Staff at Rodale.com, which is behind the website of magazines including Women's Health, Men's Health and Prevention, have an ambitious goal this month: to have a "Plastic-Free February", using the scary motto "if your food's in plastic, plastic's in you".
The group aims to draw attention to how chemicals used to create plastic can, through proximity, heating and other methods, end up in our system, where they can accumulate and possibly cause health problems. In addition to the amount of energy and resources that go into feeding the seemingly endless thirst for plastic, whatever is not recycled ends up going to landfill or gets lost on land or in the ocean, where it basically remains forever.
Rodale.com's challenge has but three rules: those who participate should not buy or acquire any new plastic, they should not cook food or store it in plastic and they should make an effort to minimise its use in all other areas.
In the spirit of Plastic-Free February, one day last week I tried to have a plastic-free morning. Boy, did I fail miserably. It started as I was scooping coffee into my French press: not only was the scoop plastic, but I'd never noticed the panels of protective plastic around the glass, in case I dropped the thing. All my shampoo, conditioner and lotion bottles are plastic. My toothbrush is plastic and, although my hair brush has a wooden handle, the bit that does the actual brushing is riddled with plastic. Then there was my hair dryer: you guessed it, plastic.
In the kitchen, the protein powder was in a plastic jug, eggs in a plastic carton, yoghurt in plastic - you get the picture. Before I had even left the house I had come in contact with approximately a dozen items made of something I had set out to avoid.
Writing about her own "plastic-free" experiences, one Rodale.com editor said the challenge helped her realise that not only is plastic itself a problem, but it is also a symptom of a much wider issue. She called it a "crutch" for a society that rushes through meals and buys the cheapest items and turns on the television (also part plastic) just to fill the silence. She's got a point. If you think of the most luxurious or treasured items in your home, chances are they are made of something a lot more substantial and meaningful than cheap-and-ready plastic, such as solid wood or soft wool or smooth ceramic. Maybe the best way for any of us to do better is to try and move our general focus to those things that are substantial and meaningful rather than cheap and ready.
Although I promise it won't be easy, deciding to cut down on the plastic we bring into our lives seems as good a place as any to start.