Chacos column: I am a recycling hypocrite
When you take a road trip and the final destination is California, a state that recently upped their recycling efforts, you are forced to boldly look at your travel habits.
My behavior on the road is akin to an overtired trucker, swilling an extra-large fountain soda from an oversized straw while snacking on bags of whatever will keep me awake. I also buy single-use plastic water bottles, not because I forgot to pack my reusable container, but because I don’t like the looks of the bathroom sink spigots at the rest stops in remote parts of Nevada.
I buy small packs of hand wipes and place them all over the car, buy disposable toothbrushes with the toothpaste already applied, and have a cooler filled with individual yogurt tubes, granola bars, string cheese and small juice boxes. I am driving in a car that gets less than 18 miles per gallon carrying a bundle of plastic waste across state lines. I am appalled at the garbage I produce.
To be fair, I’m not a frivolous consumer, and I’m not a fiscally conservative one either. My excitement swells when I buy in bulk and stock my pantry with glass containers filled with oats, flour, rice and beans. When I find a deal on a 24-pack of toilet paper, I let my husband know just how shrewd I can be when spending the family’s hard-earned money.
In addition, I’m also part of an online wellness shopping club that lets me buy organic, naturally derived cleaning supplies in bulk. This means I buy the concentrated stuff and simply add water at home. Their minimal packaging makes me feel smart and prudent.
Unfortunately, I also garner the same thrill when I stock up on those mini-sized, travel amenities, too. I feel sharp pangs of guilt when my favorite beauty store mails me a package filled with high-end samples of lotions, perfumes and hair care products neatly wrapped in layers of tissue paper. Still, I eagerly open them all, discard the wasteful packaging, and squirrel away my loot.
The Straw & The Plastic Bag
After a two-day drive, my son and I arrived in San Francisco, where the ban on plastic straws became a hot topic of conversation. One afternoon, as we idly watched people walk the wharf in the hot summer sun, the ice melted in my son’s drink, and his paper straw became disintegrated mush in his mouth.
At this point, we shared our collective love of plastic straws; how the beverage reaches your lips without the ice clanking on your teeth. We talked about replacing plastic with expensive metal straws and bringing them everywhere we go, but then I reiterated a horrific tale of a woman impaled by falling on her reusable metal straw. Together we decided that there is no good straw replacement, so it’s best to go without, like everyone should do when pondering the consumption of fat-free mayo or fake bacon.
Another item California is learning to do without is the flimsy, barely reusable plastic grocery bag. I don’t even feel secure using one to pick up my dog’s waste, so that’s not really a legitimate argument for people wanting to keep them around. The only thing they’re probably good for is to haul the piles of trash that accumulates in one’s car. Since our community long-ago banned the bag at grocery stores, I was prepared in California. At every checkout, I quickly drew reusable bags from my purse, like a modern-day, Whole Foods gunslinger doused in essential oils.
How You Can Reinforce New Behaviors by Reducing and Reusing Instead
1. Try taking an overpriced, hip, reusable water bottle everywhere you go and consider it your latest accessory piece. Water fountains are slowly getting replaced by bottle filling stations. If the outdated LaGuardia airport in New York can do it, there’s hope for other locations, too.
2. Carry reusable bags everywhere you go. The checkout clerk at the sporting goods store tried to bag my things in the store’s bag and then put it in the one I gave her. Baby steps.
3. Shop bulk bins. But beware, the chocolate raisins are usually made out of carob or something that doesn’t remotely resemble a real Raisinet.
4. Give public transportation a chance. I love my car but find it harder to justify my commute when the bus is so convenient and cost effective.
5. Seriously, stop using single-use plastic. The only way we’re going to stop plastic from overtaking our landfills is if we discontinue its use. And if you have some ideas, please share. I need help.
Becoming a better consumer takes effort, education and a bit of inconvenience. Obviously, I still shop out of habitual ease, but I vow to take bigger steps in the right direction. With that, I will miss using a plastic straw on my next road trip and hope to live another day after trying my luck with a metal, reusable straw instead.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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