With just one week under my belt in my plastic-free month, there is SO much to say, but I will just try and share some highlights and keep this zippy.
Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, making the material a nonrenewable and unsustainable resource. Plastic has been in use since 1907, and it has become the preferred material for just about everything. And all of the plastic that has come into existence over the past century is still on Earth. So much of this plastic is ending up in the ocean that in just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea.
Like many of you, I was already using tote bags to do my shopping, avoiding straws, rarely drink take-out coffee, use my water canteen etc, but after discussing with some 5th graders last week what we could all do to follow Greta Thurnberg’s call, I wanted to take things to the next level. I knew it would be a challenge, but OMgosh, until you start to avoid it, you don’t realize how pervasive plastic is in our daily lives. I realized quickly that zero-plastic waste this month might be ambitious but I would try. I also don’t plan on throwing away food/goods I have already bought that have plastic in them.
But y’all, did you realize nearly all tin cans are plastic-lined? Or, most cartons (think milk, soup, juice etc.) contain plastic, as do the tops of glass jars and metal twist-off wine caps, paper cups and plates, and the list goes on. Then there’s my monthly meds in their little plastic pots, and I am not even going to start yet on my clothes, books, chocolate wrappers, ice-cream cartons, jackets on hardback books, my glasses frames, phone case, air conditioner…. and on and on. For most of us, the best we can do is become a little more conscious about our purchases, and I certainly have been, doing grocery shopping this week. Trader Joe’s is a 4 minute walk from mine (and I love not having to use the car) and is normally my go-to store. This week, however, the only thing I have purchased there were some bananas. Tip, at the back of the bunches are usually 2 or 3 without that sticky plastic label. Instead, I shopped at: my farmer’s market on Saturday, to which I walked the 1.5 miles; Whole Foods in Rye; and a farm in CT for raw milk, for which they allowed me to bring my own glass bottles. The latter two required a decent drive (which is also polluting the planet so??)
My food consumption has changed a little for the challenge. I generally consume whole foods anyway, but this week has ended up meat and fish-free, which is rare for me. Things I have substituted: I made iced-tea instead of seltzer water, and bought fresh mint for hot tea too. I made my own soups (I often do but also like some of the fresh TJ soups), and I made a little sweet after dinner treat instead of chocolate, though I have found out that Lindt and Ghiradelli packaging do not contain plastic. At whole foods, I bought loose: oats, walnuts, coffee, lentils, chickpeas, pecans, flour, rice and almond butter instead of pre-packaged. I am still using some glass jars with plastic lids for storage though. Apart from the bananas, all my produce was local and therefore in season and reduced carbon footprint. I sure miss my veggie garden but I do think trying to get back to being more of a locavore is what I want.
This challenge has also been a great kick-in-the-butt to try and replace some plastic products I have been thinking about for a while. I have adapted well to my new bamboo toothbrush (about $1.50 per brush) after a week, but it has nylon bristles :(.) I love my shampoo soap bar, and am finding vinegar and baking soda are great cleaning alternatives for home/dishes. The all-natural tooth powder taste isn’t great but seems to clean real well. The beeswax food wraps are stellar, as I knew they would be. Would love to hear your toothpaste experiences.
Cost-wise, I spent about the same on groceries this week, but I didn’t buy any meat, cheese or fish, so that will go up. Also, I need to see how long soap/toothpaste etc lasts. Once again I am aware of my privilege here. I may be on a part-time salary but it is enough for my needs, and if I were struggling to feed my family and working two jobs, I don’t know that I would have the time, money and inclination to not just buy all the pre-packaged food at my nearest supermarket.
Failures this week: Didn’t realize the toothpowder had a plastic lid; the toothbrushes are in cardboard packaging that that was delivered in a plastic mail bag!! 🙁 I was asked today to foster two more feral kittens and I will be using old plastic bags I still have to dispose of their waste, but if I had my own cats, I would get biodegradable bags. This is a good article on being a plastic-free pet-parent.
Final Thoughts on Week One: I am aware of my privilege in undertaking this challenge. It takes time and money to reduce our plastic foot-print. If I were struggling to feed my family, I can see myself buying the ready-packaged quick meals from my nearest supermarket. I have spent hours researching products this week because I have the time and access to a computer. I wish there was more government regulation on packaging, and I hope companies like Trader Joe’s will get their act into better gear. I have enjoyed trying some new recipes and products this week. And I would love to hear your tips and thoughts in the comments.
Oh, and per chance an NPR podcast I listened to this week was about the rise of litter and how one organization changed the American public’s relationship with waste and who is ultimately responsible for it-the title is The Litter Myth. NPR also has a great article on Plastics, What recyclable, what becomes trash—and why.
Next week, I will share more about my thoughts on greater ways we can have an impact (maybe?)