Plastic Pollution
April 16 2019

Kicking the Trash Habit, One Road Trip at a Time

by Jennifer Savage

"..doing the right thing, well, it feels right..."

Being a professional environmental advocate often creates situations that feel hypocritical. What message does it send if I’m flying to a conference to discuss climate change adaptation? Or driving all over the state of California to promote protecting our ocean from new offshore oil drilling? The carbon footprint is no joke. Neither is plastic pollution – and yet I find myself aghast at the extra waste I’m creating when on the road. 

And I’m on the road most of the time! As Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Manager, I need to be in the room at state agency meetings if we’re to have a chance to stop harmful projects on our coast and look out for the public’s interests. Face time in Sacramento goes further than phone calls and emails. I live in Northern California; Surfrider is headquartered in the southern part of our golden state. All of which adds up to a shocking number on my Civic’s odometer and a bad habit of buying chips and string cheese at gas stations along the way.

When it comes to figuring out how to make less waste while traveling, Surfrider offers plenty of advice: our Pacific Rim chapter wrote about this very subject, as did Exceptional Travel’s Scott Dunn right here on our Coastal Blog.

Of course I have my reusable water bottle, mug, flatware. What I don’t always have is a mind that remembers to bring everything with me! Especially when it comes to prepping food so I don’t find myself elbow deep in convenience store snacks or thinking to bring coffee from home so I don’t pop the Keurig cup in the hotel coffeemaker in a desperate morning caffeine-deprived haze. 

The other big challenge is getting away from all the products I “need” that come packaged in plastic, are made of plastic, that can’t be reused, much less recycled: shampoo, conditioner, razors, deodorant, sunscreen, mascara, lip balm… Even when more eco-friendly alternatives exist, they often cost more and don’t work as well. Worrying about this stuff feels a little crazy in the face of all the big problems facing our state, country, world, but whenever I have a chance to reduce my own contributions to those big problems, I want to. 

Fortunately, my ladies from Surfrider Pacific Rim have some excellent suggestions! From the post linked above:

  • "You can opt for shampoo or conditioner bars, and keep them in a container or wrapped in waxed paper." 
  • "Or, in most cities, there are health food, bulk and organic stores where you can refill your shampoo, conditioner and soap, so you can reuse your bottles forever!" 
  • "Another great item to carry is a metal safety razor, so you won’t need to travel with multiple single-use razors or throw anyway on your travels." 
  • "You can also pack toothpaste in a jar, a great choice is toothpaste tabs that are packaged in a small glass container."

Given all the info and encouragement out there – and the fact that I work for an organization dedicated to fighting plastic and in a state in which we are winning that fight; I decided to try to up my game on my most recent trip. This one took me from Humboldt (where I live) to San Francisco (where I live) to Sacramento (to testify on a bill designed to improve leadership on climate change adaptation) to Salinas (where the California Coastal Commission met) to Santa Cruz (to hang out with the Santa Cruz chapter and look for whales) to Monterey (just hanging out) back to San Francisco, etc., etc.

How did I do? On the upside, I skipped the snacks, brought a glass jar of instant espresso to jumpstart the day and began weeding out the most egregious of my personal plastic products. (Surfrider Staff Scientist Katie Day offered up a homemade deodorant recipe that I've promised to try.) On the downside, some cafés caught me unawares by serving coffee only in paper cups, providing only plastic utensils – clearly their owners haven't heard about out Ocean Friendly Restaurants program! 

I know, none of this is new or groundbreaking and truly, in the grand scheme of things, whether or not I shave my legs with a plastic-handled razor or a safety one probably won't save the sea turtles, birds and whales choking on plastic debris, but doing the right thing, well, it feels right. We're fighting hard to find a solution at the top; not adding to the problem at the bottom remains a worthwhile endeavor, one worth slowing down and planning ahead for. 

Speaking of high-level solutions, California legislators continue to push for exactly that: Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez and Senator Ben Allen have introduced the "California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act," which sets target reduction goals for single-use plastic packaging.

Meanwhile, to better understand the amount of microplastic and microfiber pollution and potential solutions, 5 Gyres, the San Francisco Estuary Institute and a coalition of other organizations have put together the San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project – read all about it here and look for actions you can take at the end of the post. You can also send me your own tried-and-true tips at jsavage@surfrider.org.