February 2, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Sabrina L, Week 3

Just this week’s new garbage:
Sabrina's plastic waste

This is plastic already in use in our home, after the big clean out of the house and refrigerator:
Sabrina's plastic waste

Name: Sabrina Lutes and family, 2 adults and 1 2-year old

Week: 3

Personal Info:

See full description in all of Sabrina’s posts.

Total items: 48

Total weight:

Items: Recyclable
1- milk bottle (2)
1- mouthwash (2)
1 – shampoo bottle (2) ancient, haven’t used shampoo for so long now
2- mustard bottles (1)(4)
1- food package
2- produce bags (brought into our home, but we enjoyed the food, so they are included)

Items: Nonrecyclable
1- flour bag, arrowhead mills
1- frozen veggie
1- ziploc
1- hanger wrapper
1- plastic packaging for a shelf
3- chocolate chip bags
2- cheese wrappers
2- wrappers from hardware
4- meat wrappers
3- small ziploc from hardware
5- lids
1- tape shipping
1- wrapper from pie shells
2- yeast wrappers
1- dressing top wrapper
4 – plastic things from plumbing repairs
1- plastic toy wrapper
1- lid from yogurt top

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
There are two pictures here, one from old plastic after the great housecleaning, refrigerator clean out….most of these items I have already thought about. I’ll focus on my much smaller pile of trash that was brought into the home this week.

Yeast: already scoped it out at the market in bulk, will bring container
Dressing top wrapper: will begin making my own, tastes better anyway!
I will talk more diligently to my friends about their plastic usage and how to decrease it. Since I ended up with plastic bags because of it….:)

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Tried giving up plumbing, but it just isn’t safe with a toddler, we were planning on letting our sink water fill buckets and use those in gardening! ( made me start thinking of our water usage! I digress! Okay hot dogs we could give up, not that we normally even buy them, but had a momentary lapse of reason!

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Okay, so the plumbing. Although I think there could have been, maybe metal? Not sure though.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
So far, I’ve made a fool of myself in the meat department, but that only fueled me on! Need to be more vocal about plastic usage. Come out of my shell a bit. I would like to figure out how to make it a plus for people to go without the plastic and try things differently. Everyone tells me how hard it is and that’s why they don’t forgo it.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I honestly feel like we have purged or found replacements for most of the plastic we would have normally not blinked an eye at. I think I’ll try 1 cheese instead of two. I am being very pesky though and hoping to work a solution out with the cheese people.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
That this isn’t a little bit is okay sort of thing. There are just too many of us doing the same things and that it adds up to catastrophic amounts of plastic. There needs to be a paradigm shift in what we do. I am also seeing my waste in everything and slowly decreasing all of it as these weeks move on. I know, my pictures and plastic count still look so high, it makes me want to cry. That’s why I had to divide it up, it was overwhelming living with the past plastic usage.

My Question:
How do you get past the “regulations” or whatever they like to throw at you at the meat counter to get it into your own container!
I was seriously freaked after my experience at fresh market, you can read about that in week two comments.

23 comments
Amanda R.
Amanda R.

In response to Jessica's comment - the health code argument is something I've been wondering about for a while (being a lawyer and all), so I did a little digging.

I live in Arizona, so first looked up our state health code, and then in looking for comparisons with other states discovered that there is standard language that all the states I looked up use. You can find a good explanation of it here: http://www.foodcartsportland.com/2010/01/25/reusable-containers-and-the-law/

Basically, it says you can only bring your own beverage container, and then only if there is a dispenser that won't ever come in contact with the container.

I'm sharing because it helps me not to be frustrated with the server or cashier who doesn't really know the details of the law, but is sure s/he is not allowed to fill a personal take-out container - s/he's right.

I've seen Beth and others post about ordering food as if you're staying to eat, then transferring it yourself - this gets around the health code issue, and can help turn the server into your co-conspirator, which makes everyone feel better!

Unfortunately, the law technically also applies to grocery stores, which are therefore not meant to fill a consumer's personal container with any "potentially hazardous" food - which is anything that could spoil or otherwise be contaminated. There are exceptions for bulk bins where consumers help themselves, and for whole, uncut produce; pretty much anything else they are doing you a favor by bending the law.

One thing I've found helpful at both Wholefoods and other big chain supermarkets is to find sources of paper packaging in the store that I can suggest to them - the tissue paper available for customers to select a muffin; the paper bags available for buying bulk coffee - if they put an item (cheese, bacon) in these and then hand it to me, I can transfer it to another container myself (like Jessica did).

If you want to read more, the whole Arizona law (probably comparable to your own state) is here: http://www.azdhs.gov/phs/oeh/rs/pdf/fc2000.pdf

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

Hmmm... sounds like they're trying to go at it by adjusting the price after the fact rather than by adjusting the weight before the price is calculated. It might have to do with their software or maybe they just don't know how to make their checkout equipment do it.

The concept of a "tare" is pretty standard where weighing things is concerned, and most scales have the ability to handle it... even my cheapo postage scale can subtract a tare. Maybe it would help to explain the concept to them?

Sabrina
Sabrina

Yes it helps! Ahhh, why can't they do that at the stores I shop? I'm pulling my hair out because they want me to do all this craziness. I guess I'll keep bugging them about it until they decide that there are easier ways to do things. I think it's a matter of everyone understanding. I'm gonna just suck it up and pay the extra money until I can work my system out. Imagining that I need to write down my frequent purchases, get the plu, make a bag for it, then get it weighed and the price affixed, come home and write it on the bag with permanent marker so that I can continue using dedicated bags. They don't like jars because they mess up the tare. I love our hip little grocers, they are great, they really are trying to help and accommodate everyone! So I am thankful for this. I just wish we had a whole foods sometimes, only occasionally, and only for this type of thing! Because really, these small scale grocers are the bomb, we need more of them. Totally diverse group of people. And they will special order just about anything! So I'll whine and complain, but in the end I am so happy to have this wonderful place to shop.

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

Well, the way it works for me at Whole Foods is that I take my containers (or bags or whatever) to the customer service desk before I do anything else. They weigh them and write down the weight (called a tare) on a sticker and attach it to the container. Then I go fill my containers and write the PLU on them. When I get to the checkout they subtract the weight of the container from the final weight of the container with the stuff in it.

Hope that helps!

Sabrina
Sabrina

Thanks everyone! I had to vent a bit. Ok, and whine a bunch! This is all really new to me, and not the easiest of changes. I glanced at my plastic box, and while it's not pretty, it's not a total scary monster! I got caught up in my own view point of how quickly I could change. I feel less anxious now, gonna go back to going slow.

Just so I'm understanding, you have to get the price of what you want to fill your bag calculated off the cost before you put anything in it? The way it's working for me, if I want to use cloth bags, love the idea rebecca, just want to be able to use stuff I have on hand, is that I have to make a bag for each item I want to purchase bulk for each store I want to buy from, because they want things done differently. I get different explanations from everyone. I just want to understand this system so that I can explain it to the store. I thought that a tared weight written on a bag would be enough that could be subtracted off the weigh of the total at checkout. While I am going to figure this out, because now I'm on board, I just don't see how people are going to do this if they have to do all of these things just to forgo a plastic bag. So my dilemma is not just for me, because I will work through it, because I like to be creative! It's more seeing this through to a big sustainable picture.

Danielle
Danielle

I agree with Rebecca 100 million percent!!! There's no sense in getting frustrated about all this... my best advice is to do what you can without losing your sanity... if one day a week without using plastics works for you... then start there. Don't hold yourself to unrealistic expectations...

my biggest thing that I keep reminding myself is that I don't expect to be "perfect"... and as the weeks progress and I want to eliminate more... I am constantly telling myself that this is a learning experience to create "better" over time... none of us should expect perfection... ;)

Danielle
Danielle

I agree with Rebecca 100 million percent!!! There's no sense in getting frustrated about all this... my best advice is to do what you can without losing your sanity... if one day a week without using plastics works for you... then start there. Don't hold yourself to unrealistic expectations...

my biggest thing that I keep reminding myself is that I don't expect to be "perfect"... and as the weeks progress and I want to eliminate more... I am constantly telling myself that this is a learning experience to create "better" over time... none of us should expect perfection... ;)

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

One more thought... I think you need to give yourself a break. If shopping has you so frustrated that you're ending up going out to eat rather than face another daunting trip to the grocery store, perhaps it's defeating the purpose?

At one point when I was trying to be really frugal, I wouldn't let myself buy anything at all convenient, and I would get so totally demoralized, and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to spend several hours a day cooking, that I'd end up at the Chinese takeout joint several times per week. I finally decided that buying a few convenience foods would do less damage to my wallet than the trail I was beating to the Schezuan Kitchen, and I think the same probably holds true for environmental concerns.

You can't put yourself in jail over all of this... you have to live your life. You do have just as much right to exist as everybody else does.

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

I agree that getting a tare can be a major pain. I recently bought some ripstop nylon on ebay (the non-coated parachute fabric variety). I'm not the world's greatest seamstress (that statement might qualify as understatement of the year) but I managed to make some bags. The bags are great because they have a real tight weave so you can use them for things like flour, plus they don't weigh any more than the plastic bags do. When I use them, I don't have to worry about getting a tare at all.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Yeah, I leave the sticker with the weight on the container so I don't have to weigh it next time. I also leave the sticker with the PUL # on the container and put the same stuff in there again. We have tons of jars at our house.

Sabrina
Sabrina

Thanks Rebecca!

Eating less seems to be key. We normally eat it once a day. Since my toddler sleeps best on a belly full of it, dinner seems to be our best time. He can also put away more salad than I can! So I know he is eating what makes his body feel good. We are sensitive to soy, so it's not an option. That and what you said about intensive farming and shipping. Diversity is key, and I know our local farmers practice it, I see it first hand. Seems good for us and our home.

Major backslides this past week! My CSA lost our muslin bags, I have to do a very involved shopping trip to use my own bags...basically, shop first, write all the plu #'s down, go have cashier total price of bag to discount, then go back fill bag and then check out. Got to talk to them about this, otherwise I'm paying .10 to .50 cents a bag every time I use it..., I have to get different containers to use at my other health food store. Needless to say, week 5 is gonna stink! I've had to throw my hands in the air, have a plastic pity party and regroup! We ended up eating out with wild abandon, because I can't just go shopping without struggle. Gearing up to resew bags, calm down a bit, center myself and breathe. Is it this difficult at whole foods? I don't get it. Do you just get you container tared once and write the weight on it? I need to work the system out with tuxes stores, otherwise no one is going to make the switch.

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

I don't think you should beat yourself up about the meat thing. You have to respect your body and what it needs. Plus, many of the vegerarian alternatives can turn out to be significantly less than healthy. Check out this article for a new viewpoint on the soy craze: http://www.utne.com/2007-07-01/Science-Technology/The-Dark-Side-of-Soy.aspx.

The message lately, both in terms of health and environmentalisn has been, "vegan is good and animal products are bad." But I think that there's a real danger in trying to over simplify these things. I mean, if you're eating genetically modified soybeans grown on land that used to be Amazon rain forest, using tons of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, that have been processed beyond belief, and shipped around the country various times before they make it to you, and packaged in layer after layer of plastic... well it's very probable that you're doing much more environmental damage than if you were to eat locally produced, organic, grass-fed beef.

I know that cows produce methane, but if you're eating organic grass-fed beef, then the carbon in that methane came from this year's crops... in other words it's part of the natural carbon cycle. However, if you're eating soybeans that were grown with conventional fertilizers, then you're dumping tons of fossil fuel stored carbons back into the atmosphere.

I'm not saying that everybody should stop eating soy and start scarfing down cows... I'm actually a vegetarian most of the time, and I do eat soy now and then. But I think that this sort of blind, dogmatic, unexamined adherence to these sorts of "isms" can be quite dangerous.

Making well informed contientous decisions is vastly more important than trying to stick to some pre-determined path that requires you to turn off your brain and just do what somebody tells you. All of our actions have an impact, and nothing is black and white. You've just gotta do the best you can for yourself, your family and the planet.

Sabrina
Sabrina

Jessica,

That is interesting! I'm glad that you wrote that, because I was beginning to feel like a loon, in my pretty progressive, college town world.

plastic thing is such the tip of the iceberg tO environmental issues. then I start thinking about how did it all get so convoluted in the first place? We can all blame greed and convenience, but I'm thinking it goes deeper than that. That's why people who aren't greedy and who work hard still contribute to problems. I'm struggling with the alienation issue right now because all of the sudden our eating habits and being habits have gotten "weird".

Danielle
Danielle

Definitely amazing!! Best to know who is growing/raising your food :)

And on a side note, one of the hardest things for us to give up that comes in plastic is "vegetarian meats".... from tempeh to gardein... it's all wrapped in plastic. We're working on alternatives that our kids will eat... but no matter if you're an omni or a vegetarian going plastic-free takes definite planning and rethinking how we get our foods :)

Sabrina
Sabrina

Yes Danielle! It is so frustrating, that's why I'm feeling that the meat we buy from these farmers, where it has only been through the butcher, to us, is so precious! I totally get vegetarian, which is why we tried it for 5 years (so we gave it a good go!). In fact some of it never even goes to a butcher, it comes straight to us from the farmer. Amazing, right?

Danielle
Danielle

Hey! Comment about "Fresh Market" (I assume you're referring to the grocery store)... we personally no longer eat meat, but when we did our plastic-free food week... my friend Bonnie did it too. She went to Fresh Market to get her meat only to be told that every single piece of meat comes individually wrapped in plastic!! Also, she asked to get bread in a paper sleeve and they told her that all of their bread comes individually wrapped in plastic. :( A real shocker for a place that is supposed to be "fresh"... here's Bonnie's post from her plastic-free food week....

http://theplasticocean.blogspot.com/2010/10/week-without-food-wrapped-in-plastic.html

Lisa Lake
Lisa Lake

Even with growing awareness, there seems to be more plastic all the time! This forum is a powerful incentive to take action.

We likewise have found we can't eliminate meat in our diet although eat less. I have been so horrified at animal torture lately, it seems that because people eat meat it blurs the issue for them. Eating meat does not mean its ok to torture animals. Also, is it worth torturing animals just so we can afford to eat meat at every meal?

Sabrina
Sabrina

We had been vegetarians in the past, but it is not healthy for us. We were very depleted and always had stomach issues, my husband and I. My toddler is a total carnivore, and he knows where meat comes from! I may end up not trying the meat counters again, the meat is factory farmed and non grass fed. It was more a act of activism to see if I could get the stores to change their minds! We typically buy local, grass fed meats from wonderful farmers who care deeply for our environment and their animals. They take humane to it's extreme. These animals are loved and honored. So I'm beginning to feel that the plastic used to help nourish my family well, may be the devil in the details for now. Although I am advocating HARD to get the plastic changed and solutions found. My farmer friends are sick of me...:). It amazes me the regulations line. So my container that my food is being placed is not sanitary, but chemical laden plastic is okay.

Jessica
Jessica

I have also found that many stores will cite "regulations" or "health code" for why they can't use my own containers.

I was buying sliced cheese at Whole Foods last weekend and brought tupperware and they said they couldn't put it inside due to the health code. I then asked if they had paper that they could wrap it in and they said no.

My response, "Alright, I'll just go to another store to buy it."

All of a sudden they "figured out a way" to use my container. They handed me the cheese in the tissue paper and the price sticker and I had to put it in my Tupperware myself.

I find it funny that are stores like that, that are supposed to be environmentally friendly, I've gotten the most push-back. It's almost like they're saying, "what, you're using reusable tote bags, isn't that enough?" I've tried the same at Meijer, Kroger, or "normal grocery stores" and while I get a strange look, they've never questioned it.

Sorry to write a novel!

Jessica

Shannon
Shannon

I don't know your reasoning for going plastic free (health, environment, or combo) but if you are concerned about either one, perhaps you would consider forgoing meat and eliminating that problem as well!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Sabrina, where I live, some stores are not willing to fill my container and some are. I think the "regulation" thing is not exactly true... At least not out here. I have better luck with small, independent businesses than with big chains. That said, Whole Foods has never had a problem with me bringing my own container. Just keep asking. There are choices: lobbying companies to let you bring your own containers vs. finding and supporting the stores that have no problem with it to begin with. I don't know how many choices you have where you live, but maybe shifting your business elsewhere is an option?

I'm not an expert on plumbing, but I do know you should avoid PVC pipes. PVC is a very toxic plastic and the biproducts of PVC manufacturing are hazardous. Other alternatives are copper or HDPE, which is plastic but less toxic than PVC. I'll do more research on this.