Archive for the ‘Tools and Tips’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

I’ve had a lot of conversations about my pledge off buying and consuming plastic products since beginning the project a week ago. I keep hearing one question over and over:

Is plastic really that bad?

Most of the people in my life make some effort to recycle. To various degrees, Seattle recycles plastic bags, bottles, tubs, jugs, caps, lids, food & beverage containers, non-prescription pill bottles, and plastic cups. I discovered in the process of writing this blog that the following plastic items cannot be recycled: prescription pill bottles, plastic utensils, corn-based compostable plastic (which must be put in the compost). In other words, we can’t simply rely on those little recycling numbers to tell us what we can recycle.

So back to the question of whether plastic is really that bad? Yes. Even if I recycle? Yes.

A fishing net washed up on the Olympic Peninsula.

At the start of this blog, I pointed to the trailer of Chris Jordan‘s moving documentary, about how plastic is causing the slow death of thousands of albatrosses in the Midway Islands. The affect of plastic on our oceans is more personal, though. I don’t visit the beach often, so when I do, I notice the steady increase of detritus that has washed ashore. This summer, I visited the Olympic Peninsula, where the coastline was strewn with plastic, from small colorful splinters, up to enormous fishing nets and buoys. We’re fortunate here in the U.S., where trash facilities and recycling have slowed the decline of our beaches. When I visited Costa Rica a couple years ago, I was shocked by what I saw. Deep in the rainforest of Tortuguero, where the beaches and villages were accessible only by river boat, the coast was blanketed with garbage. You could see more plastic than sand. And this was on a beach where sea turtles traditionally laid their eggs.

Trash-covered beach along the Tortuguero Rainforest.

It’s about more than birds and turtles, though. A New York Times article reported on a recent study, in which “researchers estimated that fish living at intermediate depths in the North Pacific alone … swallow as much as 24,000 tons of plastic debris a year.”

Do you eat fish? Then some of that plastic is probably ends up inside you.

It’s not enough to recycle or reuse. Eventually, someone will end up throwing away that recycled product, or eventually the plastic container you’re reusing will get old and tossed out. In my graduate school class this week, I tallied the number of non-reusable plastic drink containers sitting on desks. In total, there were 11 plastic bottles and twelve paper coffee cups with plastic lids. That’s equivalent to one in three people in the class. Fortunately, the University of Washington offers recycling receptacles around campus. Maybe there’s no real great replacement for soda and vitamin water coming in plastic bottles, but there sure is hell is one for coffee and water. Even before this pledge, I tried to take my commuter coffee cup with me everywhere. Starbucks even offers a ¢10 discount for bringing your own cup—although the company could promote this fact better. As for plastic bottles, well don’t get me started. That’s a blog for another time.

So, recycling is good, but asking for no straw, carrying your own cup, and buying low-packaging products is better. We should all aspire to buy less and reuse more.

Since October is just around the corner, I’ll end with a few haunting statistics:

  • Americans use enough plastic wrap every year to cover Texas.(How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Joanna Yarrow, 2008)
  • Speaking of Texas, scientists estimate that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is two times bigger than Texas. (LA Times)
  • 60,000 plastic bags used in the U.S. every five seconds. (How Stuff Works.com)

A caiman hides among the reeds (and trash) in Costa Rica.

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