Why go plastic free? There are plenty of reasons to cut down. It's made from either petroleum or natural gas, two nonrenewable resources extracted in ways that pollute our air and water. Plastic manufacturers add chemicals to certain types of plastics that can be highly toxic, like bisphenol A and phthalates. And very few types of plastic are widely recycled.
You can join us! Give plastic-free living a try, and share your comments below and on our Facebook page.
Friday, 6:00 pm You made me very sad today, plastic-free challenge.
I went to one of my favorite stores, Healthy Alternatives in Trextertown, PA. What a great place. Locally owned, full of organic food, including fresh produce and their own soups, sandwiches, and salads. Uncharacteristically, I planned ahead and brought some reusable shopping bags with me. But it wasn't long before I ran into my old (since the beginning of the week) nemesis: plastic.
Like every other thing I wanted to buy was wrapped in plastic. Even the organic stuff!
Wild-caught Alaska salmon. Organic pistachios. Freshly made sandwich. So close. But taboo, because of a thin layer of petroleum polymer.
Even the soups of the day were served with a plastic lid. The best I could do was cover it with a napkin and rubber band. Is there plastic in rubber bands? Doesn't matter. I needed soup.
Friday, 9 am I quit! Well, not really. But man, am I sick of talking about plastic, thinking about plastic, looking at plastic, and typing the word "plastic." What else is there to say about it? (Plenty; take a look at Maria Rodale's "My Struggle with Plastic" blog post today, for example). Yesterday I got fed up and deliberately bought some stuff that came in plastic. Like my favorite gnocchi, which I really had a craving for but only come in a plastic package. I'm working on a formula to help me navigate my plastic decision making in the future. Maybe I'll reserve my plastic purchases for those things I really need and can't get any other way, and for every one of those give up two (three? four?) plastics that I don't need (even if the alternative is less convenient).
But let's try to stay positive. Check out the Oscar-nominated Let's Pollute for an entertaining take on plastic and other consequences of overconsumption (you can download the entire short from iTunes).
Thursday, 8 am: Plaskateers, be sure to check out today's Nickel Pincher column, in which Jean makes the shocking admission that even she, the queen of green and the theocrat of thrift, cannot keep all plastic out of her borders. But in true NP style, she turns it into a positive by putting wayward plastic to good use, saving money and extending its life before it gets recycled.
Yesterday I discovered that my local supermarket—one of them, at least—stocks only two types of organic chocolate bars: Green & Black's 70% dark, and Green & Black's 85% dark. I can't quite grok the thinking behind that. If 85% is too much for you, you'll probably like 70%? Anyway, I had one in my hand when I remembered the cookie incident from yesterday. And I couldn't remember if G&B bars have an inner plastic wrapper or not. So I put it back on the shelf.
Wednesday, 3:43 pm:
I really wanted a cookie.
Wednesday, 3:00 pm: We talk about plastic like it's all the same. But of course there are all different kinds of plastic, some of which are accepted by various municipal recycling programs and some of which aren't. Sometimes your plastic doesn’t come with the little recycling number on it. And all the needed sorting creates opportunities for confusion and temptation to just forget the whole thing and toss it in the trash. Which is why minimizing your plastic use as much as possible is such an effective tactic. Every time you don't use plastic, you don't have to navigate through all those decision points.
So this week I'm really appreciating the benefit of a workplace that's willing to shoulder some of that burden. Here at Rodale, we have plenty of places to responsibly dispose of whatever plastic can't be avoided outright. Every floor has bins clearly labeled for plastic as well as various other recyclables. There are even bins for compostable materials, like your lunch leftovers.
Plus there are bins for your phones, discs, and batteries, so the plastic and toxic materials can be separated out and disposed of appropriately.
Down in the cafeteria, meals are served with washable silverware and dishware, no plastic forks or plates. You can always spot a new hire or visitor, because they're the ones standing by the bins, holding their trays, trying to work out where everything goes.
What I'm wondering is, how many of you have a recycling bin for your plastic when you're at work? How many of you have any recycling bins at all? Do you think having more places to take your plastic would get you to recycle the plastic you use, or recycle more of it if you're already doing so? Leave a comment and let me know.
Tuesday, 2-21, 2:30 pm:Thanks to everyone who's been making suggestions for my dish-washing dilemma. On our facebook page Danika C suggested healthychild.org, which I haven't been able to dig into yet, but I see it has a nice collection of home cleaning recipes (my butler will be thrilled). As does our own Nickel Pincher, who next week will be offering specific solutions to the biggest problems we've come up against this month. Also on fb, old friend of Rodale.com Bernadette E suggests using borax, as does Pam M-A. Here's what the plastic-free icon Beth Terry, of My Plastic-Free Life, has to say:
There are plenty of plastic-free dishwasher detergents, if you're willing to buy powdered instead of liquid. We usually buy either 7th Generation or Ecover, which come in cardboard boxes. And we use white vinegar (in a glass bottle) as the rinse aid. For laundry, there are several choices. Some people make their own, but I use one of two things. Either Ecover powdered detergent, which comes in a cardboard box with a cardboard scoop even (all others have plastic scoops) or I buy Laundrytree soapnuts, which come in a paper bag. See her site for more about soapnuts.
Thank you Beth!
Tuesday, 2-21, 8:30 am: Time to Take Out The Trash (and Then Sort Out The Plastic for Recycling)
Here's my inventory of the plastic that ended up in my trash last week…or most of it, anyway. I'm not as conscientious as the folks on Beth Terry's My Plastic-Free Life blog about saving my garbage for photographic purposes, so I probably missed a few things. On the other hand, I do throw most of it on the kitchen floor, so it was easy enough to pile it together for a snapshot.
I can see right away that my biggest routine plastic use is food-related. Even though I've already swapped all my plastic food containers for glass ones, and I try my best to not us plastic shopping bags (see Maria Rodale's blog today for my lack of success on that front), I still end up bringing home food encased in one kind of plastic or other. It's not even that I buy all that much packaged food, either. More and more supermarkets are offering more and more organic vegetables and fruits, which is great. But often those foods are bagged or wrapped or clamshelled or otherwise plasticized. It seems to be an easy way for the merchants to make sure the organic items get scanned with the proper barcode. I think if we want organic food to be widely available, we have to expect food sellers to do what they must to operate their businesses effectively. But sometimes that creates difficult choices, like buying organic bananas in plastic, or chemically-grown bananas without. (Most weeks I'll buy the organic and recycle the plastic; but this week, I'll choose neither, to honor the plastic-free ethos.)
While thinking through this, I realized I have another big food-related obstacle coming up very soon. My dishwasher is nearly full. I have no clean plates or forks left. Do I buy dish soap in a plastic container? What are the alternatives, especially the eco-friendly ones? Does anyone have a recipe for home-made dish soap? What if I just left everything outside for wild animals to come and lick clean? Suggestions please!
My hand isn't really this orange, though I do eat a lot of carotenoids.
Monday, 2-21: Success with Loose Nuts
Our office is closed for President's Day today, and I'm having connectivity issues from home. But if the Internet allows, I do have one story to report. I had to buy six, and only six, wingnuts at the hardware store today. Usually that means seeking them out in the nuts and bolts aisle (one of my top ten favorite aisles) and then putting them in a little plastic bar-coded bag to take up to the register. Yes, this is a bag whose useful existence lasts only for the ninety seconds it takes to walk to the front of the store. Clearly a violation of the no-plastic challenge. Yet I needed those nuts! So I scooped them up into my sweaty palm and brought them to the cashier, ready for a fight. Here's how the debate went:
Me: "Can you just ring these up if I don't have that plastic bag?"
I savored that success all during lunch, until I realized I'd bought a sandwich wrapped in plastic.
Sunday, 2-20: Plastic On My Porch, Plastic In Your Mailbox
I've read here and there that scientists—or engineers, or technologists, or whoever it is that works on this kind of things—are close to inventing an actual cloak of invisibility. But I realized today that there's no need to spend years of research and kajillions of dollars for that. All they need to do is make the thing out of plastic. Because plastic is as invisible as it gets.
I learned this today, on my first day of the last week of our plastic-free challenge. I decided I start the week without taking any particular anti-plastic precautions, and just kind of sidle out of the way if any plastic turned up. Very quickly, I found out how many ordinary Sunday activities bring me into contact with all sorts of plastic that seems to have been completely invisible to me before I started paying attention.
Starting with the Sunday paper. I like supporting traditional 20th-century media, but unfortunately this version is delivered in a plastic wrapper, even if it's not raining. In fact, when the weather's nasty, it comes wrapped in two plastic wrappers. When I used to deliver papers, we just tossed them on the porch without any protection. It was a simpler time. We were too busy riding around without airbags, littering, and letting our dogs go wherever they wanted without cleaning up after them to worry about covering our newspapers in plastic.
I've been unwrapping that plastic every Sunday for I don't know how long, without even thinking about it. They were just a minor inconvenience between me and a non-internet news source. And that brings me to a point that's been raised by some of you over the past few weeks: What's up with a plastic-free challenge from a publishing company that mails its magazines in plastic? Well, here's the deal on that. First of all, the challenge is a project of the Rodale.com editors, not the company as a whole, Rodale Inc. We (Rodale.com) are internet-only, without any plastic encasing our product.
But to the wider point, yes, subscribers to Rodale Inc. magazines like Prevention do receive their issues in a plastic sleeve. That's because they're needed to make sure the magazines arrive intact, and there's not another material that can be handled by the machines used by U.S. Postal Service or the magazine vendors. It's not an ideal solution, and when there is one, you can expect to see it in your mailbox. In the meantime, the wraps are 100% recyclable, and the company works hard to shrink its plastic use in other ways (there are no plastic utensils or disposable plastic cups in our cafeterias, for example). So if you're a subscriber, be sure to recycle the wrapper. Which I'm doing from now on with my Sunday newspaper encasement—now that I've finally noticed them.
Check out the Plastic Free Challenge on NBC-10 Philadelphia:
Friday 2-18, 5:10 am
What's the best plastic-free remedy for refreshing tired eyes because it is early? The reason for the pre-dawn awakening is a good one: Rodale.com will be on NBC Philadelphia's 10! Show this morning to discuss the Plastic-Free February Challenge. If you're in the viewing area, it will air between 11 and noon today. I hope you can check it out! We'll also post a link here to the segment as soon as we can.
So here's the dilemma. To kick off my leg of the plastic-free challenge last weekend, I challenged a talented local stylist, Jess Adams-Peters of Bella Salon in Pottsville, PA, to whip up three hairstyles without the use of products that come in plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes. She agreed, and the results were better than any of us anticipated. So today I'd like to do the beachy sexy style, but I'm a little nervous to do it myself. What if I screw it up and then have to appear on television in the third largest market in the country? So my pledge to you...if I use any plastic, it will only be a few pumps of Aveda hairspray. That's it! I'm learning that this challenge is not all or nothing, but if I refrain from using these products every day and just save them for special occasions, they'll last a lot longer and I won't have to replace them for a long time. In some cases, maybe years. While in Philly, I'm also going to swing by The Attic, a boutique-like women's used clothing store, so I'll report on that soon. Have a great morning!
Thursday 2-27, 1:45 pm
I just have to post this link because it's so cool! The National, an English-language news source in oil-rich Abu Dhabi, is participating in (and writing about) the Rodale.com Plastic-Free February Challenge. That's interesting because Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a Middle Eastern country that is no doubt making a pretty penny off of America's plastic addition--it takes oil to make plastic. The journalist encourages cherishing the natural materials in your world: "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."
Living plastic-free is not easy, in fact, it's pretty impossible. And that's, perhaps, the eye-opening point of this challenge. In just a few decades a new material has infiltrated our lives in almost every way possible. Plastic not only houses the plastic shampoo and body wash bottles in our shower, but often, the actual shower stall is made of it, too. Sometimes the floor in the bathroom, the countertop, the toothbrush we shove into our mouths, sleepy-eyed, every morning come from plastic, a material that uses oil and/or natural gas to produce. Even in winter, with all the dry hair and skin that comes with it, our bathrooms are pretty oily places. To get the most out of the challenge, I started prioritizing what to cut (replace bottled shampoo with Dr. Bronner's bar soap and avoid packaged foods) and picked things not to worry so much about right now—an all-or-nothing approach to this challenge will drive you nuts.
Here are some of the plasticy-materials I'm not willing to completely give up yet:
1. The stretch in jeans—After eating a big bowl of hearty lentil soup at lunch in the Rodale Cafe yesterday, I was certainly grateful for the 2 percent Spandex in my jeans. Spandex is a form of polyurethane. The low-impact workaround? I try to buy jeans at second-hand boutiques whenever possible. Tomorrow I'm hitting up the consignment shop boutique in Philadelphia called The Attic. I might even sell some cute clothing that doesn't fit me anymore to them for a voucher.
2. All makeup—I wear makeup once or twice a week, max, but the mascara is in a plastic tube and the eyeliner comes with a plastic cap. To my knowledge, you can't recycle either. Coastal Classic Creations offers more non-toxic powders and lip color in metal containers, so that's one way to still wear your makeup without using so much plastic.
3. My trampoline—I'm pushing 30, but once the weather breaks, it's a priority to spend at least five minutes a day on my old trampoline. Somehow the back flips and toe touches help take me back to a worry-free time, and it clears the mind. The bouncy black part that you jump on is made of nylon, a durable plastic, but one that I'm not willing to give up yet. And if I ever get sick of the trampoline or it ages to the point of being unsafe to jump on it, I plan on using the frame for a movable chicken coop, and the mat can be used to shade lettuces on super hot summer days in the garden.
Wednesday 2-16, 4:20 pm
Mid-afternoon snack alert! It's that time of the day when a snack is imperative. Wandering into the Rodale Café (which is amazing, by the way…they source organic ingredients and keep packaging to a bare minimum), I found myself wanting everything I couldn't have due to the plastic-free challenge; things I don't even normally eat! (Isn't it so true, you want what you can't have?) Kettle chips, crunchy veggie wrap, peanut butter and celery—all organic, but all involved some sort of plastic. I even found my hand resting on an Equal Exchange Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt chocolate bar but had to refrain. The company and cause are terrific, but the inner bar is wrapped in plastic. (Check out our organic chocolate taste test results for delicious chocolate choices.) I took another few laps around the café to let my craving fade, and then grabbed an apple and a Mighty Leaf Organic Green Dragon tea bag. No plastic involved, and the combo provided a nice mid-afternoon energy boost. Plus, Rodale makes sure the apple is composted. It's nice knowing the core will go on to help make something else grow in a few months. It's a closed loop. We can't say that about an empty chip bag.
A 12-day-old onion seedling growing up plastic-free in a soil block.
Wednesday 2-16, 10:30 am:
Woke up this morning with a big smile on my face! That's because last night I participated in a healthy living event at my old school and had the opportunity to teach elementary school kids how to start veggie and herb seeds without using plastic!
The soil was magnetic. The kids LOVED getting their hands dirty, although their parents were not always equally thrilled.
I think children are born with this innate yearning to grow things, but that instinct isn't always nurtured as parents and teachers are busy teaching the kids their ABCs and where dinosaurs come from. Important? Yes. But so is gardening. To help the kids get a feel for it, we started seeds used organic potting mix from Johnny's Seeds and Organic Mechanics and planted the seeds in compostable containers. At home on my farm, I use the soil block method, which is even less energy intensive, and I'll show you how to do that soon!
Tuesday 2-15, 3:55 pm
Quick update on yesterday's plastic prescription bottle situation...I wasn't able to talk the pharmacist into putting the pills in an old glass olive jar. Apparently it's a quality control issue. Next time I need a prescription filled, I'm going to try to go to my small local pharmacy, and maybe they will be more understanding. In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what to do with the ugly tan plastic pill bottle once I'm through with the meds. It's always seemed a bit silly to me to buy plastic cosmetic storage containers, and plastic cases to house paper clips and other office supplies. So with that in mind, any pill bottles I aquire in the future (hopefully there will be few) will serve as thumb tack, bobby pin, and safety pin containers.
Tuesday 2-15, 8:45 am
The results are in! And good news...it's possible to get nice hair without a bathroom fiull of plastic bottles of hair styling gooks, sprays, shampoo, and spritzes. We challenged a local stylist to come up with three plastic-free hairdos using three sets of rules. Check out the plastic-free hair challenge and results (lots of pictures!) at Maria's Farm Country Kitchen blog.
Monday 2-14, 7 pm
An unexpected twist to plastic-free February…a sick day! Waking up with a splitting headache, pressure behind the cheekbones, and a popped blood vessel in my eye, it was pretty clear I needed an aspirin. Maybe two. I looked like I spent the night in a UFC ring. As it turns out, it was a sinus infection, not Chuck Liddell, that kicked my ass overnight. I don't really like to take painkillers, so I decided to tough it out until I could schedule a doctor's appointment. I’m not going to lie, a shot of NyQuil and a subsequent afternoon sleepathon seemed enticing, but honestly, the artificial food coloring in all of those over-the-counter meds freaks me out. Oh yes, and it’s in a plastic bottle! This isn’t life or death, I can wait to see the doc. "Yes, you have a nasty sinus infection," my doctor told me after scoping out my ears, nose, throat, and eyeballs. "Why isn’t my other eye bloodshot?" I asked. "You’ll live," she said, walking me out to the lobby. Then something neat happened in the office: She prescribed me antibiotics, but without writing out a paper prescription. The office is going electronic (thanks in part to my sister-in-law setting up the system), which helps cut down on waste. Now, I’m heading to the pharmacy and wonder if the pharmacist will consider giving me a prescription in one of my reusable containers. Is that even legal? Let me know if anybody has been able to coax the pharmacy into doing this, if you have any ideas on how to reuse a pill bottle in case I'm stuck with one, and please (Please!) share herbal, plastic-free remedies for a sinus infection!
Welcome to Week 3 of Rodale.com’s Plastic-Free February, where we hope to tackle the issue of the plastic-plagued beauty products industry head on. As my colleague Emily Main mentioned in her plastic-free wrap-up last week, this challenge makes you wonder…do we really even need all of this "stuff" anyway? So what do you say? Are you ready to give up shampoo, gel, and hairspray, and all of the associated plastic bottles and pumps (and not to mention, harmful chemicals) in these products?
Ah, there's just one issue. Valentine’s Day occurs during my plastic-free week. And not to mention, Rodale.com will be appearing on NBC 10 in Philadelphia to talk about the plastic-free challenge this Friday. Is it possible to go plastic-free in the beauty department without looking like a total bag lady for romantic dates and TV appearances? For a test run, I teamed up with two of my best friends (a hair stylist and a photographer), ditched all products in plastic bottles, and made super simple homemade styling products to come up with three easy, plastic-free styles. (Check back tomorrow for the full results, photos, DIY simple styling product recipes, and instructions on how to do this all at home.)
Sporting my new hairdo that did not require pollution and oil to make plastic bottled hair products, I picked up my husband and we headed to the mall to exchange one of his Christmas gifts. We’re not the overly romantic type, but since he works late Monday (Valentine’s Day), we decided to grab lunch and possibly a movie. (We've been together for about 10 years, so he's getting pretty good at giving organic-minded gifts.
At lunch, I drank my coffee without creamer because it was packaged in those little white plastic cups. There was no number on the bottom of the teeny creamer cup, so there’s no way of even knowing what type of plastic it was made out of. At any rate, it seemed like a big waste. In high school, I used to waitress at the cafe, and I know they brainwash the servers to put salad dressing in a plastic cup on the side instead of right on the salad. "Could you please put that bleu cheese just right on the salad? I don't need that plastic cup," I said. "Sure, Leah! No problem," our waitress chirped back, chucking a handful of plastic straws on the table. A cute little boy to my left picked up four of the straws, connected them, and slurped his chocolate milk, which was served in a Styrofoam cup. "Ah yi yi," I thought, surprised that plastic caused me to use my grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch saying.
At the movies, it was even worse, and my husband is partially to blame. We ordered a popcorn and Cherry Coke (I know, gross, but there’s nothing like Cherry Coke at the movies, if you ask me!) "You know what? You can skip the plastic lid," I told the cashier. "I don't need it." I walked a few steps to my right to grab a few napkins, and as I returned to the counter, things turned slow-mo. "NOOOOOOO!" I yelled as I saw Greg pick up a paper-wrapped straw, tap it on the counter to open it, and slide it into my Cherry Coke. "You know it’s my plastic-free week!"
The cashier gave us a weird look. She's probably not used to seeing couples spat over straws.
Somehow, this pre-Valentine’s Day date started weighing heavy on my heart, and all because of single-use plastic! People carting around flowers in plastic wrappers, plastic boxes of chocolates, plastic inserts holding the chocolate inside of those candy boxes, balloons. It was all a bit overwhelming. And I couldn't help it. During the movie, all I could think about was The Ballad of No-Straw Ernie...
Today's my next-to-last day of our plastic-free challenge and next week, I'll be handing the fun over to our other online editor, Leah Zerbe. I always like challenges like this that make you rethink your routine and your relationship with stuff. I don't know that I succeeded very well at keeping plastic out of my life because I hadn't noticed how much plastic I still have around me, despite trying to gradually get it out of my home for the past five years. But not showering for a day, and realizing that the world didn't end and people didn't run from me holding their noses, got me thinking about how easy it is to just avoid using "stuff," whether it's packaged in plastic or not. And the fact that my TV is plastic drove me to watch less of the boob tube, and that made me realize how much of a crutch it had become to "kill the silence," as they say. I really enjoyed just sitting in my apartment quietly and appreciating the peace and quiet (well, what little of it I could find while my neighbor's Jack Russell was howling!). And hey, I saved a little energy while I was at it.
This week has really helped clarify for me what really bothers me most about plastic. It isn't so much that it's here. It's that our plastic garbage has no place to go. As I mentioned earlier this week in my blog, if a little plastic wrap allows small local farmers an opportunity to get their products in stores, I'm ok with that. But we need recycling systems that are willing to take that plastic wrap. Why is it that you can recycle a beer bottle with a lime in it, but you can't recycle plastic wrap with some food stains, even if it's clean? Both are technically food soiled. Why can you recycle bottles labeled #2 but not tubs labeled #2? Furthermore, even if those things are recyclable, it's a bit depressing to read that, in some cities, the recycling rate is an abysmal 1 percent. So even if the best recycling technologies were available in those cities, citizens would still send all their plastic trash to the landfill. It's up to us to push our municipalities for greater investments in plastic recycling, recycling education and LITTER EDUCATION! When I was younger, there were PSAs and magazine advertisements all over the place educating people about the not littering. Where are all those ads now?
But at the same time, I don't think that we should give in to our dismay and accept that plastic is here so we should just deal with it. Biodegradable, compostable plastics at the moment don't seem to be a viable alternative—the only two cities in this country with municipal composting facilities are Seattle and San Francisco. And if you send compostable plastics to the landfill, they'll live forever, as all oil-based plastics do, or they'll wind up in someone's recycling bin, contaminating the plastics recycling stream.
But there are a lot of creative people out there coming up with cool ideas, like these German entrepreneurs making plastic-type materials out of "liquid wood" that can be mixed with flax, hemp and wax to make a variety of plastic-like materials—all GMO-free by the way, unlike corn-based plastic cups. Then I stumbled onto this article about some university students who were able to convert plastics back into a useable fuel, burning the plastic without creating any toxic emissions. And why shouldn't they? Plastic is made from oil so to oil it shall returneth.
After reading the comments to my blog post earlier this week, I know this is an issue about which people have a lot of passion. And I agree with many of the readers—plastic is a horrible, wasteful material that has all sorts of environmental downsides from polluting water to killing animals. But in my mind, it's not so much a problem in itself, but a symptom of more serious diseases.
The reason we need plastic is to ship perishable foods long distances, which means it's a crutch that supports our huge industrial food system. More people are living in cities and not raising their own food, so they somehow need to have food safely delivered to them. This could be mitigated to a certain extent by supporting a more localized food supply, which is something we certainly encourage on Rodale.com.
Plastic is also a crutch for our disposable society. We can all take 30 minutes out of our days to sit down at a table to eat lunch off glass plates with real silverware and drink out of real glasses. Ditto for breakfast and for dinner. We don't need to grab salads in huge plastic tubs, throw them in a plastic bag along with a plastic knife and fork and head back to eat at our plastic desks surrounded by plastic electronics. By the same token, we could all stand to buy less stuff, food or otherwise. Plastic electronics are designed to be obsolete within months, and trendy polyester clothes (also made from oil) are designed to last a season, if that. Personally, this has been the route I've taken—rather than focusing on the material it's made from or packaged in, I've just decided to buy as little as possible. It's made me happier, I don't stress out every time I walk into a store like I used to, and I've learned to live with whatever plastic I can't avoid.
Whether you want to treat the symptom or the diseases, or both, is a personal choice. And it's encouraging to see all the people who've joined on to our challenge, because just by becoming aware of how much plastic is out there, you become more empowered to make positive changes. And that benefits everyone.
Thursday, 2-10, 10:00pm
So here's a head scratcher: What do you do when plastic-free food=junk food and health food=surrounded in plastic? I'm in New York today, after attending the premier of a great new film on climate change called Carbon Nation (review and interview with the director to come soon!). So I stayed the night in the city and am thus separated from my nice mostly-plastic-free kitchen with its eggs in paper cartons and fresh vegetables for an omelet. Stopping in at a few places before work, my food options were sugary baked goods or greasy egg sandwiches on white bread that I could get in a paper sack OR yogurt in a plastic cup. I should have learned from our GMO-Free Challenge last October that when traveling is involved, you always pack your own food. But alas, here I sit, mulling over my dilemma while having coffee for breakfast.
Frankly, this whole plastic-free experiment has me thinking about our social patterns in general. Rather than worrying about what food comes in what packaging, you start to think, why do you even need that particular food in the first place? If I'd woken up 15 minutes earlier, I would have had time to sit down at the restaurant selling said baked goods and yogurt in plastic and had yogurt in a glass bowl--they had a table service as well as a to-go line. And as I watched all the people walk out ahead of me with paper cups of coffee with plastic lids and wondered "what would they use if they didn't have plastic lids?", I started to think, why do all these people feel the need to drink their coffee on the run anyway? Why not just sit down and enjoy it? It seems like we could seriously cut our plastic addiction just by changing the way we look at life and get away from this American urgency of making hay while the sun shines (and increasingly, when the sun isn't shining because if it isn't shining here, it's shining somewhere else). But I think breaking that habit is an even bigger challenge than tackling plastic! One problem at a time...
Thursday, 2-10, 10:00pm
A lot of people left comments earlier related to my post on contacts and wondered why I don't just switch to glasses, which is a valid point. For one, I just see better out of contacts than I do with glasses and two, contacts provide your eyes with better UV protection than do glasses. Plus, running out of my disposable lenses me forces me to go to the eye doctor; when I was wearing glasses, I'd forget to schedule annual appointments. One year, after a long long absence, my optometrist informed me that my glasses prescription was so old that I was technically not legally supposed to be driving with them. Oops...
But Beth Terry, our plastic-free challenge moderator of sorts from My Plastic-Free Life, sent me this encouraging note:
"I'd worry about other kinds of plastic waste (food packaging especially) before medical plastic (which is what I consider contacts and glasses to be.) Not giving a pass on it, but I just think there are bigger fish to fry."
I am going to continue to hunt and peck for a stainless steel lens case--it just seems more sanitary in my opinion. But for anyone out there who's feeling discouraged about avoiding plastic, just know you're not the only ones who are finding plastic battles hard to win!
Thursday, 2-10, 9:30am
Saltwater. That's all I could think this morning when I picked up the enormous plastic bottle of contact lens solution that's been chasing me around all plastic-free week. It's pretty much the one product packaged in plastic I've had to use every day this week (Beth Terry, the founder of the My Plastic-Free Life blog who's been helping us out during our challenge, informed me that my Tom's of Maine toothpaste tube is in fact aluminum, so I get a pass on that one!). And it's the one product in my bathroom for which there doesn't seem to be a good do-it-yourself alternative. But all it is is bottled saltwater. I've always wondered if I could make my own, but I've never tried, on account of, well, I don't want to go blind. What about you all? Any contact lens wearers out there who have tried making their own solution?
And while I’m focused on my eyes, I'd like to know why contact lens cases don't come in stainless steel. Optometrists recommend that you throw out plastic cases every three months, but I've never been able to do that. It just seems SO horrifically wasteful. Instead, I just soak them in rubbing alcohol to kill any bacteria, but that makes me wonder what the alcohol is doing to the plastic. So why not just make cases out of something else, like stainless steel, which can be boiled, sterilized, and sanitized in every which way without turning toxic? I've searched endlessly online for stainless steel cases and have come up with nothing. So another question for our plastic-free friends in the blogosphere—help me out! Do stainless steel contact lens cases even exist?
Wednesday, 2-9, 9:30am
Before: All the plastic I use on a typical day.
After two days of pondering the relative goods and bads of plastic in our food supply, I've decided to get my mind out of the kitchen today, and focus on the next most plastic-filled room in my house, the bathroom. My bathroom is a veritable minefield of plastic. In fact, I don't think there's one product, with the exception of tissue paper (unless you count the plastic flaps on the top of the box), that isn't packaged in plastic. So it would seem the only way to avoid all this "excrement of oil" (I love that phrase; it was used to describe plastic in the very first "green" issue of Vanity Fair a few years ago) would be to just not use all those products.
Which brings up an interesting experiment.
I'm here to admit, before God and the entire Internet, I didn't take a shower today. And in doing so I slashed my daily plastic use nearly in half.
Now, before you cringe, I do think there's something to be said for our obsession with cleanliness. I know people who shower twice, sometimes even three times a day. And why? I don't see the point. Plus, our germophobia has also increased the use of toxic antibacterials like triclosan, an EPA-registered pesticide that the FDA has approved for use in everything from toothpaste to cutting boards. So I think we could all do with a little less soap and a few more shower-less days (but…I do advocate for washing hands A LOT! Especially during cold season)
After: No shower? No plastic! (Well, not much anyway)
I started thinking about the whole no-showering thing when our senior editor, Rick Chillot, circulated this article from the New York Times called "The Great Unwashed". The reporter interviewed a bunch of people who, for environmental reasons or otherwise, have decided that daily showering is sort of a waste—of time, of water, and all the oil that goes into making soaps, shampoo and all the plastic containers they come in. And she made a good point: A lot of American workers sit in offices all day—they don’t engage in sweaty manual labor and thus don't need to shower every day. And, our skin contains a variety of beneficial bacteria that basically act like natural antibiotics and protect us from getting sick, and all that gets washed away every time we scrub down.
On a more personal level, I have horridly dry skin, and in the winter, I slather on body lotion like it's going out of style. If I take fewer showers, my skin isn't as dry.
Of course, I can't do this everyday, but if I can manage to take two or three fewer showers a week, I'll cut my plastic consumption by a third, and my water consumption by who knows how much.
There was even a bonus: Because I had so much more time this morning, I was able to brew myself a pot of espresso and drink it at home out of a ceramic mug—relaxed, like the Italians do! I didn't need my stainless steel travel mug with its plastic lid.
Tuesday, 2-8, 11:00am
My trip to the grocery store got me wondering if all plastic is all bad. Today, I weigh the pros and cons of this nuisance material over on Maria's Farm Country Kitchen blog. Give it a read and then let me know if you agree in the comments below!
Monday, 2-7, 8:00pm
I had a bit of a funny "aha" moment when I got home tonight and started to unlock my door...with my plastic key. I had never really thought about it before now, but my apartment complex uses electronic keys that are actually plastic. So that adds one more plastic exposure to my day.
Actually, I managed to make it through the morning and afternoon with few plastic run-ins, just the plastic soap dispensers in the bathroom (3 run-ins) and the plastic water spout in our company kitchenette (3 more run-ins). But then I headed home.
After I unlocked my door with my plastic key, I switched on my plastic TV with my plastic remote and then popped a dishwasher tablet (stored in a plastic bag) into my mostly plastic dishwasher. Dinner was pretty plastic-free, unless you count the plastic handle on my stainless-steel knife, and now I'm typing on the plastic keyboard that's attached to the one almost-plastic-free electronic I own, my aluminum laptop.
So after a day of tallying all the plastic I use and come into contact with, the grand total is (drum roll please)...32. Not great but at least now I have a good framework for cutting back on all the plastic I use.
Monday, 2-7, 10:00am
Because we're supposed to be avoiding plastic as much as possible this week, I thought I'd spend today cataloging just how much plastic I come into contact with on a daily basis. So far, I'm up to 19 plastic encounters and it's just past 10 am. Here's what I've got so far:
My decidedly un-plastic-free bathroom
Tore myself away from my plastic-filled pillow (polyester fluff) and shut off my plastic alarm clock. Went into the bathroom, which is now dubbed the "No man's land" of plastic-free living: plastic shampoo bottle, plastic razor, plastic soap saver, plastic face lotion tub, plastic body lotion bottle, plastic tub of hair crème, plastic hair dryer, plastic power toothbrush, plastic tube of toothpaste (or is it? I use Tom's of Maine, which comes in something resembling both plastic and aluminum), plastic contact lens case, plastic bottle of contact lens solution, and my plastic deodorant bottle.
Wandered into the kitchen, my plastic-free haven and was doing pretty well until it came time to make my coffee. I've had my plastic coffee pot for something like 12 years now, so I don’t feel all that bad about the fact that it's plastic (and it's labeled #5 polypropylene, which doesn't leach toxic chemicals)—I've certainly made use of it. But for the sake of this experiment, I opted for the new aluminum Bialetti stovetop espresso maker my significant other bought me for Christmas. It makes the best coffee…but it still has a plastic handle. Feeling good about the plastic-free coffee, I poured it into my stainless steel to-go coffee mug…then screwed on its plastic cap. Doh! Then I hopped in my mostly plastic car and drove to work, where I now sit typing on a plastic keyboard next to a plastic phone staring at a plastic-encased monitor.
Monday, 2-7, 9:00am
A couple of weeks ago, I studiously collected all my plastic garbage to see how much I really generate, and it turns out, it was more than I'd expected. Here's my pile, separated into destined-for-the-landfill garbage on the left and recyclable garbage on the right. Frankly, it's a little depressing and really makes me wonder why it can't all be recycled, but more on that a little later.
It's week two of our plastic-free challenge, and I'm taking over for the Rodale.com staffers, making every attempt I can to keep plastic out of my life for the next seven days. This is an experiment I've attempted before—but rapidly abandoned after seeing how much plastic pervades modern life.
So, naturally, the first thing I did for my plastic-free week was hit the grocery store, where every thing you can possibly imagine has been bagged, sealed, canned, and shrink-wrapped in some form of plastic. Before I get into my shopping trip, though, there are a few things about my food-shopping habits you should know:
2. I prefer to buy local food as much as I possibly can.
3. It has to be minimally packaged. Processed foods usually don't make it into my shopping cart, and when it does, I buy the least-packaged version of it that I can find.
My first stop for groceries is usually the Fairway Market close to where my boyfriend lives in the Bronx. It's one of a local chain of grocery stores in the New York City area that is easily my favorite place on earth. I could write a book about why I love this place, but in a nutshell, it's all about the way they stock and promote organics. They have an enormous organic produce section with huge signs screaming "ORGANIC!" and explaining what the label means. They have a huge bulk-bin section that, unlike most conventional grocery stores, isn't full of candy bins. In fact, their bulk bin section has no candy (unless you count the M&Ms in the one bin of trail mix they have). But it does have every kind of organic nut, organic grain, and organic bean you could possibly want, along with organic granolas of every flavor. And organic honey! It's the only store I've ever seen that actually has a fill-it-yourself organic honey section. Ironically, I also have an easier time finding my favorite Pennsylvania organic dairy products here than I do at stores near me in Bethlehem. Go figure…And all their food, organic or otherwise, is so inexpensive—cheaper than Walmart, cheaper than Whole Foods. I told you I love this place…
So with reusable bags in hand, I headed to Fairway to stock up for the week. I always find it easy to avoid plastic in the produce section because I've stockpiled a huge amount of plastic produce bags over the years and I reuse them week to week so I don't have to take any more. And there's always a loose version of whatever I want, be it spinach leaves, celery or carrots. I use the same produce bags to fill up on nuts and grains at the bulk bins, and then transfer everything to glass jars when I get it home.
But as I expected, meat was my Achilles heel. I considered going vegetarian or vegan for the week, but I'm not ordinarily a vegetarian and I really wanted to see if being a responsible omnivore and living plastic-free could go hand-in-hand. Plus, in the winter, I love meat. I think there's something about the human body that must crave meat in the winter because I find it particularly nourishing this time of year. Usually, the meat I buy is always sealed in plastic because it usually comes from local meat producers who have it shrink-wrapped, but I thought this store might have some alternative behind the butcher counter that I could buy wrapped in paper. Nope. Fairway let me down. The only organic meat option I could see was grass-fed ground beef, not really something I was in the mood for. I had a hankering for steaks or something a little heartier. But right next to the meat counter was the seafood. I don't eat nearly enough seafood, so I thought I'd give that a go.
I asked their helpful fish monger for half a pound of wild Alaskan salmon that he weighed out on butcher paper. "Hmm…," I thought, "this may work out after all!" He folded up the paper, and I told him not to bother with a plastic bag. "I have to," he said. Well, that made no sense to me. "Why?" I asked. "Is it a health department thing?" "No, there's no seal on the paper." Then he mumbled something about food safety and juices dribbling, tossed my fish in a plastic bag and handed it to me. Well, fooey. Foiled already, and I was only 4 hours into my first plastic-free day.
I still needed more dinner makings, so I wandered into the prepackaged meat section, where organic alternatives abounded—but they were also sitting on Styrofoam trays and encased in cling wrap. As I said before, organic, GMO-free is a must, and if my only alternative was organic, GMO-free meat sitting in plastic, then I'd have to break our rule of not buying anything in plastic.
It's a little annoying that buying only organic and avoiding plastic don’t always work in tandem. And why does meat need to be so overpackaged? On my way back home to Pennsylvania, I stopped in to my second-favorite food store, Nature's Way Market, in Easton, PA, to get some chocolate for Rodale.com's upcoming organic chocolate taste test, and peeked in their fridge. They had a slightly smaller selection of organic beef from a local beef producer, Swiss Villa Dairy, (I should have waited and bought my beef here!), but it was all vacuum-packed in plastic. There were no Styrofoam trays or cling wrap dripping meat juices all over everything. Why can't regular grocery stores pack their meat that way? At least if they're going to use plastic, use the least amount possible.
So lesson 1: avoid big grocery stores when you want to buy meat, because there's usually a local source that's less packaged—and probably healthier!
Week 1: by Dana Blinder, Rodale.com digital assistant.
Friday, 2-4, 11:30am
I’m nearing the end of my plastic-free week of blogging for Rodale.com. Although this ends my voice here, it doesn’t end my journey. I’ve realized how much I depend on plastic; more so, resort to it out of convenience. I know that non-plastic alternatives aren’t really inconvenient as much as they are a lifestyle change.
Some of my biggest obstacles throughout the week were finding non-plastic food storage options and avoiding plastic-wrapped new products.
This morning I consciously put down the plastic wrapped single serving of butter in the cafeteria in favor of the mini foiled package. It was a small shift, and I didn’t have to go out of my way to do so, but it felt good to be conscious about motivated in my decision making process. (And tasted good, because the foiled version was REAL butter, not that chemically enhanced business.)
Small shifts in the grocery store will also help cut down my plastic consumption without altering my lifestyle too drastically. I can have the butcher behind the counter wrap my meat in paper instead of buying the pre-packaged plastic packages, and per our Nickel Pincher’s suggestion, I can replace my zip lock bag collection with wax paper bags and foil.
Growing up in a home full of hand-me-downs, I’m eager to save up and buy new products for myself. However, I’m also creative and crafty. Putting together my double plastic wrapped Ikea dining room table last weekend made me realize that I could have REALLY built it myself, spending the same amount on materials at a local lumber yard. And for the rest of the items on my must-purchase list, a little more time on second hand trade websites and at thrift stores will do the trick.
I hope you’re plastic-free journeys are going well. Share your thoughts, comments or questions in the comments section or on our Facebook page.
P.S. This post from Growing A Greener World is a good pick me up from the rough reality of this challenge. Thanks for being honest about your failures with me, Theresa!
Thursday, 2-3, 12:00pm
Guilty: I love a zip-lock bag.
I hate that it’s all plastic, rubbing around my food and too easily disposable… but the convenience!
I do use glass Pyrex containers to store most of my food/leftovers. I can only stack my glass towers so high, though.
And it doesn’t make sense for me to slide a quick glass container of baby carrots into my purse for an afternoon out. This girl’s purse is just not that big.
Jean Nick, our resident Nickel Pincher has some food storage solutions I may try, but as for now, I’m stuck. Any ideas? Leave them below in the comments. Some great conversation has already started there! For tips on going plastic-free, check out My Plastic Free Life's Plastic Free Guide.
Beth Terry from My Plastic-Free Life says:There are some fantastic reusable baggie alternatives. My favorites are Graze Organic organic cotton snack baggies. Also, plastic baggies might seem convenient, but how convenient are the chemicals that could be leaching out of them into your food?
Wednesday, 2-2, 4:30 pm:
Best plastic-free blogging roundup!
It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my quest for plastic-free living. We’ve got some great bloggers on board to take the challenge with us this month. In case you’ve missed it, here are some unique thoughts from those going plastic-free around the web:
Call the Plastic Police Enslaved By Faeries blogger Briton’s house is already pretty plastic free. For the unexpected plastic surprises, she’s called out by the ‘plastic police’. Read more about how she’s being held accountable for every little break in the challenge!
Pitching Plastic… for real Dani at News From Nowhere is no stranger to tossing plastic. She’s been throwing hers away for years, and not just tossing it into the trash, but recycling it- herself!
Converting a Stranger This post by Organicality got me thinking… if you make a small step to go plastic-free by bringing your own reusable coffee mug to a coffee house, could you convince a stranger next to you to do the same? Hmm… more to come on this thought.
Wood for the Win! @Bethpartin from our #noplastic Twitter conversation recommended wood toothbrushes, cool!
Got a unique plastic-free tip? Struggling to figure out how to find an alternative to your biggest plastic perils? Comment here or join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting to @RodaleNews and using the #noplastic hashtag.
Wednesday, 2-2, 11 am:
Rule #1- No buying or acquiring new plastic.
True- I did have a larrrrge mishap this past weekend with what seemed like plastic wrapped plastic when I bought some new pieces of furniture for a move. (Pssst. Join the challenge, Ikea!) That aside, I’m doing fairly well.
Best of all, is that this project has cut my consumption in whole. Instead of grabbing a packaged meal on my way home from work, I remembered I had beans, pasta and a glass jar of pesto that would make for a quick and tasty meal.
I’ve also realized that the majority of items on my mental must-buy list are unnecessary. The cable for my TV? I don’t need to rush out to get it new, I can likely snatch one from someone selling an old one online and catch my favorite shows on Hulu for now.
Habits are hard to break, especially when they’re quick and convenient.
Tuesday, 2-1: The office- A plethora of plastic!
I’m on day 3 of the challenge and looking at the world through a plastic lens now. This morning, while re-organizing some work documents, I sorted plastic dividers and loaded plastic binders while sitting in my plastic chair. The amount of plastic in an office setting is overwhelming! Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of my desk:
Our café mugs are ceramic, and so is my favorite wide mouthed Michigan mug. It sits on a ceramic plate my brother made for me. Bonus points for versatility, safety and personal memento all in one! I carry a glass water bottle around the office with me from Aquasana as well. It does have a plastic top, but I’m usually guzzling enough that I don’t keep the top on.
Here’s my headphones, laptop, computer stand, external monitor and tape dispenser. Oh my! Not to mention the keyboard and mouse under my desk not pictured. Thankfully most of these items are recycled through the company. I know from wear on my keyboard that my fingers weren’t the first to tap on it- kind of spooky, kind of cool.
There’s still more!
My phone, lamp and old school Rolodex are all plastic. Gross! Lamp could be solved, phone maybe not so much. Rolodex could obviously go too, but again, this is a recycled item from the company (it’s true! Someone left a surprise for me in the ‘M’ section).
Ahhh, that’s a bit better. Here are my metal sorting baskets. Metal binder clips keep the heftier papers together, and I labeled them with scrap paper instead of plastic labels.
Despite my plastic heavy desk, Rodale does a decent job of keeping the plastic usage low. Our supply closet is mostly materials that have been used before and returned. Many people keep compostable folders or binders on their desks (must be hot items as I haven’t seen them in the supply closet). Of course there’s still room for improvement.
What’s your work space like? Do you have plastic-free alternatives to some of the items I’m struggling with?
P.S.S. Follow Rodale News on Twitter and use hashtag #noplastic to chat about the challenge in real time!
P.S.S.S. Practically Green has a cool action guide if you're looking for a place to get started in changing your plastic consumption. Or maybe you're already an expert? Add your tip!
Beth Terry from My Plastic-Free Life says:
It's great that most of the stuff in your office is secondhand. That's exactly the right way to avoid purchasing new plastic. Plastic is not evil, but the problem is that we misuse a material that was meant to last forever. I'm a blogger. Obviously I use a computer. And yes, it's encased in plastic. But I found it secondhand. My monitor is secondhand. And so are some of the appliances in my kitchen.
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, this past weekend I moved to a new apartment. There’s something refreshing about pitching the old stuff (donating as much as possible!) packing up, and unloading all the special items that were chosen to make it to a fresh start. However, there’s something completely NOT refreshing, about how much waste comes from relocating.
Packaging of toilet paper and shower curtains, and even annoying plastic coated twisty ties to fasten my new can opener to its cardboard packaging- all garbage. So wasteful! Don’t get me started on the sea of plastic waste from new furniture (why pieces to a chair must be individually wrapped twice over, is beyond me).
Now that I’m on this mission, I’m noticing even more how plastic is coating every inch of our lives. In some ways I can change my habits to avoid it, in other ways I might (for the time being) be stuck with it. But at least being conscious about it is a solid step toward a less wasteful, less toxic lifestyle.
Beth Terry from My Plastic-Free Life says:
"As you mentioned in your plastic tally questionnaire, purchasing furniture and other household items secondhand is a great way to not only reduce packaging waste but also save the materials used to produce new products. Freecycle and Craigslist are great resources for gently used items.
Be careful with shower curtains. You want to avoid PVC (vinyl). If it has that 'new shower curtain smell,' it's offgasing toxic chemicals. Vinyl contains hormone-disrupting phthalates that you don't want in your environment."
Plastic garbage from last week.
For me, living a life with reduced dependence on plastic isn't too tough. I cook and store food in glassware, and I reduce and reuse as much as possible. This past weekend was another story in itself though. I spend the past three days packing, unpacking, buying and tossing. I tried to be as conscious a consumer as possible, but a short notice, low-budget move doesn't always lend to ecofriendly. IKEA furniture is pathetically double-, triple- and quadruple-wrapped in plastic wrap. Economical furniture for me and my roommate's budget, but absolutely not helping me in my challenge at all. Sigh, off to a poor start! More tomorrow.
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