Responding to more of your plastic-free living comments/questions/suggestions from two weeks ago. This is fun because it gets me thinking about aspects of plastic-free living that I might not have encountered in my own life. So here we go…
1) Cost of Plastic-Free Products. Rebecca is concerned that where she lives, many of the plastic-free options are more expensive than their plastic-wrapped counterparts. For example, she can buy a 1-lb bag of dried beans for 90 cents when the bulk beans are $1.75 per lb. And for a family on a very tight budget, those amounts can add up.
Okay, first let me say that each of us can only do what we can do. If you’re stretched to the max with no padding, you do what you have to. And when any of us reaches the limit to how far we can actually take our personal plastic-reduction, that’s when advocacy is called for. That’s when we start having to contact the stores where we shop and the companies that make the products we buy and the legislators that regulate these companies and let them know we don’t want their plastic packaging. Our individual actions, while critical, are not enough to change the basic paradigm that puts convenience and profits over the health of the planet and its people.
That said, how many of us do have some padding in our budgets that could go towards supporting healthier foods, fair treatment of workers, and sustainable packaging? The reason conventional food is so cheap is that the true costs are externalized. Someone is paying the difference, and that “someone” might be the workers who are subjected to pesticides in the fields, inhumane conditions in the slaughterhouse, or toxic emissions from the plastics manufacturing plants. That “someone” could also be the other animals who share the planet with us and the eco-system itself on which we depend for survival.
What’s the true cost of our designer coffee drinks if buying them means we can’t afford organic produce or foods with less packaging? What is the true cost of cable TV if it’s purchased at the expense of our health? (Yes, I can talk, because I just canceled our cable last month, and I honestly don’t miss it.) What is the true cost of the brand new clothes we buy if they are made from petroleum-based fabrics or chemically treated cotton?
There ARE ways to save money by choosing a greener, less plastic lifestyle, and I’m planning a post on that in a few weeks. But when the greenest choice is more expensive, how many of us who are able to pay the extra price are willing to do it? Because when those who can afford to make greener choices do, won’t the prices come down for everyone?
Okay, off my soap box. Would love to hear differing opinions on this. But not defensiveness. I’m not judging anyone here. I have no idea what anyone’s financial situation is except for my own. I’m just suggesting a good hard look at where the money is going and an analysis of whether some of those funds could be channeled into greener spending, or not spending. My friend Diane MacEachern at Big Green Purse is a big advocate of using our spending power to make a difference. If you haven’t read her book or checked out her site, you should!
2) Packaging Waste in U.S. vs. Mexico. Read Tricia’s comment about the difference between packaging waste in the U.S. vs. Mexico. Just read it. That’s my only response.
3) Plastic-Free Eldercare Supplies. Ashley wants to know about plastic-free eldercare supplies like lotion, denture cream, bed pads, diabetic socks, etc. This is a good question because my mom is at the stage where she needs some of this stuff, but since I don’t live with her, I hadn’t thought a lot about it. There are washable adult cloth diapers and some washable cloth bed pads that, although they all have some kind of synthetic/plastic waterproof layer, will at least save the waste from disposables. So, I’ll put out the question to you guys: Do you care for anyone who needs special medical supplies, and if so, have you found ways around so much of the plastic?
4) Bulk Food Packaging. What kind of packaging does the bulk food come in before it’s put into the bulk bins? Amy says she’s seen employees emptying foods from small plastic bags and boxes into the bulk bins, so how is that saving packaging waste? From what I’ve seen, the stock for the bulk bins comes in much bigger bags than we would buy on the shelf. Even if the packaging is plastic, a huge bag of something is going to require much less plastic than multiple small bags. But stay tuned on this because I’m planning a visit with one of the bulk managers in the area to find out how various bulk foods are packaged.
5) Plastic kids’ toys. Leanne wants to know how to get around all the kid-related plastic without being the “no you can’t have it” parent. While I don’t have kids, I do have an idea. How about swapping toys with other families or using an online swapping site to find toys your kid wants and swap those s/he doesn’t play with anymore? A Google search brings up Zwaggle, ToySwap, SwapMamas, ToysToTrade, as well as instructions for organizing your own toy swap.
Our check out Freecycle, Craigslist, thrift stores or yard sales for used toys. While used toys may still be made from plastic, they reduce the consumption of new plastic overall, and that’s a good thing.
And turn off the TV. I realize they’ll hear about new toys from kids at school (and even advertising in school, sadly), but maybe if they’re not bombarded with advertising messages at home, they’ll be less likely to beg for every new toy that comes along. And even if they do beg, what’s so wrong with saying no? Okay, don’t shoot me because I don’t have kids. But still, I was a kid. My parents said no constantly, and I don’t think they lost sleep over it. I hated the no’s at the time and threw several hellish temper tantrums (some of which I actually still remember) when I didn’t get what I wanted. But they didn’t give in, and today, I just don’t have the impulse to buy every new thing that comes along. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
6) Natural alternatives for sports clothing. I’m looking into it! Hopefully will have some answers in a future post.
7) Alternatives to plastic fishing lures. What an awesome question! I don’t fish and wouldn’t have thought about this, but yes, a lot of the plastic polluting our waterways is plastic fishing lures. And there are several articles addressing this issue as well as one company that is making edible lures from food. Check out these links:
FoodSource Lures – company making lures from food
Or of course, why use a lure at all when you can fish the old-fashioned way:
8) Pantyhose. Oh my god. I haven’t worn or even thought about pantyhose in probably… well let’s see, what year did I get married? December 2004. I probably haven’t worn pantyhose since December of 2004 because that’s probably the last time I wore a dress. And that outfit is a vintage I. Magnin suit from the 60′s. I had to wear hose. (And yes, we had our wedding reception in a karaoke bar, and that’s me singing “Stand By Your Man” somewhat ironically but also somewhat not.)
I definitely haven’t worn pantyhose since switching to a plastic-free life. Pretty much the only time I wear a dress is when visiting my parents in Hawaii, and who needs pantyhose in Hawaii?
The reader who asked about pantyhose says that she needs them sometimes when it’s too cold for bare legs. So how about wearing cotton or wool pantyhose and tights instead? Or reserving dresses and skirts for the summer? Any other suggestions?
Okay, that’s it for me for this week. Leave your comments, and I’ll do another one of these Discussion posts next week.