Updated: Jun 2, 2019
In addition to becoming more aware of the plastic I don't need in my life, this month has also brought my attention to the forms of plastic I do rely on, and will likely continue to rely on. For example, I use an electric toothbrush. Since I switched from a manual one, my teeth and gums have been way healthier, which is important since my genetics blessed me with less-than perfect teeth. I see the lovely bamboo toothbrushes in my favorite zero waste stores and hope that everyone who uses a manual plastic toothbrush switches over! But for me, I likely won't be giving up my electric toothbrush habit any time soon. When it comes down to it, using a new plastic head for my toothbrush every couple months is actually easier on the earth than the alternative: using a manual toothbrush would lead me to have more plaque build-up, cavities, and health issues (it's suspected that the plaque on our teeth may be the same plaque that builds up around the heart and causes coronary disease). All of these put strain on my body, which puts strain on the earth. By prioritizing my health over my plastic-free habits in this situation, I'm doing what's best for the planet in the long run.
(With that said, I've been researching a couple eco-friendly electric toothbrushes and will eventually switch over. In the meantime, I'm abiding by the #1 rule of living a minimalist / zero-waste / plastic-free lifestyle: use what you already have. :)
The other realm that I found necessitates plastic is a surprising one: backpacking. I recently returned from a 40-mile backpacking trip on the Colorado Trail and spent significant time thinking about the conflict between a plastic-free lifestyle and one that includes extended periods of time in nature. While avid outdoors-people are generally very respectful of the environments they're exploring, there are several inconsistencies that I've found nearly impossible to reconcile.
There were 3 I thought about often:
1) When backpacking, it's recommended you wear synthetic materials rather than natural ones. Whereas natural fibers like cotton tend to hold onto moisture, synthetic materials wick water to keep you dryer and warmer. BUT synthetic materials are tougher on the planet to produce, don't degrade as readily (if at all) (1), and have side effects like shedding microplastics into our oceans (2).
2) Another necessity for staying warm outdoors: down. I hadn't thought about the process for collecting down feathers until recently. Now I'm both grateful for my years of ignorance and deeply horrified. Down feathers are a byproduct of the meat industry, which has it's fair share of inhumane practices. Most of the down found in comforters, winter coats, etc. is tied with procedures like force-feeding and live plucking. Patagonia has championed cruelty-free practices for collecting down, but since it's relatively new, I'm skeptical it's 100% ethical. The alternative is synthetic down (refer to problem #1).
3) Food and non-waterproof items need to be protected by something flexible, durable, water-resistant, and lightweight. The material that most easily checks all of those boxes is...plastic. On my most recent trip, I prepared my own meals rather than purchasing pre-packaged dinners. While this cut down enormously on my waste, the easiest and lightest way to transport my food was in plastic bags. I measured out quick-cooking grains, freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, freeze-dried chicken (I know...weird), and spices into a plastic bag, then labeled each one with a permanent marker so I knew how much water to add. I saved all my bags once they were empty so I can wash and re-use them, but I wish there was a plastic-free option.
I actually emailed Stasher to ask them the weight of their awesome silicone bags. They graciously emailed me back in response: "Our sandwich size stashers weigh 3.55 ounces, snack size weighs 3.2 ounces, and half-gallon stashers are 3.8 ounces." Unfortunately, I used over 10 ziplocks on my trip and 10 Stasher bags would've cost me too much weight. I thought about using beeswax wrap, too, but it's recommended that it doesn't get too warm and I couldn't promise that while out on the trail.
Has anyone out there found plastic-free / eco-friendly solutions to any of these conflicts? It's clear we're making progress, but we've still got a ways to go.
Feeling very grateful for our nylon tent as Moon and I waited out rain and hail on the CT.