The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 7, 2010

Plastic-Free Living Discussion, Part 2

This is a follow-up from last weekend’s  post, Plastic-Free Living: Let’s Talk.  Thanks for all the input while I was away last weekend.  Now, it’s my turn to join the discussion and ask a few questions of my own.

But first!  I must share with you the cutest video EVER about going green.  Fake Plastic Fish reader Amanda created this video starring Puglet, a dog with a green conscience.

The video received so many hits on Youtube, it lead to an interview on the Today Show. Amanda is currently working with Puglet on a new video covering a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Okay, and now back to the plastic-free living discussion…

1) Plastic-free sunscreen. It’s a great question, and I don’t have a perfect answer. I wrote about my sunscreen dilemma back in September of 2008, and got quite a few tips from Fake Plastic Fish readers. Some readers had non-sunscreen suggestions: Avoid being out in the sun from 11am – 2pm. Wear a hat, longer sleeves, and stick to the shade. (I did actually buy a crocheted organic cotton sun hat last year, but I have yet to wear it.) One reader suggested carrying a parasol. Cute. But not exactly practical for everyday getting around town. Tracey TieF had suggestions for making your own sunscreen.  Check out the full sunscreen discussion. You might find some ideas that work for you.

The following year, after I gave up and bought a plastic tube of Alba Botanica fragrance-free mineral sunscreen (which is 7% titanium dioxide and free of parabens and nanoparticles), Allie from The Greenists recommended Vivesana sunscreen, which comes in a metal tube but does have a plastic cap. I haven’t tried it because I still have the other stuff left. So that’s another idea.

Anyone else have a suggestion?

2) How to get newspapers delivered without the plastic sleeve. The only way this will ever change is if enough of us speak up. Call and say you don’t want the plastic and that if they refuse to deliver it any other way, you will cancel your subscription and read the paper online instead. Get your friends to call. Get your neighbors to call. Take a petition around the neighborhood and get people to sign it. Write a letter to the editor about how wasteful the plastic bags are. Finally, ask yourself if you really need to have the paper delivered in the first place. Maybe you do. But maybe it’s just one more unnecessary habit.

Has anyone had success getting the plastic newspaper bag problem solved?

3) How to interact with people who don’t support your plastic-free lifestyle. Suzy Q said she is having a hard time with her mother who insists that Suzy cannot be plastic-free around her. Personally, unless someone has me tied up and is shoving plastic into my mouth, I don’t see how they can force me to do anything I don’t want to do.

Let me be clear. I don’t preach to my friends, family, or co-workers about how they should live. I’m not shy with my opinions, that’s for sure. But I make clear that they are my opinions and that I’m not here to judge other people. After that, they can agree or disagree, but I’m not interested in getting into an argument about my choices. And most of the people I love actually have made big changes, which I don’t think they would have made if I had been nagging at them to change.

4) Plastic-free dog poop solutions. That is the million dollar question. Reader ChokingPlanet considers using old newspapers. That might be a good option.  Or, if your life is not completely plastic-free, how about other types of bags like old bread bags, chip bags, cereal bags, stuff like that. (You could even ask your dog-free neighbors to donate theirs via Freecycle.) It’s true that if the dog poop is just going into the landfill, there really isn’t any point in investing in compostable poop bags. In a landfill, those bags will just generate methane gas. Whatever you do, please avoid taking brand new plastic bags for the purpose of picking up poop.

For those who are able, there is a system for composting dog poop in your backyard. I haven’t tried this myself (because we don’t have a dog) but I’d be interested to hear from someone who has. Here are instructions for making your own dog waste composter. And here is a dog waste composter you can buy.

There is a flushable dog poop bag, but I have to say I’m skeptical. It’s touted as a fully biodegradable plastic, and yet it is made from a synthetic polymer derived from polyvinyl acetate. And I wonder what effect it could have on our plumbing. Michael and I do flush our cat poop and litter (the poop is toxo-free and the litter is made from wheat), but they are not wrapped up in a bag, and we let the litter and poop sit in the toilet and break down for at least 20 minutes before flushing. The poop bags, on the other hand, will get soft in the toilet but will not actually fall apart until after they are flushed. What would happen if the bag got caught on something in the pipes in the mean time? Same reason I don’t recommend flushable diapers, but that’s a rant for another day.

5) What to do about plastic buttons on clothes.
I confess that I did have that mini melt down that one time about the plastic beads and plastic buttons on my clothes. But then I snapped out of it. (ba dum dum) Let’s focus our energy where it can do the most good the quickest. Until we’ve gotten the big sources of disposable plastics out of our homes and lives, I think we can stop worrying about buttons. Just make sure they’re sewn on well enough not to fall off.

6) Scrubbing the tub. I use baking soda, a scrub brush or a loofah, and some muscle grease. But I have to admit that I am not the most diligent house cleaner in the world. (Okay Michael, you can stop laughing because you aren’t either.) Sari, who asked this question, said she has a fiber glass tub, which is harder to clean. Ours is… um… whatever old tubs are made out of. What ARE old tubs made out of? Anyway, it’s definitely not plastic. So, plastic tubs are hard to clean, I gather. One more vote against plastic. Anyone have ideas for a good way to clean a fiber glass tub?

7) Plastic-Free berries.
Sometimes we can’t find berries without a plastic container. Since we shop at the farmers market, we just ask the vendor if we can empty the berries into our own bag or container and if they will reuse their plastic container instead of throwing it away. Many of them will! Our strawberry vendor is always happy to have the green plastic basket back again to reuse. You can’t do this in the grocery store, but it works great at the farmers market.

8) Storing emergency supplies. This is a really good question from a reader in hurricane country. And as someone who lives in earthquake country, I have to admit that I have been very, very remiss in this area. If we had an earthquake right now and no drinkable water for a week, we would be screwed. So what to do? Storing water in plastic is not healthy. And yet dying of thirst is even less healthy. Eating food from BPA-lined cans is not healthy. But starving is worse.

You can store water in big opaque polypropylene drums, which is better than clear PET bottles or hard polycarbonate jugs (like those on a water cooler) which can leach chemicals. Polypropylene (#5 plastic) is considered to be the safest for food. Recently, we have learned that it too can leach chemicals, but I think that in an emergency situation, water in a PP container is better than no water at all.

I have often wondered if there were stainless steel containers for storing large amounts of water. I mean, if you can store beer in a stainless steel keg, why not water? But I’ve never really looked into it. Anyone want to take on that project and report back? I’ll love you forever for it!

And speaking of beer containers…

9) Beverage containers at wild college parties. What does a party monster do when she wants to throw a bash but doesn’t have enough glasses for everyone and worries they’d get broken anyway? My idea is just to pick up a whole bunch of cheap glasses and mugs from Goodwill. Does anyone else have anything better? Besides not drinking? I’m guessing that’s not an option in this case. ;-)

Okay, there were a lot more questions, but these are all I have the time and energy to tackle today. Please chime in with your ideas, and I’ll address the second half of last weekend’s questions maybe next weekend. This is kinda fun.

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6 years ago

My bf and I live on a sailboat, and we have 4 stainless steel water tanks (1 40 gal and 3 75 gal tanks). They can be cleaned relatively easily. To prevent the potential for yucky stuff growing in them, we add a capful of bleach (a very small amount for the 40 gal tank, and 1/4 c. per each 75 gal tank). You can find the ratio of bleach per unit of water online, there are even calculators. Often times, this is less than the amount of chlorine found in city drinking water.

7 years ago

plastic free sunscreen:

Beth Terry
7 years ago
Reply to  Katia

Yes. I love Balm Baby sunscreen! I reviewed it two years after writing this post.

9 years ago

@Alanna Newspaper box!

9 years ago

@Olivia As a former newspaper carrier I would have appreciated the returned bags. I have had some customers put up an additional mailbox labeled ‘newspapers’ for me to use. One had made a cute wooden box with a door.

9 years ago

@Nana Sadie I squeegee my shower after every use in our hard water with a squeegee that hangs in the shower. Therefore I only have to clean the shower about every 6 months or so with vinegar and baking soda. Plus we always run the exhaust fan whilst showering. Have not taken a ‘bath’ in over 20 years.

12 years ago

Just wondering, now that I’ve been in an emergency situation (Christchurch NZ, earthquake 22/02/11) and Japan has a horrendous situation on its hands… have you found any solutions for a plastic-free emergency kit?

Ours is full of plastic, I admit. Plastic water containers (refilled regularly), strong plastic crate to keep all the food in… a lot of the food is plastic-paked too. That said, we only just had the emergency and repacking (in case of more nasty aftershocks) from various sources elsewhere isn’t an option while things are so disrupted :)

Natalie Diebolt
12 years ago

I suggest linking with the Clean Bin Project people (Jen & Grant) who are tackling a bunch of the same things. You both could benefit from each other I think.

13 years ago

Do you have any suggestions for what to place trash in-instead of plastic bags…someone mentioned that the bio bags really don’t degrade in the landfill. I don’t want to use paper bags either. Is there an alternative?

13 years ago

In regard to storing water. I use 1 gallon glass bottles that formerly stored apple juice. We have about 12 of them.

13 years ago

anne, here’s a good article about pens: but it doesn’t really go into the compostable pens, just mentions them. and you’re probably right, fountain pens might be the best option.

Anne O.
13 years ago

Any thoughts of the DBA compostable pens??? I bet you use a fountain pen!

13 years ago

I read that UV light can kill toxoplasma gondii, same with the toxocara parasite in dog waste. the sewage treatment facility in my town uses UV light, but I don’t know if that’s a guarantee that all the parasite organisms would be killed.

13 years ago

Don’t flush cat poop – it contains toxoplasma gondii which water treatment centers cannot eliminate.

13 years ago

One more thing to add to your topics: Plastic and sports (or just exercise). Swim goggles and suits, athletic shoes, uniforms, protective equipment, balls, nets, mats, etc. It’s all plastic, unless you want to be a barefoot runner or skinny dipper, what do you do?

Nana Sadie
13 years ago

Start to clean the bathtub right after a shower or bath – don’t let all the water out, and let the warmth loosen some of the grime (or prime the tub for cleaning, if you prefer those semantics!). Then with your baking soda? Add vinegar and scrub while it fizzes.
(the vinegar and baking soda helps keep your drains clear, too!)

Earth Friendly Goodies
13 years ago

Thanks for the tip on the Vivesana sunscreen, I hate putting sunscreen on the kideos knowing what is in regular sunscreens. Also interesting about what Tracey said awhile back about coconut oil being naturally SPF 15 – I’ll have to try that.

Sense of Home
13 years ago

For storing water in case of emergency, I bought apple juice at the health food store in one-gallon glass jugs and then reused the jug for water storage. I change the water every three to six months (depending on when I remember). The old stored water can be used for watering plants.

13 years ago

ODog — thanks for the info on the bulk store that allows bags from home. I will contact them for more information.

13 years ago

Re: plastic sleeves for newspapers. We live in a rural area where the paper is delivered before dawn each day. We have a box for the paper – similar to a mailbox but open to the front – but on rainy or snowy days the paper will still get soaked without the plastic sleeve. I am loathe to give up the paper because it saddens me to see all the newspapers that are having to go out of business. I read most of the papers online but there are still many reasons to have a “real” newspaper. However, we can return the plastic sleeves to our carrier for re-use, if they aren’t torn – and they rarely are. Our carriers have to pay for these bags so they appreciate having the bags returned.

13 years ago

Wow, that pug is the best! Dogs are smarter than most people, haha.

13 years ago

A metal canister for water is an interesting idea. Honestly I imagine metal leaches something as plastic does but maybe more minerals and less toxicity.
Your tub may be porcelain…
I saw contractor trash bags yesterady marked as 100% recycled plastic, 100% recyclable and oxodegradable. Also we got a cc offer that said the card would degrade in a landfil. Skeptical?
Great idea on the bring your own mug situation mentioned above. Take it another step and propose a ‘best mug’ ‘funnies mug’ or ‘uglest mug’ contest at work. A fun way to bring awareness at work! And alternatively if you have extra mugs either donate them or bring them to work and put a sign up for a ‘free mug’ table or a wash/rinse mug swap spot rather than plastic and styrofoam.
Keep it up everyone!!! Lots to go but changes are happening.

13 years ago

The sunblock is non negotiable for me. My 3 kids, like me, are super blonde with blue eyes and very fair skin. We use the highest SPF I can find, and we go through over a gallon a summer. Long sleeves and hats help, but when it gets over 80 out, you need to do what you have to do. I have been in the ER for sever sunburn and shock, and don’t want that to happen to my kids.

13 years ago

This one goes out to Melissa who’s wrasslin’ with Bulk Barn. Melissa, I’m not sure this satisfies your query since it’s technically not a “bulk foods store” but I go to River Valley Market in Northampton, MA, which is a community co-op grocery store with a lot of bulk bins. They let you bring in whatever containers you want. They weigh them for you and then subtract the tare weight from your purchase. I’ve been bringing the same Quaker Oats container for a while now to fill with their organic bulk oats and nobody bats an eyelash.

Laura M
13 years ago

Another vote for BYOMug/Glass/Cup/Drinking Vessel!

And I may be your store-water-in-a-keg tester outer. It will probably depend on how much $ an empty (or full for that matter!) keg is. If anything you have surely gotten me thinking about water storage! :)

13 years ago

# 9-
Like Amanda K. said, 30 racks are always a good option if you really want to be plastic-free and it’s not too much more expensive than a keg.
Re cups for other drinks and games: start saving mason jars now! My housemates and I have been saving our glass mason jars from various foods (mostly salsa, peanut butter, jam, pasta sauce, and tahini), and now we have enough to throw a sizable party. If they’re all relatively the same size, you can even use them for beer pong. Ask all your friends/room mates/hall mates to give you theirs when they’ve emptied them, and your collection will really grow. Since they’re free (-ish), it’s not the end of the world if one breaks. but I’ve found people to be pretty careful, since they know they’re glass.

13 years ago

My friend sometimes hosts brunch and we all have to bring our own mugs. It always ends up a contest re: who has the cheesiest mug/mug w. the best story.

We use compostable corn cups at our parties. Now that I think about it, that’s just greenwashing.

13 years ago

Oh boi oh boi…. juicy discussions!

Buy suncreen in bulk or make it if you can.
The following are naturally SPF 15 – buy them whole and scent free:
coconut oil
shea butter
cocoa butter
avocado oil and butter
sesame oil
hemp oil
Lotions are ways to get that “light” non greasy feeling by mixing oils and waxes with waters, but the natural stuff is moisturizing and actually helps your body make vitamine D. See more info on my website. And, yes, you can buy my sunscreens is glass jars and metal pump bottles , albeit with plastic tops.

I do green catering and avoid plastics by asking attendees to bring their own plates, cutlery, bottles etc and serving finger foods, dip-ables etc. I have a set of 20 stainless steel tumblers/cups that are really compact, which I bring to events. My plates etc are coconut shell and stainless steel. Some people are shocked and wander around confused looking for plates, plastic cutlery, paper towels and glasses, but they get over it.

My worst eco disaster was the first house party I held after going non plastic. Guests kept running to the dollar store and buying plastic and paper napkins. Horrors!

I have been asking for hand made or “experience” gifts for many years. I can’t get people to stop buying plastic (and unfair trade) gifts. My aunt bought a “bath books that was obviously totally plastic except for the non natural “cloth” page covers with plastic markers. She kept going on about how good a gift it was. *sigh* Then there’s the 5 sets of plastic markers, the 6 sets of petroleum crayons, the pairs of plastic shoes etc. It makes me sick. I can’t bring myself to be totally rude and get angry when I receive a gift. I pass on as many as I can unopened, but I get caught. I think I’ll announce this year that all plastic gifts will be given away or sold unopened. They’ll hate me. What are we supposed to buy then? they ask angrily. ARGH it makes me ill. Having kids is an anti plastic disaster.

Make a creamy soft scrub using equal parts soap and baking soda and add a dash of orange or lemon essential oil. Less soap for thicker scrub, less soda for thinner. The essential oils are a solvent that will clean grease off almost anything.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

PS and if anyone wants to DIY their own sunscreens, I’ll email you the PDF of my workshop FREE – a $10 value. I seriously love FPF SOOO much and want you to DIY!

13 years ago

As for problem #2, our newspaper only gets delivered in plastic if it is raining out. If it didn’t come in plastic, the paper would be soaked. I’m more than happy to have the paper wrapped in plastic so I can actually read it!

13 years ago

I buy doggie waste bags from According to their website, the bags are made from corn syrup and other renewable resources and degrade in 60 to 90 days. They are a bit fragile and tear easily, but the price is really not bad!

13 years ago

Regarding sunblock, I wonder whether you could use penaten cream, which last time I bought it came in a tin. I believe it has the same active ingredient as natural sunblocks.

Regarding dog poo, I’m lucky enough to live in a city that composts animal wastes as long as they’re not contained in plastic. So when my dogs poop in my yard I pick it up with newspaper and put it in my green bin. (I admit I still use plastic bags when we’re away from home.)

13 years ago

Sigh. Questions like these made us change the theme of Puglet’s next video from ‘the plastic problem’ to ‘save the oceans, with an emphasis on plastic’. It’s just too big and complicated an issue for a non-speaking, thumbless pug :(

The poop problem alone is tough enough to solve. Here’s what we’ve learned:

– Biodegradable bags
Aren’t a solution. Even the manufacturers admit (if you ask directly) that the bags don’t break down in landfills and don’t belong in compost.

– Bio-bag alternatives
There’s a brand called MuttMitts that, unlike the bio-type bags, claim to decompose in an anaerobic environment (landfill). I have no idea what the heck they’re made out of but we use them, for lack of any better ideas. Admit I’m not 100% comfortable with the unknown though.

– DIY & in-ground poo composters
Don’t have personal experience with them, but from what I’ve read, if you treat it like a septic tank and choose a location away from edible plants – you should be fine. I think the septic tank treatment is very important. Dog poo can contain a number of parasites that are transmissible to humans (hookworm, roundworm). Giardia is a particularly nasty& very hardy little microbe that can also be shared :)

Sorry for the lengthy poo discourse, but when you live in the city with 2 dogs (and one of those dogs is large) dealing with dog poo is a daily concern.

PS > thanks for sharing the Green Pug video :)

amanda k.
13 years ago

For concerns 8 and 9, I believe I have a little advice to share.
The military has done metal water cans ever since WW2: the Jerry Can. You can buy them on Amazon, but the listing says they are for gas. However, a new Jerry Can for gasoline could easily be used for water storage. Read about them here:

As for college parties and those damned, ubiquitous red cups, there is a simple, fun solution: keg stand. Though I heartily second the idea of bringing your own mug or purchasing cheapies at a thrift store, keg stands eliminate any problem with containers at all. :) Or leftover beer.
Of course, the alternative is just to buy cases of cans or bottles and provide big, non-negotiable recycling containers, which is what most of my friends and I did in undergrad.

13 years ago

(SIGH) I miss my pug.. and puglet looks like his long lost twin!

As far as dog poop goes… I have said it before… take a scoop with you, transfer to poop from scoop to a paper bag. Or if in your yard install a Dog Dooley system. But enough of my preaching. I do use those biodegradable poop bags but only when in public.

13 years ago

We always re-use the plastic bags our paper comes in when we get them, which is not often, usually just when the weather is bad. I don’t know if that’s determined by the carrier or by the paper, but our problem is actually that our carrier doesn’t put the paper in a bag often enough! we get the Sunday paper for the coupons mostly, and he makes no effort to put it in the mailbox, and often throws it in the lawn in the pouring rain so it’s completely destroyed when we get up. Once I guess he ran out of bags, because we found our paper stuck into an empty potato chip bag that had been turned inside out but was still covered with grease and chip crumbs – it was so gross! if he’d washed it, i might have applauded his recycling effort, but it was mostly just gross. I don’t know what would protect paper from the wet besides plastic… and since the paper often comes well before the sun, it’s not possible for it to be hand-delivered to everyone. I wonder if there is any good solution for that.

And for the berries – the farmers’ market I go to actually asks that we bring our own bags to dump the berries into, so they can re-use the containers.

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I can help with a solution for the plastic free party people. Ask your guests to bring their own mug! A friend of mine had a St. Patrick’s Day party and got a keg thinking they would have more guests than they eventually did. They told everyone to bring their own mug and to encourage everyone to do so said their would be a contest and a prize (mostly bragging rights) for the person who brought the best mug.

Another friend has a Bring Your Own Glogg Mug party every Christmas. Glogg is a Scandinavian drink you light on fire and drink at Christmas. The traditional mug is the size of an espresso mug (it’s very strong) but a lot of people use coffee mugs.

A Green Spell
13 years ago

Fascinating about the dog poop composter. What are your thoughts on that? I always hear people talking about how dangerous dog poop is – full of parasites, diseases, etc. But I HATE throwing it away – in a plastic bag, no less. A used plastic bag, but it still bugs me. I’m curious about the composting idea.

13 years ago

I’m about to try making this homemade sunscreen:
But depending on your sources, the supplies may have some plastic containers. Oy! My main concern is to protect my skin without toxic ingredients.

Another anti-plastic mission of mine is to try and convince Bulk Barn, which is Canada’s largest bulk food retailer, to allow customers to bring containers and bags from home for packaging their food selections. Good luck to me. They have allergy and food contamination issues to excuse them from taking this ecologically sound step but I”m hoping the lure of becoming environmental leaders will trump those other concerns….I had been taking my own containers but they recently informed me that this is against corporate policy. I’m wondering if anyone reading this uses a bulk food store where they are allowed to use their own jars or cloth bags? If so, I’d love to hear about it to assist my mission.