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This is my second week (not consecutively) to take the Challenge. I live in an efficiency apartment in central Houston. You can see my first week’s tally here.
Total items: 40
Total weight: ??
1 milk carton (#2)
1 milk bottle cap (#4)
3 coke cans (aluminum)
lentils plastic packaging
broken spoon handle
toilet paper plastic packaging
pyrex food containers plastic packaging
plastic packaging around new toothbrush
broken twisty tie
plastic seal (outside) of yogurt starter
plastic seal (inside) of yogurt starter
plastic seal from a quart of yogurt
milk bottle plastic ring
plastic seal from something i can’t remember
peppermint candy wrapper
6 Pocky wrappers
2 granola bar wrappers
plastic envelope window
Lavazza coffee packaging
tape and bubblewrap from a package
tape from a second package
plastic wine cork
plastic carrier from the coke 6-pack
4 bottle caps
Plus these which aren’t pictured:
1 plastic grocery bag (trash can liner)
2 contact lenses
What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?
I am currently trying (and failing) to make yogurt at home. The goal is to be able to do this from yogurt starter in powder form, because I don’t buy yogurt often and don’t always have fresh yogurt on hand. There is a small amount of plastic packaging for a bottle of starter, and I could eliminate the plastic seals and tubs that store-bought yogurt comes in. (Although I would need to find milk in glass if I really wanted to reduce plastic here.) But so far no luck.
The lentils are from a while ago. I’ve found the bulk bins at Whole Foods to be reasonably priced and have been buying bulk dry goods there.
Plastic shipping waste showed up in my tally this week. I have not asked vendors to package goods in less plastic, but maybe I should try that. Can’t hurt!
I am getting a new pair of glasses! **happy dance** Oh, how I have missed my glasses. Contact lenses will go in the trash only rarely now.
I am experimenting this week with using no liner for my trash can. I shelled out and set up a worm bin in the kitchen to compost food scraps. It seems to be working well, so there’s no more wet waste that gets thrown away. No need for a liner.
Two things that I won’t replace immediately but will look into:
1) paper-wrapped toilet paper? I know that Beth found some gigantic bulk quantity of toilet paper like this, but I don’t have the space here to keep so many rolls of toilet paper. I would need to find smaller quantities, still reasonably priced.
2) finding a different way to get coffee. The partner only likes high-quality coffee. Packaged like this, the Lavazza coffee costs a couple of Euros in Italy. I might be able to experiment with bringing home small amounts of fresh ground coffee in paper bags from the store, and maybe some of them will be a win with him.
What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
All the candy wrappers are not something that I ordinarily buy myself, but I don’t say no to them as gifts either. The hard candy was at a restaurant. The Nutrigrain bar was from a friend. The granola bars and Pocky came from Santa.
I have mostly weaned myself off of Dr. Peppers, and this is largely thanks to the Plastic Challenge and thinking about all the environmental waste caused by soda manufacturing. I bought this six-pack because I needed baby sized coke cans for a project. But then they were sitting there looking at me, so I drank them.
What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
That toothbrush was probably a year old and needed to go. I’m pretty sure my floss is plastic but I want to finish it before looking for something new.
I would rather have some dental cleaning routine that didn’t involve plastic toothbrushes, but with all the sugar in today’s foods I feel like brushing is the easiest way to get all the surfaces of your teeth clean. I don’t know much about alternative dental hygiene methods though.
What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
All of the other plastic waste that I didn’t cover above is some sort of plastic packaging. The only way to get away from this is to never buy anything new! Unfortunately, that can’t always happen. This sort of plastic is ubiquitous and very hard to avoid.
What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
None that I haven’t already.
What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
The two main areas of my plastic waste seem to be either due to food packaging, or new-item packaging.
The Challenge really has helped me see where I can cut down my food packaging waste. I’ve made a commitment to buy grains, legumes, and other bulk dry goods from Whole Foods. I did manage to find things like lemon juice and honey in glass jars (this was a big part of my tally from my first week). And I am still experimenting with buying meat from the counter and seeing if they will package it in paper. (I don’t buy meat often, so I haven’t gotten to try this much.)
On the other hand, I feel like I have no control over the non-food plastic packaging. Even most new pairs of socks have a little plastic hangar so that shops can hang them. It’s incredibly hard to get away from. And how annoying! Because most of these things do not need to be packaged in plastic (for hygienic reasons, for instance).
Wow! I didn't see this had posted and enjoyed reading everyone's comments. Thank you for all the encouragement! On yogurt: I have pretty much given up on yogurt making. From all the good suggestions here, I will probably try a few more times. I think the trouble I have is keeping the yogurt a consistent temperature. I have never tried the glass jars in kooler of hot water method -- maybe that would work for me. Or glass jars in the sunlight. I have tried freezing yogurt and using that as starter before. It didn't work for me, but I think I let it thaw in the fridge for several days (oops! I forgot it...) and that could have been why. In other yogurt news: I will gladly trade homemade bread (which I am successful at!) for homemade yogurt from any other Houstonians inside the Loop. =) On wormbins: @Jennifer, I am actually struggling with fruit flies. It is a battle. I put them outside to live for a while, but the landlady did not like it, so back inside they have come. What seems to happen is that food scraps get put in in large batches, but take a while to rot down to something the worms can eat, and the fruit flies find the food during that time. I am going to try chopping up the food scraps smaller before they go in the box (I've also heard of people blending food scraps down first) in the hopes that they will break down faster. The only thing I've found to really get rid of the flies is to buy some beneficial nematodes from a gardening store and water them in. I also have a bowl of apple cider vinegar sitting on top of the box. The flies will drown themselves in it, but only if the smell of the ACV is not overpowered by the smell of the food in the box. I'm still experimenting, and I'm not sure if I'll want to continue this if I can't get rid of the fruit flies. I inspired my dad to try a worm bin, and he has had no problems with fruit flies, so it must be possible. @Shell: oh yay, another Houstonian! I don't often get to the farmer's markets, but I have been before, and there are some great and very kind vendors here. Thanks for the Whole Foods advice.
I'll give it a go next time I make a batch. I did a search and found this article: http://www.stretcher.com/stories/971110c.cfm So it looks like at least someone has had success with the freezing in ice cube trays method!
It took me 4 tries to get the yogurt thing to work. I wrote out my method in the comments on another post. Here's the link: http://myplasticfreelife.com/showyourplastic/2011/01/danielle-week-4/ But I have the same problem as Natalie in that I don't eat/make it often enough to have some from the previous batch on hand as a starter. I read something along the way about frozen cubes of yogurt starter. I wonder if you could freeze some regular yogurt in ice cube trays or something and have it on hand as a starter? Would that kill the bacteria? Does anybody know?
I plan to keep using 2 Tbs of yogurt from the previous batch, but this first time of using yogurt as a starter (instead of packaged starter) I used pre-made yogurt from Whole Foods, a Bulgarian yogurt. I hope it continues to work as well, if not I'll keep buying Bulgarian :-)
About yogurt making, I use reconstituted dry milk powder for mine and it comes out very nice. I do use a yogurt maker (which is plastic), and for a starter I used two tablespoons of the Bulgarian yogurt from Whole Foods that comes in a nice re-usable glass jar. The dry milk is from WF too and comes either in bulk or in a cardboard box. The resulting yogurt is really nice and mild, too, much less sour than most and I love it with granola. This is one of my few successes :-) I'm still struggling at eliminating a lot of other plastic from our daily life.
Try the coffee at Whole Foods. They have some great varieties and you can package it in the little paper bags. I love their Breakfast Blend but sometimes I buy something darker when my friends come over. They have beans from all over the world there. Also I go to the Whole Foods Bellaire store (Stella Link and Bellaire Blvd). The meat counter there isn't very busy and the people there are really nice. More of a relaxed atmosphere than the one on Westheimer. I don't buy meat but I'm sure they would be very accomodating there. Are you going to the Farmer's Markets? We've got some great ones in Central Houston. I like the one in Greenway Plaza (Eastside Road). Lots of nice vendors. There's a local honey person there occasionally.
Beth and Natalie. I ordered some toothbrushes from Australia before Christmas (okay, I know that ordering them from Australia is not the most environmental, but that plane was coming anyhow, and it's a small box). It ended up being 12 toothbrushes for about $50 CDN (we're at par right now). http://environmentaltoothbrush.com.au/ I've been using mine now for a couple of months. It's made of bamboo with resin bristles and is apparently completely biodegradable. It comes in non-plastic packaging. It's a bit odd to have the bamboo handle - it's not like plastic in your mouth and it's a bit sticky - but I've gotten used to it and feel so much better not using so many plastic toothbrushes in a year. The other thing that I didn't realize and that I was told by someone in the clothing sales industry, is that every piece of clothing that you buy in a store has been shipped in a plastic bag. I don't know if all stores do this, but I bet they do. And I can't imagine the amount of plastic waste this creates. So the best thing we can all do - consume less. And be more mindful. Which is what you are doing.
Hi, Natlie! Great job for trying and dont give up. How do you do the worms inside and not get flies? We had a worm bin once and it was great but seemed to produce a lot of maybe not flies but fruit flies smell. I do have a family of 5 and would love to hear any ideas. I was going to try this challenge this week, but I was almost embarrassed by how much plastic we use. We are trying but it is really hard. Good luck and great job. Thanks for the info. Jennifer S.
Hi Natalie! Here are some tips for making your own yogurt. Give it a try! :) http://www.rodale.com/homemade-yogurt Best, - Dana
Hi Natalie. It's great to hear about the changes you are making in your life. Setting up the worm bin is huge. I don't have a completely plastic-free dental hygiene routine either. Here's the post I wrote about my dental choices: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/04/plastic-free-dental-floss-not-quite/ And recently, someone told me she flosses with plain cotton thread, so I'm going to try that. Asking vendors not to ship things with plastic packaging is the only way to get them to change. It might feel awkward at first, but you'll get into the habit of asking. If you order from small businesses, it's easier to make special requests and to help them understand why. Many times they will thank you. Also, reducing the amount of stuff we buy in the first place is really the biggest way to reduce all kinds of waste -- not just plastic. And buying things secondhand -- clothing, equipment, books, etc -- can reduce packaging waste and environmental impact as well. Glad you're making use of the bulk bin! I'm a vegetarian, but I bring my own container to the Whole Foods meat counter to get the meat for our cats. Out here Whole Foods has no problem filling a customer's container. Have you tried that in Texas?