My Struggle With Plastic, and 10 Tips for Avoiding It

A few years ago when I was starting this blog, I thought to myself, “I need a stunt.” The first stunt that came to mind was spending a year without buying or using any plastic. That thought lasted about 15 minutes. And I launched this blog without any stunts, just me and my crazy recipes and ideas. But alas, it is the final days of the Plastic Free Challenge at Rodale.com, so I want to do my part to help out. Today I will share my thoughts for eliminating plastic. And next week, I’ll share my list of challenges that we need some creative entrepreneurs to figure out.

But let me just start by saying the bane of my plastic existence is Polly Pocket, the completely unnecessary and yet totally beloved teeny-tiny plastic doll and toys that my 4-year-old discovered from her older sister, long before she reached the choking-hazard-free years. I am constantly yelling at her to Take That Plastic Out Of Your Mouth Right Now Or I Will Throw It In The Trash! And cleaning up cat vomit that has Polly Pocket outfits in it; there is clearly something orally stimulating to cats about the little princess outfits and shoes the size of ants. Well, I will be a totally evil mother if I ban Polly Pocket. So there is a Polly Pocket Exception to my plastic-reduction efforts.

Here are my top 10 tips for eliminating plastic—other than Polly Pocket—from your life:

1. Use food storage containers made of glass and stainless steel. These are getting easier and easier to find; some containers may have a plastic lid, but the plastic won’t touch the food.

2. For outdoor dining, use enamel plates and cups and stainless steel utensils. So what if you have to wash them? They won’t break if they get dropped or knocked over. And they make dining outside feel like an old-fashioned picnic, rather than a plastic trash fest.

3. Use wax paper bags for packing school lunches. They work! (Well, not for soup.)

4. Try laundry detergent powders that come in a box. I wish so many detergent companies hadn’t stopped making powders. I still buy Arm & Hammer and other powders when I can find them.

5. Get your music from iTunes. Yes, Apple has decimated the music industry and cornered the market. But I love that I don’t have to buy a CD, unwrap it, and make a mess with all the packaging and containers. And it’s so easy to make mixes with iTunes!

6. BYOB—bring your own bags. Yes, to the supermarket, but also to the mall! And little mesh produce bags too.

7. Make it from scratch. When you buy processed foods, you bring lots of plastic home from the supermarket. It’s so easy to make lots of stuff from scratch instead…even crackers!

8. Buy organic cotton feminine products. Seriously, the nonorganic stuff is overwrapped in plastic, and they also have hideous fragrances.

9. Always buy your drinks in glass bottle. It’s now completely possible to avoid plastic when buying drinks on the go. Hooray for that!

10. Ask for no plastic bags at the dry cleaner: Better yet, stop buying clothes that need to be dry-cleaned (or try alternatives to dry cleaning that you can do yourself). But if you do need dry-cleaning, just tell the cleaners that you don’t want bags. And they will not give them to you.

Those are the easier solutions. Next week, I’ll share my wish list for the ultimate in plastic elimination.

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12 Responses to My Struggle With Plastic, and 10 Tips for Avoiding It

  1. Julie February 25, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Plastic free would be nearly impossible. But you have some good ideas here we could all put into practice.

  2. Kyle February 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I would have to disagree Julie. The only plastic we really have in our house and a consistent basis is from the salsa we buy. Obviously it would nice to make our own, but that’s not easy during the winter.

    Also when we buy stuff online it comes wrapped in plastic, but how often do you buy new toys and crap.

  3. Jose February 26, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    There are dry cleaners , wet cleaners out there (me one) who use biodegradable poly bags and offer reusable nylon zipper bags check around for such.
    Jose
    http://www.eldoradocleaners.net

  4. Barbara February 26, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    I have done much plastic reduction in my home over the years. My 16yo son thinks I am nuts, for this and my organic insistence, but I think that is just his way of rebelling (could be lots worse.) Still plenty of plastic around, but I continue to strive for less and less.

    Thanks for your thought inducing blogs. I enjoy reading them and often learn something worthwhile.

  5. stacy February 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    This is only for those who like leftovers, find variety over rated &/or those who value convenience over variety– when cooking, say a pot of chili, cook a bunch so you can eat it for several days. And cook it in a pot that has a snug fitting lid that will easily fit in your fridge so you don’t have to use plastic to store the leftovers in; or waste water to wash original pot, storage container & pot to reheat; or be tempted to buy prepared, less healthy food in plastic because who has time to cook every night? I used to think sticking a pot of food in the fridge was unseemly/lazy. But not anymore. And if I get tired of the leftovers before they are all eaten I share them w/a neighbor who is delighted to have home cooked food.

  6. Jasmin March 4, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    “8. Buy organic cotton feminine products. Seriously, the nonorganic stuff is overwrapped in plastic, and they also have hideous fragrances.”

    Or even better buy a Mooncup (or whatever brand is nearest you to save fuel on the delivery) and you’ll not only have eliminated any plastic associated with your period for YEARS, you also save a LOT of money and don’t keep filling up the landfill with used products.

  7. JGram March 17, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    We don’t really like the aluminum or stainless water bottles, anyone have any suggestions for how to put water in a childs lunch that is not plastic?

  8. Linda March 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    When I first started working on using less plastic, I thought it would be nearly impossible to avoid it totally. The more I do, though, the clearer the way gets. I’d like to add that for food storage, one can buy good containers in the first place that can be reused. The large Adams peanut butter jars are a good example. Also, you might see about getting your local co-op to accept, wash, and offer used food containers. Ours does that and it’s fantastic for buying things in bulk without having to make a large initial investment on storage containers.

    Re. “buy organic cotton feminine products”: Or use cloth. In place of toilet paper too — much gentler on the privates! While we’re on the subject of cloth, use it in the kitchen too, in place of synthetic sponges. Given that most people don’t change their sponge after each use, it’s definitely cleaner!

    JGram — it is tough because glass jars aren’t usually leak-proof. I use the glass jars that my kombucha comes in, but that’s not ideal either because they have plastic lids that are difficult to keep clean (well, and because they’re plastic.)

  9. Katie April 7, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    JGram – I’d suggest a thermos. Granted, the seal will still be plastic, but at least you’re minimizing the amount and it can keep a cold drink cool during a heatwave, or you can send some hot soup and it will still be hot at lunchtime. Lasts forever, too!

  10. Lisa Borden June 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    No plastic straws! I use gorgeous and durable glass straws from http://www.strawesome.com – and please join TakeOut WithOut, the campaign to reduce restaurant waste!

  11. Nasha November 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Useless

  12. Joyce Brisebois June 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Makes you wonder how human beings ever managed to survive before plastic was invented, doesn’t it?

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