting from the spark of some poor bastards e-cig (which have already been banned in several states!)?  And if we’re trying to change the world, is 20% even enough to change anyone’s mind?

Actually, it quite possibly is as Greg Braden points out in his book, The Isaiah Effect. We only need about 1% (technically, the square root of 1%) of a given population to work toward an imagined end in order to change the dynamics in any given area.  But we’re going to need more than one percent if we are to not just curtail, but reverse the growing crisis that is climate change

Suffocating in plastic

Anyway, back to the grocery store. Weeks went by and since no responses were forthcoming, I figured it was time for another round of letter writing, and then — a miracle — I got an email from the assistant manager at Wegmans (located in seven states and growing!), a lovely woman who was happy to report on all that Wegmans was doing in service to the environment.

For example:

— they got rid of plastic straws and just have paper straws now;

— they’ve reduced the amount of seafood arriving in foam containers;

— their uniform shirts are made partially from recycled plastic;

— they are “passionate” about sustainability;

— they have replaced their single-use plastic in NYC (which banned it) with reusable packaging or paper bags;

— they sponsor an event on earth day where you could trade your old single-use plastic bags in for a reusable one; and

— at the front door of every store they have recycling bins for plastic bags, cellphones and batteries.

Pretty impressive, huh? There were other things Wegmans was doing, but I couldn’t write them all down fast enough so this is just a partial list.  But Wegman’s isn’t the only one.  

Stauffers of Kissel Hill has pledged to quit single-use plastic bags by Earth Day 2020!  Whoa!  No more plastic bags at the check-out counter!  And to encourage consumers to make the switch they are giving away a reusable bag with every purchase through September 30th.  Stauffers uses 4.6 million single-use plastic bags a year as well as 70,000 large brown paper bags which they are also phasing out.  Stauffers anticipates giving away 100,000 bags in under three weeks and then — voilá — no more plastic. Once the ban is in place, what happens if you forget your reusable bag?  No worries.  Stauffers will give you a box!  

In addition to single-use plastic bags, Stauffers is also giving up plastic foam packaging and replacing it with biodegradable trays and switching to more enviro-friendly options at the food bar.  Also, bye-bye plastic straw! 

“I think that how we manage plastics is one of the top environmental issues of our time. It is something that impacts us all and that we all can help with. I find the government policy issues fascinating---eg, what combination of education, regulatory approaches, non-regulatory approaches, tax policies, local/state/federal coordination would work best? To what extent can we address the problem without being burdensome to the consumer? As the person who directed the EPA Office of Pollution Prevention for a year in the early '90s, I note that the P2 approach already provides a framework for getting a meaningful discussion started.”  Stan Laskowski, co-founder and former president, Global Water Alliance.

Anywho — it appears that Wegman’s and Stauffers are on it and getting better everyday so maybe this cultural reconstruction project will be an easier lift then I thought.  

What can you do to be cool like Wegmans and Stauffers?  We can all start with a look at our daily consumption of goods and services. By taking a waste-light approach to life we can have an impact on lessening our waste stream, and ultimately, the effects of climate change. Reducing at the source by looking at how we eat, what we shop for, and where we live, to name a few, will give us the freedom of sustainability, allowing us to be truly independent from the tyranny of a waste-filled life.

Pam Lazos is an environmental attorney practicing in Philadelphia, and the author of “Oil and Water,” an environmental murder mystery about oil spills and green technology. Having traveled extensively, she values her carefree access to clean, potable water and envisions a world where everyone has that same daily experience.