Plastic Free July is all about choosing to refuse single-use plastics to protect our planet, but it’s also about what we choose instead of plastic - choosing to reuse! Instead of just thinking about the material plastic, the concept of reuse helps us focus on our own behaviors, systems, and mindset at the root of plastic pollution. This helps us identify the real problems and the real solutions.
For example, if we think it’s just plastic that’s the problem then we’ll start switching to paper products like paper bags, straws, or takeout containers. But then we are still cutting down trees, using water, energy, and resources and still harming our environment at every step producing paper products. Also, many paper products are treated with chemicals like PFAS that never break down, accumulating in our water supplies and our bodies and posing serious health concerns.
Life cycle assessment is a way to evaluate all of these environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, that are associated with the life cycle of a product - from extracting the raw materials, to manufacturing, distributing, consuming, and finally the end-of-life. End-of-life could include the debris we see on our beaches and in the ocean, but it also includes the waste management systems we use like landfilling, incinerating, or even recycling. Disposable products always have more life cycle impacts because they are designed to repeat these steps over and over again, using up more and more finite resources, rather than reusables intended to last and never get thrown out.
Reuse is the best choice for the environment. There are so many ways to reuse in our everyday lives and it’s time we start incorporating these into our community systems and our ways of doing business. Before the pandemic, a handful of businesses started catching on and incorporating reuse into their practices. For example, coffee shops gave discounts for customers bringing their own refillable to-go cups. Once the pandemic hit, there was some uncertainty as to whether or not reusables were still safe. Fortunately, now health experts have affirmed that they are! As restaurants and businesses open back up again, it is important that they keep this in mind and continue to include reuse practices so we can continue making progress toward a zero waste society.
Learn more about Maura Toomey.
Graphics from Upstream Solutions Reuse Wins Report.
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