The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

August 20, 2009

Kayla Bonczek: Starting college and avoiding plastic

I’m still in Hawaii with my family. The following is a guest post from Fake Plastic Fish reader Kayla Bonczek, who is working to reduce the amount of disposable plastic in her life as she starts college. I wish I had been this aware as a teenager!

Hello, Fake Plastic Fishes! My name is Kayla and I am nineteen years old. My interest in environmental sustainability began with a trip to Vermont and an AP environmental science (APES) class taught by my favorite teacher, where I was exposed in both instances to a wide array of environmental issues. I could go on all day about these issues, but for this post, I will try my best to stick to plastics because this is Fake Plastic Fish.

This past summer has been my first one spent in Texas for some time (I went to high school up north, but grew up down here). I was very fortunate to find a job right away at an amazing family-owned business. When I first started working, I was told that employees were allotted two drinks from the fridge per day. The drinks included sodas and Snapples —- all in glass bottles, but all full of sugar -— and plastic water bottles. I thought, “Hey, I’ll just bring water from home every day to counteract this situation.” But after bringing my Klean Kanteen, and eventually a plastic 7-11 mug (it violates health code to drink out of a container without a lid and straw at a food-related business…nice huh?) I was still thirsty every day. Some days I ended up drinking two plastic bottles of water, sometimes one, even though I was fully aware of the effects not only of the plastic but also the untested water inside. It is probably my biggest shame of the summer. On the bright(er) side, after a week of bringing my bottles home after work to recycle myself, I convinced my work to start making use of that recycling bin out back. One of my fellow employees even began recycling in his own home. As I see it, if you cannot completely nix the waste, recycling goes a long way.

Now, I am about to head to New York City for my second year of college. I spent my first year abroad in Italy and was lucky enough to live in a furnished apartment with, ahem, seven other girls. This year I am taking about ten steps backward (I will miss cooking and having plenty of personal space) and living in a typical college dorm room with one roommate. As I started to think of what I needed for the room, I knew one thing that I did not want a lot of plastic. To me, plastic = college dorm room; from the plastic storage boxes under your bed, to the plastic storage boxes in your closet, to the plastic trash can, to the cheap plastic lamp…the list goes on. I cringe at the sight of Target’s dorm room aisles. Different neon color plastics as far as the eye can see!

Here is what I did to cut down my consumption (on the cheap!) while preparing for college:

1. Garage sales

I started mapping out and going to garage sales in my area every Saturday morning in July. I found, among other things, an under-the-bed storage container ($3), lamp ($5), picture frames ($1), storage bin ($4), and antique flower prints ($1) to decorate my walls. A few of these items needed a good cleaning, but really they were prices I could not beat.

2. Reusing what I have at home

Did I really need to go out and buy another power strip when there are five lying around the house? Or two new pillows when I have four already on my bed? It saves more than just money when you use what you already own.

3. Etsy

I wanted to start this year off right when it came to products I used on my body, and Etsy was the first place I looked. Not only do you support small businesses when you buy from Etsy, you also do not support big conglomerations whose practices you may not agree with. I found vegan deodorant, a lotion bar (that comes in a metal container…no plastic involved!), a face wash bar, and shaving bars that I feel good about putting on my body.

4. Less is More

I use to be a huge believer in glopping on a ton of lotion, toothpaste, body wash, whatever. But since I started spending more money on the good stuff (and would prefer it to last longer) I have taken on the “less is more” approach. Not that I am skimping on anything, I assure you. A little will go a long way!

5. Reusable razor

I took a cue from FPF and asked my Poppi if he had an extra safety razor I could use. He did, and he sent me 10 razors, too! I ordered some really amazing shaving bars from Etsy seller, GudonyaToo and the rest is history. A safety razor is a great investment that means less plastic waste, and less money spent overall. Plus, can also vouch for a closer shave!

Quality, Not Quantity

Although my budget was tight, I tried as much as possible to buy quality items for my dorm room that will last me a while. These included wooden hangers, a good iron and ironing board, organic cotton bedding, real dishes and utensils, and various bowls and cups for everything that goes on my desk. I am already building a collection of home goods for my future apartment.

If you have any other suggestions for my college years, please let me know; I would love to hear any tips! Also, please check out my blog, My Polychrome Life, for an eye-opening update on how much waste my parents and I generate on our three day, three hotel drive up to NYC from Texas.

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Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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12 years ago

Hello – great article. That is great that you discovered the benefits of yard sales so early on – I wish I was into going to yard sales years ago. Paying full price is over-rated!
I agree – it's gross the abundance of bright plastic crapola that is peddled around back-to-school time.
Wow – that's interesting about the cap and straw rule for drinks. I remember working at Starbucks and everymorning while opening the bakery packages, I enjoyed a cup of fresh brew – in a porcelain mug… sounds like I was violating health code! Woops!
Best of luck to you – hopefully, you will spread enlightenment to all of your peers!

Natural Mamma
12 years ago

What a great post! I wish every college student would have such an eye open approach to life and what they use!

12 years ago

This is a great site that you have here. It's very useful. I have a site myself where anyone can where anyone can voice their opinion on some of the most controversial debate topics out there. I just wanted to inform you of my site because I know you have some valuable opinions you can share with us.

Also, maybe we can do a link exchange.


Kayla Bon
12 years ago

Thank you all for the support and suggestions! I loved reading all of your comments :)

Abbie – Thank you for your constant encouragement on a set of issues I really care about! That is what sets you apart from the others :)

Anon – I have been looking into getting a sport bottle top for a while since I always seem to spill all over myself. Unfortunately, in my area (at lest) help code requires a lid and straw, so I'm not sure that would've fit the requirements.

Lara – Thank you for that idea! I have a nasty habit of always wanted brand new school supplies, but I try to reuse at least my folders, pens, pencils, binders (my notebooks usually get filled). I will have to try that!

Rob & Lisa – I will have to look into getting a glass dharma straw for sure!

John C – I have seen those ads for toothbrushes and may just invest in one. I love that idea.

12 years ago

Hey Beth-This is off the subject- I found you a Titanium Metal Commuter Mug. Courtesy of Rob's shopping service!

John Costigane
12 years ago

Hi Kayla,

Great to see a teenager thinking about the plastic problem. Our common trend is mainly adult-based, but with an eye to the future. As Beth indicated starting young will make you an expert by the time you reach our ages.

The safety razor is an excellent choice. Wooden toothbrushes are also available from Germany but more pricey than the plastic type, with all its recurring waste.

Lisa Sharp
12 years ago

I see you had Abbie (Farmer's Daughter) was your teacher, that is so neat!

Also you are on the right track and should be proud!

I second what Robj98168 said the Glass Dharma straws are awesome, it's a great company that is reducing a lot of plastic waste!

I hope your changes will end up inspiring other college students you meet!

12 years ago

Sounds like you are already on track Kayla! If I could add anything, try using a glass dharma straw or one of those metal ones I see at 7-11 for slurpees- easy to clean with a bottle brush; also old dresser drawers make good storage boxes for under a bed. But you go girl!

Lara S.
12 years ago

Hi Kayla,
I'm in college too, but in Argentina. One thing I used a lot when I started was spiral notebooks. The metal or plastic spiral is not practical for recycling and bits of paper tend to get caught in there and are hard to rip off… Also, every notebook comes with two pieces of cardboard (back and front) which you have to recycle after you finish the notebook, unless you want to keep the whole thing together. Since I always try to recycle most of my notes after I got all the information I needed from them, it was so wasteful… What I use now to take notes is papers which are printed on one side. I use the white side to take my notes, and then I staple the pages together. You can also make holes in them and put them in a binder (if you're going to buy binders, look at FPF's recommendations ;)). If you want to get lots of this kind of paper, go to a copy place and just ask, they always have a ton of it!

Hope this helps. Nice post! :)

12 years ago

You should be very proud of yourself for all the changes you're making now Kayla! Great post.

Just a thought on your Klean Kanteen, I know they come with a screw cap, but I you can also purchase a sport bottle top for it. I know, it's an extra purchase, but my family uses them every day, and 3 out of 4 of us prefer the sport cap. Maybe that will meet the health code if you run into that situation again. My boys use theirs at school, and I use mine at work – less spillage if anyone knocks it over. Perfect for the bike too!
Sunny in Canada

Farmer's Daughter
12 years ago

Kayla! I was your favorite teacher! :) You continue to make me so proud. Kids like you are why I became a teacher. Just the morale boost I needed before starting school for the year.

12 years ago

That was a good article. I have listed items on Freecycle that I have that I need to get rid of and one time I put a request out there and received it. Maybe Freecycle and Craigslist can help you with whatever else you may need. Hopefully your roommate will be just as enthusiastic about removing plastic fromt heir life. Good luck!