Sarah Schmiechen is a long-time reader of this blog and prior participant in the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge . She emailed me recently to let me know about some of the successes and challenges she’s had in reducing her plastic consumption, and she suggested that it might be useful/helpful for me to post profiles of readers and the changes they’ve made in getting plastic out of their lives as well as the difficulties they still face. I thought that was a fabulous idea and asked Sarah if she would like to be the first. Sarah was up for it, so the following is her post. I have added my own comments at the bottom with a few suggestions, but I’m sure you guys will have a lot more for her.
Recently, I was at an out of town family wedding catching up with my cousin April. We were chatting about blogs we read, and The Compact, and I mentioned My Plastic-free Life and how I’d won the Show Your Plastic Challenge. April asked me what I’d changed as a result of reading this blog, and my mind just kind of went blank – I could only think of a couple of things I was doing differently. Surely I was doing better than that?
When I got home the following week, I started noticing little plastic-free things around the house, habits that had become so ingrained that I didn’t even think about them any more, like the bar soap we use now instead of buying liquid soap in plastic pump bottles or the coffee beans from the bulk section in a paper bag.
It has been over a year since the Show Your Plastic Challenge and I had absorbed and pretty much forgotten about many of the changes I had made, but I’d also lost steam on making more changes or being diligent about some plastic-free initiatives I’d been making. With that in mind I thought it would be great to take stock of what I’ve done and where I still need to keep working. Maybe some readers out there have some great advice for me!
Some of the things I’ve done:
- Switched to bar soap instead of pump bottles. This one was really easy, I just had to buy some soap dishes and some bars of soap and I was all set.
- Stopped using Brita filters and started drinking tap water. Another easy one, just stopped doing it. The tap water here tastes just fine, so we’re lucky there.
- Switched to using cloth rags instead of paper towels. I have a pretty good system going for this one – when kitchen towels become too stained or worn for my liking, I cut them in two, and they become rags. I keep a cloth tote bag hung up on a hook in the kitchen to put the dirty rags in. When it’s time to wash them, I throw the rags and bag in the wash together.
- Bring empty egg cartons back to farmers at the farmers market to reuse. This was a suggestion from someone during the Show Your Plastic Challenge. It’s a great example of community helping each other out. I never would have thought of that, and it really cut down on some bulky items in our recycling.
- Joined a meat CSA. This meat still comes in plastic, but hopefully less of it, and it’s organic, so there’s no pesticides on the other end.
- More items from the bulk aisles of the grocery store. We’re not as diligent about this as I’d like, but theoretically we do this when we can.
- Use stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic. Like the soap, I just had to buy a few initial items and we were set. I bought Kleen Kanteens. My takeaway on them is that overall it’s great, but the sport cap is terribly leaky, and the ones that are painted a color are a bad choice for the dishwasher, as it chips off.
- Bring my lunch to work in the lovely cloth bags from Ambatalia that I won in the contest , instead of a cooler. I found in the past that eventually things would leak into a cooler bag, and the lining would break up, food would seep into the inside and the cooler bag would start to smell bad. With the cloth bags, I just throw them in the wash and they’re good as new. There’s no insulating properties, but I don’t take a lunch that needs insulation and the problem is solved. (I could also use our gross office fridge if I had to).
- We got rid of one car. I walk or take the bus to work. That decision was made mostly from a financial standpoint, but we do buy less gas and other maintenance-related items.
Some of the plastic I’m still using:
- Cosmetics: I’ve had really mixed success with this whole area. It’s a case of the spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak. I’ve tried going ‘poo-free, using baking soda instead of deodorant, and just using soap to wash my face. All of those worked okay in the short term, but left me feeling gross in the longer term. When I look in the mirror and my hair is lank and my skin is all broken out and I smell, my morale goes out the window and I have to run out to the nearest CVS and buy lots of plastic packaged cosmetics. Another thing I haven’t been able to stop doing is dying my hair. The gray starts coming in and it makes me look 10 years older. I feel guilty about it, but not guilty enough to stop, I guess. Any suggestions? Some things that have worked great for me are using a simple sugar-and-olive-oil scrub on my face once in a while, using Rosehip Oil in a glass bottle for moisturizer, and using soap to wash my face once a day at night. (In the morning I use Clean and Clear on my face in the shower).
- Diapers: We had finished with diapers, but then we had a second child. I tried cloth diapering the first time around with my son, and it just didn’t work for me. The diapers would leak and smell, even when clean. When my girl gets past the infant stage of needing a diaper every hour, I might work up the energy to try it again. For now, we’re just using disposables. We do use cloth wipes, so that’s something I guess. I know there’s a million options out there for cloth diapering, each with their devoted fans. I’m wondering if prefolds might be the way to go for us? We also use a lot of plastic bags to then dispose of the diapers.
- Almond milk: I can’t drink dairy any more (my nursing child is sensitive to it), so I switched to Almond Milk. As far as I know it doesn’t come in glass.
- Gifts: We have a very generous family and they give us a lot of presents for our children. Most of them are plastic of course. If I can get my hands on it before they see it, I’ll sometimes donate it or regift it. I did try asking people to give us less stuff (diplomatically, I thought), but at least one person got in a big huff about it, so I haven’t pressed the issue a lot. I’m also just as guilty of buying other people gifts in packaging.
- Luggage: This is just a random one that came up – when we got back from our last trip, all our remaining luggage had gotten damaged by the baggage handlers or just from use. I need to buy a new set of suitcases. Any thoughts on minimizing plastic there? (All leather Louis Vuitton trunks?)
Sarah, congratulations on your progress. It’s true that once a lot of these changes become habits, we just don’t even think about them anymore, right?
Here are some of my quick tips:
- The Reflect Klean Kanteen  is made without any paint (the design is etched onto the bottle) so it cannot chip off. And the silicone ring inside the metal cap keeps it from leaking.
- Soap can be very drying for the face. I honestly don’t wash my face with anything but water in the shower, and my skin is great. Other people recommend scrubbing your face with baking soda. Coconut oil makes a fabulous moisturizer. Other suggestions?
- I’ve had success covering my gray with dark brown henna. Lush sells henna bars that come plastic-free. Also, some bulk stores sell henna powder in bulk.
- A metal razor  works just as well as a plastic razor. For real. I don’t cut myself.
- Eco-Dent dental floss  comes in a cardboard box, although the floss itself is Nylon.
- I’ll let others chime in with the diaper suggestions since I don’t have kids. But I do have a section in my book  on diapers, soakers, etc.
- If you’re up for it, almond milk can be made from scratch. Cashew milk is even easier because you don’t have to cook it or strain it through cheese cloth. Hemp milk is another one that doesn’t have to be strained, although I don’t love it. Google for recipes online. They are there!
- Maybe look into secondhand luggage?