The Plastic Problem

By Andrew Naia

Seven months after hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Jose plowed through the Caribbean, their trails are still clearly visible. You cannot fully understand the power of that sort of storm unless you are there in person; crowded in a bathroom with palpable pressure building against the glass. It is truly amazing what nature can cook up when she is angry. Seven months of clean up, and as I explored the hills of the Eastern Caribbean, traces of debris were still abundant. Although many of the zinc roofs were collected and piled up, the amount of plastic was staggering–astounding even.

When we dispose of our coffee cups, plastic straws, grocery bags–you name it–they are gone from our view forever. Walking along the beach in the Caribbean was a constant reminder of our impact on earth. Every single day new debris was found. Every single day I made a mental note: this needs to change.

Most of the things that washed up on the beach, or became lodged in the trees, were all products we can do without. Straws and bottle caps intertwined with flowers and shrubs. Torn up baggies were holding onto branches. Bottles, toys, cups, and unrecognizable Styrofoam tidbits. I was able to fill a large trash bag with plastic in two minutes. It goes that quickly.

My point is not to talk about the destruction or how our society demands products that clog our environment. I want to offer alternatives to our everyday lives. Although the Caribbean seems far away, it is just a matter of time before the plastic is covering our own Downtown. We are very lucky to call Kernersville home, but then again, we all share this one and only earth. So, we need to look out for our neighbors; and we need to make smart decisions to keep our planet breathing easily.

The quickest way to make the biggest impact? Go all-natural. Yes, this is a bit extreme. No more razors, pens, plastic cutlery, single-use bottles, etc. Camper style; total minimalism. Leave nothing but footprints. This is not easy, however. Especially when you have a family full of energy that you are trying to provide for. But there are a few options you can implement that will dramatically reduce your impact on the environment.

Turn these suggestions into habits and we can all do out part to care for our planet:

When you are dining out, ask the server to hold off on the straw. (This is a big problem that sea turtles are facing.) Bring your own Tupperware with you for takeout.
Keep reusable grocery bags in your car. Once you unload your groceries, put them back in the car so you do not forget them. Use mesh bags for veggies. This cuts out all the small plastic bags for produce.
Get reusable water bottles (a couple of them). Keep one in the car just in case. I have been using a compressible water bottle that fits in my pocket when empty. It is great for traveling and impressing small children.
Use bamboo products. Bamboo is strong, grows quickly, and needs little energy to produce. It is highly sustainable and it creates beautiful products. I found bamboo toothbrushes online that have replaced the plastic ones…which take around 450 years to breakdown.

Hurricanes or not, unwanted plastic is going to start showing up more and more in our lives. Additionally, our waste problem has a lot to do with the manufacturers. They want us to keep buying their products, so their shelf life is short. They also want to spend little money on production costs, so inexpensive materials (i.e. plastic) are an obvious choice. But some companies are now changing their ways. For instance, Loli Straw is a product that was developed so that people can sip their drinks comfortably, and then literally eat the evidence. Loli Straw is edible and flavorful. Or you can also throw it away and it breaks down quickly. Other companies are making swimwear out of recycled fishing nets and other wasted materials. Many are jumping aboard the movement, and more will come if we keep supporting their efforts.

You do not have to become a hippie, hipster, vegan, environmentalist, or any other label to make a difference in our community. We can start right now to prevent any such damage coming to our own Kernersville streets. Our impact and footprint should always be in the back of our minds. So please, let’s keep our town clean for both the birds and the people. As Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I would not mind seeing Kernersville continue to grow in the most sustainable and healthy way possible. And for that, I will give up straws, single-use bottles, Styrofoam products, and plastic grocery bags…how about you?

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