My friend invited me and a few of his friends to go surfings three weekends ago on the Oregon Coast. Oregon is not known for its warm beaches and is not people’s first choice for surfing. While there definitely are surfers in Oregon, they are not like the kind featured in my favorite teen surfer movie Blue Crush- with board shorts and tribal tattoos. In fact, when Oregonians brave the waters they wear 3mm thick wetsuits, masks, hoods, booties, and gloves. That is because Oregon coast waters are polar and the beaches are rainy with winds blasting sand so hard in your face it feels like being stabbed with needles. I am not being overly dramatic, honestly.
The weekend turned out to be unseasonably warm- as if God purposely wanted a clear view to watch me drown as I attempted to surf. I pulled on my wetsuit (which smelled like old urine) and it squealed in protest as I tried to pull it up my thighs. We all made our way down the narrow steps to the beach and that is when I saw what I thought was piles of multicolored pebbles washed up on shore. As we got closer, I realized it was not pebbles, it was plastic. Little pieces of blue, red, black, yellow, and white plastic. There were chunks of styrofoam, shreds of bottles, and even plastic bands of watches littering the whole entire beach. The photo above is just a section of what the whole beach looked like.
Oregon is my home. Arguably, one of the most beautiful states in U.S. with mountains dusted with snow, evergreens sprinkling the whole state, and of course, the frigid but beautiful beaches. Almost everywhere you drive looks like a postcard. It is the perfect place to raise kids, or in my case, my 95 pound puppy. One can only imagine how it felt seeing my Oregon beaches resembling a dumpster.
I am one (fairly average and insignificant) person. I claim to “care” about the environment, but let’s be honest, I do do more harm than good. As a human I create waste; we all do it. By just being born we impact the environment. If you were born in a hospital just think of all the disposable medical equipment (gloves, for example) it took to deliver you safely (and hygienically) into this world.
As the wise Helen Keller once stated, ““I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Here is what I can do: I can mindfully choose more environmentally friendly options when going about my life. There are people more dedicated to an environmental friendly lifestyle (looking at you people who use “washable toilet paper”. Yes it is real, you can buy it on Etsy or make your own……). I am not quite there as far as dedication. I am going the route of baby steps, per my usual M.O. I meet goals one wobbly step at a time. Once I meet one small one I titrate up to more. For the next 30 days, I am going to do five things to reduce my waste:
- Less disposable coffee cups. According to Earrthday.org 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year. These are coated with plastic to laminate the inside of the cup and then there are the plastic lids on top, so they are non recyclable nor compostable. I have a great coffee Hydro Flask (not sponsored, I wish..) and I will be using that anytime I get coffee to go. A lot of coffee shops give a discount if you bring in your own cup. This includes Starbucks, which gives 10 cents off in America.
- Less plastic grocery bags. According to Earth Policy Institute, a trillion (!!!!) single-use plastic bags are used each year, which is nearly 2 million each minute. Plastic bags are one of the top polluters of our oceans. I do not know about you, but I have reusable bags coming out my eyeballs from events and God-only-knows where, so I will be using those not just to grocery shop but for any type of in-store purchases. I even got a bag that folds up tiny and can fit in my purse for emergency shopping trips.
- Less Styrofoam. Styrofoam is basically “the devil” (as Bobby Boucher’s mom from The Waterboy would say….) There was tons of it on the Oregon coast and it definitely does not biodegrade. According to Green Dining Alliance, the world produces more than 14 million US tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year. It also notes that just Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year. The culprit for me is takeout containers. I love leftovers, but I notice that when I ask for a box I am usually brought a styrofoam one. For this, I intend to bring my own container for leftovers and leave one in my car and if need be, put it in my purse. This way I can say “boy, bye” to styrofoam hopefully forever.
- Less food waste. Guilty. The biggest thing for me to work on will be wasting less food. I have a habit of buying or making things and then forgetting about them in the black hole that is the back of my fridge and leaving them to rot. Just the other day I bought a yellow squash and forgot about it and then found it too late. According to the USDA, in the United States, food waste is estimated between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds of food and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. Fuuuuuck! There are people starving all over the world and here we are wasting 133 billion pounds of food. I am sure the number has only gone up since 2010….
- Less new clothes. According to PBS, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste. Not only do we throw away clothes which creates waste, but then our clothes come in non recyclable packaging. According to Sciencemag.org over half of the world’s plastic thrown out in 2015 was plastic packaging. That’s over 141 million metric tons! I know packaging also includes food and other packaging, but still. Let us also not get into the unfair labor and fossil fuels it takes to make our clothes…. With websites like Poshmark and Ebay where you can buy and sell gently used clothing online and of course, brick and mortar thrift stores, there is no need for me to buy new clothes for the next 30 days. Not to mention it is better for my budget to buy used than new.
I know there are way more ways to improve the planet and maybe even better ones, but these are the ones I believe I can attain for the next 30 days and then hopefully I can add more and work my way up to living in my own self-sustaining treehouse community. Still not going to do the “family roll” (the formal name for reusable toilet paper) thing, though. Sorry, not sorry.