From our plastic-free shopping trip today.
Last month, I posted about how my partner and I are both becoming overwhelmed by the proliferation of plastic in our world and our waste stream. In the time since, we've taken a number of measures to eliminate the plastic we bring home from stores and other places. As of now, I need some plastic bags for scooping the cat boxes. I use bags in all of the trash cans around the house, not just to keep the cans clean (which really doesn't matter, as they are washable,) but also so that the cat waste isn't the only thing I'm putting in the bag and then throwing the bag away. It makes sense to me. I'm beginning to think, however, that that's just silly. The less I put in a plastic bag, the smaller bag I can use, so the less plastic I am tossing into the trash each week. The trash cans can simply be dumped into one, central can with a bag in it. So I'm working toward that! Speaking of which, we are researching other ways to get rid of our dog and cat waste. More on that in another post.
After having seen a show on trash last week, which featured a segment on living a zero waste lifestyle, and then having come across this article, we have become more determined than ever to reduce and hopefully eliminate new plastics in our lives. We are not getting rid of plastic items we already own and are using, unless it's just to donate something we don't want anymore that's in perfectly good shape. We will simply use things until they are used up and repair those things when they break, for as long as we can. It would not make sense to toss out perfectly good items all of a sudden, just because they are made of plastic. (Heck, the laptop I'm using to create this post is plastic!) That would only compound the problem. Like any other well made product, a well made plastic product can potentially give you decades of use.
What we are aiming to do is not bring any new plastics home. The photo caption above might seem misleading, since the trip was not plastic-free. We used plastic containers; however, they are containers we've held onto for this purpose, not new plastic containers. Today's trip was the second shopping trip we've made with the aim of not bringing in new plastic. The first was last week, and was not as successful as today's trip. Our local store does not have a bulk section, and almost all of their organic produce is...wrapped in plastic. We came home from the store the other day with very little, save a few vegetables and greens. Today, we were able to do a real shop, and the only new plastic that came in the door was the seal on our bottle of ketchup. (I plan to learn to make my own condiments. It's not hard--I'm just not there yet.) We also took the time while in the store to explore and see what else we use at home that we can replace with something not wrapped in plastic or in a plastic container. Our options are fair. The food co-op at which we shopped today does not have things like bulk personal care products, but they have many other items our local store does not have. The store near where I work in DC, however, does have bulk options for personal care. What this means is that we will be shopping three different places, but at different times. It should not really add any extra burden. We also learned today that we need more reusable produce bags. If i have the right fabric, I can make some.
My partner has set up a "trash jar" for us. This is a glass canister, into which we are going to be putting plastic that comes home with us from the store--like the seal I mentioned above. We are going to do this for a year. We got this idea from the show I mentioned. When they were talking about the zero-waste family, the mother held up a glass jar--smaller than the one we are using--and it was only about 1/3 full. They said it was what her family of four throws away in one year! Now, with our having multiple pets, I don't think we'll be able to pull that off, but the jar will let us see how we're doing. We just thought it would be a neat idea to track it.
To recap, as of right now, the major area where I need to work on eliminating plastic packaging is pet care products. Because we have multiple pets with multiple feeding needs, I usually order online when I need more than one item. It's cheaper. Unfortunately, the canned food comes in cardboard trays (OK) wrapped in plastic (not OK.) What this means is that I need to get copies of my animals' prescriptions from their respective vets and take them to a local pet store, where I can just buy the cans unwrapped and forgo the plastic. In the meantime, I need to place an order, so that plastic will be coming in at least one more time. I also have two cases of food in the pantry, which are wrapped in plastic. The other area, as I have mentioned, is pet waste. I'm learning about ways to get rid of it without the need for plastic bags, but it will take time to decide on a method and get set up with it. I have found there is almost no quality dry food for dogs that does not come in plastic, and all of the prescription foods for the cats comes in plastic, too. A bag of such food (cat or dog) will last me about a month, and the best I can do is to reuse said bag as a trash bag.
I have about 1/3 of a roll of plastic kitchen trash bags left. I plan to use them up and then only use the reclaimed bags from pet food, litter, water softener salt, etc. and stop buying trash bags. I have a nearly full box of contractor bags in the garage. Those will last a very long time, because unless there's a major, major mess or clean-up, the garage trash only goes down for pick up about every two months, if that. I'm not worried about that at the moment, but I think that once those do run out, I'll do the same thing I'm doing in the house: Only use recycled bags. If we did not have pets, we would probably take months to fill a kitchen trash bag! (That's not an option, though, because I can't imagine my life without animals.)
Finally, we have started to ask the local restaurants we frequent if we can bring in our own containers for leftovers. So far, no one has had any objections to that.
Personally, I think we're doing pretty well, considering. We're not going to get it right 100% of the time. There will be times when convenience wins out or when we are stuck somewhere without alternatives, and we just have to suck it up. When that sort of thing happens, I tend to take anything recyclable home with me and...recycle it.
It's been a really interesting process, to say the least. I'm happy to take some extra steps and even a little added expense to do this, because plastic has become a really, really big problem, and I want to do my part to try and mitigate the damage we humans are causing.