17 votes

A journalist in Japan looks at how much single-use plastic he accumulates in a week, then attempts to spend a week without using any

20 comments

  1. kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    Up until a few weeks ago, I gave little to no thought to my plastic consumption. It wasn't until I had it pointed out to me in a resonant way (thanks again, @Micycle_the_Bichael!) that I really...

    Up until a few weeks ago, I gave little to no thought to my plastic consumption. It wasn't until I had it pointed out to me in a resonant way (thanks again, @Micycle_the_Bichael!) that I really thought about how much I was using.

    Now, I can't stop seeing plastic EVERYWHERE. It now sticks out to me like a sore thumb, and I'm taken aback by how omnipresent (and often unnecessary) it is. For example: I have a bulk pack of dish sponges. The bulk pack is wrapped in plastic on the outside, and then each sponge is individually wrapped in plastic on the inside, and the sponges themselves are (mostly?) plastic as well. Also I throw out the dish sponges pretty much weekly. I've doubtless gone through hundreds in my lifetime.

    So instead, I bought a dish brush that I can toss in the dishwasher if it starts to get too gnarly or gross. I'll get way more than a week's worth of use out of it -- plus it came in a cardboard box. It was an easy solution to a problem I'd never adequately identified.

    I've been trying to do this in each area of my life; identifying swaps that are better and help to eliminate unnecessary waste. I'm not yet at the level of some people who try to go full zero-waste, but I'm significantly more conscious of what I'm doing. Things now have a sort of "energy price-tag" on them. I have a big bag of frozen food that I don't particularly love, and in the past, I would have just tossed it in the trash and been done with it. Instead, I've been chipping away at it, using it for a meal here or there, because I think about how much energy went into all of the vegetables in it, as well as the packaging and shipping.

    Furthermore, I also try to envision the product after it leaves me. Right now there are hundreds of plastic sponges sitting in the world that I used for only a few dishes and then threw away. Those sponges will outlive me. And the generation after me. And the one after that. And so on for a long, long time. That's an unsettling thought, and one that I'd never really taken time to appreciate the magnitude and scale of. People always worry about whether, after they die, their lives will have had an impact. I'm realizing now that mine will have had far too much of one, and not in a good way.

    16 votes
  2. [12]
    matteron
    Link
    I have a close friend whose collecting all his non-organic trash the past few months and just trying to measure the count and aims to reduce that count the following month. He also is meticulously...

    I have a close friend whose collecting all his non-organic trash the past few months and just trying to measure the count and aims to reduce that count the following month. He also is meticulously cataloging each piece and trying to minimize based on patterns, but that's a little much for most people. Still I think just having to confront a large volume of trash would help most people cut down on their waste.

    One thing I've personally noticed, is that Japanese candies and foods all come in large bags with the contents then individually wrapped inside.

    8 votes
    1. [11]
      emdash
      Link Parent
      Wrapper-in-wrapper style packaging is just so incredibly wasteful. I include fruit in packaging in this category too—most fruit ships with its own natural wrapper. It doesn’t need to be further...

      Wrapper-in-wrapper style packaging is just so incredibly wasteful. I include fruit in packaging in this category too—most fruit ships with its own natural wrapper. It doesn’t need to be further enshrouded in plastic.

      7 votes
      1. [10]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        Stuff like hi-chews will start to sweat and stick together if you don’t individually wrap them inside the larger container. It’s just unavoidable with those sorts of soft, sugary confections. When...

        Stuff like hi-chews will start to sweat and stick together if you don’t individually wrap them inside the larger container. It’s just unavoidable with those sorts of soft, sugary confections. When they made things fresher they avoided the stickiness by dusting them with flour and confectioners sugar or separating them with wax paper. But when you have to ship big bags around on trucks that doesn’t really work.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. NaraVara
            Link Parent
            I don't know if you want to be getting into the business of managing people's diets for them from a 1,000 ft. view.

            People should be eating less sugary crap anyway. We hardly need to justify convenience of unhealthy foods as a reason it's okay to produce more waste.

            I don't know if you want to be getting into the business of managing people's diets for them from a 1,000 ft. view.

            2 votes
        2. [8]
          emdash
          Link Parent
          I think that’s a case for phasing out that product, not for wrapping it in plastic. Unfortunately going forward single-use plastics are going to be environmentally untenable—for all but 1% of...

          I think that’s a case for phasing out that product, not for wrapping it in plastic.

          Unfortunately going forward single-use plastics are going to be environmentally untenable—for all but 1% of critical use cases like medicine and such. Foodstuffs will need to adapt.

          3 votes
          1. [7]
            NaraVara
            Link Parent
            Phasing out all confectionary? That'll be a tough sell, especially in light of the fact that it's not really a large contributor to the volume of crap out there by a long shot. This is one of...

            I think that’s a case for phasing out that product, not for wrapping it in plastic.

            Phasing out all confectionary? That'll be a tough sell, especially in light of the fact that it's not really a large contributor to the volume of crap out there by a long shot. This is one of those things where people ascribe a high weight to the stuff they're directly experienced with without necessarily considering the problem holistically or comprehensively.

            1. [6]
              emdash
              Link Parent
              Woah woah woah. That’s not what I said. You said there’s a product that tends to stick together, so is double-wrapped. Last time I checked, not all confectionary was double wrapped, nor did I say...

              Woah woah woah. That’s not what I said. You said there’s a product that tends to stick together, so is double-wrapped.

              Last time I checked, not all confectionary was double wrapped, nor did I say that, nor was all confectionary sold in quantities where there’s an opportunity to stick together.

              The fact you’re willing to distort my view to “phase out all confectionary” shows why I’m not going to address your reply: because it’s not an argument in good faith per the Tildes docs.

              1. [5]
                NaraVara
                Link Parent
                I specifically said: You said "phase out that product," which, in my post, referred to an entire large class of soft confections. Your reaction seems really extreme in light of how generic and...

                I specifically said:

                Stuff like hi-chews will start to sweat and stick together if you don’t individually wrap them inside the larger container. It’s just unavoidable with those sorts of soft, sugary confections.

                You said "phase out that product," which, in my post, referred to an entire large class of soft confections.

                Your reaction seems really extreme in light of how generic and unspecific your comment was.

                1. [4]
                  emdash
                  Link Parent
                  I don't consider "hi-chews"[1] to be remotely close to "phase out all confectionary". [1]: Whatever that is, I don't actually know, it looks like some sort of bubble gum. We don't have it here.

                  I don't consider "hi-chews"[1] to be remotely close to "phase out all confectionary".

                  [1]: Whatever that is, I don't actually know, it looks like some sort of bubble gum. We don't have it here.

                  1. [3]
                    NaraVara
                    Link Parent
                    Basically it’s a Starburst, but better. They’re fairly popular in East Asia because chewing gum is viewed as crass/gross there so a highly chewable (get it?) confection that you can actually...

                    Basically it’s a Starburst, but better. They’re fairly popular in East Asia because chewing gum is viewed as crass/gross there so a highly chewable (get it?) confection that you can actually swallow substitutes.

                    1. [2]
                      emdash
                      Link Parent
                      Couldn’t you wrap it in some kind of card paper, perhaps?

                      Couldn’t you wrap it in some kind of card paper, perhaps?

                      1. NaraVara
                        Link Parent
                        Maybe, but I’d be really surprised if the producer didn’t explore all options. It could be just a marginal cost difference or there could be actual problems, like the paper permitting too much...

                        Maybe, but I’d be really surprised if the producer didn’t explore all options. It could be just a marginal cost difference or there could be actual problems, like the paper permitting too much moisture in and letting the chew get all sticky.

  3. [3]
    patience_limited
    Link
    In case anyone was wondering, compostable plastics aren't solutions, either. I was a little startled to find out just how bad current compostable materials are.

    In case anyone was wondering, compostable plastics aren't solutions, either.

    I was a little startled to find out just how bad current compostable materials are.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      balooga
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Oh, COME ON! That's not directed at you, I'm just exasperated that every time I think I've found a way to be more eco-friendly, it turns out to be just as bad as the thing I'm replacing, if not...

      Oh, COME ON!

      That's not directed at you, I'm just exasperated that every time I think I've found a way to be more eco-friendly, it turns out to be just as bad as the thing I'm replacing, if not worse. Why can't we have nice things?

      4 votes
      1. patience_limited
        Link Parent
        Because there's no significant penalty for wrapping a product in an "eco-friendly" label, without actually producing a product that is? I was fascinated with this topic because someone actually...

        Because there's no significant penalty for wrapping a product in an "eco-friendly" label, without actually producing a product that is?

        I was fascinated with this topic because someone actually committed this fraud on a scale large enough to get punished.

        5 votes
  4. [4]
    skybrian
    Link
    If you're worried about stuff getting into the environment, landfills seem safest? As long as they don't leak, and the trash doesn't get out before getting buried.

    If you're worried about stuff getting into the environment, landfills seem safest? As long as they don't leak, and the trash doesn't get out before getting buried.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      Nearly all landfills leak eventually, and contaminate water tables underground. They also emit methane, a greenhouse gas, and other hazardous vapors from bacterial and fungal decomposition of the...

      Nearly all landfills leak eventually, and contaminate water tables underground. They also emit methane, a greenhouse gas, and other hazardous vapors from bacterial and fungal decomposition of the organic material disposed. It's not sustainable land use, either, even if municipalities turn full dumps into snow sports parks.

      People aren't really taught that the "reduce, reuse, recycle" heuristic is a hierarchy, with "reduce" as the most preferred option.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        I'm wondering whether standards are improving and newer landfills are built better than older ones? Also I think some of them do burn off the methane. Also, doesn't compost generate methane? I...

        I'm wondering whether standards are improving and newer landfills are built better than older ones? Also I think some of them do burn off the methane.

        Also, doesn't compost generate methane? I wonder how they compare?

        1. NaraVara
          Link Parent
          Basically all organic decay processes generate some amount of methane and CO2. That's just a natural fact of decomposition. The most forward-looking solutions involve recapturing that methane for...

          Basically all organic decay processes generate some amount of methane and CO2. That's just a natural fact of decomposition. The most forward-looking solutions involve recapturing that methane for industrial use, but this gets fairly expensive.

          Talking about carbon emissions like this in environmental contexts gets a little weird because there is a natural cycle of CO2, methane, etc. release from biological processes. What gets messy is that we add more and more to the cycle faster than natural processes can sequester it away by burning fossil fuels.

          The main culprits are all the ways we're pulling carbon out of wherever it's sequestered (as wood or coal or whatever) to put it back into the Earth's carbon cycle(as CO2 or methane). When it comes to landfill stuff, it's mostly that the fossil fuels get used to fertilize and grow crops or trees are felled. Those get used to make industrial products or quantities of food that then decay. So functionally, you're turning trees/biomass into greenhouse gases faster than you're turning greenhouse gases back into trees/biomass.

          3 votes