The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 14, 2010

Plastic-Free Living Discussion, Part 3

Responding to more of your plastic-free living comments/questions/suggestions from two weeks ago.  This is fun because it gets me thinking about aspects of plastic-free living that I might not have encountered in my own life.  So here we go…

1)  Cost of Plastic-Free Products. Rebecca is concerned that where she lives, many of the plastic-free options are more expensive than their plastic-wrapped counterparts.  For example, she can buy a 1-lb bag of dried beans for 90 cents when the bulk beans are $1.75 per lb.  And for a family on a very tight budget, those amounts can add up.

Okay, first let me say that each of us can only do what we can do.  If you’re stretched to the max with no padding, you do what you have to.  And when any of us reaches the limit to how far we can actually take our personal plastic-reduction, that’s when advocacy is called for.  That’s when we start having to contact the stores where we shop and the companies that make the products we buy and the legislators that regulate these companies and let them know we don’t want their plastic packaging.  Our individual actions, while critical, are not enough to change the basic paradigm that puts convenience and profits over the health of the planet and its people.

That said, how many of us do have some padding in our budgets that could go towards supporting healthier foods, fair treatment of workers, and sustainable packaging?  The reason conventional food is so cheap is that the true costs are externalized.  Someone is paying the difference, and that “someone” might be the workers who are subjected to pesticides in the fields, inhumane conditions in the slaughterhouse, or toxic emissions from the plastics manufacturing plants.  That “someone” could also be the other animals who share the planet with us and the eco-system itself on which we depend for survival.

What’s the true cost of our designer coffee drinks if buying them means we can’t afford organic produce or foods with less packaging? What is the true cost of cable TV if it’s purchased at the expense of our health?  (Yes, I can talk, because I just canceled our cable last month, and I honestly don’t miss it.)  What is the true cost of the brand new clothes we buy if they are made from petroleum-based fabrics or chemically treated cotton?

There ARE ways to save money by choosing a greener, less plastic lifestyle, and I’m planning a post on that in a few weeks.  But when the greenest choice is more expensive, how many of us who are able to pay the extra price are willing to do it?  Because when those who can afford to make greener choices do, won’t the prices come down for everyone?

Okay, off my soap box.  Would love to hear differing opinions on this.  But not defensiveness.  I’m not judging anyone here.  I have no idea what anyone’s financial situation is except for my own.  I’m just suggesting a good hard look at where the money is going and an analysis of whether some of those funds could be channeled into greener spending, or not spending.  My friend Diane MacEachern at Big Green Purse is a big advocate of using our spending power to make a difference.  If you haven’t read her book or checked out her site, you should!

2) Packaging Waste in U.S. vs. Mexico. Read Tricia’s comment about the difference between packaging waste in the U.S. vs. Mexico.  Just read it.  That’s my only response.

3) Plastic-Free Eldercare Supplies. Ashley wants to know about plastic-free eldercare supplies like lotion, denture cream, bed pads, diabetic socks, etc.  This is a good question because my mom is at the stage where she needs some of this stuff, but since I don’t live with her, I hadn’t thought a lot about it.  There are washable adult cloth diapers and some washable cloth bed pads that, although they all have some kind of synthetic/plastic waterproof layer, will at least save the waste from disposables.  So, I’ll put out the question to you guys: Do you care for anyone who needs special medical supplies, and if so, have you found ways around so much of the plastic?

4) Bulk Food Packaging. What kind of packaging does the bulk food come in before it’s put into the bulk bins?  Amy says she’s seen employees emptying foods from small plastic bags and boxes into the bulk bins, so how is that saving packaging waste?  From what I’ve seen, the stock for the bulk bins comes in much bigger bags than we would buy on the shelf.  Even if the packaging is plastic, a huge bag of something is going to require much less plastic than multiple small bags.  But stay tuned on this because I’m planning a visit with one of the bulk managers in the area to find out how various bulk foods are packaged.

5) Plastic kids’ toys. Leanne wants to know how to get around all the kid-related plastic without being the “no you can’t have it” parent.   While I don’t have kids, I do have an idea. How about swapping toys with other families or using an online swapping site to find toys your kid wants and swap those s/he doesn’t play with anymore?  A Google search brings up,  Toy Safari, SwapMamas, as well as instructions for organizing your own toy swap.

Our check out Freecycle, Craigslist, thrift stores or yard sales for used toys.  While used toys may still be made from plastic, they reduce the consumption of new plastic overall, and that’s a good thing.

And turn off the TV.  I realize they’ll hear about new toys from kids at school (and even advertising in school, sadly), but maybe if they’re not bombarded with advertising messages at home, they’ll be less likely to beg for every new toy that comes along.  And even if they do beg, what’s so wrong with saying no? Okay, don’t shoot me because I don’t have kids.  But still, I was a kid.  My parents said no constantly, and I don’t think they lost sleep over it.  I hated the no’s at the time and threw several hellish temper tantrums (some of which I actually still remember) when I didn’t get what I wanted.  But they didn’t give in, and today, I just don’t have the impulse to buy every new thing that comes along.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

6) Natural alternatives for sports clothing. I’m looking into it! Hopefully will have some answers in a future post.

7) Alternatives to plastic fishing lures. What an awesome question!  I don’t fish and wouldn’t have thought about this, but yes, a lot of the plastic polluting our waterways is plastic fishing lures.  And there are several articles addressing this issue as well as one company that is making edible lures from food.  Check out these links:

Exploring the Potential Effects of Lost or Discarded Soft Plastic Fishing Lures on Fish and the Environment (PDF)

FoodSource Lures – company making lures from food (03/11/2017: unfortunately, this company seems to be out of business.)

Or of course, why use a lure at all when you can fish the old-fashioned way:

Natural Bait

Beth's wedding karaoke performace8) Pantyhose. Oh my god.  I haven’t worn or even thought about pantyhose in probably… well let’s see, what year did I get married? December 2004.  I probably haven’t worn pantyhose since December of 2004 because that’s probably the last time I wore a dress.  And that outfit is a vintage I. Magnin suit from the 60’s.  I had to wear hose.  (And yes, we had our wedding reception in a karaoke bar, and that’s me singing “Stand By Your Man” somewhat ironically but also somewhat not.)

I definitely haven’t worn pantyhose since switching to a plastic-free life.  Pretty much the only time I wear a dress is when visiting my parents in Hawaii, and who needs pantyhose in Hawaii?

The reader who asked about pantyhose says that she needs them sometimes when it’s too cold for bare legs.  So how about wearing cotton or wool pantyhose and tights instead?  Or reserving dresses and skirts for the summer?  Any other suggestions?

Okay, that’s it for me for this week.    Leave your comments, and I’ll do another one of these Discussion posts next week.

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Classic stainless steel bento boxes and cotton lunch bags.

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8 years ago
13 years ago

As for pantyhose, I don’t wear it either… but you still can purchase silk stocking like they had before nylons were around. This one, for example, comes in black, gazelle, and ivory: (I am assuming gazelle means nude?)

Thanks to Vanessa and Danielle for the sports clothes suggestions! I will check them out to see if they might meet my needs as a triathlete in training.

13 years ago

When I started my comment, I didn’t realize it would turn out so long so I posted it on my blog instead…

In the end, it really comes down to whether or not we’ll use something that is reusable or durable. If an idea like buying from bulk bins isn’t going to work for us then we’re not going to do it… plain and simple. That’s just how humans are. (personally, we’d have to drive out of town to the nearest bulk bin and I still think they wouldn’t let us bring our own containers. And I’m not driving clear to Fresno for a bulk bin! Nuh uh!)

My grandmother uses straws… a lot. Did she like the glass straws I bought to replace her plastic ones? Heck no!

However, when I showed her the link and the washable bed pads, she was on board before I could ask her. She even offered to buy them (usually, I buy something and if she likes it, she’ll pay me back… No middle-gal this time!)

It just comes down to what we see as “do-able” for us.

(ok, I’m done :) )

Danielle Goode
13 years ago

regarding this post… 6) Natural alternatives for sports clothing. I’m looking into it! Hopefully will have some answers in a future post.

Check out Good Gear sports apparel:

Sports apparel made from 100% Bamboo.

13 years ago

This is SO awesome. I just started a new blog last week to track my efforts to go petrol-free in as many ways as possible. What I’m doing is more like the environmentalist version of “couch to 5k” programs. I’ve never really attempted to conserve significantly before, and I’ve been searching madly for blogs like yours. Such a great find. Thanks for doing this!

13 years ago

Oldnovice: Ahhh, I was not familiar with Coupon Mom. It sounds like your money is well spent going that route. I’m pretty sure the repackaging issue could go either way. These are the giant bags of grains etc which are the same size bags that are used to fill bulk bins in stores. It is true that the food banks do not use glass containers for repackaging. I’m thinking that buying prepackaged beans would be better in in that case but buying foods that are overly packaged maybe not.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

I haven’t looked to make sure no one else has posted this but these are what I wear for the rare times I wear tights-

They are 77% organic cotton.

13 years ago

Maddie: Are you sure the repackaging isn’t equal or worse than the original cheap packaging? I have friends who donate money, but I use Coupon Mom and her deal is that she gives you all the sale & coupon information for free and you donate what you can buy for next to nothing to charity. It’s been working for us for years now.

13 years ago

Thank you thank you thank you for the bed pad info. I shared with Grandma and she was very keen on the idea. We calculated the costs and it turned out that the costs of getting a dozen equated to about 8 average months of disposables (not including gas to get to town and buy them in the first place). REALLY looking forward to getting them in!

I’m going to have to share some pictures as I got curious to see just how much plastic we use just for grandma’s care. Since some weeks produce more than others (all those pill bottles) I’m really looking at it from a monthly prospective.

One tip I do have to share is with lotion. It’s really important to keep the skin from drying (to prevent skin tears primarily) so we have to have some form of lotion. We found lotion bars that come in plastic free wrapping that actually work well. As for denture creams, we have to have the zinc-free kind (and it only comes in plastic…and in one size aparantly) so we order in bulk. The company uses the same size box for shipping 9 tubes as they do for 3… so we make sure to fill the box. :)

condo blues
13 years ago

By careful shopping but also allowing some plastic for bulk containers and like the woman who found dried beans were less expensive in a plastic bag than her bulk bins I got off of an even more dangerous plastic – plastic money. The only debt I have now is my mortgage and never ending student loan payments because I sent myself to college. Our household rule is to try to get a second reuse out of all packaging by composting, creative reuse, or recycling. Now that we are a cash only family, I have the extra money to buy the more expensive environmentally friendly products.

For fishing lures, I read about a company that makes them by folding metal bottle caps in half. They say they work better than traditional lures. Something about the shiny metal or something like that.

13 years ago

@ Oldnovice. One suggestion is to donate money to your favorite food bank rather than food. The food banks in my area will take donated money, buy huge bags of bulk dried foods, then repackage it into family size portions using volunteers at food packaging parties. Your money will go much further and if you get a chance, the volunteer parties can be fun.

13 years ago

We like to give to food banks and other charities and they just can’t take the risk of accepting bulk products. It’s like the Halloween candy scares. Someone could poison people and they need the undamaged packaging to ensure that the contents haven’t been “amended”.

I don’t see a way around this and in this economy the food banks need all the help they can get.

13 years ago

I feel Leanne’s pain! We get many hand-me-downs and it always takes me a long time to get rid of these because the people who give them are usually people that I love and appreciate and it feels disrespectful to get rid of something. But then I go back and forth…”Do I buy batteries for this plastic toy that I didn’t ask for in the first place and doesn’t even take rechargeable batteries?” *sigh*
I spend a lot of time trying not to be a crazy hippie mom…it’s especially hard when they are too little to express themselves well. My first-born is 2 right now, and so far we go through her toys every so often and donate what we haven’t used, if she’s not likely to ‘grow into’ them. I make a pile of what I’d like to get rid of and then she gets to choose a few to keep and the rest she’ll say ‘bye-bye’ to.
I tell her that we have a lot of things in our house and that we need to let some of them go to be in someone else’s house because they might not have as many nice things (to avoid feeling like a hypocrite I try to get rid of several things myself at the same time–this also helps her feel like it’s fair).
I like what Amber was saying quite a few comments ago…and I think it is important to preserve our personal relationships even as we strive to change the way people in our culture relate to each other and to the planet. I don’t know that it’s possible to do it without a few awkward moments but I think it can be done graciously (I hope! I am trying for this).

13 years ago

Regarding panty hose. My mother-in-law told me, that during WWII when nylon stockings were impossible to buy. So the solution was tanned legs and a steady hand to draw a line up the back of your leg because stockings had seams at that time. Au natural, you can’t get any greener than that.

13 years ago

In regards to supplies for those with special needs, we have made the difficult decision to not use cloth diapers and stick with disposables for a number of reasons. We have three kids ages 5 and under, the two oldest, ages 4 and 5 are Autistic, and because of this are very delayed in potty training, and their younger sister is also still in diapers. We do many things to try and reduce our plastic and garbage waste, but diapers is not one area we do mainly for our personal sanity. At one point I was washing diapers daily, and it was very challenging to find clothes to fit my eldest, who is a tall boy and in kindergarten. he has enough social challenges as it is, and being the only kid in class not totally toilet trained is a huge strain. So we stick to disposables, which are covered under Medicaid for now, thankfully. We work on reducing our waste in other areas, like it has been said, no one can be perfect, we all do what we can.

A for food in plastic, that was my concern, we do what we can. I have been to every store in the large city we live near to search for plastic free options. Almost no one, even the co op, has bulk bins except for whole foods, which isn’t pricey. But the search continues.

13 years ago

Singing Tammy Wynette only counts if you do it in really big hair.
Biggest. Hair. in. the. World. Hair.
So my dear, you need a Buffonte hair do. Hey I don’t make the rules ma’am- just obey and enforce ’em

13 years ago

On cloth diapers for babys ~ I did my own water usage calculations a while back and water-usage numbers are way high-end of the spectrum when used in articles justifying disposeables useage.
For example, my entire lot of cloth diapers takes up only 1/3 of my load of laundry, then I wash other clothes with them. I wash diapers about 3X per week – so a total of one load (1/3+1/3+1/3).
Plus, I have had my kids cloth diapers for 4 years – the same cloth diapers. So, the size of 1/3 of a load of laundry in a landfill compared with bags and bags of disposeables.
I wouldn’t turn anyone away from cloth on the basis of water usage unless they lived in the desert.
BTW, the most publicized argument against cloth diapers on the basis of water usage was by Seventh Generation… who is in the business of selling diapers…

13 years ago

Great Post! I really like your comments on the cost of plastic-free. I decided (around the time I first started reading your blog) that we were going to “vote” using our wallets for the right way of doing things. (o: That the real price of food is higher than we’ve come to expect. Especially in this economy, not all people can do this – in my opinion if you are feeding your family beans that were in a plastic bag instead of overpackaged not-good stuff … and you cannot afford the bulk beans, then don’t beat yourself up about it! (o:

Toys for Kids (o: Great point on the TV! The kids and I go to garage sales and they love picking out toys (plastic usually) and I feel good about that. When I buy things – I like the natural sellers on Also, I’ve been telling people around birthdays and christmas that it is OK to buy us used stuff – Seriously, packaging is something that kids do not like (o;

13 years ago

Claire–I’ve also tried looking for pantyhose made from recycled plastic, and I’ve never been able to find anything. Goodwill is better than buying them straight from the store, though; thanks for the tip.

13 years ago

Hi Beth-

Love the Q&A. Looking forward to the next post. :)

13 years ago

I’m sort of a collector of stockings, so I have to suggest that you can find good used or surplus stockings in thrift stores. the Goodwill store by me gets a lot of the surplus from target so they have a bin of brand new stockings which I like to scour. not to mention yard sales/tag sales/estate sales. I find that while I love the vintage stockings, they tend to rip more easily. I do end up finding more wacky/colored stockings than plain tan ones, but they are out there. are there any companies that sell stockings made from recycled fabric/plastic? I haven’t been able to find any on google.

13 years ago

I am a nurse in a nursing home, and am appaled by the use of platic in the medical setting. The nursing home I work in used to use cloth chuck pads that were sent to the laundry and washed at about 1000 degrees but several years ago they switched to plastic briefs. Feeds, tubing, cathaters, needles, etc are all plastic and disposed of. I take home some empty feed bottles for the recycle bin but am appaled by the waste that my one facility makes daily. We have an inhouse kitchen and nothing is recycled. On my days when I work I bring home a car full of cardboard, metal cans, and compost from the kithchen. I have a rich compost pile thanks to our kithcen. Anyway I am going to be a first time dad in November and so far we have been able to buy everything at the Salvation army. I will buy a new mattress and cloth diapers but everything else I hope to buy second hand. I am amazed at how cheap I have found some things that truly are like new. g

13 years ago

Two thoughts–

1. On budgeting. One thing that’s helping me start down this road is remembering I don’t have to do it all at once. My big project right now is replacing my plastic storage containers. I’d love to just go completely cold turkey, but that’s too pricey. So I’ve started buying glass storage containers regularly, when I can. Eventually, I’ll have enough to store leftovers and pack lunches and go plastic free. In the meantime, I don’t beat myself up for not being able to do it all at once.

2. Pantyhose–I love vintage fashion and the look of hose. I know, I’m weird. One thing I’m looking at is some vintage styled stockings. More comfortable, and still not made with the greatest materials, but generally designed to last much, much longer. I’d rather get a pair of stockings that will last me for several years than pantyhose that run after a few hours. Plus, like you said, tights are great. Sock Dreams has a wonderful selection of wool and cotton tights, lovely for the cold natured among us.

13 years ago

Beth, I haven’t tried cloth diapers but having been up close and personal with this topic, I would seriously worry about comfort and health factors.

My father had Alzheimer’s disease and I cared for him for three months in my home, then stayed by his side for the three years he spent in a nursing home. The experience left me with a lot of respect for the aides who care for elderly people; they have a really dirty, hard job, they get paid peanuts, and they still manage to be cheerful and caring toward their patients. The last thing I would want to do is burden them with the additional responsibility of cloth diapers.

In institutional settings, I would also be concerned about CDIF, a highly contagious form of diarrhea that can be devastating to older people. The level of sterilization required for cloth diapers would probably negate any environmental benefit.

13 years ago

About pantyhose:

I typically don’t wear pantyhose. However, this summer I’m interning in an extremely conservative industry, and I’m required to wear a skirt suit with nude pantyhose every day. I looked through the site you posted, but I couldn’t find any nude non-petroleum based pantyhose; the knits were all colored. I’ve tried before, and always come up empty. Any advice?

13 years ago

Regarding elder-care supplies: I’m not sure I would go there. Speaking from experience here, taking care of an older person is an extreme challenge, in some ways harder than taking care of a young child. Bedsores and irritation are much bigger factors, and I believe disposables are better at keeping the skin dry than simple cloth. And the extra work and hassle (remember: worse than baby diapers!) would really put a burden on the caregiver, who is already probably pushed to the edge.

I’m no fan of plastic and petroleum products, and I do my best to limit them in my life, but they do have their place, and unless you are blogging from a wooden computer, you already know that. With diapers, the picture is rather ambiguous; I have seen life-cycle analyses that show cloth has a bigger impact on the environment than paper, and vice versa. Trash disposal is only one aspect of the picture; cloth diapers have to be manufactured (out of cotton, a water- and chemical-intensive product), washed (in hot water, with bleach), and eventually, disposed of (in a landfill, where they probably will not biodegrade).

When you add all that up, it may be that disposables actually result in the use of less petroleum than cloth diapers. Where I live, trash is burned to generate energy, rather than landfilled, so the environmental impact is even less (and when I lived in Switzerland, baby diapers could be composted, although I never really understood that). So looking at the big picture, disposables may be the better environmental choice.

Beyond that, the human aspect cannot be ignored. To return to my original point, disposables are more comfortable and safer for the patient and better for the caregiver. To subject the patient to perpetual dampness (and possible bedsores), and to add to the burden of what is already an incredibly difficult job, just for an environmental benefit that is marginal at best, would simply be wrong.

13 years ago

I can’t speak to ‘eldercare’ supplies, since the person using the medical supplies in my household is younger than I am. That said, he and I both are frequently rather appalled by the overuse of both plastic and paper in the packaging for ostomy supplies. Most, if not all, of the equipment itself is also made of plastic, of course, and is disposable and mostly single-use. He carefully gets what he can that can be safely washed and reused, but in the last 1-2 years, the quality on those has gone down to the point where they don’t actually tend to hold up long enough for much re-use. Packaging is a bit terrifying, though I will say that the company we buy from has at least moderately dropped the plastic volume on some of the equipment packaging – still more than necessary, but a little better.

I rather doubt there’s a low/no plastic alternative to ostomy supplies out there, but we’re both willing to entertain suggestions for less waste, while of course maintaining basic safety and cleanliness.

Doesn’t help that the supplies are also terribly expensive. But that’s a whole other set of problems with the economic structure. :P

13 years ago

Beth: re sports clothing, there are three options I recommend.

1. I love Icebreaker merino and their new Technical Sports range. The company has stringent ethical, environmental and animal-welfare standards across their whole supply chain. Plus, the clothes are gorgeous to look at and even more gorgeous to wear – pricey, but you get more than you pay for IMO. I’m a big fan… I have been known to wear Icebreaker head to toe (their wool undies are just beautiful – TMI?).

2. Untouched World is another terrific ethical merino brand, and has beautiful yoga-wear plus a full range of cycling gear, as well as all the other clothes. (Top of the line Cytech chamois, for bike geeks’ information.) Again, so gorgeous!

3. Silkbody produce lovely, ethically-produced silk knit clothes. More wonderful stuff, especially great for those with super-sensitive skin!

Sorry for the mammoth comment, but I am super-enthusiastic about this topic!

13 years ago

Oh, cool! Excited to find out about cotton pantyhose. I’ll have to find out if we can get them in New Zealand …

Earth Friendly Goodies
13 years ago

Edible fishing lures – what an ingenious invention, I wonder how effective they are. One would think since it is basically fish food they would be very effective at catching fish. Plus no more plastic!

13 years ago

I do have children, two of them. And I don’t buy them plastic toys. When my daughter is spending her own money, she is free to buy the items she chooses with it. Often, she is just as happy with a second-hand toy, because then she gets more bang for her buck and I like it because at least it isn’t NEW plastic. Also, other people in our lives are free to buy my children items of their choosing. For example, if Grandma shows up with a new Barbie doll on Christmas I don’t reject it.

It’s the best compromise I can manage – I model and teach, and then leave my kids and my relatives to their own devices. It saves me from constantly saying ‘no’, but respects my personal boundaries, and gives me a chance to buy some truly GREAT toys.

Jennifer Kubina
13 years ago

I agree that if you can keep your kids away from the tv, then your job of keeping plastic toys off their want lists is SOOOO much easier. My kids and I rent videos from the library or netflix so they are not missing their favorite shows, but what they are missing are the commercials. Compared to all the other kids we know, my kids are the least likely to ask for “stuff”. Heck, they got woolen mittens from Etsy in their Christmas stockings and were just delighted. And, actually, if you want to help kids lose the “gimmes”, read the _Little House on the Prairie_ books to them. My daughter is very caught up in the lives of the pioneers and how they lived so gratefully with so few things.

13 years ago

I’m surprised to hear about the price of beans. Whenever I compare prices on bulk vs pre-packaged, the bulk stuff is almost always cheaper. The only thing I’ve found that was the same price was upscale fancypants granola. I’ve never found anything that was more expensive bulk than pre-packaged.

Which isn’t to shame anyone or cast aspersions! But I wonder if there are other stores in the area that offer bulk foods, and might have better prices. For example if you were to compare prices on the house brand at Safeway pre-packaged versus the fair trade organic brand at Whole Foods bulk, the Whole Foods version would definitely cost more!

13 years ago

In Quebec, the television networks can’t, by law, show toys commercials during kids shows. Actually, I don’t think we ever see toys commercials at all. I think it’s a great law. I remember being really surprise to see all the toys commercials on Ontarian TV once I started being able to speak English. Maybe creating a group to ban such adds could be an idea. It would take a lot of work, of course…