Most people remember the days of the great grocery store debate: Paper Vs Plastic. We were presented with the idea that taking the plastic alternative was a way to “save the rain-forest.” Today, the paper option has almost been eliminated, but at what cost? These kinds of wholesale changes have become the way of the world. On the surface level these changes seem to fight for the betterment of the world, but let's examine a few of the more recent changes being put into place.
You have undoubtedly heard about the legislation against plastic single use straws. Today this has become a growing trend, being supported by the, “straws suck” movement. Again, on the surface this seems like a no brainer. However, some persons with disabilities rely on plastic straws for drinking. The next logical thought for most people will be to go to paper or metal straws, each of which present their own problems. Metal straws must be cleaned, and some don’t have the dexterity to clean them, and on the other side paper straws can be easily destroyed by excess saliva. Until a straw alternative is created that allows everyone the ability to drink, banning single use plastic straws may have a very harmful effect.
Next, let's look at the big one: Single use plastic water bottles. We do believe that it is reasonable to think that plastic single use water bottles should be eliminated. However, let's take a quick look into a recent issue from our home state of Michigan. In Flint, Michigan, the city water systems were so contaminated that the water was deemed undrinkable. People around the country rallied, by holding water drives. Truckloads of bottled water were collected and delivered to the people of Flint. It really was one of those shining moments in America, where the people rallied around a cause and went out of their way to help out. If we had made the decision as a country that bottle water should not be utilized, would we have been able to help these people? Sure there are alternative ways to deliver water, but would the average everyday person have been able to help a city in need?
We believe that these 3 examples show us that wholesale changes might not always be in our best interest. If you agree with that, you might be thinking to yourself, then what can we do? We’d like to examine the ways we can make a difference.
Obviously in the first example, paper vs plastic, we have already seen a great new trend. Bring your own reusable bags to the store with you. This growing movement has the potential to make a real difference. This isn’t being done through legislation, this is just a movement that people have started to flock to, we think that is important to note. It's hard to find an accurate date as to when the paper vs plastic debate truly starts, but let's just say for now that we are well beyond a decade. Unfortunately, a truly great idea, that can make a real impact takes time and in this case that time was over a decade. So this is easy one, increase the number reusable bags and we should see an improvement over time.
We will lump both single use plastic water bottles and single use plastic straws together here. We believe there are some simple steps that can be taken. If you are in a place where tap water is acceptable to drink, and you are an avid water drinker, please try and use a reusable water bottle. On to plastic straws, try not to use them if you don’t need them. Simple right?
Here’s where we would like to take a slight turn in our thinking. Say you are one of the millions who does use single use plastic water bottles. What if we make sure they get into the proper place and are sent out for recycling? In today's landscape these plastic bottles are reused for so many things. Hopefully at this point you don’t need to many examples…... but shameless plug time: You can find a second life of a plastic water bottle right in GR8LKS apparel. Our t-shirt for instance is made of 50% RPET, consisting of polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. If we look at the grand scheme, using a single use plastic water bottle does not mean the end of the life cycle of the plastic. The problem is, not all of the bottles used are being returned to recycling process. The bottles that do indeed make it into recycling bins can have a longer life. We know that recycled plastic does have a smaller carbon footprint and ultimately can have an extremely long life span (think about how many uses we can get out of a t shirt).
The kitchen floor rule: If you wouldn’t leave it on your kitchen floor, don’t leave it on the beach. This is a simple concept that we hope to spread throughout the world, but especially in the Great Lakes basin. To us it's a simple concept. 99% of people wouldn’t take a single use wrapper and discard on their kitchen floor, yet we take less care of our wrappers when we are outside. I highly doubt that any cigarette smokers leave their cigarette butts on the kitchen floor, but judging by the sheer volume of discarded cigarette butts found on beaches they don’t seem to take the same care outside. We can use this as an educational tool. Always remember, if it wouldn’t be left on the kitchen floor, it doesn’t belong outside either.
We believe that small incremental changes have the ability to make a difference in the world of tomorrow. Sweeping wholesale changes can lead to unforeseen problems in the future. In the end, each person has the ability to make a difference. Let’s continue our focus on making sure that plastics find their way into the recycling stream and not on our beaches. Let’s teach others that we can make a difference.
Let’s make a change!
Pete Gawkowski, Co-Founder