January 23, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Alyssa Lee, Week 1

Alyssa's plastic waste

Name: Alyssa Lee

Week: 1

Personal Info:
Gender: Female

Geographical location: My home is in Stanislaus County but I’m currently a freshman at UCLA where I live in an apartment.

Housemate/relationship status: I’m living in the apartment with my older sister and my older cousin, neither of whom are taking the challenge.

Work status: I’m currently away from home for school. I spend my time studying, playing in the Marching Band, overwhelming myself with clubs and community service, tutoring for money, and pining for home…

Other: I’ve been on my green kick since August ’10 and have been following multiple blogs. However, since I was still living with my mom and didn’t really buy much for myself, I found it pointless to do the challenge, although I have been keeping all my plastic. Now that I’m fending for myself, I figured it’s time to take the challenge. However, as I’ve said, I’ve already been reducing my plastic use since August so this isn’t a true reflection of all my plastic consumption.

I’ve always been interested in crafts, so I’ve been saving them mostly for projects. My family hasn’t really backed me up so it’s hard on the tight budget we have (Three kids at UCLA + rising tuition… you do the math) to justify buying organic or non-plastic things all the time. Certain things I’ve cut out are indeed cheaper, such as my homemade laundry detergent, but things like stainless steel containers or wood cutting boards haven’t yet made the cut.

Total items: 13

Total weight:

Items: Recyclable
According to the City of LA Bureau of Sanitation, it seems most all these plastics “can” be recycled through the curbside recycling program but I’m not quite certain.
1. Plastic bread bag (#2/#4)
I’m not sure which kind of plastic this is, but LA Recycling says it is recyclable. In any case, I’m saving it to make a knitted grocery tote.
2. Plastic packing from tofu (#5)
LA Reycling takes all plastics #1-7 but I use these for extra storage. The plastic wrappers will be used for my plastic packaging project.
3. Plastic packaging from saltine crackers
I’m not sure what kind of plastic this is, but I called the center and they said they would take it. I’m saving this for my plastic project though so it’s not going in any bins yet. :)
4. Plastic bottle caps from soymilk carton and who-knows what
I’m keeping these in my bottle cap collection and hoping to eventually make some beautiful piece of art.
5. Plastic applesauce cup
6. Plastic packaging from Post-It note pack
The Post-It notes were a gift from my teacher since I’m addicted to them. I know it’s a bad habit, but I keep all of them and make origami out of them when they’re no longer useful. :)
7. Plastic cereal bag liner
Again, saving this for my plastic packaging project.

Items: Nonrecyclable
1. Plastic food bowl and lid from BruinCafe
This entire week, I haven’t really eaten anything because of not having enough time to pack a lunch in the morning. I ran into my friend who has a generous meal plan on campus and she offered to buy me something, but forgetting that it wasn’t at the dining halls, I ended up with this bowl for my soup before it was too late. I did refuse the spoon, drink, and chips, but I was too hungry to cancel my order.
2. Tetra Pak soymilk carton
3. Green tea wrapper
I loooove green tea. My friend bought me this huge box unfortunately, so I’m slowly using it up.

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
I’m going to try to stop buying Big Cereal and eat cereal in a box, granola, or oatmeal instead. I could also replace the tea with loose tea but I haven’t seemed to find any yet. Suggestions? I also could replace the applesauce with the large applesauce that’s sold in glass jars at Trader Joe’s. Maybe when apples are in season, I’ll try to make my own.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
I could easily give up the saltines and other crackers. I’m already working to cut HFCs out of my diet and enriched flours are next. I could also give up Post-Its since I got a lovely new phone which can easily hold memos, but these Post-Its will probably last me the rest of my life. I could also give up the applesauce for now.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Tofu. I really love tofu and I love the protein it offers. It is a bit of an essential food for me as a vegan. I know there are places like at Asian markets where they have tofu in open barrels of water, but I’m not sure how sanitary those are, from what I’ve seen. I know it’s awful, but I’ve been making good use of the cartons. I also need the bread and am so far unsuccessful at finding places where I can buy “naked” bread. Soymilk, almond milk, etc. are also necessary for me and seem to come mostly in tetra pak. I want to look into making my own soymilk, but I don’t know where to find soybeans. Suggestions?

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
I think I just need to be more prepared in the mornings so that I don’t go hungry and make a dumb mistake like getting an entire plastic bowl just for one meal. I’m often in a hurry and out until late with classes and work, but if I stay prepared, I don’t have to make slip ups.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Next time, even if I’m hungry, I’ll deny the plastic bowl or any plastic packaging for food.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
Although I’m finding a use for all the plastic waste I get (and having a lot of fun finding and doing different crafts for them), I still have a lot of work in the Reduce department. I recently found a small market where they sell nuts in bulk so I’m excited to try that out. There’s also a Farmers Market nearby on Sundays so I’ve been buying groceries there with the plastic bags I already have. Since becoming a vegetarian and then recently a vegan, it’s been easy to cut out plastic from cheese, yogurt, meat, etc., but also harder in some ways, since my newer staples like tofu and soymilk are much harder to find plastic alternatives for.

For anyone interested, here is my plastic packaging project, so far

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13 Comments on "Plastic Challenge: Alyssa Lee, Week 1"

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4 years 10 months ago

Hi Alyssa,

I think my containers are mostly Pyrex or Corningware, and I believe that Corningware just recently bought Pyrex so they may be one in the same these days. Here’s a link to things that are similar to what I use:


The only issue I’ve had with these containers is the lids, which are (of course) made from plastic! UG. I guess there are always tradeoffs. But if you’re gonna buy some, I’d suggest looking closely at the lids and getting the most flexible ones you can. I’ve had some problems with cracking, but over the years I’ve learned that it’s… Read more »

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

To Natalie (and everyone else):
I am shocked at how quickly and thoroughly people have responded to my concerns (in the best possible way, of course). You guys are all so wonderful and you have such great suggestions. Thank you so much, Natalie, for the resources! I spent a lot of time reading each review and you’re right – she’s absolutely wonderful! As you can probably tell, I write a lot and I enjoy being thorough so I really appreciated it. I just added SoyaPower Plus to my cart right now. Though I’m generally not for buying new-fangled gadgets (in… Read more »

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

To Jessica:
I’ve been trying to find a co-op nearby using the site localharvest.org. I will check there and see how that works out! Or as Natalie suggested, I’ll try to make my own. Thanks for your consideration and you’re still alive on kicking so I’m sure there aren’t too many bad germies in there. :)

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

To EcoCatLady:
There are a few microwaves around campus and that sounds like a great idea! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it already. Thanks so much! The only problem is I don’t have many glass containers. This weekend, I’ll make a stop at the thrift shops and hope that I can find some. In any case, they would be a worthwhile investment. Do you have any favorite brands to recommend? Thanks again!

4 years 10 months ago

On making tofu and soymilk at home, you might want to consider one of the newfangled contraptions mentioned here: http://realfoodliving.com/product-reviews/i-automatic-soy-milk-makers-overview (she has super detailed reviews). I was very interested in getting one of these, but I don’t eat enough tofu or drink enough soymilk to make it worth it economically. It might be for you though if you calculate your savings.

You can often buy the soy beans from stores with bulk bins, or you can purchase online. To make tofu, you need to buy a coagulent.

You can also make tofu/soymilk without a fancy-shmancy expensive machine at home (you… Read more »

4 years 10 months ago

We have bulk tofu at my grocery co-op and it’s awesome (local too!). I just bring a reusable container, weigh it out and write the tare weight on it, that way you’re not getting charged for the container too. I’m generally not too worried about germs either.


4 years 10 months ago

Hi Alyssa,
Looks like you’re doing great to me!

I work from home now, but when I used to have a “real job”, planning ahead on lunches was always an issue for me, since morning and I don’t get along real well. Don’t know if you have access to a microwave during the day or not, but I developed a system of cooking a pile of stuff in bluk and freezing it in glass or ceramic meal-sized containers. That way, as I was running out the door, all I had to do was grab something from the freezer and be on… Read more »

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

To bpod:
I wish I did! I’ve seen the large open vats (I don’t know what else to call them) before, but I haven’t looked around that much. I’m a pretty short drive away from Koreatown so maybe I’ll look around there and I’ll be sure to stay updated about it! And I totally agree! I can only have so many small storage bins…

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

To Jennifer:
Thank you so much! Your thoughts mean a lot to me. Definitely the best part of being in the club is to see so many people who are passionate about the environment and they all have their own outlets for doing so. I’m attending the Uncloak the Kochs rally on Sunday, we’re going to schools to teach kids about environmentalism, we’re organizing an Earth Day, we help to green other campus events. It’s so gratifying to be around like-minded people and to exchange and learn with them. I love the internet for that but to get it in… Read more »

4 years 10 months ago

@Alyssa, do you have any specific markets in mind for finding unpackaged tofu in Los Angeles? I also live in the area, love tofu, hate the waste, and try to re-use the containers (but there are only so many of those I can use–LOL).

4 years 10 months ago

Hi Alyssa,
I think taking the plastic challenge is a great idea. I LOVE that you’re doing this while in school. I graduated from UCLA in June with a major in Environmental Science. Go Bruins! It’s great to see others so passionate about the environment and going green. Good for you for joining the Sustainability Club and encouraging them to take the challenge! Keep up the good work and I’m looking forward to the next post. :)

Alyssa Lee
4 years 10 months ago

Hi, Beth! Thanks for your lovely feedback. I’m honestly not that worried about the germs either, so I think I’ll just take the plunge! I’m not sure what the protocol is. Do you just take a slab and put it in your own container?
I’ve joined the campus sustainability club and have challenged them all to join in collecting their plastic! Maybe we could try to do the investigation together and I’ll see about getting a story in the school paper! I definitely enjoy doing research about recycling and plastics and green energy more than my chemistry homework… :)