May 10, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Amanda R., Week 24

april plastic

I need new spice jars, and am having trouble finding any that don’t come with plastic shaker tops. Anyone know of a source for just the glass jars with lids? Lids have to be air-tight, so I expect they’ll have plastic linings; am looking for some that don’t cost $10 each (amazing what folks sell online these days).

Location:Tucson, Arizona, United States

Name: Amanda R.

Week: 24

Personal Info:

This is actually weeks 21-24, not just week 24

Total items: 62

Total weight: 8.4 oz.

Items: Recyclable
1 #5 yogurt cup – has to be mailed off
1 grocery bag – target will accept them
2 drycleaner bags – have to go with me to NYC

Items: Nonrecyclable
9 envelope windows
1 bag from inside the chicken with the liver etc. in it
1 piece freezer paper with plastic lining that venison came in
5 milk bottle tops
2 q-tips
3 seals from bottles
1 dead old produce bag
1 peppermint candy wrapper
3 clothing tags
3 #6 tasting / sauce cups
1 label off jar of popcorn
1 bag online clothes came in
4 packaging items from razor and blades online
1 other piece of packing tape
1 broken coffee scoop
1 sticker from AAA
1 deodorant
1 wrapper from deodorant crystal
1 lining from bag of coffee
1 dry yeast envelope
1 salad dressing mix envelope (plastic lined)
1 goat cheese pkg
3 beer bottle caps
1 tie from organic greens
1 chocolate wrapper
1 spout from vinegar bottle
1 magnet that came in the mail
2 wrappers from decks of playing cards
1 sticker off new credit card reminding me to activate it
1 pop-cycle wrapper
3 small bags, provenance unknown

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
The yeast has been mostly replaced with sourdough, though for some recipes it’s nice to have real yeast. I used to be able to buy this in a glass jar, but am now only finding single-serving envelopes like this one…

The label on the popcorn jar was unfortunate – but now it’s refilled with bulk popcorn!

The coffee tricked me – it looked like a paper bag; turned out to be lined. I know other sources that are genuinely just paper, so won’t be buying coffee by the pound from Ike’s any more.

Broken coffee scoop is replaced with stainless steel.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Stupid taster cups. One was from a street fair where I misunderstood what I was being offered, so that’s my fault; the other 2 are from a pretty nice restaurant that unexpectedly brought my salad dressing and sauce for fries in them – I tried to refuse the second one, and the waitress wouldn’t take it back :(

This was the subject of the letter I wrote for the glass dharma campaign (the place also gives out straws, though I remembered to make that request) – we’ll see if they respond…

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
– Milk bottle tops

– I got venison from my friend who killed the dear, and as I think that’s about the best way ever to get meat, I don’t begrudge him the packaging. There’ll be another next month, when I eat the venison sausages…

– The yogurt; as I get better at making my own yogurt, I’m learning more about how often you have to start with fresh starter – you can only take yogurt from your last batch to start the next batch for a few rounds, before the consistency changes (the strains of bacteria weaken, with each batch). This time, I froze ice-cubes of store-bought yogurt to try to make the single starter container last longer, so we’ll see how that goes; also started making kefir as an alternative, which I’m really liking – it doesn’t have this problem.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
– Antiperspirant. I bought one of the deodorant crystals, but it doesn’t function as antiperspirant; I tried combining with baking soda but I’m just not sure yet. (the powder puff I have to apply soda has started to smell like cat urine, which is ammonia; seems chemically predictable, since ammonia, which is in sweat, and soda are both bases; wonder if there’s an acidic substance that functions as antiperspirant?) I’ll keep trying a few weeks longer, see how it goes. Or while in NYC, maybe will go by lush and try out one of the bars…

– Might have to stop buying whole chickens, or just buy the ones that don’t come with their innards. But I really like roasting whole chickens, using the carcass for stock, and I get offended when they don’t include the liver and things because, dammit, a whole chicken should have all its parts! So not quite sure what to do there, except move to a house where I can raise my own chickens…

– Less dry cleaning? I’m going to NYC later this week and am taking all my used dry cleaner bags with me, as well as my collection of #5 plastic, since I’ve found nowhere to recycle either in Tucson.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I will try to go the month without chicken innards, greens that come with a plastic tie, and new yogurt purchases.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
– Packaging materials are tricky – much of my packaging this month was from buying a stainless steel razor (came in a plastic bag in a box inside another box filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts) and blades (came in a box inside a bubble-wrap envelope). I’m saving the peanuts for my future packing needs, and I wrote emails to both companies explaining why I was disappointed in their packaging, but
no responses.

– The two grocery bags are old ones that have been reused many times and are now in tatters. I will eventually need an alternative to storing food air-tight, when I run out of old bags. For instance, I bake my own bread, slice it and wrap in tinfoil, but I always then put it in a plastic bag before it goes in the freezer, to protect from moisture.

– Finally, can I just say, FIRST MONTH WITHOUT TOSSING OUT A TRASH BAG! I’m so proud of my worms.

10 Responses to “Plastic Challenge: Amanda R., Week 24”

  1. Amanda R. says:

    Heather, your website post on this is fantastic! I use some combination of Beth’s process from FPF, and but I haven’t been that careful about sterlizing everything; I bet my ice cubes are already contaminated, but I’m going to try again being more careful to sterilize everything first. thanks!

  2. @ Fonda,

    I’d be happy to share what I do, but I don’t think it would help you all that much. It’s a quite particular method that works well for me at the moment in my current, extremely unusual, circumstances (being practically bedbound and having all the time in the world but very little energy). In the past I’ve taught friends to make yoghurt successfully using a variety of methods and I’ve also used several different methods myself as my circumstances have changed. What they have in common is that they’re all based on using some technical knowledge of how milk turns into yoghurt to figure out a method that suits a particular person and their particular circumstances. That’s why I offered to trouble-shoot what @Amanda R is already doing rather than give her my current method (which happens to be based around using Easiyo’s special yoghurt-making thermos).

    That said, your question prompted me to finally write up what I know about how to keep yoghurt cultures alive. I’m a trained scientist (in chemistry, with a bit of microbiology along the way) and I think a lot of people’s troubles in making yoghurt are because they don’t understand just how easily other bacteria can end up in their yoghurt. If any other bugs get in your yoghurt then your culture will quickly weaken and become useless. I guess that in the ‘old days’ people figured out what worked by trial and error and then made sure that their offspring stuck very closely to what everyone knew worked. If you happened to contaminate your culture or kill it by overheating then I guess you asked the neighbours for some of theirs to replace it. These days, though, we know a bit more about what’s going on so we can make lots of methods work. I hope that my blog post will spread some of that knowledge a bit more widely. It’s available here and I’m happy to answer any questions about it either there or here. Hopefully it will help you figure out a method that will suit you well.

    Hope that helps,

    –Heather :-)

  3. Fonda LaShay says:


    Would you care to share with all of us what your method is?? We would love to know what is giving you success!

  4. Amanda R. says:

    I just saw these comments –

    – Fonda, I’ll let you know how the frozen yogurt cubes work out; I didn’t make any more yogurt this month.

    – Heather, I’m going to email you as well on the yogurt process – I’d love to know what I could do differently to keep the culture alive longer!

    – Beth, you did tell me about the cloth dry cleaning bag; I’ve asked the cleaners here if they would use an alternative, or if they could just leave the clothes out of the bag, and they just looked confused – they send the cleaning out to be done, so don’t seem to think it would be possible. They’re the cheaper of the two less-toxic dry cleaners in town, so for the moment I’m resigned.

    Also, love the idea of a bread box; a French friend I lived with for a while had a “bread bag” that I found rather cunning – it just hung off of a door knob in our kitchen, and seemed to keep the bread fresh for a while. My issue however is that I can never eat a whole loaf that fast, so I’m looking for freezer-friendly options. Lately, I’ve just taken to foil without the bag, and that seems to be working fine.

    – all, thanks for tips on spice jars; none of mine are in plastic containers, I’ve just filled up all my jars. At the moment, I’ve got a collection of little wax paper bags, which is what I use at the bulk bins to buy new spices, but I know they aren’t air-tight so the quality of the spices is going to deteriorate fast. I’ve searched quite a bit online but no luck so far; perhaps I will post a request to freecyle and see what pops up!

  5. Hi Amber, I just saw your comment about yoghurt.  I’ve been using the same culture for some years now and have never had trouble with it weakening.  When I lived for a year in Switzerland I kept a culture going for the whole year, too, so it’s not like there’s something special about these particular yoghurt bugs.  If you want to email me and tell me what your method is now then maybe I might be able to help you work out how to keep your culture alive longer.

    –Heather :-)

  6. Danielle says:

    Hey Amanda! For spices, I reuse old glass jars from pimentos. The tops are wide enough to get a table spoon in and I have different sizes. They also fit really nicely in a drawer. Write the spice on the top of the lid and it’s super easy to find what I’m looking for :) Here’s what they look like:

    Obviously, you can use any small jar. I have also used tomato paste jars. Though they don’t fit in my drawer standing up.

    If you don’t have any glass jars that you can reuse…. just google small glass spice jars and you’ll find what you need :)

    I personally think since you’re using the whole chicken… you’re being very resourceful by not wasting a thing. There was awhile when a lot of these challenge posts all had “stock” containers as part of their plastic waste. Maybe there’s a local farmer that you can talk to and get your chicken from them? Have you checked out Local Harvest?

    OH… and high 5 to no trash bags!!! Composting is so rewarding!!

  7. nemusser says:

    I use small canning jars given to me and buy spices and herbs that I don’t grow in bulk from the natural food store here – I use small paper bags to buy them and take the paper bags back when I need to refill..would like to know more about the bread box really – I have been using an old plastic bag over and over and over ..

    • Beth Terry says:

      I don’t know the physics or chemistry of the bread box, I just know it works. I keep bread in either a cloth or paper bag in there, and it keeps the bread fresh for several days without any plastic. Not indefinitely. And if you leave it too long, it can either dry out or grow mold. But it will keep very nicely for at least a week in the box. The box sits out on the counter, by the way.

  8. Beth Terry says:

    I have glass spice jars with metal lids, but they do have the little plastic shaker things inside. Better than storing herbs and spices in plastic containers.

    Did I ever mention Clothesnik to you? I feel like I have, but I’ll mention it again. Would your dry cleaner be willing to use this?

    Yay for no trash bags!

    Have you thought about getting a bread box? I have this one, and it works great. No plastic necessary.

  9. Fonda LaShay says:

    I would love to know how your frozen yogurt cubes worked out/are working out?? I am having the same problem. There must be a way to keep it going though, I just have not found it. I mean they kept it going in the old days somehow!

    And congrats on no trash bags this month!!