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Collect Your Plastic. Change Your Life.

Posted By Beth Terry On December 28, 2010 @ 1:36 pm In Interviews and Guest Posts,Show Us Your Plastic Trash | 23 Comments

Danielle Richardet is a Fake Plastic Fish reader and writer of the blog It Starts With Me [1], on which she chronicles her project cleaning up the beach near her home in North Carolina.  A couple of months ago, she and her family took the Fake Plastic Fish Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge [2], and took their weekly household plastic waste from this:

Danielle's plastic waste

to this:

Danielle's plastic waste

Doing the challenge, spreading out her plastic and really seeing it helped Danielle figure out what changes she needed to make in her life. I asked her to tell her story here. Of course, I’m hoping to inspire you to do it too. A 2011 Resolution? Here’s Danielle in her own words…

I made my first plastic-free change back in 2005 way before I knew anything about plastics. The first plastic product that I “gave up” was boxed cake mixes… and I certainly didn’t do it because it was in plastic. Nope… I stopped buying boxed cake mixes because I disagreed with all of the “things” that are put into them to give them a long shelf life. I had no idea then, but that decision would become the ripple effect that has changed the way I do everything.

Back in 2008, we — a family of 5 — were able to eliminate trash service at our home [3].

Danielle's family

We were able to accomplish that mainly by reducing, reusing, recycling and composting. BUT, even though we didn’t have much trash… I still wasn’t completely satisfied. When I looked at the contents of my (unlined) trashcan, it was nothing but plastics. Every time I would throw something away, I would say to myself, “I need to stop buying that.” or “why did I buy that???” I’d do that often and then I would remind myself of all the plastic-free changes that I had made… and I’d move on…. only to repeat the process over and over again.

Truth is… I felt trapped by plastics. Everything comes in plastic. I have 3 young children… how can “I” make less waste than we already do??

When I first saw the “Show Your Plastic Challenge [4]“, I got extremely excited and told myself, “I’m going to do this.” I even emailed the link to a few friends telling them that we should all do it. A week later, I put a reusable grocery bag in my pantry and started collecting our plastic waste for the week. BUT… it didn’t last long. I got a couple of pieces of plastic–coffee bag, tea bag wrapper, cereal bag, etc– in the bag and I decided to stop collecting my plastic waste. My reasons for stopping were varied, but….if I’m being 100% honest…. I was embarrassed that we created so much plastic waste. How could I share this with so many people??

I started having all of these “epiphanies” about things I could eliminate and change. I immediately stopped buying bagged coffee and teas. Instead, I grabbed jars that I had saved to reuse (repurpose) and I started buying in bulk. Of course, that eliminated some of our plastic waste. Before long though, I was back in that same cycle of “I should do this, I shouldn’t do that.” THEN…. I made a decision. The decision that I was no longer going to be consumed by plastics. I didn’t really know where to begin… I felt that I had eliminated all that I could… besides… we’re a family of 5… maybe we just can’t live without plastics. I didn’t (and still don’t) know any families of 5 that are living plastic-free.

I decided, though, that I would never know if we could live without (the majority of) plastics unless I did something major [5].

Through looking at our trash, it was easy to see that the majority of our plastic waste (recyclable or not) came from food packaging. I decided that I was going to do a plastic-free food week with our family. BUT… most people already “thought” that our family didn’t have much trash to begin with (we take a 34 gallon trash can to my husband’s office dumpster maybe once a month). I wondered if people would think, “Well… it’s easy for her. She doesn’t have much plastic waste to begin with.” I felt that it was SO important for people to see that even though we don’t create much waste to send to the landfill, that we do have waste… and that waste is ALL plastic. I wanted people to understand that we didn’t start from zero.

It’s difficult to inspire people when they think there is no way they could ever do what you’re doing ;) SO…the week before I did our plastic-free food week…. I made a commitment and took the “Show Us Your Plastic” challenge. I collected our plastic waste in the kitchen for one week. I cringed every time I added a piece of plastic to my trashcan. But with every cringe, inspiration was forming. At the end of the week, I sorted all of the plastics on my kitchen table and tallied them. (I also reminded myself of all of the things that would’ve been in that tally just a few months earlier.) I took a picture… I looked at my list. So many things… used for just seconds… that would spend a lifetime (and more) in the landfill. Then (in my head) I multiplied that picture by 52… it’s not a pretty picture. I wanted to lose that plastic-weight and make some serious changes for our family, for our community (less waste means fewer new landfills), and for our environment.

It is true that pictures are worth a thousand words. BUT… an experience… well… it’s worth so much more. I learned so much about our habits through collecting our plastics. Things that I felt that I had no other choice about suddenly became clear on how to live without. The second week that I collected our plastic waste, we did a plastic-free food week. The difference in the amount of plastics that we used in just those 2 weeks is something that I am so proud of… and by doing the “Show Your Plastic” challenge… it is a constant reminder to me (and hopefully others) that we– yes, even a family of 5– can live without plastics.

How We Did It:

During our plastic-free food week, I blogged about what we ate and how I made our meals plastic-free [6]. I shared recipes and links to help inspire others to forgo food products wrapped in plastics. It’s my hope that people can take inspiration from what we’re doing (just as we all have from Beth) and realize that we don’t have to be consumed by plastics.

plastic-free groceries

The main ways that I avoid food in plastics are:

CSA — I get a big box of vegies (and sometimes fruit) from a local farmer every week. Most things come loose in the box. Some things– like green beans– come in a plastic bag…. BUT… all I have to do to change that is ask… they are very helpful and will gladly put my “bagged” produce in biobags that I can compost.

Shop bulk (including loose produce…. carrots don’t need to come in a plastic bag!!!)

Shop local — farmers markets, and stores. I have many reasons for shopping local. I like that I can talk directly to the vendor or farmer and let them know my preferences. I don’t have to fill out a comment card, send an email or press 1 for the next available customer support person. For example, at the farmers market there is a farmer who sells goat cheeses. They come wrapped in plastic or in plastic tubs… he has offered that if I’d like to bring him some glass jars (labeled with my name and what I want) they’ll fill them for me!! YAY!!

At my local cooperative food market, I can call and place an order for my cheese to be wrapped in paper. They put it in the fridge with my name on it and when I come all I have to do is ask. I also like shopping local because while at my co-op yesterday I asked about cranberries (they come bulk, but they package them in plastic bags). Of course, I can call and they’ll leave some bulk for me… but wouldn’t it be cool if it was all bulk?? The guys I had the conversation with think “YES!!” Conversations are able to be started… like when I told them I do plastic-free food and he asked “what is that some sort of diet??” and the employee with him says (before I get a chance), “Yeah, it kind of is.” I explain that I’m loosing some plastic weight ;)

Conversations like these could never happen (or create change) in a big chain store.

Stay out of the aisles and frozen food section. I told my mom that I’ve started to view the grocery store as a landfill… because really the majority of all those plastic packaged products will end up in the landfill…. it paints a not so pretty picture….

Article printed from My Plastic-free Life: http://myplasticfreelife.com

URL to article: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/12/collect-your-plastic-change-your-life/

URLs in this post:

[1] It Starts With Me: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com

[2] Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge: http://myplasticfreelife.com/showyourplastic/category/united-states/north-carolina/danielle/

[3] eliminate trash service at our home: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2010/01/reduce-reuse-recycle.html

[4] Show Your Plastic Challenge: http://myplasticfreelife.com/showyourplastic/

[5] something major: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2010/09/plan.html

[6] what we ate and how I made our meals plastic-free: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/search/label/plastic-free%20food

[7] Image: https://plus.google.com/+BethTerry

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