The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 17, 2008

Learning to Sleep

Why would anyone have to learn to sleep? The body does it naturally. When the lights go down, melatonin kicks in and we get sleepy. Then, we go to bed, right? Except, in this day and age with computers and artificial light, melatonin doesn’t necessarily kick in. And when you’ve got genes like mine (father, sisters who stay up all night) the sleep deck is stacked even further against you.

Clif has ocassionally noticed the time stamp on my posts. Yeah, I am usually up until at least 2am. But lately, I’ve found myself crawling into bed past 4am and even still been up at 5:30 just when Michael is starting his day.

So I’m going to learn to sleep because I’m becoming less and less effective when I’m awake and more and more cranky with the people I care the most about. In the meantime, posts on this blog might be a bit sporadic.

But that’s okay, because I’d really like to hear from you for a change. How do you feel about plastic? Is reducing it in your life a priority? Why or why not? And if so, what steps have you taken so far? What’s the biggest challenge? And what alternatives to plastic have you found that I might not have yet?

Remember, I’m a child-free 43-year old female urbanite in the SF Bay Area using my own life as a model, so of course I haven’t addressed issues faced by those who have kids or live in the suburbs or out on the country or in places that have actual seasons or are older or younger.

What questions do you have about plastic that Fake Plastic Fish has not addressed? Please let me know.

Oh, and remember, plastic will still be an issue after this freaking election is over, no matter who wins. And it will still be an issue no matter what happens to the economy. How can we take care of the short-term without losing sight of the big picture?

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15 years ago

We’re lucky enough to have a grandpa who loves to make wooden toys for our girls. Also both preschoolers take music lessons (violin and cello) which helps with limiting toy gifts. However, we still get lots of plastic toys from well meaning friends. In plastic toys, we are down to Weebles, a busfull of Little People, a tub of Duplo blocks, some plastic play dishes, some 30+ year old Play Family sets, some bath toys, a water table, and some empty food containers for the play kitchen.

I’ve switched to cloth diapers and wish I had found the nice ones for child number one.

I can’t find plastic free dairy (milk and cheese) but I do buy local. My two children drink 4-5 gallons of milk a week. However, I use cloth produce bags at the farmers’ market and to buy dried beans, etc. in bulk.

We are improving but still have a long way to go in becoming plastic free.


15 years ago

Refrigerator Dishes! After reading Fake Plastic Fish for a while I started thinking about plastics everywhere and decided that one place I *can’t stand* plastic is in the kitchen – it never seems to ever get clean enough.

We usually store leftover food in some manner of tupperware dish especially the cheap kind you get at the grocery store and it’s always seemed kind of icky – not to mention the thought of microwaving food in them :P

So I thought and thought for days trying to figure out what to put the leftovers in, until I finally gave up and called my mother, which is my usual path when trying to become more “sustainable” – just call your mom or grandmother and ask her what people used to do when she was young, and there’s your answer…

So we ended up buying some fun Pyrex vintage refrigerator dishes (we also keep some foods in wide mouth mason jars), and I must say the refrigerator is just more pleasant to look in these days!

15 years ago

Good luck on the sleep-learning!

I have two kids, and I still have reduced plastic some. I use cloth diapers (but some of them are technically made of plasic (fleece)…but 12 over a kids lifetime in diapers vs. ? in huggies or whatever still makes a huge difference). I use all my own produce bags and grocery bags. I do my best not to buy plastic toys for my boys–of course they still get some. But it’s hard, and it can get expensive!

The thing I hate the most is plastic packaging! Totally pointless and totally wasteful. It’s one thing to use plastic for an actual item that gets used, but packaging, ugh.

15 years ago

I have to agree with daharja, it is very difficult once you have kids. It is also difficult when you have a partner who doesn’t share your convictions about reducing plastic. I was recently badly injured in a skateboard crash. Having landed in a wheelchair with 3 bad limbs, my wife has had to take over all the shopping and much of the household duties, as well as a greater share in taking care of our son. This has led to an EXPLOSION of plastics entering out house (mostly in the form of prepackaged foods). I’ve had to use a lot of my personal discipline to shut my mouth and just say “thanks for shopping honey” or something similar. I’ve tried enlisting my son in “saving the sea creatures” by pointing out waste to him, and he’s starting to get it. My wife on the other hand just feels like I’m preaching at her or making her feel bad about herself whenever I say something, and I’ve yet to get her to read the article about the pacific gyre or this blog for that matter: it’s frustrating.

When I regain my mobility, I’ll be reducing the plastics again by taking responsibility for the shopping, but in the meantime, I’m trying not to go insane. As for the plastics in toys issue… it’s a lot easier if your children never see TV. If they do, it’s over. There isn’t a toy you’ll see on TV that isn’t made from some sort of plastic, and you’re kids will no doubt beg you for toys they see on TV until you’re blue in the face. If you want them to eschew plastics (and plastic toys), you better start programming them at a VERY early age, otherwise you’re screwed. Used toys are one way to go to reduce plastics, but kids are hard on things, and getting used toys can pose health risks too! Try and find used wood or metal toys sometime: they are few and far between! Try asking toy manufacturers to make things without plastic… it’ll be a cold day in hell, as it’s WAY cheaper for them to build out of plastic. The only way to stop it is to actively boycott it, and get others to do the same. I’ve yet to see a boycott on toys! I try to be optimistic, but it’s really really hard sometimes with such an avalanche of plastics, especially when much of it is targeted right at our children. Beth, thank you for all you do… I’m right there with you on the “oh my god it’s late, why aren’t I asleep?” situation. Most of my blog entries are posted past midnight as well. :)

knutty knitter
15 years ago

I find it hard to avoid plastic as my choices are somewhat limited round here. I have finally started making my own bread and that will help. I already avoid shopping bags and quite a lot of pre packaged stuff but with a family of boys, it can get a bit complicated. Their friends have stuff so why can’t they. As they get a little older I will be able to explain a bit better and already this is having an effect but it will take time. The new school helps. It is a Steiner school so plastic etc is not encouraged or welcome. Plastic toys have been reduced to what one grandmother and about three trips a year to the toyshop produce and there I try to make sure their choices are not ten second whims.

There is still lots to achieve but plastic rubbish has reduced to about one small garbage bag a fortnight or so.

Worst problem in my eyes is the ubiquitous bottle top. They are always plastic! Even the oil jar has a plastic insert for pouring and there is no alternative that doesn’t.


viv in nz

heather from Make A Bag
15 years ago

dharja – I hear you! I have 3 kids and I completely agree!

It amazes me how much trash, especially plastic trash, can come from a typical homemade school lunch – juice box, individual servings of applesauce, chips, cookies, even pre-wrapped frozen PB&J sandwiches. A new school year is when I like to look at how I'm packing lunches and make a small change or two.

I've never been a fan of the individual servings of applesauce, etc. I put applesauce, goldfish, nuts, and other little goodies in reusable (plastic) bowls.

Last year I stopped buying juice boxes for school and bought small (plastic) sport drink-type bottle to reuse. I buy concentrated juice in aluminum cans (Welch's) and mix it at home. We still buy juice boxes for other purposes, but we have cut down on our juice-related waste quite a bit.

This year the kids got new stainless thermos-type bottles. I'm experimenting with wrapping their sandwiches in cloth napkins instead of plastic sandwich baggies. I hope to make some cloth snack bags for cookies, etc., soon.

I'm sure there's a lot more I could be doing, but small changes, one at a time, is the only way I can keep going without getting overwhelmed.

(Hey, I'm probably going to post this on Make A Bag if you don't mind. I need more stuff over there and you got me thinking!)

15 years ago

Less plastic is something we work on, especially in packaging and non-durable goods, as a household but with far less concentration the you, oh-great-role-model. For us it is part of trying to live lighter on the earth generally. Some weeks we do better on avoiding plastic then others, some weeks we do better with other things. One thing I buy specifically in plastic are pots/tubs for container gardening, simply because of the lightness/cost/durability equation.
Here in built up east coast suburbia we don’t have all those cool returnable glass milk bottles and buy in bulk bring your own container coops. Of this, I admit to moments of envy.
Ultimately, cost is a factor for us . . . I can buy peanut butter in a plastic jar or I can pay twice as much and buy it in a glass jar.
Re sleep — sleep is something I rarely have a problem with, waking up is another thing. But I find a regular schedule for sleeping really helps control my migraine.

15 years ago

Goodness! I hope you get some sleep soon…I’d be dead on my feet if I stayed up until 5:30 am.

I’ve been trying to use less plastic…eating more home-grown food, bringing cloth bags to the store, making my own yogurt in glass jars from milk that comes in glass jars(they go back to the farm each week), and so on.

15 years ago

Beth, I hope you get on a good sleep schedule soon!

I love your blog and find it INCREDIBLY motivating.

My husband and I have been very actively trying to reduce the amount of plastic in our life over the past 6 months or so. We do have three little boys (3, 3, and 5) which makes it especially difficult.

The absolute most difficult thing for me is Ziploc bags. Whether it is packing up sandwiches or saving our homemade bread so it doesn’t go moldy. No alternative is truly airtight and flexible the way baggies are. I’ve dramatically cut down on the usage, but I am just not happy with the alternatives.

So, here is what we HAVE done so far:
* Started our own herb garden – no need to buy fresh herbs in plastic packaging
* Reusable grocery bags (obvious one)
* Buy milk in returnable glass bottles at the farmer’s market
* Make our own yogurt
* Personalized leftover tea tins with the kids names for reusable snack tins
* Tin lunch box for my kindergartner. Pack applesauce from glass jar into glass jar for lunch. Wrap up sandwich in napkin.
* Reuse canning jars for leftover food storage in the fridge.
* Less take-out of all kinds
* Klean Kanteens instead of water bottles
* No soda in bottles
* More composting = fewer garbage bags

So much is specifically inspired from your blog, Thanks. I know you don’t have kids – but would love to see a guest post on reducing plastic with kid-specific issues.

Fr. Peter Doodes
15 years ago

Learn sleep… if only I could. Severe tinitus due to the years of once being involved in motor racing has deprived me of the ‘dropping off’ ability unless, and perhaps we have this in common, I am fairly exhausted, so the answer was easy.

I sleep when I am tired, even if that is at 20.00h, and get up when I wake, even if that is at 04.00h.

Like me, I suspect your body tells you what is best, and if that is to tell you to sleep when your mind is thinking about posting ignore your mind!


PS. I am posting from the UK and whatever Blogger says it is 17:13hrs here.

15 years ago

A recent study at BU -well funded-has not yet established scientific proof that sleep is necessary. I wish Dr.McNamarra some of sleepless nights and groggy days. For those of us who KNOW sleep is necessary there is little useful recourse. Gayle Greene (Insomniac)has a personal article in Prevention on-line. Siegfried Haug has a new book out that sounds like (finally)something new: Don’t fight insomnia (it’l trigger an ancient alert response) learn to embracew sleep instead. book: I Want to sleep – Unlearnming Insomnia

15 years ago

Like asrai, I'd like to know how to avoid cans with plastic liners. I do some canning, but I live in a small apartment and there is NO WAY I have the room to store enough canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and tomato juice to last me through the year. Are there some cans which at least don't contain Bisphenol A in the plastic liner & how can you tell?

I would also like to know if there is any alternative to liquid dishwashing soap in plastic squeeze bottles. Surely they must have used something else before plastic became popular? What did they use in the 1920s-1940s? Some kind of soap flakes? What could we use today?

I would also like to know what's the best way to approach supermarkets about their unnecessary plastic packaging of fresh produce. I heard an interview on the radio with a woman who takes off the plastic and leaves it in the store, but surely that had little impact as the staff don't know why she is doing this. Do letters help?

15 years ago

Sorry hit the wrong button and thought I lost the post! Didn’t mean to post it twice!


15 years ago

The Today Show is talking about Bisephenol this morning.


15 years ago

I’ve been trying to go nearly plastic-free. I learned to use shampoo bars (and dilute vinegar rinse to get the soap/hard water film out) from you.

When I need new things, I research what people used in the time before plastics.

For examples: I was able to find some vintage circular needles made of only metal (no plastic and nylon) stored in the original paper envelopes on ebay (asked the seller not to send them in plastic). I found old pyrex glass containers with pyrex glass lids for the refridgerator at an inexpensive antique store near me. I also bought a tiny old noxema glass container with glass screw lid there to put my homemade beeswax beet juice lip balm in (working nicely for lipstick!)

They had an old metal tricycle at the antique store – so much better than the plastic junk they sell in big box stores these days. I also saw that they used to store motor oil in glass jars with metal screw-top lids! I can only find number 7 plastic containers for motor oil that my old car wants now.

15 years ago

Just so you know they are talking about Bisephenol on the Today Show and talking about the plastics in the kitchens/homes.


15 years ago

I am a huge insomniac and have yet to completely figure out how to sleep well. My main problem is pain in my shoulder (permanent from a car accident) and not getting my mind to turn off.

Things I try to do:
1. Go to bed at the same time every night.
2. Try not to sleep in too much on the weekend (otherwise not tired on Sunday night)
3. Sleep on the couch when necessary. This seems to help a lot for some strange reason. I think it is because I don’t worry about keeping my honey away during the work week and I find the fact that my kitty snuggles up to me to be very soothing.
4. Use a sound machine. Current soothing sound is the ocean.
5. Never look at the clock after I go to bed so I don’t know how late I have stayed up trying to fall asleep.

But my question is… what are you doing about your kitty litter. We use plastic bags to wrap it up when we throw it out. These just happen to be plastic bags that make it into our house so we are ‘recycling’ them but now that I am switching over to reusable bags we will eventually run out.

15 years ago

Rob- I agree that the people I work with should know better. And some of them are really good… but some of them are the same old “old-school” types who will argue that there’s no “proof” that these things are bad, and their personalities are so strong that it just makes it impossible to argue with them. You can’t have an effective argument with someone who refuses to listen to your side. So I end up saying something like, OK our opinions are different. It’s just frustrating that people who survived harder times in the past (like the depression) won’t take steps to preserve the future for the younger folks!

15 years ago

PS- I too get into fits of needing to relearn sleep. Sometimes I just have to shut off this computer, turn off the lights a, tourn on the “Cpap Machine” (my breathing machine for apnea) and go to sleep

15 years ago

I try very hard not to condemn others choices, as long as they respect mine. As far as plastic it is not in my thoughts that much. I carry my reusable bags to the stores, I carry my “Kleen Hanteen” and refill it and I carry around my stainless steel mug. When I do get the errant shopping bag, It goes in my plastic bag holder, which gets taken to safeway for
disposal (they recycle them) an few are kept at home for odds and ends. I reuse “ziploxk bags again and again.NO tinking about it. It has just become second nature. And i use small Mason jars for left overs. The freeze beautifully(Thinking about your recent post)

Abbie- as far as your coworkers, shame on them. Science teachers who knoe not of the pacific gyre and all the small plastic that is killing fish and fowl? It is very real and they need to get with the program.

John Costigane
15 years ago

Hi Beth,

Lack of sleep can be a problem. When I had difficulty, removing body tension helped. First, take deep breaths, thinking only of the breathing rhythm. Let your muscles relax until all tension is gone. Keep all other thoughts aside.
Yuo should fall asleep.

Caffeine is an enemy of sleep so avoid evening tea/coffee, taking heated milk as an alternative.

As for plastic, my contacts Mrs’ Average and Green are like-minds in Zero Waste. Together we can make a diffeence.

15 years ago

I find that giving up our narrow list of what we want or mostly like to eat and going with more seasonal menus will help reducing our dependence on canned/frozen/packaged food. When I was in the Dominican Republic they didn’t have refrigerators or alot of space for storage – so what did they do? They only made enough for the meal, with few leftovers kept at room temperature in a container. Thus forcing people to not buy more than they could eat or store; and making people more careful about not over buying or over-consuming and wasting resources. Seems simple, yet we are so used to having what we want when we want that we then have to literally “pay” the higher price of getting produce imported from outside our neighborhoods, having to pay for refrigeration, storage for days before the week that it is advertised for sale in the store, etc. If we can break free of advertising and false needs, I think that would go a long way in terms of not needing longer shelf lives, storage, etc. Keep it simple. That’s my 2 cents worth.


15 years ago

Plastic – I think readers of this blog know the many awful things about plastic bags but my favorite is the way they defeat recycling.

The mechanical processes used at materials processing facilities such as the one Beth visited and reported on are unable to function when recyclables are stuffed into plastic bags. In addition the bags jam the machinery. The rule here in my town is to leave things loose in the recycling bins.

Over the years this rule has been observed less and less and now almost 50% of the residents are carefully placing everything in plastic bags.

Yet, the recycling company doesn’t do anything to notify residents of the problem and the city doesn’t do anything to tell people to stop the plastic bagging (paper bags are fine).


Well, the city pays the recycling company so it doesn’t matter to the recycling company if the actual recycling doesn’t happen…they will cheerfully throw everything in the garbage (they are a waste hauler as well) because they can charge the city and make money in any event. They are in business to make money, recycling if need be, or not. Why slow down the trucks by having drivers passing out notices? Economically it makes no sense to them.

As for the city, the Director of Streets and Sanitation won’t lift a finger to notify residents of the rules. I’ve suggested a notice in the city newsletter (at no additional cost to the city) and I’ve also suggested the city recycling page mention the plastic bag ban in a prominent place (no cost to the city). The Dir. of S and S doesn’t want to do it.

So now it is WAR. I am going to appear before the city council with a plastic bag full or recyclables and demonstrate to them how the separation processes work and why the plastic bags defeat them (for this appearance I will forgo my cape, mask and tights).

I have not yet been accepted as a full member of the Justice League of America but I am for truth, justice and the highest quality recycling stream possible.

So does plastic matter to me? Yes!

15 years ago

First on the subject of sleep then another post asap on plastic

I’m 58. From about age 30 to 48 I had trouble falling asleep. The problem was I couldn’t turn off the brain. I’d toss and turn and finally doze off exhausted at 2 or 3AM. I would be more tired each day and after 2-3 days I would finally be able to fall asleep simply from exhaustion.

It was a matter of getting up too early. It didn’t matter what time I got up, I’d end up tossing and turning again the next night and this with a guy who has always avoided stress and never had any real problems at work or home to merit real worry. And it wasn’t worry anyway, it was just thoughts of this and that and the other – of no real significance.

Chemistry solved the problem. I finally decided a visit to a shrink might be a good idea since psychiatrists are MD’s and can prescribe meds. One visit and my description of the sleep problem got me a Rx for Seroquel, the minimum dose of 25mg. Now this is a drug that is given for bipolar disorder in higher doses. But, for me it is the SILVER BULLET for sleep. I have taken one each night for the past several years and in about 30-45 minutes I am off to dreamland without waking during the night and waking up refreshed in the morning…in other words: NORMAL SLEEP!!!

So, don’t know if my story rings a bell with you, Beth, but if it does or sounds familiar to any readers of this post, visit your local neighborhood psychiatrist and renew your relationship with the sandman.

Oh, and it isn’t addictive and doesn’t require increasing doses to remain effective.

Next up: plastic

The Green Cat
15 years ago

I went through a nasty bout of insomnia last year. Thinking back on it, the things I tried to alleviate it all involved plastic! Ack! I tied sleeping pills (in a plastic bottle), a sleep CD (plastic, plastic) and a still point inducer (also plastic but which I highly recommend!). I hope you have luck changing your sleep habits without resorting to the plastic mess I ended up in.

(And yes, I was wondering about hose blog comments you were leaving me at 5:30am. I thought it was just a time stamp error!)

15 years ago

A big problem, as a mum with two young kids, is that kids simply create plastic.

Virtually every single kids’ toy is plastic, has plastic parts, or comes wrapped in plastic. Want your kid to get a DVD for Xmas? There’s a plastic cover, the plastic wrapping, the plastic-coated cardboard sleeve, the plastic disc…the list goes on…

As for baby toys and bottles, its near impossible to get non-plastic stuff.

And if you buy wood toys, most have plastic-based paints, or are plastic-wrapped again.

Or are we just supposed to not buy toys, or DVDs, or anything new for our kids?

Even their clothes have plastic transfers, and tags.

And all this before I even GET to the uncomfortable issue of nappies!

This is not me wanting plastic. I actively try to limit what I use. But how do you avoid it, without living under a rock or having your children grow up to loathe their minimal existence, where all their friends had all this stuff – all except them?

So most parents get to the stage where we simply look the other way. We might be green as anything in all other aspects of our lives, but when it comes to our kids, we’re trashing the planet so effectively that the rest of our lives don’t really count.

I’d like to say things were better, but they’re not. This is the truth.

If there is a solution, I’d like one. I love this earth, and I want to leave it in better condition for my kids than it was given to me, by my baby boomer parents, whose generation have landed us in this godawful mess.

15 years ago

Like Asrai asked, how do you keep up the momentum? I have attempted hardcore plastic-freeness but it’s not easy for me to sustain when I’m busy or tired. Also, I think my focus is drawn away from pure plastic avoidance by other environmental issues which disturb me more, such as USA-grown fruit in Australian supermarkets (why?? we grow plenty here!), government water policies, etc. Also I am torn when weighing up plastic packaging/ organic / freshness/ distance travelled/ can this be recycled/ is it likely to be recycled… etc. It’s too much for my poor little brain to cope with!
Happy snoozing.

15 years ago

asrai- I started canning my own tomatoes. Not enough to last the year, but enough to reduce the number of store-canned ones I need to buy. It’s a lot of work, but one of those things that I feel is worth it.

Beth- Plastic has been a big part of my thoughts and discussions lately. Today, my coworkers (science teachers) were debating BPA at lunchtime. Everyone had a role to play, from those who see no “proof” that BPA is bad to me, going by the precautionary principle and trying to avoid BPA as much as possible. I’ve managed to start going waste-free for lunch time at work, and my colleagues have noticed but made no changes themselves.

I have a question for you: how do you talk to others without making them feel like you condemn their choices? How do you encourage them to limit their plastic without preaching? I’ve just be going the role model route, but it’s so frustrating to see all the waste from everyone else. I really never noticed it until I started to reduce my own waste. Any suggestions?

15 years ago

Sleeping is good. I’m a night person trying to become a morning person.

My main question is how do you keep up the energy to keep going?

I try to buy things without plastic if I can and avoid things that are plastic wrapped. But there are times when it’s just easier to go plastic. Like cookies. Unless I’m making my own, there’s packaging. I don’t have time or energy to make enough cookies every week to keep us in cookies.

It’s frustrating. I love the blog keep up the good work.

Also: Out of season items. Buying canned is an option I’d like to avoid given the plastic liners. But, I can’t have fresh tomatoes in Canada in winter. Any thoughts?