Over the last month, I’ve had two posts dedicated to reducing plastic use in our household. I’ve got one more for ya—but this will be the last for a while (seriously, keep reading to find out why).
One of the motherhood bloggers I follow (@mamademics) recently posted on Instagram how she pissed off a bunch of White women when she said she didn’t want to ban plastic straws. I admit, I felt a little ashamed—was I one of those White women that was focusing so much on plastic as a way to feel like I did something social justice-y rather than focus on the more challenging issues like Black and Brown individuals being murdered by the police? By poisoned water in Flint? By the lack of employment opportunities that give any capacity to sustain a family? On top of that, @mamademics linked an article that talked about how plastic straws are very crucial for some disabled people to be able to drink. The author of the article talks about moving to an ‘opt-in’ system (no one gets plastic straws unless they specifically request) instead of a total ban. @Mamademics’s post was a two-fer: calling out an excessive focus on plastic straws at the expense of racial justice AND the able-bodied privilege unrecognized . She’s awesome—go click on all the ads on her page to get her some of that money.
If I’m being fair to myself (should I defend myself? Is that the typical white feminist defensiveness we see everywhere else?), I’m not focusing on banning plastic straws. I never focused on straws or a total ban, though I do talk about single-use plastic and one of those is plastic straws. I do think reducing waste is an important activity, as does @mamademics (it seems—I don’t want to talk for her). But I didn’t contextualize my blog posts in how my privilege shapes my ability to reduce our plastic use. This blog is written by a privileged mother, so almost all of its content focuses on how to channel that privilege towards socially just ends. Part of that means I need to be explicit about when my privilege is shaping my actions—like my focus on reducing single-use plastic.
Also, if I’m being honest, it did feel good to be able to focus on plastic and give myself a day’s pass on thinking about the torture and death of Black and Brown babies. I’m embarrassed to say it but it’s true. And I thank @mamademics for doing that emotional labor to educate me (I went to her page and pay-paled her a donation to thank her #paywomenofcolorfortheirlabor).
So, yes I am going to continue to reduce our plastic use as a family. I’m going to continue to get excited when corporations and nations talk seriously about how to reduce single-use plastic (as long as its not at the expense of access for individuals who are disabled). But I do not judge those who do not have the emotional energy or financial resources dedicated to the same goals that I have. And I will not let these plastic-reducing activities distract me from racial justice issues.
Last month, I made a modest goal to reduce single-use plastic in our grocery shopping/food habits and in our bathroom habits. I’ve successfully stopped using most plastic bags & produce bags, tried to find produce that is not wrapped in plastics, etc. I even shopped at the farmers’ market (since farmers’ markets tend to have less plastic wrapping than grocery stores), though the one near our house is so damn expensive it’s hard to commit to shopping there long-term. I also made a goal of reduced bathroom plastic, and while I haven’t needed to repurchase anything for A or myself yet, I have chosen where I will buy my next package-free options (LUSH seems to have what I need, honestly).
As we transition to plastic-reduced lives, I think we need to put a lot of conscious thought and energy into it. Once living plastic-reduced/plastic-free becomes a habit, it can fade into the background and not require so much thought and planning. But right now, during the transition, it should. And the goals I set last month have already faded into the background, so I think it’s time for the next push. Once something gets easy, it’s time to make it hard again. This month, I’m doing that through ‘no-buy July.’
My husband and I have committed to ‘no-buy July’, where we limit our frivolous spending (obviously necessities are allowed, but no extra toys/clothes/eating out, etc.). Trying these two big goals (plastic-reduced and no-buy July) at the same time may seem like I’m spreading myself too thin, but in reality, they are mutually supportive. When you don’t buy as much, you don’t use as much single-use plastic. Funny how that works. Consumerism is the motivation behind single-use plastic. So reducing consumerist tendencies reduces our plastic use. There are other benefits to no-buy July as well (I hope! Only six days in at this point…), but even reducing our eating out means that we are less likely to get takeaway and therefore less likely to use plastic utensils and to-go food containers.
It’s difficult to live plastic-reduced as a parent. We’re tired and don’t always have the energy to do the slightly harder (but less-plastic) option. We feel poorer and don’t always want to buy the slightly more expensive (but less-plastic) option. We’re marketed to like crazy, which means we buy toys/clothes/convenience food wrapped in plastic. That’s why our family has chosen to set incremental goals, instead of going cold turkey. It makes a radical lifestyle change something that seems doable. A isn’t old enough to talk about plastic-reduced living yet, but I hope he sees the precedent we are trying to set for him. We are doing it imperfectly but trying nonetheless!
One of the mama instagrammers that I follow (@mamalinauk) recently posted a ‘plastic-free parenting’ challenge for the month of June. Each week, she recommends focusing on reducing plastic use in certain areas of our parenting lives.
- Week 1: Mealtime (plastic wrapped produce, lunches out-and-about, and saran wrap)
- Week 2: Bath time (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and body wash)
- Week 3: Toilet time (diapers, wipes, toilet paper)
- Week 4: Play time (arts and crafts, plastic toys and batteries, baking)
I have been thinking about how to reduce single-use plastic for a month or two now. I would say that our house has pretty typical middle-class American consumerist patterns: despite my hatred of clutter, we do end up buying way too much shit and a lot of that comes with single use plastic (via plastic bags, packaging, the object itself, etc).
In the last month, I’ve made a concerted effort to not use produce bags at the grocery store and to bring our cloth grocery bags. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here—on the contrary, this seems like responsible 21st century living 101-type stuff that I should’ve been doing years ago. India is the latest country (as of the day I’m writing this!) to pledge to ban single-use plastic as a country. With our current federal government, I can’t imagine making such a radical commitment, but that doesn’t mean that we as individuals can’t try.
Despite my attention to our single-use plastic at grocery stores, I never really thought about reducing single-use plastic as a parent. But @mamalinauk’s challenge has started to make my brain wheels turn: where are other places in my parenting life that I can reduce waste in general (and single-use plastic specifically)? There was a brief moment while I was pregnant that my husband and I talked about cloth diapers, but (and I’m totally calling him out on this, LOVE YOU), he was really against the idea. I’m sure if I had been more opinionated, my husband would have at least considered it.
In fact, my husband overall doesn’t feel he has the emotional energy left over from his job (he works a TON, and if I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t either) to dedicate mental energy or time to this issue at this point in our lives. So, I told him I would try to do it for us. While we may not be willing to make the switch to cloth diapers yet, there are other areas where I will focus on plastic-free (or plastic-reduced?) parenting for the next month:
- Grocery shopping and food–My older sister is awesome at sewing and has made us reusable produce bags and snack pouches that I will integrate more fully into our day to day lives. Next step is using the farmers market more, because even though I try to not use produce bags, SO much produce comes wrapped in plastic! I didn’t notice it before my grocery shop last week! Oh, and I won’t get plastic straws when I’m eating out.
- Bath hygiene—after we finish with A’s current toothbrush, we will either buy him bamboo ones or an electric one that will last much longer. I will also try to find soap/hygiene products at the local farmers market that does not come in plastic bottles.
Good luck and happy wiping (with reuseable wipes?),