Book Review: Turning the Tide on Plastic

Turning the Tide on Plastic, by Lucy Siegle is truly inspiring and hopeful when it comes to our mission of eliminating plastic waste. Throughout the book, Lucy provides numerous helpful tips and suggestions on how individuals can take action on reducing their plastic use and removing single-use plastic from their daily routine. There is an honesty about how Lucy walks through her discovery of the havoc and destruction plastic has caused.

Those seeking to become involved with improving the world through sustainability tend to get washed up in the doom and gloom of the situation. Making it seem impossible to have a true impact Lucy does a great job at staying positive and being hopeful about the future.

Consumers are not to blame. Human nature prefers convenience and will usually choose the path of least resistance. Businesses, unfortunately, take advantage of this tendency for convenience and force a significant amount of unnecessary waste onto the consumer. This puts all of the pressure on the consumer to take “responsible” actions to “properly” dispose of their waste, as companies are able to protect their profits by using cheap, poorly sourced, polluting materials.

The facilities we all rely on are not prepared and are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of waste and recyclables they are needing to process. 

Most curbside recycling plants aren’t able to process plastics other than PET (code 1) and HDPE (code 2). So, codes 3-7 usually get filtered out and thrown away. This includes PVC (code 3), LDPE (code 4), PP (code 5), PS (code 6), and Other (code 7).

Of the 34.6 million tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) that was combusted for energy recovery in 2018, 16.27% was plastic. The most combusted item was food waste at 21.85%. 

Of the 146.1 million tons of MSW that ended up in landfill, 18.46% was plastic. Again, coming in second to food waste at 24.14%, according to the EPA. Just by cutting out the hard-to-recycle materials, we would significantly reduce the plastic crisis we are currently in.

Contrary to the current narrative, plastic isn’t evil. In many cases, it is critical. For example, stints used for heart surgery have plastic elements due to their long-term strength and flexibility. We can definitely reduce the amount of plastic being consumed, but it isn’t something we should try to fully remove from existence. Plastic was initially created to be a sustainable option. Clothing manufacturers in the UK were initially using turtle shells as buttons, endangering the species due to overhunting. Plastic buttons were used as the turtle shell replacement. Unfortunately, businesses and manufacturers have taken the use of plastic too far, and are now endangering the species they initially set out to protect.

Turning the Tide on Plastic's Steps and Guide:

Where do we go from here? Referencing Lucy’s guide, start with a personal analysis by recording. Record the amount of plastic you or your family consumes within a month. This will give you a good idea of where to start. If you are a lover of fizzy drinks, switch to cans, glass bottles, or a SodaStream. Plastic water bottles have the largest target on their back. If you see those piling up, use a filter or if it is safe, utilize tap water. Be meticulous about recording, and categorize each item by source, avoidability, reusability, and disposability.

Reduce. We as consumers are sadly, over consumers. Not everything needs to be individually plastic wrapped, or plastic bagged. Single-use items are a great place to start, including plastic straws, fast food wrappers, and plastic bottles. Choose produce that isn’t cut up and wrapped in plastic. Local farmers' markets will often even leave the dirt on produce because washing them removes their own natural defenses and preservatives. 

Replace. Use plastic alternatives such as glass, metal, cotton, and wood, just to name a few. Instead of the paper-wrapped plastic milk and juice cartons, use glass. Most of the time you can take the glass bottles back to the store and receive a refund. Plastic toothbrushes are also on top of the list to be replaced, with viable alternatives usually made of bamboo. At this time, the bristles are still plastic, so it is recommended to remove the bristles before composting. Plastic sandwich and snack bags can be replaced with glass containers, silicone bags, such as Stacher, or multi-use plastic containers, like Tupperware.

Refuse. No need for food delivery to bring plastic silverware to your home, just use the silverware you have in the drawers. Also, put a stop to junk mail, this is good for you and the environment! As you start becoming more comfortable carrying your sustainable items around, you will be able to refuse single-use cups, straws and silverware, packaging, and possibly even leftover containers. 

Reuse. Plastic produce and shopping bags are easy targets, but the items you reuse don't always have to be cotton, glass, or metal. Plastic bags can be reused for wet swimsuits or muddy shoes while traveling. Reuse sturdy plastic items, it is there, and most of the time made to last. Toys, pet supplies, cleaning containers and sprayers, and much more can be continuously reused. If you have gotten the use out of the item, donate it, gift it, recycle it if possible, or find a new way to reuse it!

Refill. Water bottles and coffee cups are the easiest to replace in this scenario. Just take them with you, as most coffee shops will gladly fill up your cup, some even encourage it. Lucy suggests KeepCup, as they are a traditional size and fit under the machines. The U.S. is filled with water fountains compared to most of the world. Take advantage of this by bringing your own water bottle or coffee cup, and refill, refill, refill.

Rethink. The focus is to break the habits, routines, and associations that have taken over our lives. Single use plastic cups at parties and picnics can be altered by using reusable cups and glasses, or even by bringing your own. Avoid the plastic bits that tend to sneak into items unnecessarily, like cotton swabs with a plastic rod and wet wipes that are actually woven with plastic. Rethink your clothing fabrics, there are a lot of sneaky plastics in textiles. Diving back into natural materials will be more costly upfront, but they will last longer and act more naturally against your skin.

Recycle. This is the last stop for plastic items, and we should all strive to reduce our reliance on recycling facilities. As we know, they are overwhelmed and not truly able to process many of the plastic items we throw at them. If you aren't able to administer any of the above steps and recycling is the best option, be sure to clean the item and place it in the correct bin. If you have more unique items that can't be easily recycled via curbside pickup, check out TerraCycle, they partner with many of the common plastic-reliant brands we are used to. The concept is to have the brands reclaim their waste, and properly reuse or repurpose it.

If you are looking for a helpful and hopeful guide to achieving your goals of reducing plastic waste, Lucy Siegle's Turning the Tide on Plastic is a must-read!

Make it simple. Make it better. We aren’t 100% of the time going to get it right, nor will we be in a place in the near future where we aren’t overwhelmed by trash. We as consumers need to be critical of the companies we buy products from and what that company uses to package their products. This is tough and will be a challenge to adapt to, but at this moment in our human history, it is our duty.