‘No plastic, please:’ Here’s how to avoid single-use plastic in Pittsburgh

A new campaign says recycling simply isn’t enough.

A public awareness campaign for "no plastic please."

A public awareness campaign for "no plastic please."

Courtesy of "No plastic please"
Rossilynne Culgan

A new campaign urges Pittsburghers to give up single-use plastics when possible and to encourage restaurants to do so, too.

Dubbed “No plastic please,” the initiative is led by volunteer organization Humane Action Pittsburgh, which strives to help animals and make Pittsburgh the model humane city. Allegheny County Council recognized the group Tuesday night, and the campaign will kick off a series of “awareness blitzes” on Saturday.

“We’re affecting untold generations of humans and animals by just throwing this away every day,” said Brian Bonsteel, president and founder of Humane Action Pittsburgh.

Products like styrofoam can take hundreds of years to break down and when they do break down, they release greenhouse gases, he said. Plus, group leaders said, 91 percent of all plastic ever produced is still with us in oceans and landfills. (National Geographic backs up that statistic, saying that “a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled” and even the scientists who conducted the tally “were horrified by the sheer size of the numbers.”)

What’s more, Bonsteel said, though single-use plastics are convenient and ubiquitous for humans, they kill marine birds and animals.

“(Skipping plastic is) inconvenient for us. The truth is, I don’t have a plastic ring stuck around my neck or a straw in my nose,” he said. “It’s devastating to animals.”

Recycling doesn’t solve the problem, per Humane Action. Dirty plastics, for example, often end up in recycling bins, effectively contaminating the lot and sending it to a dump.

“Recycling efforts just aren’t working,” said Natalie Ahwesh, vice president of Humane Action Pittsburgh.

The solution?

Stop using single-use plastics in the first place, the group’s leaders say.

Those interested are asked to take an online pledge to give up single-use plastic when possible and to try eco-friendly options instead.

The campaign suggests refusing the following items:

  • plastic straws
  • plastic bags
  • plastic cups
  • plastic take out containers
  • plastic bottles
  • styrofoam
  • plastic stirrers
  • plastic cutlery

The campaign suggests taking the following actions:

  1. Before ordering, just say “no plastic please.”
  2. Bring your own shopping bag.
  3. Carry a reusable water bottle.
  4. Bring your own coffee cup.
  5. Pack your lunch/leftovers in reusable containers.
  6. Say no to disposable straws and cutlery.
  7. Skip plastic produce bags.
  8. Give up beverages in plastic bottles.
  9. Pay attention to plastic packaging.
  10. Share these tips with your friends.

In addition to encouraging individuals to make the pledge, the group is looking for ambassadors who want to attend an hour-long training and then hit the streets to talk with local restauranteurs. The first training is at Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill on March 9 — sign up here. Future awareness blitzes will be held in Sharpsburg in April and Lawrenceville in May.

Those ambassadors will visit restaurants throughout Pittsburgh asking them, “What can you eliminate, replace or offer only by request?” Businesses who agree to partner will receive a door sticker and placard to let their customers know about their environmental action.

“The public is responding favorably and wants to reward restaurants that take these environmental and human concerns favorably,” Bonsteel said.

Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant led a similar campaign late last year encouraging Pittsburghers to donate straws for a public art project and asking businesses to use an “ask-first” policy for straws. “No plastic please” sought advice from Sustainable Pittsburgh for its campaign.

Turning straws into art.

Turning straws into art.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

In addition to reducing plastic use, the group also encourages people to think about their diet, particularly noting the waste in the fishing industry.

“It’s really cute that we’re giving up straws and bags, but we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” Bonsteel said. “How can we meet people where they are, bring them along gently — and let’s get a move on, time is wasting.”

“No Plastic Please” technically began about a year ago, but it’s launching in earnest now. And this isn’t the group’s first initiative. They successfully created and advocated for the passage of the Bullhook Plus Ban that prohibits the use of bullhooks used to train exotic animals within city limits. The group also drafted and lobbied for a bill prohibiting the sale of commercially raised dogs, cats, and rabbits in all Pittsburgh pet stores.

For Bonsteel, the plastic issue boils down to the group’s mission: Helping animals.

“We just have a burning desire to see things change for animals. We believe if people knew how to make effective change, they would,” he said. “You can do something about this. My generation should have done better with this, but the next generation has to.”