January 23, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Rebecca M, Week 1

Rebecca's plastic waste

Name: Rebecca

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I live in Denver, Colorado. Full time members of my household include me and 3 indoor cats. Part time members include my boyfriend who visits about once a week and 2 stray/feral cats who I feed and care for as much as they will let me.

I work from home doing graphic design/database design and other computer related stuff.

I am a most of the time vegetarian which means that I eat chicken a few times a year, fish or seafood a few times a month and dairy and eggs daily.

I see reducing my plastic as a bit of a balancing act, and I’ve got a few challenges to deal with.

Challenge Number 1: I have severe food allergies and sensitivities. I’m allergic to almost all nuts and seeds, as well as a whole pile of other things, and I can only tolerate limited amounts of soy. All of this makes my protien choices severly limited, and pretty much necessitates the inclusion of some animal products in my diet.

Challenge Number 2: My business took a real hit during the economic downturn and I’m now living on about $17K per year. That’s actually quite doable for me since I’m the queen of frugal, but it means that I’m often faced with tough decisions when it comes to spending more to get a greener option.

Challenge Number 3: My boyfriend is only mildly supportive of my green efforts. It’s not that he doesn’t see environmental issues as important, but he believes that the driving issue behind our environmental problems is population, and since we’ve chosen not to have kids he feels we’ve done our part. He also sees my “eco-guilt” as rather unhealthy, and at times it has become a real bone of contention in our relationship. Translation… I don’t push it where my boyfriend is concerned.

Total items: about 56

Total weight: about 9 ounces

Items: Recyclable
1 Vitamin Bottle #2
1 Vitamin Bottle #1
1 Cat Treat Jar #3
1 Chinese Takeout Container #5

Items: Nonrecyclable
1 – styrofoam cup (I’ll probably use this to start seeds for the garden)
3 – Lids from vitamin bottles & cat treats
2 – lids from styrofoam cup & Chinese takeout
1 – Birth Control Pills blister pack
7 – Breath Right Nasal Strips
1 – Plastic Q-Tip
3 – cheese wrappers
1 – frozen fish wrapper
1 – plastic seal from wine bottle
2 – plastic seals from vitamin bottles
1 – plastic piece from milk bottle top
1 – tag from broccoli
3 – takeout soy sauce packages
1 – fortune cookie wrapper
2 – plastic twist ties
1 – sticker from box for computer part
20 – plastic windows from bank statements (all the end of year stuff arrived this week)

I also didn’t include the 4 cans of catfood per day which are lined in plastic…

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
Ummm… the Q-tip. I usually buy the kind with paper sticks instead of plastic, but I grabbed the wrong box.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
I’d LOVE to get rid of all of the bank statements, but I’m not sure how to do it for the year end stuff. I’ll see what’s possible.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
The birth control pills

The breath right strips – I’m sure that I could significantly reduce my impact if I were to stop breathing, but I’m not quite willing to go that far yet! :)

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
Spending more money! Or rather, earning more money so I’d have more to spend.

I might be able to find vitamins in glass bottles, but cost might be an issue. I’ll have to see how the price compares.

I’m researching getting cheese from a local dairy, but holy moly is it expensive! We’ll see…

I might be able to bring my own containers for the Chinese takeout…. but this is sort of a boyfriend issue. I fear it might go over like a fat juicy fart in church with him. The folks at this restaurant also speak very little English and I’m not sure if I would be able to explain it to them… they have a hard enough time understanding that I don’t want their free egg rolls because they have pork in them… The truth is we only get take out once every few months… I dunno…

I could probably get fish in paper if I went to the seafood counter… but this is both a cost issue as well as a lesser of evils thing, since fresh salmon in Colorado has a HUGE carbon footprint, frozen is the better alternative.

I’ve thought about making home made catfood, but not sure I’m ready to go there yet. The cat treats might also be done away with if I could get Mr. Picky to eat without enticement…

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Chinese Takeout

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
There are always tradeoffs!

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9 Comments on "Plastic Challenge: Rebecca M, Week 1"

4 years 8 months ago

Hi Beth,

Vicodin… Yikes! That’s heavy duty pain stuff. My 20’s were a complete exercise in pain, but once I got on the pill (well, this one particular pill which has the right proportion of hormones for me) and got my whole crazy vitamin/supplement thing working, I’m nearly pain free. I do admit though, there have been many times that I’ve thought that menopause will be a complete blessing when it finally arrives. It’s actually pretty amazing when I think about it though. I’m 43 and still have all of my female parts, which is a record by over 10 years in my family!

Steph C
4 years 8 months ago

BC. Has a huge foot print. Its not just the packaging. But what it leaves behind in the sewage. Those hormones do not get filtered out. They affect our fish and our wildlife.
Condoms even get eaten by wildlife.
You could look into Natural family Planning and STICK TO IT.
I am NOT a fan of the pill. For a gazillion reasons.. But you said you had other reasons for needing it…… So….

You could start pressuring the pharmaceutical companies to package in small glass bottles- with a calender paper label on the bottle. Which you would mark each day. The seven pills you take while your actually cycling are nothing other than sugar pills. But you would have the same problem as you do with vitamins in glass jars.. a plastic lid.

4 years 8 months ago

don’t worry, I completely understand that your boyfriend isn’t actually a jerk. Beth wrote a good post about how our habits can alienate our friends and family (if you haven’t read it, it’s here: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/12/wanna-hang-out-with-me/).

that’s too bad about getting hit by a car! I make a point to wear a helmet when riding my bike, and I try to follow traffic rules and everything, it can get pretty dangerous. people are telling me all the time that living by my seemingly extreme ideals is not worth the stress that I put myself through, but avoiding plastic has made me see the world and the things we use in a completely different way, it’s been very enlightening and I would never want to give that up.

endometriosis is scary (suppression drugs and surgery are the only treatments, and you don’t want the latter!), prevention is the best thing you can do about it. I was wondering about birth control being dispensed at a pharmacy in a bottle rather than in the individual packs, and just skipping the placebos (maybe substitute with an iron supplement? apparently some have iron in them). that would probably use more plastic but it would be more readily recyclable. there’s also the Depo Provera shot which I believe also prevents endo, but it has a lot of adverse side effects in some people and when you get it you’re stuck with it for three months. I’ve also heard of doctors not recommending its use on a prolonged basis. there’s also likely to be quite a bit of plastic used in the procedure. as far as pain goes, I think that’s one thing plastics are necessary for (when there’s no other alternative)– relieving pain and suffering. and that’s where things like recycling and bioplastics should come in. just like Beth’s post about ADD, if you find something that helps you to feel better, it will ultimately help you in your activism against disposable plastic.

and I know about being afraid to ask about using your own containers and whatnot, but I’ve largely gotten over my fear (I’m more afraid to bring it up to my family than a store clerk). I used to make my boyfriend ask for me all the time and now I realize how rude it was (not that he minded, but I should’ve been doing it for myself since I was the one who wanted it done that way). but make sure you say things clearly like “I don’t want any disposable plastic” or even “I don’t want any disposables.” some people won’t understand, and I have a bad habit of complaining after the fact that they didn’t do what I asked, under the logic that maybe next time they’ll remember/understand, but be patient with people and be nice, even if they screw it up.

here are the two pet food bag patterns I found online:

what I want to make would be modeled off these bags:, which are sold at A&P and Waldbaum’s stores near me, because their size is excellent and they’re made of the same material. I might incorporate the idea of the handles being made from pieces of the bag in order to fully utilize all the plastic, rather than the nylon straps I was planning on using (I have a lot of spent cargo straps). both of the above patterns just use the bag as it’s already formed, but if you remove or cut the tape on the bottom of the bag, it’s really just a straight tube and could be folded into any size if you cut a flat bottom for it (which would take a bit more sewing). I think I may end up needing an iron to flatten the side creases it already has. I’m currently taking sewing lessons so maybe this is something I’ll actually get done. I’ll post pictures and the pattern if I do.

4 years 8 months ago

I am totally laughing out loud about all the boyfriend comments. Looks like I struck a chord with this one! I may try Beth’s suggestion of ordering takeout on my own with my own containers to see how it goes. I have never actually ordered takeout just for me… it’s sort of a “rare treat” thing and I don’t usually go there just for me, but it could be fun. It’s also possible that I’m blaming this all on my boyfriend when really it’s me who’s squeamish about the whole thing. (Moi? Use my boyfriend as a scapegoat? Never…)

In terms of the other takeout suggestions… it’s a bit of a balancing act. We’ve actually tried every takeout restaurant in the greater metro area (kidding – but we’ve tried a lot) anyhow, this is the only one that has something I’m not allergic to and something he likes… he’s worse than the cat when it comes to being a picky eater! We can’t actually eat in the restaruant because he has a very bad back and having the right chair is an issue for him, and I can’t have pizza because of allergies, plus my boyfriend doesn’t like pizza. Takeout is also not something we generally plan ahead for… anyhow, it’s never simple, but I’ll give it all some thought.

To be clear on my boyfriend, I fear I’ve made him sound like a big jerk, which he really isn’t. He just believes that I obsess about green things to a degree that isn’t healthy, and that I use it to avoid dealing with other issues in my life, and he probably has a bit of a point. It all came to a head this summer when I got hit by a car while riding my bike to the store. I wasn’t badly hurt, but it scared the bejeezus out of me (and him) and actually provoked a bit of a blow-out about all of my “crazy green stuff.” Long story short… I’m not sure I can “push it” with him, but I will do some research on hot food in plastic… science goes a long way with him. Maybe I can find some way of slipping it into the conversation how plastic makes the food toxic, and get him to think that bringing our own containers was his idea not mine! Gotta use complicated psychology on men!

In terms of birth control, I have actually considered an IUD before, but… I have 3 friends (yes THREE) who have gotten pregnant using one, so my heart is not filled with confidence about their reliability. The other thing is that the pills aren’t just for birth control, I suffer from incredibly debilitating cramps (which one doctor suspected could be fibroids and/or the early stages of endometriosis) so the pills are used to control those symptoms and prevent either condition from worsening. Plus, I have horrible migraines which are provoked by fluctuating estrogen levels and the pills help to control that too. So even if I got the dude to get snipped, I might have to stay on the pills anyhow! :)

The vitamins are likewise, not so much for general health, but to control my debilitating migraines. I may be totally nuts here, but my complicated regime of supplements really helps to keep me pain free. I will check out other brands that come in glass, but since I usually buy a year’s supply when Puritan’s Pride has their annual 3 for one sale, it would be a while before that could kick in.

And… Claire, thanks so much for the links on the alternatives to nasal strips, I’ll check it out. I’ve actually started doing a nightly sinus rinse which really helps. And amusingly enough, I somehow forgot to use a strip last night and I didn’t die or anything! It’s completely possible that I could do without them, and it may be pure paranoia on my part… anyhow, it’s worth considering.

More on cats and plastic next week…

4 years 8 months ago

Your boyfriend could get a vacsectomy…No more plastics…See if you could go to a nutritionist who could guide you in your food choices to avoid the food allergies and to get the vitamins you need…I would love the pattern for the bags…I think I could figure it out and love the idea…Try a small amount of homemade cat food…and go from there…Good luck…My family thinks I am nuts too…

4 years 8 months ago

I feel you about the takeout thing, my family gives me the same kind of disapproval. I look at it this way: someone I’m with might be embarrassed by my behavior, but it’s embarrassing to me to be forced to eat out of a plastic container when there’s a simple alternative that I’m perfectly willing to go through with. you sacrificing your beliefs and getting the disposable take-out container is the same as your boyfriend’s potential embarrassment over you bringing your own. we don’t want to cause discomfort to those around us, but why is our discomfort less important than theirs? they’ll get over their embarrassment, but we’re not going to get over our beliefs. I make this analogy a lot, but would a vegetarian be expected to eat meat if asking for a meat-free dish might hurt the feelings of a meat eater in the room, or vice versa? we will never get past such social stigmas if we don’t push the boundaries of “the norm” a little (isn’t that what we want, a society where it’s OK to bring your own container and it’s not some big ordeal?). when I ask people to fill my containers I try not to preface it with “this might be a strange request, but…,” instead I want it to seem like a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to ask. the only real problem with bringing your own container for take-out is that you have to go to the restaurant to order. (sorry about this rant, I’ve been brewing it for a while now)

and not that I want to stop anyone from doing something potentially healthy, but are the vitamins really essential? you said you have allergies, but is it possible to get those vitamins from the actual foods those capsules are derived from?

I would suggest an IUD for birth control, if it’s a viable option for you, but both kinds on the market are made of plastic and there is the issue of having a piece of plastic in constant contact with your body– so if it does leach out any chemicals that would have an effect on you, it would be a constant effect. but it’ something to consider.

I have no good answer for cat food (and this is what people always bring up when I’m telling them about not using plastic). I buy the cheapo plastic bags of food with the hopes of making shopping bags out of them (for anyone crafty, there are patterns available online, but I plan on making my own that utilizes all the plastic). when I had more money, I used to buy Nutro and separate the paper layers from the plastic layer, so it was recyclable paper plus a small amount of plastic waste that could potentially be recycled. I’d love to make my own cat food, but I don’t have the money.

for the nasal strips, you could try something like these sinus cones: http://www.sanostec.com/code/productinfo.htm or some other washable product that doesn’t require adhesive that will become unusable (here’s an article about different options: http://www.putanendtosnoring.com/strips.htm).

4 years 8 months ago

I know birth control is a really personal thing, but if it works with the rest of your life, you could consider switching to an IUD. They’re more expensive up-front, but then you’re set for 5 or 10 years, depending on the model you get. There may be a bit of plastic on them, and I’m sure they’re packaged in plastic before the insertion, but it’s better than the monthly plastic containers. You might consider bopping over to the Planned Parenthood website and checking to see if there’s another option that would work with your life.

As for the takeout, there are places where the takeout comes in more eco-friendly packaging than others. You could try out other restaurants in town to see if a different place would use better packaging, or you could always eat at the restaurant and bring your own containers for your leftovers. Sometimes, that’s easier because you can do it yourself without having to explain it to someone who doesn’t speak very good English. Or, you could always order a pizza in a nice cardboard box!