It used to be I would trundle my blue recycling bin to the curb believing the contents were destined for planet-friendly reincarnation. Now the market for recyclables has tanked, my belief has faded and the earth continues to choke on our refuse. Something has to change.

The worst offender? That seductively convenient, strong, lightweight, flexible synthetic polymer – plastic.

Ironically, in the 1800s, John Wesley Hyatt invented the first plastic for industrial production in response to a U.S. billiards manufacturer’s offer of $10,000 to whoever could create a substitute for ivory. The tusks of slaughtered wild elephants used to make those colorful racks of billiard balls were growing expensive and scarce.

While it might have slowed the plunder of nature’s finite supply of wood, metal, stone, bone, tusk and horn, the infinity of objects made from this “ivory substitute” and its successors has overrun the planet.

So, I’m acting on the maxim – reduce, reuse, recycle – in that order.

Reduce the plastic I buy. I’ve searched the internet for minimally-packaged products, read lots of reviews and made speculative purchases. No monthly subscriptions yet.

Reuse the plastic I own. While I await deliveries, I’m stockpiling my used, empty pump and spray bottles, jars, etc. for repurposing. I’m using up household cleaners and dish soap to refill with natural ingredients, or eco-friendly concentrates and tap water. I’m finishing that jug of laundry liquid and looking forward to trying sheets of compressed detergent in a paper envelope.

No more toothpaste tubes languishing in landfills. Now it’s tablets in little glass bottles. Pop one in your mouth, chomp into a foam and brush away (with a bamboo brush).

Instead of liquid body soaps, it’s back to bars. Same with shampoo and conditioner for humans and animals. I ordered a solid bar that promises to work in evenly, rinse off easily and leave our coats clean and shiny.

Skin moisturizers come in many yummy solid forms. And while replacing preferred facial products will be a challenge, I’m willing to try.

Meanwhile, I’ll recycle diligently and add one more “R” by contacting manufacturers to rethink packaging because I’m saying no to plastic.

Mónica Gómez, a writer, artist and former television news reporter, was born in Mexico and raised in El Paso on the U.S.-Mexico border.


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