The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
April 30, 2010

Plastic-Free Living: Let’s Talk

As you read this, I am away on a meditation retreat recharging my batteries.  (Yeah, my batteries are rechargeable.)  I’m away from computers and phones and all the electronic means of communication.  I’m trying not to think about how crazy my email inbox will be when I return.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what questions you have about living plastic-free.  Some of them might be questions I myself still have!  And knowing what is important to you will help me figure out where to focus my attention in writing this blog.  I don’t always know what I’m missing until it hits me on the head.  (Please be gentle.)

Before commenting, you might want to check my list of plastic-free changes to see if your question has already been answered:  plasticfreeguide.com.

Another question: What is the most important reason for reducing plastic consumption? I find that people’s interest in this issue comes from various concerns: personal health, protection of wildlife, etc.

And finally, what does plastic-free living mean to you?

For me, it means acquiring no new plastic, meaning virgin plastic, refusing to store in/eat food from plastic kitchenware/containers.  As you saw in my dental hygiene post, there is some plastic I am not willing to give up. What about you? What are your limits?

See you when I get back!

33 comments
RachelWassermanHershberg
RachelWassermanHershberg

Don't buy toys. It's a racket. Scam. I am a mom of four - get them a few dolls, a few games and a deck of cards. After they adjust, they'll take care of the rest.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Ruthie, I'll get right on it. :-)

Ruthie
Ruthie

Please show us a picture of your pantry!!!! .-= Ruthie´s last blog ..Every day is jeans day in May! =-.

Joanna
Joanna

What do you do for pantyhose? I don't wear them much, but sometimes they are very useful. I have some nice skirts and dresses I like to wear to formal occasions and it's not always warm enough here for bare legs and sandals.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hey Tanya, I'm working on a post today answering many of these questions, but I just wanted to leave a comment here about the Jurlique sunscreen. I looked it up online, and it contains Oxybenzone, which is ranked as highly hazardous on EWG's cosmetics database. So I'd avoid it if I were you, even though I know you paid a fortune for it! .-= Beth Terry´s last blog ..Brand New Plastic-Free Vegetarian =-.

Patty
Patty

Another thought from me. Since the giant floating island of plastic has been brought up I was wondering about fishing lures. I know one could use bugs and worms but the store sells tons of litle plastic squiggly things to THROW into the water. Sure its supposed to be attached to the hook but really many are lost. I wonder if the fishing industry is taking any steps to change habits or materials. You mentioned how some of these biodegradable forks and things aren't degrading as quickly. I've now seen a credit card offer where 'the card will degrade within 5 years in landfill conditions'(or something like that) and yesterday I saw trash bags sold that are 'oxodegradable'. It said the bags were made of 100% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. Their purpose was construction/contractor bags so it seemed like they would be headed to a landfill. I could use some education in this spot for sure.

Canadian
Canadian

I'm interested in natural alternatives for sports clothing and bras for large-busted women.

Leanne
Leanne

My big issue is kids. I know you don't have them, but I do. How do I tell my five year old autistic son that he can't have the Fisher-Price rocket ship he's been craving for months, especially when he's due a reward for *finally* being toilet trained? It's so hard. The world of kids is one of plastic. All their toys are plastic. The packaging is plastic. Their night nappies are plastic. Sure, I could go to cloth, but then I'm even more exhausted than I am now. How can we, as parents, ever get around the kid-plastic-thing, without becoming the "no you can't have it" nasty parents we don't want to be? My kids are not spoiled, they don't get everything they want, but surely they deserve *some* of the toys they want, that other kids have! .-= Leanne´s last blog ..Old Man Willow told me not to cut him down =-.

Tina Clark
Tina Clark

chokingplanet, as far as dog poop bags, try: www.poopbags.com. It's the best way I've found so far.

Kate E.
Kate E.

I absolutely LOVE this blog and reading all of the comments fills me up with such joy to be among like-minded people! My biggest issue for plastic is food choices. We eat lots of fruits and veggies, but I've noticed that so many of them are pre-packaged in plastic. Some are easy to find alternatives to, like picking my own apples and putting them in a cotton bag that I bring to the store, but others, like berries are nowhere to be found unless they are frozen in a plastic bag or stored in a plastic clamshell. I think it's just taking the time, on my part, to find these solutions. I have 3 hungry little boys who eat a lot of food. Finding quick ways to get them nutritious food without extra packaging is admittedly tough for me. I feel like I should learn to make my own yogurt, make my own soymilk, make my own (add whatever convenience food you'd like here)....but I wonder where I will get the time to do it. I would love to know of places or companies that blend convenience with kindness to the earth. I know it's a personal responsibility to cut back and do without, but it wouldn't hurt to have some help in that dept. I remember years ago buying shampoo in aluminum bottles from a company called 'earthpreserv'....I don't know what happened to the company or the idea, but while it lasted, I thought it was great. I feel like individuals can and do make a huge difference, but I still find myself wishing I could walk into my local grocery store and have tons of plastic-free options staring me in the face! .-= Kate E.´s last blog ..Putting Little Green Thoughts Into Practice =-.

Amy
Amy

I agree that buying from bulk bins may reduce the amount of packaging involved but I am curious about the actual impact and if it isn't smaller than one might think. It isn't as if the food goes straight from the farmer's field into the bins at the store. What is the food put into during all the intermediate steps? I've seen the store employees emptying cardboard boxes full of plastic bags and foil pouches into bulk bins. Some of these packages don't seem that much bigger than what you might find if you shopped at Costco and bought the 4 pound bag of nuts. And what does the store do with the packages that the bulk foods come in. I'm sure they aren't reusing them like I might if I buy a glass package. Maybe we can all feel good about not having food containers to recycle because really we are just transferring that step to the store... Anyway, you are the only blogger that really gives a fair and balanced looked at the issues and I am curious what your reporting skills would turn up regarding this one. Thanks for all the work you do. Hope your retreat was refreshing.

Ashley
Ashley

The one area I'm really clueless about is in regards to medical supplies. I realize that I can't have Grandma's prescriptions refilled in my own glass jar, but there is still a lot of plastic involved in caregiving. The only thing I really know to do is to find alternatives for the supplemental items (non-prescription miscellany like lotion, denture cream, bed pads...diabetic socks).

Tricia
Tricia

Hi Beth, I was turned on to your blog just this morning when I was lamenting to a friend that I was in reverse culture shock after returning to the US from rural beachy Mexico after many, many months abroad. We had run into the Whole Foods for "a few things" and I first walked the aisles gazing at all the choices. I was recalling times that I would have loved this kind of sauce or soap or cheese. My excitement turned to a strange, overwhelming sadness when it seemed all I could see were items in plastic. It was everywhere. I started to deeply miss the old man walking the beach daily selling pure coconut oil in reused salsa bottles. Or the woman standing on the corner of the main plaza selling banana leaf wrapped queso fresco out a basket. Don't get me wrong, I know that there is a lot of plastic use in Mexico. Many times I thought I would have perished if the corner store had not had a cold plastic bottle of water. But all those plastic bags and water bottles still haven't caught up with the everyday folks who buy whole foods from the farmer off the back of his pickup or the waitress that runs after you if you walk off with a returnable beer bottle. The difference is - these returnable or durable items are valued in society. Vendors make it easy and a normal way of doing business. Propane tanks for cooking are used in returnable canisters, home drinking water is purchased in large returnable containers and fresh tortillas come wrapped in paper. When trash pickup is spotty or trash cans nonexistent - you find yourself purposefully looking for no-trash options. Upon returning to the US I hadn't thought about all the plastic until it hit me right there in the store. I walked out of that store this morning with nothing but a feeling that there must be a better way. And after reading your blog I'm encouraged that there are options out there and people willing to support them. Thanks for all you do.

rebecca
rebecca

One thing that just eats me up is cost. It actually costs more to choose plastic free options. And for many of us on a very small budget, food stamps, unemployment, this matters. I cook from scratch for a family of 5, we buy tons of fresh fruit, veggies, beans, rice etc to eat healthy, simple meals, but when a 1 lb bag of dried beans costs 90 cents and the bulk is $1.75/lb, it adds up. I grow my own veggies when I can, but in WI, most things come packaged, esp in winter. And the local farmers markets are great, but cost twice what it does in the store! Super frustrating! Another huge challenge is having kids, it seems plastic is everywhere. When you have an infant you can choose wooden toys for them, but try finding wooden toys for your 5 year old! They want to play with what their peers have. School supplies, everything includes plastic, at least the affordable options do. For me I focus on Reducing and Reusing. I recycle everything I can, compost veg materials, eat veggie or vegan 5 days a week to reduce the packaging that meat comes in, and since our budget is stretched to a max anyways, avoid buying new plastic packaged items unless it is cost prohibitive, like with food. If plastic does come into the home, we use it as many times as we can before it goes to the garbage if it can't be recycled. For example, I have 3 kids in diapers. We don't do cloth anymore, as 2 of my 3 are disabled, and because of their age we receive diapers as part of Medicaid. We have made the choice to use the disposables because we can only do so much, and my day is packed as it is. But those diapers come in plastic, no way around it, so we use those bags as garbage can liners, cat litter bags etc, and I hold on to most to take to a local store that will recycle them.

underbelly
underbelly

What do you do when you throw a party? I graduated from undergrad recently (I walked yesterday!) and had a party at my place the night before. My parents brought me beer in two big growlers (basically a wine jug that you take to a microbrewery and get it refilled), but I was at a loss for cups. I gave in and bought the notorious red plastic cups because 1) I didn't have enough glasses for everyone who was coming and 2) this was a college party, and I didn't want all my glasses broken. So...what do you do when you have too many people and not enough glass beer cups? Or wine glasses? Do you bite the bullet and use the red cups, and maybe wash and reuse them? Do you have specific cups you designate for party use? .-= underbelly´s last blog ..Alcohol, Assholery, and Patriarchy at its finest. =-.

Clif
Clif

Plastic is a fabulous thing. We can make just about anything we want with it. It's the material of a million functions and that's why it is so hard to convince people to seek alternatives. So my wish is that plastic be as bio-degradable as possible and that it be of clearly identifiable types. The most egregious use of plastic is the bag - from function to trash in minutes. here is my collection of bags for a week (bike helmet for reference) and I don't use plastic bags. These are collected from the mail and found on the street or improperly dumped in the recycling bins. Hope your retreat returns you serene and willing to see 6,432 emails as part of the one-ness of the universe, to be carefully examine one by one. : ) P.S. How about that Gulf oil spill - will it be the 3 mile island of deepwater drilling? Another holocaust for wildlife - from plankton right on up the food chain. We are outraged when a single innocent person suffers injury from others or when someone poisons a neighbor's dog, but wildlife takes repeated blows from us and on we go.

Patty
Patty

I'd like to hear ideas on emergency supplies. I live I a place that has anual risks of floods and hurricanes. We have to store enough fresh water and non perishible foods plus have all the other first aid gear and charged flashlights. You don't want to imagine that amount of plastic in every house in America and I'm not even including the generator & gas impacts! I can go without a shower and 'camp' out without power for a bit but there are basic needs. We do fill the bathtub with water and re-fill jugs for hand washing and the like but I still feel the need for bottled drinking water (whether cases or jugs). Some backup info-we were without power for two weeks, my nearby in-laws were without tap water and power during that time. We both lost everything in the fridge/freezer (along wtih most every home in the city, don't try to tally that amount of plastic 'trash' either, it'll make you sick). Tips?

Sonja
Sonja

I'm not living plastic-free, but I am way more conscious of the stuff around me and I try to avoid it whenever possible. I reuse all the little palstic bags for vegetable and fruit shopping, I try to avoid food that is packed in plastic as much as possible. However, I'm sad that there are some things I cannot change and those things make me consume more plastic than I want to. For example, I tried shampoo bars, but my skin is tricky and I got rashes from them. So, back to the organic shampoo that comes in a plastic bottle. I'm lactose intolerant and all the lactose-free dairy products come packed into plastic. I had to live without dairy for so long though that at the moment I'm not willing to give that up. Just yesterday I had to buy a sonic toothbrush (major gum troubles) which was packed into ridiculous amounts of plastic and is made out of plastic, too. It can get depressing! Changes I did are: no more plastic water bottles, reusing of all plastic bags, making more food from scratch (like hummus), buying less candy, storing some things in little glass containers. To me that is important because plastic poisons the earth, the animals, us, and because it is made out of oil

Tanya
Tanya

Raspberries? Where do you find berries w/out the plastic clamshell? I've checked the Farmer's Market at the ferry building and so far no raspberries or blueberries yet (they did have strawberries). Consequently, I've been guiltily indulging in raspberries that come packaged in the plastic clamshell from Whole Foods. Also, checked Rainbow and no luck. :( As far as the questions regarding sunscreen... I did manage to find sunscreen in a glass bottle (although the pump is plastic). It's from Jurilique and is super pricey ($60 for a small bottle) but it smells heavenly (like lavender) and is super light with an SPF of 30. It's mainly for the face but is great for those fair skinned people that like/need to wear sunscreen daily.

Lara S.
Lara S.

Thanks to your blog, I don't think I have questions about plastic itself right now, except some how to get some products without plastic containers, etc. The huge questions that bother me come from the fact that I see plastic as just a part of the big problem of excessive consumption. It is useful and cheap, and it's logic, in a world that seeks to consume more and more, to use and throw away tons of useful and cheap materials. So while the challenge of us trying to cut down on plastic seems to be just finding alternatives that are as cheap and as useful as plastic, it is not long before we realize there's a deeper problem we're not adressing. First we avoid plastic bottles and bags, but as soon as we get into subjects such as food and clothes, we necessarily end up asking ourselves the question: do I need this thing? I frequently ask myself: if we all had an equal share of the Earth's resources, would this thing be a part of my share? Or am I using someone else's share? I think that realizing the problems caused by plastic is a great way to open our minds to other issues, like the ones you've showed in many posts: animal cruelty, health concerns, environmental education, spirituality. Oh by the way, congratulations on becoming vegetarian! I am too and love it. Good luck on your retreat, I hope you fill yourself with peace, and connect to yourself and to the Earth.

sari
sari

I thought about you Beth as I was shopping today. What do you use on your bathtub? I have an awful fiberglass tub that seems to only come clean when I use Scrubbing Bubbles. This means I have a choice between a metal can or plastic bottle. I am not sure I can go completely plastic free, but want to eliminate as much as possible. I have started to really watch my choices. Today I bought laundry soap that comes in a cardboard box. I use natural cleaning products when I can, as I would love to be plastic bottle free. If I could cut my plastic by 90% I would consider it a win.

greg
greg

It is so discouraging to see our world being destroyed by society's love of oil and its products especially plastic. Look at the oil leak in the gulf, a true disaster. Anyway I was on my little beach on Lake Ontario today and found a rusted out can of zippo lighter fluid, the can was almost rusted away but the little plastic top with the red part that lifts up was quite intact and it struck me I will pick it up and throw it away but it will be around for 1000 years or more! I am trying to buy less and have found ways to recycle plastic, for example I take home plastic garbage bags from a local rest. and bury the food scraps in my compost pile then use the bag for my garbage, at least I figure I am not buying any new ones. I got annoyed with the woman scanning my groceries, I had 8 cloth bags and she starts putting my brocoli and banannas in seperate plastic bags, I had to tell her no plastic, but I am thinking can't you see I don't use plastic. Anyway I noticed all the shoppers still using plastic bags. I have a new baby on the way in Oct and so far have found some nice things at the salvation army, I am trying not to buy anything new except the crib mattress. I did buy some Fisher Price plastic toys buy used and will pass them on when my baby is done with them. Maybe the high cost of oil will cause manufacturers to look at alternatives to plastic. g

Sophie
Sophie

I'm a plastic-novice, only starting out in trying to avoid the stuff, but one thing that's struck me is the prevalence of plastic buttons on clothes. i know you can always take them off and replace with non-plastic varieties, but the originals still exist. Or maybe that's just in the UK??

chokingplanet
chokingplanet

I'm not as gungho on plastic-free as I am on greatly reducing plastic waste. Certainly, making the choice to avoid single-use plastic (or anything) is the minimum anyone who cares about the planet should do. Eliminating that alone would have profound impact. Any ideas on dog poop bags? The bags are not allowed in the compst bin, so even compostable bags are pointless (maybe even worse) since it goes to the landfill. I've thought about using newspaper (the freebies that are left on the doorstep unasked for). But maybe there are other ideas out there. .-= chokingplanet´s last blog ..Banking on Children =-.

chokingplanet
chokingplanet

I found this method for making sunscreen at home, but haven't tried it yet: http://www.trails.com/how_5272_sunscreen-home.html . It calls for using plastic and discarding it, but I would think that it would be possible to keep a glass mason jar and a found plastic spoon specifically for this purpose. I would probably keep an old tube to refill for on-the-go needs, but the bulk would be better suited stored in a jar; just dip into it and close the jar. .-= chokingplanet´s last blog ..Banking on Children =-.

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

I'm curious about sunscreen too. I'm very fair skinned and burn easily. Once I got a nasty sunburn by sitting next to a sunny window! I switched to an environmentally friendly zinc based sunscreen that comes in a plastic tube. The other option is a sunscreen in a metal tube with not so environmentally friendly ingredients. Both options are recyclable locally. I prefer the former! Since I know two people who have been diagnosed with skin cancer going without isn't an option for me. I often use a paper Japanese parasol if I'm going to a street fair or something where I'm walking in the sun becauseI I'm not always good about reapplying sunscreen when there are funnelcakes in the area! My limit is sunscreen. .-= Condo Blues´s last blog ..Six Ways to Use Leftover Shampoo =-.

Suzy Q.
Suzy Q.

I guess this isn't so much a "how do you avoid this plastic" question as a lifestyle question... How do you deal with close loved ones who repeatedly refuse to "get it"? I don't mean they won't convert to a plastic-free life style, I mean they refuse to comprehend and allow what you're doing in your life. Do you have any? My mother in particular is maddening (for other reasons as well, but this is new for her) to interact with. Perfect strangers and most friends may roll their eyes and think I'm crazy, but at least they respond to my requests when they're able (no plastic straws at restaurants from wait staff, gifts that are delightfully free of plastic packaging, choosing eateries that don't use disposable plastics to serve, etc). But mom hands me bottled water, insists on eating with me at places that use plastic cutlery (they just throw it away even if you don't use it), and in general ignores the concept. What kills is she AGREES with it. I don't care that she drinks bottled water (I don't understand it either, given that she agrees with the plastic free concepts, but I won't argue with her), but she insists that I can't be plastic free when interacting with her. It's unintentional, or at least she says it is. I find it difficult to believe, but I also try to avoid exploring the inner mechanations of her mind. So do you have any close people with similar mental blocks?

Dana
Dana

Any ideas on how to get newspapers to be delivered without that plastic sleeve? (We enjoy the daily paper instead of the T.V.) I don't use plastic bags at stores for my produce or carrying my food, but I still have a mountain of plastic bags to recycle from our newspaper. They only drop the papers out of their car windows onto the sidewalk so the plastic sleeve protects it. Where did all the paperboys go?

Amy
Amy

I was at the beach the other day and wondered what you do about sunscreen. We're following closely in your footsteps, working on moving from garbage-free to eliminating plastic from our lives. I haven't done much research, but this is one area in which I'm currently stumped. .-= Amy´s last blog ..Week 42 – More on convention swag =-.

RachelWassermanHershberg
RachelWassermanHershberg

Don't buy toys. It's a racket. Scam. I am a mom of four - get them a few dolls, a few games and a deck of cards. After they adjust, they'll take care of the rest.