Day 1 — My Shower
I put on my plastic shower cap to protect my plastic hair, pulled back the plastic shower curtain and plastic shower liner and stepped onto the plastic shower mat. The water went through the plastic shower head and onto my plastic loofah where I poured the body wash out of the plastic container. My razor is also plastic.
As far as I know, none of this is recyclable, but it all has to be replaced at regular intervals.
Some of it may be avoidable, but likely not in my income bracket. I have had a fabric shower mat; they get gross very quickly and have to be replaced more often. Would that be better for the environment than the plastic one? I doubt it.
It is possible to buy soaps that aren’t cased in plastic, but I am allergic to a lot of stuff, and it is more expensive. And in person at least, it exists in spaces that I am not particularly comfortable shopping in. The last time I was at a Co-Op, I went to the makeup section and the foundation was just for fair-skinned folks. (Seriously, the darkest shade is probably too light for J-Lo). The messaging is clear. I don’t spend the little money that I have to support folks who very obviously don’t want or welcome my presence.
In some ways, my plastic consumption, like so many things in my life, is related to the ways in which I am marginalized. I am not blaming society for my choices, but I am saying that systemic forces play more of a role than most folks realize.
Sometimes I ask myself: how much do my personal choices matter anyway? If I drive my recycling across town I have emitted a bunch of fossil fuels. How far would I have to drive to make it not worth it? On top of that, driving my recycling around costs money and time and energy. As an autistic person, I can drive, but the energy cost is a lot higher. Generally, I have to pick and choose how I am going to use my daily allotment of energy, in a way that some folks without disabilities don’t have to do.
Day 2— Breakfast
This morning I was thinking about breakfast and plastics. Part of the autism package is often issues with food. There are a lot of things that I don’t eat. I also have food allergies, so there are a lot of things that I can’t eat. When I am stressed, it is difficult to eat at all.
I drink primarily out of juice boxes. There are a few reasons for that. First, I am less likely to spill a juice box. They are portable. They are small enough that I can finish them in one sitting. If I get a juice box, and forget to drink it (which happens at least once a day), I can just put it back in the refrigerator. They don’t create dirty dishes, so they are easy to clean up. However, they come packed in plastic. The boxes themselves are cardboard coated in plastic, which, for the most part, cannot be recycled.
My mornings start with a juice box and some cookie-dough greek yogurt. First thing in the morning, I take a pill to settle my stomach, which takes a while to kick in. I know that this yogurt is not going to upset my stomach, which means that I can eat it earlier than pretty much anything else. This yogurt is individually wrapped, and I eat it with a plastic spoon. I eat breakfast upstairs in bed most days. I feed my elderly dog his pain medication in the morning. I don’t like to walk him before it kicks in, and he often has difficulty with the stairs, so we have breakfast before all of that.
When I was using a real spoon, I didn’t know what to do with the spoon. It goes in the sink or the dishwasher, but it would stress me out to see the spoon sitting there, usually on a piece of toilet paper (so as not to get yogurt on my nightstand or bathroom counter) or something, waiting until the next time I went downstairs. Then I would forget it, and come back to the bedroom at night to go to bed to find this spoon with toilet paper stuck to the bottom. My life is so much better now that I eat it with a plastic spoon. I don’t have to spend precious energy worrying about whether I forgot the spoon, I just throw it away with the yogurt container.
This morning, I was reading How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis, and I came across this quote, attributed to a conversation with Imani Barbarian, a disability advocate:
The acceptable use of plastic is always set according to what a healthy person needs to be healthy (think masks, gloves, plastic prescription bottles, kinesiology tape… even home delivery supplements that individually package your daily vitamins), but when it comes to someone with a disability using plastic, everyone wants to shame them for killing the planet.
Talk about life-changing. Most folks don’t know about the plastics that I use. Living with an “invisible” disability, I am really great at hiding the things that I do to maintain life. But, I shamed myself. Perhaps my participation in this project was an exercise in self-shaming. And that is wrong.
Davis goes on to say,
The truth is that it’s not a waste if you are using something to function… It’s okay to use a paper plate to eat if you’re depressed and otherwise would’ve struggled to eat at all. Someone with diabetes can use disposable needles and you can buy a [expletive] pre-packaged salad so that you can eat… Climate change is real. Environmentalism is important. But we are not going to fix the earth by shaming people with mental health and neurodiverse needs out of adaptive routines they need to function. Take that energy to Congress.
This passage changes the way that I am viewing this project. At the end of the day, I would be happy to put the yogurt cup and spoon into an upstairs recycling bin rather than the trash can. But, there is no recycling at my apartment and very little in my city. That isn’t a me-problem, but a systemic-problem.
Day 3 — Errands
A few days ago, I ran errands. My first stop was Walmart. They deposited my groceries directly into my trunk, which is awesome. Grocery Pickup is one of the best things, in my opinion, to come out of the dark times of the pandemic, increasing accessibility for all customers. I didn’t count how many bags they used, but it was a lot, and there weren’t that many groceries.
Then I went to the pharmacy. My prescriptions always come in paper bags. Each medication gets its own bag with literature about the medication stapled to the front. This week, they took the 2 paper bags with the medication and put them in a plastic bag.
For practical reasons, I am okay with some plastic bags. I actually reuse mine for various purposes, most often bathroom trash bags. However, I wish I could opt in and opt out of some of these items.
I actually do read the pamphlets that come with my prescriptions the first time I get it. If I stop taking something and get prescribed it again, I will re-read the information. But some of these medications I have been on for like 20+ years. And every month, a new bag with the info stapled to the front. So, 12 months in a year, 3ish pages per script for 20 years is 720 wasted pages. I tend to have 5-8 prescriptions depending on what is going on with my body at any given time. That is a lot of wasted paper, and, for the pharmacy techs, that is a lot of wasted work.
I wish I could opt out of all that paperwork from my medications. I would set my account up to just give me the paperwork for new medications and have all the rest of the paperwork available online. I don’t need a separate bag for each medication, the meds themselves are already packaged.
I didn’t need any new bags when I went to Walmart, and I didn’t carry the groceries to my car. I have a garage attached to my place, so I didn’t carry them far to get in either. I would be happy to put a crate or box or something in the trunk that I could reuse rather than getting fresh bags every single time, every single week. And, there are so many times that folks give one small item its own bag. It is a bit ridiculous. I want to opt in and opt out of plastic bags at grocery pickup.**
I think that this again speaks to structural change. How can we make green options available for folks to choose?
Day 4 — Fashion & Finances
Over the weekend, I wore what has become my favorite blue jumpsuit. I like it because it is soft, light, comfortable, fitted around the ankles so it doesn’t drag the ground, and has pockets. I noticed that it was wearing out in places, which means its days are numbered, and I was mad. I just bought this jumpsuit last year, meaning I am going to end up getting 2 summers out of it, and that is it. I bought it on sale. Regular price was $35, but I paid about $20 for it.
Then I thought about one of my favorite summer dresses. It is light blue with little black and white flowers. I have had this dress for around 7 years, and it is still going strong. I paid $20 for this dress, too. The difference is that I bought this dress from a store that makes quality clothing. It was probably like $68 regular price, but I got it from the clearance rack. Clearance was buy 2 get 2 free, and I had a $10 coupon.
I remember talking to one of my friends about the “per use” price. If we talk about how often I have worn both items, although they both cost me $20, I actually paid more per use for the jumpsuit.
At the end of the day, a good percentage of our clothing is made from plastic. When clothes wear out, these days they basically end up in the trash. You can’t donate worn-out clothing, and most folks don’t have the time or skills to cut them down or make new items from old clothes. I certainly don’t. You can’t recycle most clothes.
I take some pride in my appearance. I don’t follow or participate in all of the trends, but I try to buy clothing that feels good on my body and makes me feel good about myself. I don’t have a lot of money, but I tend to look like a million bucks. 😊
Some folks would say, don’t buy clothes. The fact that I am free to express myself in fashion makes a difference in my day, in my week, in my life.
Other folks would say, buy used clothing. I think it is a wonderful idea, but it doesn’t work for me. Thrift shops, flea markets, and garage sales tend to be dusty. They irritate my allergies and asthma. They also don’t have my size most of the time, anyway. I am also allergic to a lot of perfumes and laundry detergents. You can’t pre-smell used online clothing. (Sometimes, I am allergic to new clothes I buy online, but then I just take them back.)
So, new shopping resolution! No more super-cheaply made clothes. The per-use value makes them way too expensive. As a savvy shopper, I can spend the same amount of money on brand-new quality clothes that will last a lot longer and give great return on my investment in fabulousness. It also happens to be better for the planet. If I am going to spend money, it is going to be worth it.
At the end of the day, these industries need an overhaul and some serious environmental regulation. As individuals, there is only so much that we can do. However, if a lot of us make small changes, we can make a big difference.
**Update 7/18/23** They added it to the Walmart pickup menu this week! At my location, you can now opt out of grocery bags. How cool is that?!