October 26, 2010

Susan L., Week 1

Susan's plastic waste

Name: Susan

Week: 1

Personal Info:
work at home outside of Atlanta, married

Total items: 48

Total weight: 13.4 ounces

Items: Recyclable
Plastic shopping bags
Plastic produce bags
Plastic produce containers (made from 100% recycled plastic)
Parmesan cheese container
plastic cups
honey squeeze bottle

Items: Nonrecyclable
List of non-recyclable items or those you are unsure of:
badminton birdie
broken hangers
plastic utensils?
drink lids and straws?
food bags

What items can I replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
* The Big Lots bags came from a day where I had forgotten a shopping bag. I asked for a box but was told they didn’t have any. (Kind of peeved that the cashier didn’t even try. I was the only customer at the register at the time.)
Have to remember that part of using tote bags is emptying them and putting them back in the car!
* I could get some of those travel utensils to keep around. I was surprised that my meal was served to me with plastic utensils. I’m not sure I would have been prepared anyway.
In addition to utensils, I’d like to find (and invest in) a quality mug that could go hot or cold.
* Wooden or wire hangers are an alternative. I’ve had these hangers for over 20 years, though. Does that help?
* Parmesan cheese container came from a vacation shopping trip. We’ve reused it a few times for storage, and now it will go to a creative reuse recycling place. Still, if I’d been at home, I would have bought a hunk of cheese and grated. (But I guess that cheese would have been wrapped in plastic!)

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
Not much. Although I’d be happy if plastic bags disappeared. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about it because it wouldn’t be an option.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
*Nearly half of my plastic by weight came from my CSA subscription. I’m not going to drop it over plastic. All of it’s recyclable, and most of it was made from recycled plastic.
*One of the plastic bags was brought to me by the guy I was having lunch with. Although he’s the kind of person who would totally understand I didn’t want it, I was unwilling to refuse it because he was kind enough to bring it to me. I hate the possibility of making people feel silly when they’re trying to be nice.
*Food bags are icky, but I don’t have a bulk store near me.
*Husband will find badminton birdies essential. He doesn’t like the feather ones so much.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
*Get mug and utensils for snacks away from home.
*Remember to put the !*&#%^ tote bags back in the car.
*Check out bulk stores next time I’m in Atlanta. Maybe there are times I can combine trips.
*I will mention reducing plastic to my CSA manager just so she’ll know where I stand. I’m sure she wants to do this, too.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
*Shop for mug and utensils.
*For any fast food snacks, go inside so I’ll have a better chance to skip a lid and straw.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?

Guess I’m not ready to be militant about plastic. Vigilant, though.

7 Responses to “Susan L., Week 1”

  1. Alexandra says:

    Here’s an easy tip for remembering totes. Keep them in your car. Also, as YW suggest, simply refuse the bags or thank the cashier for asking if you want one and take NONE! You will remember the next time.

  2. Rob says:

    Hi susan- carrying your reusable bags gets easier… I keep 2 or 3 in all my vehicles. And I have gotten diligent about putting them back in the car after putting away groceries. My big surprise was You were the ONLY ONE in line at Big Lots. Never happens to me. In fact don’t get behind me in a line, because I always seem to be behind the person who is having personal problems. Time ticking personal problemsLOL.

  3. Amanda R. says:

    Hi Susan L. – I like the synergy!

    I find that the best way not to forget the carrier bags is to confess to Beth each week – it’s like a switch flipped in my head, and suddenly I can’t take the plastic bags at the supermarket! I think I may be contributing more in greenhouse gasses at the moment, since I’ll return home for the bags if I find myself without them, but the experience of doing that once or twice helps me remember.

    The CSA conversation is tough – I’ve had it now with my CSA, and the farmers market in Tucson. I imagine they feel like they are already doing so much that’s “green” that I feel almost guilty asking “but could you package the organic local produce differently?” I found it helpful to provide the farmers market with links to other markets that have abandoned plastic bags – to show them that it’s part of a movement. I wonder if there are similar CSA examples out there…

  4. Susan says:

    Hey, Beth,
    Thanks for the tips! I’m psyched about the make your own utensil roll. I’m going to pick up cool silverware odds and ends and cloth napkins at the thrift store tomorrow and make a few to have around.

    And thanks for the site and the challenge!

  5. YW says:

    I read somewhere that someone could never remember to bring their reusable bags to the store and so they started declining any bags at the checkout stand. This makes things a little more inconvenient for you – putting all those items back in the cart, loose, then transferring them to the car, loose, then into the house… A few times of that, and you will remember your bag a lot more often! It works for me! (Though I still forget from time to time and simply put the items in my backpack or at least ask for a paper bag which I can reuse.

    I also have plastic coming into my CSA, which was a real bummer for me. But not much, and compared to the plastic on the produce at the store….barely anything!

  6. Sharonus says:

    Hi Susan,

    If you got rid of the plastic bags, you’d have a pretty small pile there! If I forgot my reusable shopping bags, I just refuse bags altogether. Especially with the Big Lots trip, it might be something you could do without since the items are mostly big. I’d throw the small things in my purse and keep the rest in the cart and just unload it into my car. It’s not convenient, for sure, but it usually makes me remember the next time.

    I agree with Beth about the Chico bags. I have three: one in my purse, one on the backpack we use for the kids, and another on the messenger bag I take to work. You got the key, though: remembering to return the bags back to the car or your purse immediately after you’ve emptied them. (I usually put the grocery bags right by the door so I remember to take them out the next time I go to the car.)

    As for produce bags, I also have a few reusuables for those, but mostly I just don’t pick them up at all. If you have something that you feel really needs a bag like greens or herbs, check around the produce department. They may have paper towels you can use to wrap those. It’s still something disposable but it’s better than plastic. (Or maybe you can compost them like we can in our city!)

    I was also in a CSA that used plastic bags. It seemed odd to me that they would do that. I quit because we weren’t using all the produce before it went bad, but the plastic really bugged me. Hopefully, they’ll change if you reach out to them.

    Finally, I’ve been eying these insulated Klean Kanteens for a while. They’re expensive, but if it saved some plastic it would be worth it:


    They do have a plastic top, but hopefully, it will last many years.

    Nice job!

  7. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Susan. Thanks for taking the challenge. I have a few tips for you.

    1) Have you considered carrying Chico Bags? Yes, they are made from polyester, which is actually plastic. But they are strong and extremely convenient since they scrunch up into their own little attached stuff sack, and you can just toss them in your purse. That way, you always have a bag with you no matter what. I think it’s probably easier to remember to put a bag back in your purse than in the car. Plus, you won’t leave your bags in the car when you go into the store, and you’ll still have one with you even if you don’t have your car that day.

    2) You don’t really need to buy travel utensils. You can just use what you have already and roll them in a cloth napkin. Here are instructions for making your own utensil roll — without even sewing! http://fakeplasticfish.com/2009/11/practically-green-book-give-away-challenge/

    I hope you will talk to the CSA manager. I’ll bet there are some things that don’t need a plastic bag.

    No need to be militant. If everyone were vigilant, we’d have a better world!