The Great Divorce

My great divorce is nearly impossible, but I am proceeding as steadfastly as possible to separate myself, my finances, my lifestyle and my future from PLASTIC. Though I don’t know how I’ll get from here to there, I am aiming toward zero-waste.

Plastic is one of the prime pollutants on the planet. It is breaking down into microfibers and nano-dots that float in our bloodstream, infiltrate the cells of our bodies, and cause documented health issues, disease, and death. Plastic is killing sea creatures and other animals who ingest it. The swirling gyres are now as big as some American states and current predictions state there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Great. Does that mean instead of ancestors crossing the land-bridge from Siberia to North America, our descendants can walk back to Siberia on plastic? Go online and search a bit—the photos, documentation, and suggestions for activism are everywhere.

My divorce begins locally at the grocery store:

No more plastic water bottles: I drink out of stainless steel or glass; bring my own mug to a coffee shop. (I have a rule—if I haven’t come prepared, I don’t get coffee…I wait until next time.)

Refuse plastic bags: I bring cloth bags, mesh bags for veggies and mushrooms, buy meat at the butcher counter instead of pre-wrapped and ask for butcher paper. Same with bakery items.

On a recent visit to our local grocery store I went to see the store manager whose office is above the backroom warehouse with a big plate glass window where he can oversee the aisles and aisles of goods he is responsible for. “I’m here to talk with you about plastic,” I said. We peered together over his domain. “There are aisles I don’t even go down. There are products I’m not buying anymore. I will not purchase from your bakery section, from the deli section, unless there is a paper alternative to plastic bags and clamshell containers. I take photos of products I have previously enjoyed and have now stopped purchasing and when I get home I write these companies and tell them good-bye until they change their packaging.”

“Great,” he said. “I know the destruction we’re causing. I see the photos of the ocean gyres. As we remodel and put in more bulk items we’re changing the bags to bioplastic… I need consumer help to pressure our suppliers and companies, so go for it.”

“Bioplastic helps,” I said, “and so does paper… and even more so to give people credit for bringing in their own recyclable containers and figuring out how to let people be more responsible when I know you’ve got all these health department restrictions.”

“I agree,” he said.

“We’ve got to get the story out,” (of course that’s what I said!), “wake people out of the trance of quick convenience that shopping often entails.”

In America, the average citizen uses 12 plastic bags/packaging a day. In Denmark the average citizen uses 4 plastic bags a year. This is because of how products are packaged and served. In the years Ann and I traveled for European work we saw alternative models working beautifully. For example, in the Copenhagen airport, when you order a meal (having staggered off that over-the-ocean flight looking down on the melting edge of Greenland) you are served on chinaware with metal cutlery. Tables to sit or stand at are placed all around the food court area. You eat, you leave your tray. A service worker comes by with a cart, takes food to be composted and service to be washed and reused—unlike the roaming garbage carts of American airports and malls.

I tell this story over and over again, especially while talking with strangers at the grocery store, engaging in friendly peer education. I have purchased my own supply of 100 small brown paper bags and 100 waxed paper sandwich baggies, so I have enough to use in the bulk aisles and enough to share with the next interested person. Spreading the word and the alternative.

My next step is to start placing post-it notes around places where I shop.

It cost me $13.83 for 100 of these. I can afford that. And doing something directly feels more empowered than signing Internet petitions. The little notes don’t hurt anything. I expect them to disappear. I hope my community will get into the spirit of many tiny actions equaling some kind of impact. And I appreciate that my local store manager is thinking about similar things, that we can be in dialogue and take action together.

Angeles Arrien said, “to heal a situation we must be able to speak about it.” I’m talking about plastic. I’m talking about the dilemma we find ourselves in. I’m refusing to buy plastic toys or gifts these coming holidays. I’m encouraging folks around me to take the issue seriously and practice it lightly–waking each other up. And I’m adding, “to change a situation we must be able to imagine the alternative.”

I’m imagining… What are you imagining? We can do this.



25 replies
  1. Barbara "B" Campbell
    Barbara "B" Campbell says:

    I’m with you on this Christina. I’ve been in the separation period long enough. 2020 is the year of the divorce. Actually I’m not waiting. Moving forward. I’ve had it with plastic and all the obvious harm I’ve witnessed and the blind I(eye) turned. Gonna get some of those plastic post it notes AND think those little painted rocks left in unsuspecting places are going to carry a new message for the finder:)

  2. Debra MacKillop
    Debra MacKillop says:

    Please describe further any other ideas that you have. This is helping me figure out how to move in this directions of stopping use of plastics.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Debra note that some people are sharing websites here… and go on line yourself and ask your search engine to take you to specific areas of interest. We can do this!

  3. Cynthia Trowbridge
    Cynthia Trowbridge says:

    Thank you for sharing your direct actions. I feel inspired to take more of my own. I would love to buy bulk in my own containers if they would have the scale in the area that would subtract the weight of the container, then spit out the price tag for the contents. In our emergency supplies, we are buy a lot in bulk then store in our own containers.Hoping if we take enough baby steps our stride will increase.
    You remain an inspiration, my dear.

  4. Judy Todd
    Judy Todd says:

    This may seem a small point, but…not all waxed paper sandwich baggies are equal! Some are NEITHER compostable NOR recyclable….gotta read those tiny print labels!
    Love your divorce!

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Thank you for the reminder… I did read the small print and bought from 7th generation, and it’s a good reminder to us all.


    Loved reading your divorce dearest Christina. We have started a school program for kids to educate their families and parents held accountable to change behaviors…it’s a long haul in improvised communities yet we hold the polarities (they waste not want not ).#sendinglovetobothofu

  6. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    Thank you, Christina. Here are some things that I do: I continually wash and re-use plastic bags that I have gotten from wherever, so I never have to use the plastic provided by grocery stores. When getting nut butters from The Goose, I use plastic containers that I have recycled (endlessly). And The Goose has a drop-off box for recycling plastic bags, that the management tells me can take much more than newspaper sleeves and plastic bags (as advertised) — you can also put really thick plastic bags in there, like from potting soil, fertilizer bags or old tarps. Apparently they really recycle this plastic — hooray!

  7. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    Thank you for this. In just these couple weeks post-retirement I have identified myself as one of the worst abusers of plastic baggies. I have a half dozen reusable PEVA bags for hiking things and toiletries when I travel, but I love the organic mesh bag idea for edibles. Grateful for the links posted. I can do better. 

  8. Lori
    Lori says:

    Thank you for this, I’ve just started working out how to go without the plastic. It seems impossible. And I’m starting. Please give us regular updates for what is working. I am listening and reading for workable solutions.

  9. Sharry Erzinger
    Sharry Erzinger says:

    Hi Christina, I ordered mesh bags from Net Zero and where I live here in the small community of Fraser grocery stores have eliminated plastic bags by charging .20 each if you forget the bags. Makes it worth walking back to the car.

    It is rather humorous to see people taking off a jacket to put their fruit and vegetables in it when they forget their bags. Carry on!!

  10. Jane Springett
    Jane Springett says:

    Our local grocery store is going zero waste.
    The main challenge for me is remembering to have containers with me when I drop in when passing by. The net bags I have are easy to carry around and we have had fabric bags for years ( still have some from 1992!) Having lived in Sweden for 6 years where they are the social norm, it just seems the natural thing to do. Keep up the good work!

  11. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    So glad you wrote about this. I, too, am in a divorce with plastic. Frustrating that places like PCC and Whole Foods won’t let you use recycled containers for deli items (state health laws – now that’s another one to tackle!) Also hard to buy non-food necessities that aren’t enveloped in plastic. Writing lots of companies about those products too. We can do this. And while I’m on the divorce trail – here’s another one – circulars in Mail boxes – what a waste of paper. Have tried writing these companies and the Post office about putting these unwanted ads in mail boxes. So far a major run around. Anyone got any suggestions?

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      The thing about flyers/junk mail is that with the demise of much of the other postal use, this is probably what is keeping the USPS in business…so while I totally agree with you, there is no incentive for them to stop it. At the deli counter, I press them: please weigh the meat/cheese slices. Please hand them to me in the paper you have laid down. Once I touch it–it’s my responsibility. Then I put it in recycled container and ask for the sticker. Sometimes they’ll do it: sometimes not. I can tell it adds stress to their routine. I don’t want them to get in trouble. I thank them profusely. The thing is, their hands are “sanitary” at a prescribed level, and they don’t have a way to check on our hands, our containers… if they touch any of “us” –flesh or container, they are officially contaminated and have to wash up, reglove, etc. I don’t want someone’s dog-licked container being handed over for them to handle just before they handle my food… so it’s going to be an ongoing conversation. Enough people are asking for change that they know why I want them to do it this way, “oh you don’t want the plastic do you?” No I don’t because it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Anyway, it is one thing in the great mess of the age that we can press on.

  12. Paul Stageberg
    Paul Stageberg says:

    So many people don’t even THINK of this issue. I have never understood people who want their gallon bottle of milk put into a plastic bag. Hey, People! It’s already got a handle! What are you accomplishing by putting it in a bag?

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Hi Paul, Totally in agreement with you! And I find myself in the grocery store and other places in a friendly educational and waking each other up to the mess we’ve created kind of repartee. I do recall you are good at this kind of conversation yourself. So good to hear from you, and hoping all is well in your life. C.


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