Over the past weekend, I was back home in Oregon to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. My mom has been following my blog, and she knew I was trying to live plastic free. She also told my grandma, who was preparing Thanksgiving dinner, about my pledge.
A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....
Great, this is going to go well, I thought.

I have a loving and supporting family, but when it comes to my environmentalist vein, I tend to drive the family a bit nuts. Heck, they’re still just adjusting to me being a pescatarian. Trying to make it five days without purchasing plastic or consuming food packaged in plastic? I figured I didn’t stand a chance.

I guess it’s a measure of how supportive my family is that they tried at all to get food that was plastic free. Even with our efforts to reduce, we weren’t able to entirely eliminate the plastic. Allow me to break it down:

The Jello Incident: The first night my girlfriend and I stayed with her parents in Portland. As per normal, the moment we stepped into the house, we were inundated with offers of food. Normally, I just politely refuse the food, preferring to leave with my waistline intact. However, I discovered almost immediately that my girlfriend’s mother had made an irrational amount of Jello. And by irrational, I mean ten boxes. Of Jello. I knew that Jello powder was contained in plastic bags within the boxes. Plus, all the Jello jigglers were stored in little plastic cups (thankfully, reusable) covered in Saran wrap (unfortunately, not reusable). I figured it would be impolite to refuse all the Jello, so I settled on having one of the cups.

Success at Breakfast: Most mornings over the holidays, I escaped with a banana, eggs, and pastries or rolls that came in cardboard packaging. Breakfast proved the easiest meal. I was forced to refuse to pick up my mother’s cinnamon dulce latte at Starbucks at one point, because she didn’t have a reusable cup. Adding that one to the Christmas list!

The Big Meal (a.k.a how I totally suck at Thanksgiving): I’ve never really been a fan of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Through childhood, I was content with some turkey, a few rolls, and some fruit salad. It took twenty years of my life to decide to opt-in to stuffing. I still don’t eat mashed potatoes, gravy, or cranberries—and now turkey has been replaced by salmon. In other words, I suck at Thanksgiving. So let’s look at where I succeeded and where I failed with my plastic pledge.

Salmon: Bought at a fresh fish market. Unfortunately, it was wrapped in a plastic bag, which I’m afraid was destined for the trash can because of its fishiness. Fail.

Stuffing: Comes in a box, but inside the box is a plastic bag. Fail.

Fruit Salad: Although some of the fruit (apples, oranges, bananas) was plastic free, the berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) were definitely packaged in plastic. Fail.

Jeesh…I’m not doing very good, am I?

Bread Rolls: Finally, success! These came wrapped in foil from the catering that also delivered our pies. Win.

Beer and Wine: The wine cork was real cork, as opposed to plastic (the virtues of plastic over the endangered cork tree are another issue entirely). However, the beer bottle lids have a little plastic seal, which makes them not entirely plastic free. Fail-ish.

Olives: A guilty Thanksgiving pleasure of mine—and one that comes in a BPA lined can. Fail. At least I’m in good company, since Beth Terry—my plastic free heroine—recently posted a confession regarding these subtle and sinister plastic-lined metallic villains.

Pie and Ice Cream: This came from a catering service, which delivered the pie in a plastic-free box. Was the pie made from ingredients that came in plastic? Probably. I guess I can’t have your cake pie and eat it too. The ice cream container didn’t have any plastic windows, so that was a plus. I’m a little suspicious of ice cream containers though. The cardboard is suspiciously durable. Plastic perhaps?

Lunches etc.: I have to give kudos to my mom on this one, and not just ’cause she’s my mother. She dug up a recipe for these focaccia-bread-like creations that included freshly minced vegetables, cream cheese, and salad dressing. A bizarre combination, to be sure, but also one that was utterly delicious and plastic free—or so she assured me. She also made chocolate chip cookies that, with the exception of the chocolate chips, came from plastic-free baking goods. It got me to thinking that chocolate chip cookies are actually great plastic-free goodies, if you buy the chocolate chips in bulk. That’s probably a post for another time, though.

Conclusion?

Traveling while living plastic free is hard. Add to that trying not to offend your family, or your significant other’s family, and it becomes an even greater challenge. I learned a lot from the weekend. The best part was having a conversation with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and even my grandparents about my pledge off plastic. It made them think about their habits, and it changed the interaction from me preaching to them about environmental degradation to us having a constructive conversation.

When was the last time you talked to your family about reducing waste?

Okay, so I’ll say this upfront: I’m probably going to take some shit for not thinking about this fact before starting my pledge off plastic:

Most clothing has plastic in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t go clothing shopping very often—maybe once or twice per year. As a result, I don’t tend to think about these things, which leads me to how this realization came crashing down on me.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at Subway buying my normal sandwich before class. I was very specific in asking the sandwich-maker to not give me a bag, which led him to ask, “why?” He had scraggly hair and a half-dozen piercings. He seemed like a bit of a hippy, so I decided to explain that I had pledged off plastic for 90 days, which included plastic bags.

“Well what’s your coat made of?” he retorted.

I was wearing my favorite Kenneth Coal wool jacket. (I got it as a present, before I knew what a jackass Kenneth Cole was; see here if you don’t know what I mean).

I stuttered a bit and then mumbled that things I bought before the start of the pledge didn’t count. If that were the case, I’d be running around in the same two or three shirts that are 100% cotton or wool (and don’t have any synthetic threads or tags). The fact is that most manufactured clothing has plastic somewhere in it.

That being said, it got me to thinking about some strategies for buying plastic free clothing if I were to buy clothing more than once or twice per year.

Men Shopping for Clothing Accessories

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

  • Choose cotton, wool, or hemp instead of synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester, and orlon.
  • Buy second-hand: This is a good practice for reducing your environmental footprint, regardless of whether you’re reducing plastic or not.
  • Make your own clothes. (Unlikely for me, but if you know someone who sews, pay them or trade them services to help out).

Underwear is a bit more of a challenge, and one that probably won’t come up during my 3-month pledge. However, My Plastic Free Life has some great recommendations for eco-friendly, plastic-lite undies.

One bright note is that a lot of companies are now created synthetic fabrics using plastic bottles and other recycled plastic goods. And although that plastic is still bound for landfills and oceans once the clothes wear out and get discarded, it’s nice to see a few clothing manufacturers changing habits.

As for me, this just sealed my fate as a second-hand shopper.

When I tell people I’ve gone plastic-free, I usually get one of two questions:

1) What, so you don’t use any plastic products?

2) So what do you do about X? (where X is some product we can’t imagine living without).

The answer to question #1 is simple: I’m only avoiding buying or consuming plastic products. I’m not about to throw about the plastic products I have. It’s exactly those products that help me with the answer to question #2.

I’ve spent the last few years building up an arsenal of objects to help reuse more and buy less.

This post is brought to you by the letter B.

"21st Century Fushion" fused plastic...

Photo credit: Urban Woodswalker

Bags: I imagine almost everyone is familiar with those fold-up reusable grocery bags at this point. It seems as if every event and non-profit is intent on sending you one of these grocery bags, right?  I have over ten. At least I won’t have to use disposable bags if I ever need to make a run on canned goods to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

These reusable bags are more essential now that many cities and counties are passing plastic bag bans. Sure, most of those plastic reusable bags are made from synthetic fibers, but it takes only ten uses of a reusable bags to make using it more efficient than disposable plastic bags.

eneloop rechargeable battery

Photo credit: liewcf

Batteries: Finding batteries that aren’t wrapped up in plastic? Good luck. I purchased rechargeable batteries months ago, which has made this dilemma a little more manageable. Granted, with only eight such batteries, I still end up swapping batteries around between my wireless mouse, my X-box controller, and sundry household items. I did find one person on the forums of My Plastic Free Life who said she found plastic-free packaged batteries at Wal-Mart.

Seeing as about everything in Wal-Mart is encased in plastic, I remain skeptical.

The battery brand I prefer is Sanyo‘s Eneloop. I’ve been using them for over a year and haven’t noticed any diminished charge time.

Light Bulbs: This one’s easy: candles.

Okay, just kidding. This issue hasn’t come up in my plastic pledge, because I already switch over to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which last like ten years. However, there are some plastic free options. Beth Terry over at My Plastic Free Life recommends Ace Hardware, where she found a 5-pack box of GE compact fluorescent lightbulbs that didn’t have the stupid plastic windows that most light bulb packages have.

For lightbulbs that aren’t your standard 60-watt bulbs—well, I’m just hoping one of those doesn’t burn out. Probably the best measure to reduce packaging on high-wattage incandescent lightbulbs is to buy in bulk, or just try to avoid them altogether.

Baking Soda: This stuff is great. It comes in cardboard packages, and it’s useful for almost everything. I could write an entire post on baking soda alone, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.

One of the biggest challenges with my 90-day pledge off buying plastic products is finding everyday products that aren’t packaged in plastic. I wrote previously about my effort to deal with toiletries and hygiene products such as toothpaste and shampoo.

And that’s going well: Three weeks into the pledge, and I’ve shifted entirely to using baking soda for toothpaste. For hair, I’m using a combination of baking soda and water for shampoo and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioner. I can’t recommend this enough—the result is healthier hair, fewer chemicals down the drain, and money saved. There’s extensive documentation on how to make the transition, so I won’t go into detail here. Give it a try!

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing today with a confession:

I purchased plastic.

It wasn’t my fault, though! In my search for a solution for purchasing toilet paper that wasn’t wrapped up in plastic, I found Beth Terry’s post on MyPlasticFreeLife.com. The site suggests buying boxes of Seventh Generation toilet paper, which when purchased in bulk come without plastic wrapping. I’ve been buying Seventh Generation for several years now, so it wasn’t a big stretch to buy a big box of toilet paper online.

Unfortunately, to my dismay, the previous link on Beth’s site connected me to a vendor on Amazon that was selling toilet paper in boxes that contained plastic air-bubble wrap.

The good news is that Beth has since updated the post with a new link, so in the future, I’ll be able to order plastic-free toilet paper. I just have about fifty rolls to go through first…

I suppose the one consolation is that the vendor selling the Seventh Generation toilet paper did encourage reuse of the boxes. And I set aside the plastic air-bubble wrap to use for future packages. Now I just have to figure out how to package up boxes without using tape.

I guess this Christmas I’ll be using brown paper packages tied up in string.

Being a gamer is hard when you can’t buy products containing plastic.

Especially around the holiday season, when all the AAA game titles are coming out.

A few weeks ago, before I pledged off buying plastic products, I pre-ordered Assassin’s Creed 3—the game I was most looking forward to this season. And it’s a good thing to, because if I had waited until after pledging off plastic, I would have been S.O.L.

Why? Because even with this “Internet” thing, and the whole “digital gaming revolution,” we’re still stuck with little plastic discs in little plastic boxes wrapped in annoying crinkly plastic wrap. The reason? Target and Walmart say so. Microsoft, Sony, EA, Activision, and all the game studios would probably love to distribute more of their AAA titles, such as Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed 3 through digital stores, a la Valve’s computer-only service, Steam. But if they started doing that, Gamestop would cease to exist and sales of games at the big box stores would sink.

The one consolation I can take is that those plastic boxes and plastic discs aren’t ending up in landfills. We gamers like to hoard our games (or trade them in for more games).

And so we’re stuck with little plastic boxes. And I’m stuck without any new big-name game titles. I’ll make the best of it, though. With so many good digitally distributed games out there, do I really need to fill my shelf with another plastic box?

Instead, it’ll be the Steam store and the X-Box Live Arcade marketplace for me this holiday season. The more games we buy there, the more incentive the game studios and game distributors will have to give the middle finger to

So, have any recommendations?

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In my attempts to shop for plastic-free products, I’ve noticed a trend among produce: I can either buy something that’s organic, or I can buy something that’s plastic free.

I first noticed the problem at Fred Meyer during the first week of my pledge off plastic. There, I found that both organic options for carrots had plastic. The carrots were either bagged in plastic, or they had plastic tags. The same was true of broccoli. The organic stuff had plastic tags, forcing me to buy the non-organic option. Even the organic bananas had plastic wrapping around the stems, whereas the non-organic option didn’t.

I thought maybe it was a fluke. Whole Foods would surely have more options. And for the most part, that was true. With a few exceptions, most of the produce had plastic free options, though a despairing amount still had plastic stickers. As an aside, this time of season, it’s nearly impossible to find fruit that doesn’t have those little plastic-y stickers indicating what type of fruit, and whether or not it’s organic. The stickers seem to have some kind of plastic coating to resist water (which actually raises a good question about whether something is really organic if it’s had adhesive on it). Anyway, produce trip to Whole Foods: Success!

Well, almost. I did encounter one more example of having to choose between plastic and organic. The only option so far I’ve found for out-of-season frozen berries is Stahlbush Island Farms, which makes a 100% biodegradable paper-like packaging for its non-GMO berries—note that these are non-GMO, but they’re not certified organic. Blast! I ended up buying them anyway, because I missed having smoothies, and at least this way, I could keep eating berries.

My girlfriend pointed out that some of the non-organic stuff—both frozen and fresh—might come in plastic bags in order to preserve freshness. Since the non-organic fruits and vegetables have preservatives to keep them fresh, it’s less necessary to rely on sealing them up. Between trying to eat organic and trying not to use plastic, I’m just glad I’m not vegan, because I don’t think there’d be much left to eat.

Jack-o-lantern

I had big plans for Halloween this year—not for what I was going to wear (I already figured that out), but for what I was going to buy after Halloween was over.

I’m dazzled by all the cool stuff in those Halloween superstores. They’ve got costumes, and makeup, and props, all of which is unavailable or expensive during most of the year. So this year, as I was walkin through the aisles—prior to starting my pledge off plastic—I said, this is the year I’m going to splurge. After Halloween is over, I’m going to clean out a bunch of the clearance in preparation for throwing a Halloween extravaganza next year.

‘Twas not to be. Virtually everything at those Halloween stores contains plastic. The props are made almost entirely of plastic. The costumes have all kinds of synthetic fibers. The smaller stuff, like costume makeup, comes in plastic containers. It’s a lot of plastic.

And all this plastic got me to thinking: Where does all this stuff go once Halloween is over? For consumers, it’s probably bound fo the closet, never to be worn again until eventually donated to Goodwill. What do stores do with all the Halloween stuff, though?

I did a little searching online, but I couldn’t find anything about what stores like Spirit and Halloween Express do with all their costumes. I suppose the same is true of any other holiday supplies, like those for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You’d think it’s in the interest of stores to sell that stuff, but I have a sneaking suspicion that much of it is just thrown away or incinerated. It’s expensive to ship products back to a warehouse and pay to store them for a year.

And then there’s all that candy. One of my coworkers keeps a basket of mixed candy outside his desk, and, for better or worse, I’ve had to give it up. All that candy comes in plastic bags, and a lot of the paper is coated in a thin layer of plastic to preserve the sweets inside. My stomach is sad, but my waistline is happy.

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be here, munching on granola.

There are already lots of bloggers who have written about how to have an eco-friendly halloween. The plastic coalition has a good list of recommendations. I think one of the best things you can do is just get the most use out of those costumes and props. Don’t be spooked by purchasing used costumes or making your own.