Over 31 days in January and February, I attempted to collect all the plastic I would normally throw out (or recycle). I consciously tried to avoid single-use plastic, but I still amassed an extortionate volume of plastic. Bearing in mind that virtually everything comes plastic-wrapped or bagged in Thailand, where I’m living, and often plastic-free alternatives don’t exist (unless you want to totally forgo eating and drinking), here’s my pile of plastic rubbish. One (attempting to live consciously) person’s plastic consumption for one month. It’s staggering really.
By examining my 31-day-plastic-pile, I discovered a few things about myself and my habits.
- YOGHURT – I eat a lot of it. It’s part of my morning breakfast ritual, accompanied by fresh fruit and oats. I can only seem to find small ‘pottles’*, at nearby shops. I thus accrued 22 pottles over the 31 days. I’m aware of the arguments for reducing or avoiding dairy altogether because of its environmental impact, but so far I’ve not changed my dairy-loving habits so as to eliminate yoghurt. *Kiwi term, meaning small container
- BREAKFAST – I’m really into it. Some friends say I eat double breakfast. After my yoghurt/fruit/oat combo I’ll often follow this with peanut butter on toast. Consequently, my breakfast is also accompanied by endless packaging: bread and cereal packets.
- TOILETRIES – I usually go for the organic, ethical, herbal, non-animal-tested, ‘natural’ types of products. But even these come in plastic containers. My stash for the month includes one each of toothpaste, face wash, moisturiser and shampoo containers, as well as a toothbrush.
4. COLD DRINKS – Hot weather and cold drinks go together like curry and rice. I often buy iced or frappe-style drinks. Even if you are sitting in drinks are usually served with the ubiquitous plastic straw and often in a plastic cup. I didn’t manage to collect all the straws and vessels I drank through/out of, so here’s a select few. I was impressed with discovering a reusable metal straw while on a weekend nature escape.
5. PLASTIC BAGS AND OTHER MISCELLANEOUS PLASTIC – Even though I endeavored to avoid plastic, eating nutritious food or being tempted to taste new treats often necessitated using plastic bags or containers. Often this was due to my lack of adequate Thai language to communicate – “no plastic bag please“. My attempts at saying “I don’t want”, are occasionally understood, but more often than not, met with querying looks that I interpret to be “what does the (stupid)-white-girl trying to say?”
Overall, I have learnt that often culture trumps individual behaviours. While I can struggle along on my plastic-free pursuit, in a place where plastic-use is an ingrained system of convenience, where plastic is used to transport, preserve and serve food and drink and there is an avid culture of plastic-wrapped takeaway food (including soups, sauces, rice and curries), as a foreigner, the most I can perhaps hope for is to sway a few people’s attitudes to plastic along the way.
Plastic-use should also be viewed through a sustainability lens, the intertwined threads of people, economy and environment, which comprise fabric of human life. While plastic is devastating for our waterways, oceans, wildlife and birds, sometimes it is unavoidable in order to buy otherwise healthy food or ethically produced products.
Where to next? Keep your eyes peeled for another post where I consider what changes I can make to reduce my plastic use.