The plastic habit is hard to kick

This is not the best moment in my life to worry about using disposable items.

My husband and I have launched a kitchen renovation project. The wall between the kitchen and dining room has been torn out. The cabinets, appliances and soffit are all gone. Even the insulation and dry wall are being replaced.

So we’ll be camped out in the living room for several weeks. We’re preparing meals and eating there. To wash dishes, I head to the laundry sink in the basement.

Despite the inconvenience, I can’t quell a recently stoked passion for reducing our use of plastic.

I was inspired by a piece by Ian Frazier in The New Yorker. Here an excerpt:

By some estimates, the world uses and throws away more than a trillion plastic bags a year. “Bag It,” the documentary, describes the plastic bag as the No. 1 consumer item in the world. Immense gyres of trash rotate slowly in the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.

I urge you to read the whole piece. It’s a fine piece of journalism made especially powerful by Ian’s first-person account of collecting plastic bags along the streets of Manhattan.

In other words, he got me.

I do the grocery shopping for my family and was bringing home a dozen or more plastic bags each week. I knew better.

A little math gives me the horrifying sum of my thoughtlessness. In nearly 40 years of marriage, I’ve been responsible for at least 25,000 of the bags floating in the oceans right now.

My husband, an avid recycler, doesn’t shop much but consistently has reusable bags on hand when he does.

Years ago my daughter bought me a brightly colored set of ripstop nylon bags. I used them half-heartedly for awhile. Recently, after reading Ian’s piece, I scoured the house and couldn’t even find them.

Shame on me.

I bought two sets of three of these ripstop nylon bags. Choosing them was the easy part. Changing my habits and remembering to use them is proving much harder.
I bought two sets of three of these ripstop nylon bags. Choosing them was the easy part. Changing my habits and remembering to use them is proving much harder.

So I ordered six new ones — two sets of three — and vowed to change my habits. I was excited when they arrived. They’re roomy but easy to fold, and I can throw them in the washer once in awhile.

I put one in my purse and keep the rest in my car. I also bought some nylon net bags for produce.

The idea is to counteract my habit of walking into a store mindlessly bagless.

This is proving difficult.

This week, for example, I headed to a fabric store to buy something for the makeshift kitchen. I was back to my vehicle when I realized the clerk had placed my small, lightweight item in a plastic bag.

I hadn’t thought to stop her. I didn’t need a bag at all, and I had a resuable one in my purse.

Next stop was the grocery store. Alas, I was using my husband’s truck and hadn’t brought my new bags.

Aha. A quick search produced three of his bags. With the one in my purse, that made four, and for this trip that was enough.

However, sometimes I don’t have enough. Guess what happens when you reach the checkout counter and the clerk can’t fit all your items into your reusable bags.

I hope I get better with practice.

Meanwhile, I’m attacking the plastic enemy on other fronts — trying to use fewer Ziploc bags and buying no more plastic leftover containers.  I’ll make do with what I have.

This new mindfulness has spread beyond plastic. I’ve read that Americans waste up to 40 percent of the food they buy, more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.

I’m looking into my fridge and pantry more carefully and focusing on using what’s there before it has to be thrown out.

As I write, I realize many people are way ahead of me. Perhaps I should have entitled this post “Confessions of a Thoughtless Consumer.”

In hopes of a little redemption, let me say that eight days into our project, I have yet to use any disposable plates, cups or utensils.

I’m trying.