July 24, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Rachael M R, Week 1


Most of our plastic comes from food packaging – we do buy as much as we can from the local Farmer’s Mkt in the summer and grow some of our own food, but we can’t always afford the store options that are not packaged. We do try to buy in bulk in some items but they still come in plastic – how do we reduce when we can’t afford the other options?

Location:Portland, Maine, United States

Name: Rachael M R

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I am a 38 yr old artist, and stay at home mother of a 1 yr old beautiful clever girl. My husband and I think that we are conscious of our environmental footprint. We are concerned for our health, our babies health and our local impact.

Total items: 43

Total weight: 29 oz

Items: Recyclable
1 lb strawberry container
pint fresh fig container
pint blueberry container
pint grape tomato container
3 baby yogurt containers
1 vitamin D bottle
64 oz juice container
1 lb grocery deli/ olive container
tom’s of maine deoderant

(i did not write down the numbers before recycling, but my community recycles these options)

Items: Nonrecyclable
1 lbcelery bag
2 lb carrot bag
feminine pad bag (plus 18 individual wrappers)
12 pk toilet paper pkg
3-1 lb mushroom styrofoam + pkg
2 plastic 6 pack rings
vit D bottle pkg
1 lb ham slice pkg
1 lb hot dog pkg
12 oz bacon pkg
2 deli bags
3 sandwich size ziploc style bags
2 Lg ziploc style bags
2 milk jug rings
3 grocery bags
paper towel pkg
1 7th Gen diaper pkg
fresh basil bag
2 fresh vegetable bags
1 lb string cheese pkg (with 20 individual wrappers)
1 lb cheese pkg
2 cracker bags
2 plastic wine corks
8 multi vitamin wrappers
1 mandarin orange plastic net bag
2 onion plastic net bags
1 baby wipes refillable pkg
2 pint plant pots with plastic labels
plastic lid for olive oil bottle
plastic lid for red wine vinegar bottle
plastic window in fresh bread bag
2 bread bags
2 store clothes hangers
ipod shuffle usb docker
Birthday balloon
kitchen sponge

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
I could probably get rid of my baby’s string cheese addiction and go back to just buying blocks of cheese – reducing the packaging. I could try and find a brand I don’t hate of feminine pads that come in more paper options. I could focus on using our cloth diapers more often (I use them about 50% of the time) but then I would just use more laundry detergent (that comes in plastic bottles).

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Not very many. I already buy in bulk, I try to buy BPA free or corn made plastics, I reuse all my grocery bags and ziplocs that I do get.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Since most of our items are food and household help items, I feel that almost all are essential.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
I guess if I totally revamped my life to be self sufficient and grew all of my food, made my own soaps and didn’t rely on any outside foodstuffs. Or if we made a considerable amount more of money so that I could buy food more often, in smaller quantities from local markets without packaging.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I will focus on changing my feminine pad brand to a full paper option.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
I think that it is a shame that even organic foods (for which we buy most of our bulk veggies and meat options) come in plastic.

16 Responses to “Plastic Challenge: Rachael M R, Week 1”

  1. Ellen says:

    Welcome Rachael! I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re doing the challenge. We have four people in our household, and it can be tough to reduce the amount of plastic you produce, especially because you can’t necessarily enforce your own standards for everyone in your family. I get bummed out almost weekly about the amount of plastic we’re producing, but finally (after ten weeks!) I can see that we’re making progress. If you stick with it and just focus on slow but steady improvement, you’ll see progress too.

    One thing I’ve been doing lately is focusing on not wasting food, and as result, I haven’t had to buy as much food! It seems self-explanatory, but when you see it in action it’s empowering. And when you buy less food, you end up with less plastic (and you spend less money)! Tonight we had salad with croutons made from a stale roll that was leftover in the refrigerator — it was a nice addition to the salad, and there was no need to buy croutons in plastic packaging! It’s little victories like that, that are so satisfying.

    Good luck! I look forward to seeing your posts!

  2. Pheas says:

    I definitely agree with those who have said to use things up and switch to plastic-free gradually, item by item. That’s the way to go. I was *shocked* and dismayed when I did the challenge. I haven’t had the courage to do it again yet! Most of mine was food packaging, though for me, I would save money by buying less packaged stuff. We’re doing 30 days of whole vegan food right now in our household(no processed stuff), so that is helping, but I already put my back out with the lengthy food prep times, wah! Ibuprofen comes in plastic. :(

    (Still planning on looking into a personal chef, Beth, and I will report if we find one and give it a try.)

  3. Danielle says:

    Hey Rachael! I just wanted to tell you that I completely understand where you’re coming from… as a mother of 3 children and a stay at home mom… I 100 million % get where you’re coming from. This whole process has taken me such a long time and even now I still struggle with some things. I don’t think that anyone that offered their suggestions would expect you to change all of these things immediately… :) I, personally, offered what advice I could and eventually when you’re ready… you may use it. Change is an ongoing process that takes time… lasting change takes time.

    I don’t know if it helps, but I always tell people that I’m just trying to get to “better”… there is no perfect solution that will fit every person… we have to do what works best for us.

    High 5 to you for taking the initiative to take this challenge… and I have no doubts that you’re going to make some big changes… little by little… it all adds up :)

    P.S…. it took me 3 years before I finally committed to not buying plastic packaged bread. There’s a reason there’s the saying “nothing better than sliced bread” ;) …and I still buy crackers from time to time… this girl likes to bake… but I certainly don’t feel like being a slave to my kitchen. (besides, I’d much rather make chocolate chip cookies ;) )

  4. Maddie says:

    You might consider using wash cloths in place of baby wipes? Cheaper in the long run and you can wash them with the diapers.

  5. Rachael says:

    i just wanted to say that the Skoy cloths and the cloth feminine pads are definitely on my list! And i am intrigued by the switch to deoderant/ toothpaste and soap nuts.

    As an overall view, too, i think it is important that people realize how expensive it is to be healthy. We do try, really hard, but it is a battle. A battle of time and money (and sometimes those go hand in hand) – like, i can bake, but i can’t bake all the time and bread & crackers are constant staples with a 1 yr old. And i do use my cloth diapers (like i said about 50% of the time, and yes, i could get better at that, but it’s summer and she chafes).

    i sound defensive and i don’t mean to be unappreciative, because i truly am excited about this challenge and all your great ideas, but in some places – the plastic just builds – even when you work towards all these great things – my first goal is to eliminate from my food and body, then the rest will follow.

  6. Rachael says:

    Thanks for all the great ideas – especially with the feminine pads, sponges, paper towels.

    Many of the little things on this list aren’t necessarily weekly items (they just happened to be on this weeks list) so, i will find it easy to eliminate things like 6 pack rings and deli bags (we rarely use deli meat/cheese as we are nitrate free).

    But it is a shame that some of these options will be harder – my little store doesn’t offer carrots, mushrooms and onions loose, and i can do the math – the bulk bags i buy are certainly cheaper. There are certainly some choices that are good switches but most of the bakeries and butchers around here are more expensive (and in order to get specialty foodstuffs like nitrate free hot dogs/ bacon, i am stuck with Whole Foods). i can only buy foodstuffs once every two weeks – the Farmers Mkt for us is a luxury item when we can.

    The other problem is – we are on WIC foods and are limited to what we can buy (limited to specific brands and prices), and that is frustrating.

    But Fonda LaShay is right (as you all are), that one thing at a time is what’s making the difference…i am trying but man, “THEY” do make it hard! Thanks for the support!

  7. Kristin says:

    Welcome Rachael!

    On the FemHy front, have you considered a DivaCup? Definitely worth looking into… I’ll never go back :)

    For deli meats, if you bring your own containers they should be able to tare the scale before weighing your selection (so you’re not charged for the weight of your container). I’ve only ever encountered an issue with this when buying mussels from the seafood place because they “need to breathe” & cannot be enclosed.

    It looks like quite a bit of produce is bulking up your list as well. Sometimes I find that the way things are priced in the produce section for bulk vs packaged can be deceiving. $4.99 for that bag of oranges, or these bulk ones for 69c/lb? Am I really going to do the math right there in the store? No… I just choose the one that’s not in the bag. I didn’t get any apples this week because all the organic ones (which is the only kind of apple we buy) are sold in bags. I got berries packagless from the farmers market this weekend rather than buying the clamshells from the grocery store.

    I live in a small-ish city in northern canada where forestry is the main industry… eco-friendliness isn’t terribly welcomed around here, so if I can do it you can too! Keep it up!

  8. Fonda LaShay says:

    ok i am going to link drops abit here.. but I have written about these in detail so better to just refer you on…

    sandwich bags and plastic wrap – http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/abeego

    feminine stuffs, i use a divacup and love it! – http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/menstrual-cups

    for the laundry detergent debacle.. http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/soapnuts

    Some other thoughts to help, all the meat can be bought in paper at a butcher.. mine is actually cheaper the the commercial grocery store. And if you have the room they will work with you on a discount if you buy bulk. The bread bags.. might look into finding a local baker, then ask for it in paper or show up with a cloth bag.

    You will see over time that your count will start to fall. I know it must seem daunting now, it did to me… but you just take it slowly.. no need to revamp your life at the moment… just take one thing at a time. ie. when one product runs out, find an alternative and get used to it and then move on to the next. it can be abit much to try to remember a whole new life at once.

    A few more links that you might like.. toothpaste.. http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/why-i-dont-use-toothpaste then shampoo/conditioner (currently i use a bar of 100% oil soap since it is summer and sweaty) http://fondalashay.com/mintchilli/i-do-not-wash-my-hair-yes-you-read-that-right

    Good luck and welcome to the group!

  9. Danielle says:

    Hey Rachael!

    I originally started doing the plastic challenge because I wanted to reduce the amount of plastic food packaging that we were using. I tried to read through everyone’s lists for you, but I may cover some things twice (I apologize if I do!)

    First, my aunt just gifted me some Skoy cloths! They are Ah-mazing!! Normally I cut up old t-shirts or towels to use as rags, but I’m really enjoying the Skoy cloths :)

    Going down your list:

    Baby yogurt: Make the switch to the large container of yogurt. It’s the same thing (different flavor maybe) but not an individual serving. Of course, making your own yogurt would be another option.

    Juice: I switched to buying ours in glass. It may be more expensive, but what I’ve found is it’s not diluted. So you could add water to stretch it :)

    Carrot/celery bags: I choose to buy these only when I can get them loose or with just a twist tie. The carrots are easy because I can always find them either with the tops on or loose. Celery is so hit or miss (thankfully, I’m not a big celery fan)… though I do really like cauliflower and I haven’t had any in such a long time because it comes wrapped in plastic. (boo!)

    Mushrooms: Take your own produce bag and buy them loose. I think they tend to be fresher… and I think they are cheaper when you buy them loose as well :)
    Deli/olive container: If you’re filling it yourself, you could save the one you have and reuse it. (I’d tell you to take your own glass container, but if you’re grocery store is like mine they don’t tare the container)

    6 pack rings: This is easy. Just buy whatever comes in a six pack ring in a box instead ;)

    Deli/ziplock bags: Back when I first started reducing my plastic waste and I bought lunch meats from the deli, I tried to get my grocery store to use my own container. They wouldn’t. So I washed out the deli bags and would save them to reuse. It helped me cut my addiction to ziplock bags and now I don’t ever use them.

    Fruit/veggies in bags: Save the bags and use them to buy the same thing loose. :)

    Cheese: I recently bought and entire wheel of cheese. I shredded some, and cubed some…. froze a portion and left some fresh. The cubes have worked great for an easy and convenient snack for my three kids to replace string cheese :)

    Crackers: Super convenient to buy… but you can make them at home. Beth has blogged about the Wheat Thins from Kitchen Stewardship… her “Healthy Snacks To Go” is where the recipe is… and it’s really good! I’ve also made “Ritz” crackers which turned out really really yummy: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2011/03/plastic-free-ritz-crackers.html

    Bread: It took me a LONG time to commit to not buying plastic packaged bread… it’s so darn convenient!! From time to time, I make my own… but most often I hit up a local bakery. They’re super helpful and are always happy to not put my bread in plastic. For days when I don’t have the time to get to the bakery and don’t feel like making bread, I make homemade tortillas. With the tortillas we make quesadillas, pb&j roll ups, pizza and really use them for anything we would normally use bread for. If you’d like to make homemade tortillas, I have the recipe I use posted here: http://itstartswithme-danielle.blogspot.com/2011/07/homemade-plastic-free-tortillas.html

    Also, I didn’t see it on your list… but you mentioned soaps? I use Dr. Bronner’s for showering/bathing and even shaving :) For shampoo, I use Chagrin Valley. Chagrin Valley shampoo bars are amazing and I haven’t even used conditioner since January! :)

    …and a mention about spending more $$. As you begin to eliminate plastic packaged foods, you will no doubt find that you’re saving $$. I used to spend somewhere around $200-300 on each grocery trip (usually every week to week and a half). Now buying in bulk, relying heavily on the farmers market and making our own instead of prepackaged has cut our grocery bill probably in half. :)

    As you reduce your plastics, if there is anything that I can do to help… I’d be happy to :)

  10. Pheas says:

    I’m sure as an environmentally aware person, you’ve already considered eliminating or reducing the animal products in your diet. That will go along way toward reducing plastic, as well as other environmental and health impacts. I just filled up several mason jars with beans, peas, lentils, and nuts at the bulk bins. No-plastic, cheap, zero-cholesterol, hormone-free protein!

  11. Margaret says:

    http://lunapads.com/ is another brand of reusable feminine pads. I’ve never had them leak through. I wash them in their own load, but that just helps make me comfortable to the idea, I’m sure it’s not necessary.

    http://ourlittleapartment.com/ includes posts about babies including cloth diapers.

  12. bpod says:

    Hi Rachael,

    Over the last year or so, I’ve adoped the method of using up existing items packaged in plastic (like shampoos, liquid soaps, etc.) and when I go to replace them, sought non-plastic alternatives, one item at a time. I still have a ways to go, but so far all of the alternatives have stuck and I do believe that the slow and steady approach was a key factor.

    Of our shared items on your list, here’s what has worked for me.

    Deodorant: inspired by beth’s post http://myplasticfreelife.com/2008/03/update-3-soap-and-shampoo-and-deodorant/ I switched to baking soda/corn starch (2:1 ratio for me, YMMV). This is one of those happy instances where the non-plastic alternative is *vastly* superior to the non, IMHO.

    Carrots, mushrooms, onions: all of these are sold loose in my grocery store, and I bring my own re-usable produce bags for these or any other loose produce. These also tend to be cheaper than their plastic packaged counterparts.

    Ham slices: at my market, if you go to the deli counter for sliced meats they’ll wrap it in waxed paper and paper tape, and I decline any additional plastic bag.

    Feminine pads: I made my own flannel pads (or you can buy reusables made by others online), which are perfect for light-to-medium days, or heavy days when I’m at home. I still use plastic pads for heavy days when I’m out and about and am considering a menstrual cup as an alternative for that, but this step alone has drastically reduced the number of plastic pads I use each month (usually 1-3 pads per cycle).

    Ziploc bags: you can search for “reusable sandwich bags” for tons of options here – either patterns for making your own, or sellers of ready-made versions. I also use reusable containers/jars/bento boxes for toting sandwiches, snacks, or other small items.

    Paper towels: ditto on using rags instead of disposable towels. I use washcloths for counters and surfaces and ripped up old t-shirt rags for really dirty/icky stuff, and a pail in the laundry room to hold soiled rags until wash day.

    Plant pots: you can start your plants from seed instead; I use old paper egg cartons and toilet paper tubes as starter pots (http://chickensintheroad.com/house/garden/how-to-make-biodegradable-seed-starter-pots/). Takes a little longer, but much more economical, too!

    Hope this helps – good luck to you!


  13. marie says:

    Sponge – if it’s cellulose, it’s compostable, but cut it up first. I crochet them out of cotton. When they can take no more rounds of dishes and spins in the wash, they easily compost.

  14. Melissa says:

    I highly recommend trying mama cloth. I buy from http://www.newmoonpads.com and have never had a problem! I cannot stand the plastic disposable ones now. They just go in with the towels and such when I do laundry. Since you sometimes cloth diaper your little one, just throw them in with a load of diapers. You could also switch to a powered detergent that comes in a box instead of using liquid.

    Keep up the good work!


  15. Lori Whitefield says:

    Have you thought about losing the diapers? maybe a g-diaper or a swim diaper, we have some from iplay that we love

  16. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Rachael. Welcome to the challenge.

    Have you looked at Natracare pads? http://www.natracare.com They are compostable and plastic-free. Are they available where you live?

    I agree with you that it’s completely ironic to sell organic produce in plastic packaging. It’s great to buy as much from the farmers market as possible. Have you tried bringing fruit containers back to the farmers to reuse? At my farmers market, they love to get them back.

    I see a kitchen sponge and a paper towel wrapper on your list. One solution I’ve switched to, which I adore, are Skoy cloths which are made from cotton and cellulose, and take the place of many, many rolls of paper towels and sponges. We wash our dishes with them and wipe up spills. We’ve been using the same ones for over a year. And they are compostable. And they don’t come in plastic packaging.


    Regarding the clothes hangers… you can hand them back to the store clerk. They store should reuse or recycle them. Even Walmart will take back the plastic clothing hangers. And some brands will take them back. For instance, I just found out that Maggie’s Organics will take back the plastic hangers they use for their socks and reuse them.

    I hope you’ll keep doing the challenge and see what items you can replace. It can feel overwhelming at first, but just take it slow and see what changes you can make.