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It is everywhere.

As I stood in line at the store, I watched as the person behind me unloaded her cart: every single item was wrapped in plastic. From the head of lettuce, to the popcorn bag, to even the meat that was already shrink wrapped (but then bagged in another flimsy plastic bag … you know, in case it leaks). I see it everywhere, even in the “green” shopping locations (I won’t mention names, but you know where).

We live in a sea of plastic and it is only getting worse.

Did you know, since plastic’s invention (1900s), every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. You read that right: EVERY SINGLE PIECE IS STILL IN EXISTENCE. That’s including the recyclable rigid/durable plastic (like water bottles or shampoo containers) and not just the LANDFILL bound film/soft/flexible/squishy plastic.

It is believed that a piece of plastic will ‘decompose’ in a 500-year time span … operative word being believed.

Supposedly there is a “war” on plastics (I struggle to believe that when I see carts filled with plastic bags) … but if there is war, plastics are winning and our world losing. Specifically, single-use plastics.

Let’s talk about what single-use plastics are – and how they are affecting our environment.

Single use disposable plastics are items that are used a single time, like throw-away plastic utensils, cheap plastic bags, plastic wrap around your cucumber, plastic wrap around your case of water, straws, etc.

Now, there are some great plastic items out there (medical equipment, for instance), but really … a black tiny straw for your cocktail that lasts all of 10-20 minutes?

I am the first one to admit that I am pretty quirky – you kind of have to be to love working in a field surrounded by the disposal of materials (see how I didn’t use the word trash/landfill?! That’s because most of the stuff we dispose of doesn’t have to be landfill!) – but I live in the world where I am bombarded by the truth to what happens at the end of life, or what doesn’t happen.

Recently my friend and I walked into a local restaurant to eat lunch and walked out due to the fact they only served food with disposable materials – plastic silverware, specifically.

I just couldn’t do it. She understood (and I apologized for it), but that one plastic fork is going to be around for hundreds of years – and for what? A 10-minute salad? No thank you. Plus, when we factor in the “end of life”, aka where is it going to end up? In the ocean? In the ground? In some person’s fireplace because plastic is cheaper than wood to burn? It just makes me frustrated … and sad.

Single-use disposable plastic is all about convenience in the short term (for the consumer!) and has nothing to do with long-term.

Plastic is cheap to make and you and I have to worry about the external costs at the end of its life (plus jurisdictions … which really means rate payers and tax payers). Individuals and our environment will pay the long-term costs.

Too brutally honest, eh?

Well, let’s switch to positive: There are no small acts when 8 billion people are acting.

No one said going “plastic free” was easy, but reducing your consumption is possible.

1. Demand change from manufacturers, big box businesses, and local businesses. Write letters to manufacturers asking them to change to compostable, readily recyclable or no packaging at all. Ask local businesses if they can switch to compostable materials instead of single use plastics AND if they are composting. Ask what THEY are doing to reduce their environmental impact.

a. Collectively we have power … if enough people ask, there will be change. Don’t believe me? Google Trader Joes and plastic wrap.

2. Buy produce sold WITHOUT plastic (might mean going to a different store, bringing your own reusable netting, not buying in plastic netting/bags bulk, heading to the Farmer’s Market – and not using plastic bags!! – using glass jars for bulk items, etc.).

3. Don’t buy plastic utensils, plastic plates, or red cups for parties – none of those are recyclable.

4. Consider your everyday choices – yes, sometimes we do have to make exceptions because we forgot our reusable cup – but do you need the lid and straw to go with that plastic cup?

With every choice, you have an impact and that plastic wrap around your grapes is going to be here long after even your great, great, great grandkids are here.

Didn’t know that film plastic WASN’T recyclable? Check out www.naparecycling.com for information on what goes where and what truly is recyclable or compostable here in Napa.

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This monthly column is written by Kendra Bruno, aka Compost Girl, who is the waste prevention specialist for the city of Napa. To submit questions, email kbruno@cityofnapa.org.

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