January 23, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Sarah Schmiechen, Week 1

Sarah Schmiechen's plastic waste

Name: Sarah Schmiechen

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I live with my husband and my son in a college town in Indiana. I work out of the home, and my husband is a stay at home dad. He does most of the shopping, so I don’t have as much influence over what comes into the house as I might like, but we’re both on board with the idea of reducing our use of plastic. I didn’t include my husband or son’s plastic waste, unless I used part of it.

As a reader of this blog, I’ve benefited from its influence and have already cut back on some things. We use Kleen Kanteens instead of plastic bottles for water, I’ve tried to stop using paper towels as much as possible in favor of cloth rags, we use baking soda and vinegar to clean as much as possible. I know we have a long way to go though!

Having a three year old means we have a lot more plastic coming into the house than we used to, in terms of toys, diapers, some kinds of food packaging, etc. In addition, because we are living on one salary, we have to weigh some choices against price – e.g., I would love to buy all our milk in glass bottles, but by a conservative estimate, it would cost us $500 more a year.

This first week includes a number of items from a New Years Eve party that we finally finished up. (The food, not the party :). We entertain a lot and that can be a challenge depending on what people bring over.

Total items: 40-ish

Total weight:

Items: Recyclable
Milk cartons with plastic caps (and linings?), one lid from a glass milk bottle
Two litre of Coke (from New Years Eve)
Box of chicken stock with plastic lid
Two styrofoam egg cartons
One bag of pita chips from New Years Eve
One bag of pretzels from New Years Eve
One plastic top of a resealable raisin bag

Items: Nonrecyclable
Two bread bags with twist ties
One wine cork
One Lindt truffle wrapper
Two plastic covers/hole inserts from Kleenex boxes
5 envelopes with plastic windows
One broken doorbell
One cap from a glass bottle of walnut oil
One broken corkscrew (it has a little piece of plastic in the middle)
Several blister packs from batteries and the new doorbell
One random piece of red plastic that I can’t identify
Museum membership packet – the membership cards came on on, and it came in an envelope with a plastic window
Many plastic grocery and produce bags
Not pictured – some saran wrap that was used to wrap some other cheese from New Years Eve

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
I could buy eggs in cardboard instead of styrofoam. Raisins can be bought in bulk. A lot of the grocery and produce bags could be eliminated totally. I can try and stop some of the mail that comes with the glass windows. Chocolate can be purchased in bulk. I think Seventh Generation tissues don’t have plastic on them. I baked some bread this week so hopefully we will buy less bread in bags. We could make our own chicken stock. I can try and look for wine with real corks.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
I could give up Coke, and the other snacks.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
I don’t think we can get milk or batteries without plastic packaging. I don’t think we could have gotten our museum membership cards without plastic.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
I think a lot of cosmetics would have to go. None were pictured this week, but most cosmetics I use are in plastic.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I’m going to try and get some of the mail with plastic windows stopped. I will also try and keep baking bread.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
It seems like a lot of plastic use in our could be reduced by either time (e.g. baking) or money (the milk). Both of those are in short supply. It’s a matter of prioritizing.

5 comments
Sarah S
Sarah S

Thanks for the comments!

I don't use the milk much for baking - it's mostly for my son to drink, for coffee, and for cereal. I'll look into delivery though.

We do have a Panera here, so I can check that out.

That is an excellent idea about giving the egg cartons to the farmers market! Thanks!

Jessica
Jessica

If you have a Panera or a Great Harvest Bread Company, they'll be able to put your bread in just plain paper or whatever you want.

Do you have a farmer's market near you with anyone selling eggs? A better idea than just throwing away the Styrofoam cartons would be to give them to a vendor selling eggs. The lady at our market is always asking for people to return them week after week.

Jessica

EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)
EcoCatLady (AKA Rebecca)

I'm totally with you on the money thing! That being said, here are some thoughts on milk...

1) Could you use powdered milk for baking and cooking? I'm not actually sure of the relative environmental impact of powdered vs. fresh milk, but I think you can get powdered in bulk, and I don't notice the difference in my recipes, plus it's much cheaper!

2) Have you looked into getting it delivered from a local dairy? Price might be an issue, but it's worth checking because sometimes it's cheaper than in the grocery store. Some dairies use glass bottles, but even if the dairy uses plastic, they would at least get re-used.

Sarah S
Sarah S

Thanks Beth! I will look out for the bullion. We try to make our own, but sometimes aren't able to. For the bread, I think we could probably get it without plastic from our local baker, but it wouldn't be organic, so there's a tradeoff there.

I don't think the batteries were rechargable - they were for the electric doorbell, so they're not the standard kind, they were small disk shapes. Do those come in rechargable form?

This challenge has been a lot of fun so far. I've been using it to make some changes that have been in the back of my mind for a while, so the motivation is really great.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

I Sarah. Thanks for taking the challenge! I know party season can be harder than other times of the year.

I have a very simple suggestion for the chicken stock if you don't have the time to make your own: Better Than Bouillon in a glass jar. There is even an organic line: http://www.superiortouch.com/retail/products/better-than-bouillon/organic-bases

Baking your own bread is best, but if you don't have time, can you find bread wrapped in paper instead of plastic?

You didn't specify if the batteries were rechargeable or not. One way I save both batteries and packaging is to use only rechargeables. Of course, the charger is a big hunk of plastic that came in a plastic package, but I'm hoping it will last a good long time.

Sorry about the doorbell. It makes me sad when durable plastics break and can't be fixed.

And you're so right about cosmetics. Using less is probably the first step. There are some things with less plastic, and I plan to write more on the subject in future posts.

Looking forward to seeing your progress!