No Plastic 2020: The Reason I Am Giving Up All Plastic Bottles

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I don't buy many plastic bottles, but the ones that I do will take some creative workarounds to avoid.

Few of us, even us TreeHugger writers, are 100-percent perfect when it comes to sustainability. I haven't eaten meat in many decades, haven't had a car since 2008; I pay extra for renewable energy, don't fly that frequently, don't waste food, don't buy new clothes, and can generally check off most items on a "how to go green" checklist. But I confess I haven't been great about zero waste when it comes to plastic bottles. I never buy bottled water, but there are some things I use that come in plastic bottles, items like Sriracha, the brand of brewer's yeast my daughter prefers, the non-toxic laundry detergent our washer likes, some personal care products, et cetera.

I have switched many of these out before, but I have been so focused on other sustainable goals that I have let some of them slip back into my life – justifying it all with handy-dandy "aspirational recycling" – I put the bottles in the bin and hope for the best.

But then the hermit crabs came along to shake it all up. Everyone has certain things that tip the scales into new behavior, and for me, it was a bunch of tiny crustaceans in the middle of nowhere. On an island with a population of 600 people and located about 1,300 miles off the coast of Western Australia, researchers found 414 million pieces of garbage, most of it plastic. They found 373,000 toothbrushes and 977,000 shoes, for which it would take the population of the island 4,000 years to create on their own. And they also noticed something else: Hundreds of thousands of dead hermit crabs who got stuck in plastic bottles. The crabs would venture in looking for a new shell to call home, but were then unable to get back out – their fate a long death in a hot plastic bottle along with throngs of their mates. The researchers say that this perfect storm of awfulness is likely occurring on beaches around the world.

hermit crab

Lavars et al / Journal of Hazardous Materials/CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The thought of my dish soap bottle, that I was sure would be recycled, ending up on an island and trapping hermit crabs inside ... it's just too much. And that was it: No more plastic bottles for me. Even if I have previously focused on buying products in recyclable bottles, or made of recycled plastic, the fact remains: Recycling is ineffective and anything purchased in a plastic bottle could become a hermit crab death trap! Or any number of other awful things, from whale food to to microplastic pollution to sitting in a landfill for a zillion years.

I know many of you have already hopped on the zero-waste train and stopped buying anything in plastic a long time ago. I have made so many changes in my 15 years of writing about sustainability, but it's time to tackle this one.

I don't think it will be that hard since, as I mentioned before, I don't buy that many plastic bottles, but it will be interesting to find the workarounds for the products I do rely on. Like, will I have to start making my own aspirin?!

I will post follow-ups on my progression and we will see how it goes. In the meantime, godspeed to all the hermit crabs who have had to suffer through this stupid phase of humanity. May we wise up before we wipe out all of them.