The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 28, 2010

Collect Your Plastic. Change Your Life.

Danielle Richardet is a Fake Plastic Fish reader and writer of the blog It Starts With Me, on which she chronicles her project cleaning up the beach near her home in North Carolina.  A couple of months ago, she and her family took the Fake Plastic Fish Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge, and took their weekly household plastic waste from this:

Danielle's plastic waste

to this:

Danielle's plastic waste

Doing the challenge, spreading out her plastic and really seeing it helped Danielle figure out what changes she needed to make in her life. I asked her to tell her story here. Of course, I’m hoping to inspire you to do it too. A 2011 Resolution? Here’s Danielle in her own words…

I made my first plastic-free change back in 2005 way before I knew anything about plastics. The first plastic product that I “gave up” was boxed cake mixes… and I certainly didn’t do it because it was in plastic. Nope… I stopped buying boxed cake mixes because I disagreed with all of the “things” that are put into them to give them a long shelf life. I had no idea then, but that decision would become the ripple effect that has changed the way I do everything.

Back in 2008, we — a family of 5 — were able to eliminate trash service at our home.

Danielle's family

We were able to accomplish that mainly by reducing, reusing, recycling and composting. BUT, even though we didn’t have much trash… I still wasn’t completely satisfied. When I looked at the contents of my (unlined) trashcan, it was nothing but plastics. Every time I would throw something away, I would say to myself, “I need to stop buying that.” or “why did I buy that???” I’d do that often and then I would remind myself of all the plastic-free changes that I had made… and I’d move on…. only to repeat the process over and over again.

Truth is… I felt trapped by plastics. Everything comes in plastic. I have 3 young children… how can “I” make less waste than we already do??

When I first saw the “Show Your Plastic Challenge“, I got extremely excited and told myself, “I’m going to do this.” I even emailed the link to a few friends telling them that we should all do it. A week later, I put a reusable grocery bag in my pantry and started collecting our plastic waste for the week. BUT… it didn’t last long. I got a couple of pieces of plastic–coffee bag, tea bag wrapper, cereal bag, etc– in the bag and I decided to stop collecting my plastic waste. My reasons for stopping were varied, but….if I’m being 100% honest…. I was embarrassed that we created so much plastic waste. How could I share this with so many people??

I started having all of these “epiphanies” about things I could eliminate and change. I immediately stopped buying bagged coffee and teas. Instead, I grabbed jars that I had saved to reuse (repurpose) and I started buying in bulk. Of course, that eliminated some of our plastic waste. Before long though, I was back in that same cycle of “I should do this, I shouldn’t do that.” THEN…. I made a decision. The decision that I was no longer going to be consumed by plastics. I didn’t really know where to begin… I felt that I had eliminated all that I could… besides… we’re a family of 5… maybe we just can’t live without plastics. I didn’t (and still don’t) know any families of 5 that are living plastic-free.

I decided, though, that I would never know if we could live without (the majority of) plastics unless I did something major.

Through looking at our trash, it was easy to see that the majority of our plastic waste (recyclable or not) came from food packaging. I decided that I was going to do a plastic-free food week with our family. BUT… most people already “thought” that our family didn’t have much trash to begin with (we take a 34 gallon trash can to my husband’s office dumpster maybe once a month). I wondered if people would think, “Well… it’s easy for her. She doesn’t have much plastic waste to begin with.” I felt that it was SO important for people to see that even though we don’t create much waste to send to the landfill, that we do have waste… and that waste is ALL plastic. I wanted people to understand that we didn’t start from zero.

It’s difficult to inspire people when they think there is no way they could ever do what you’re doing ;) SO…the week before I did our plastic-free food week…. I made a commitment and took the “Show Us Your Plastic” challenge. I collected our plastic waste in the kitchen for one week. I cringed every time I added a piece of plastic to my trashcan. But with every cringe, inspiration was forming. At the end of the week, I sorted all of the plastics on my kitchen table and tallied them. (I also reminded myself of all of the things that would’ve been in that tally just a few months earlier.) I took a picture… I looked at my list. So many things… used for just seconds… that would spend a lifetime (and more) in the landfill. Then (in my head) I multiplied that picture by 52… it’s not a pretty picture. I wanted to lose that plastic-weight and make some serious changes for our family, for our community (less waste means fewer new landfills), and for our environment.

It is true that pictures are worth a thousand words. BUT… an experience… well… it’s worth so much more. I learned so much about our habits through collecting our plastics. Things that I felt that I had no other choice about suddenly became clear on how to live without. The second week that I collected our plastic waste, we did a plastic-free food week. The difference in the amount of plastics that we used in just those 2 weeks is something that I am so proud of… and by doing the “Show Your Plastic” challenge… it is a constant reminder to me (and hopefully others) that we– yes, even a family of 5– can live without plastics.

How We Did It:

During our plastic-free food week, I blogged about what we ate and how I made our meals plastic-free. I shared recipes and links to help inspire others to forgo food products wrapped in plastics. It’s my hope that people can take inspiration from what we’re doing (just as we all have from Beth) and realize that we don’t have to be consumed by plastics.

plastic-free groceries

The main ways that I avoid food in plastics are:

CSA — I get a big box of vegies (and sometimes fruit) from a local farmer every week. Most things come loose in the box. Some things– like green beans– come in a plastic bag…. BUT… all I have to do to change that is ask… they are very helpful and will gladly put my “bagged” produce in biobags that I can compost.

Shop bulk (including loose produce…. carrots don’t need to come in a plastic bag!!!)

Shop local — farmers markets, and stores. I have many reasons for shopping local. I like that I can talk directly to the vendor or farmer and let them know my preferences. I don’t have to fill out a comment card, send an email or press 1 for the next available customer support person. For example, at the farmers market there is a farmer who sells goat cheeses. They come wrapped in plastic or in plastic tubs… he has offered that if I’d like to bring him some glass jars (labeled with my name and what I want) they’ll fill them for me!! YAY!!

At my local cooperative food market, I can call and place an order for my cheese to be wrapped in paper. They put it in the fridge with my name on it and when I come all I have to do is ask. I also like shopping local because while at my co-op yesterday I asked about cranberries (they come bulk, but they package them in plastic bags). Of course, I can call and they’ll leave some bulk for me… but wouldn’t it be cool if it was all bulk?? The guys I had the conversation with think “YES!!” Conversations are able to be started… like when I told them I do plastic-free food and he asked “what is that some sort of diet??” and the employee with him says (before I get a chance), “Yeah, it kind of is.” I explain that I’m loosing some plastic weight ;)

Conversations like these could never happen (or create change) in a big chain store.

Stay out of the aisles and frozen food section. I told my mom that I’ve started to view the grocery store as a landfill… because really the majority of all those plastic packaged products will end up in the landfill…. it paints a not so pretty picture….

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Larry Lawernce
12 years ago

WOW. This is tough to do. We have really tightened the non-plastic belt. I agree that minimizing our carbon footprint is important, but I have an issue to discuss. I tried to get my company to stop using most plastics in their production, and they laughed. They say that many of the plastic materials they buy out last the metals by 10 to 1, and cost about a third. Also the cost to make the metals is high because of the cost of energy to get it hot enough to pour. We use some stuff called UHMW from as a wear piece on our machine, and we have tried using aluminum, but it needs rubber bumpers and synthetic grease to make it work the same as the plastic stuff. Is there another non-plastic that can replace these types of material?

12 years ago

I think I can actually post the link. I hope it works.

I encourage anyone who is in agreement with Danielle and wanting to eliminate waste/carbon footprint, to visit this link and watch the video. You can pass this on to companies and individuals who can utilize their services and become more environmentally friendly businesses making more cost-effective decisions, not only for their bottom line profit but for people living in their communities. :o)

12 years ago

Inspiring idea! I’m gonna follow your lead. Love the values you are instilling in your little ones (our future leaders). I want to attach a link, but I don’t know if the blog settings will allow it. There is a wonderful idea to eliminate waste in our landfills and waste from making it to our coastlines, or “floating garbage patches” in our oceans, via some folks in Houston who founded RecycleMatch. If you’ll navigate to “PopTech: Popcasts: Brooke Betts Farrell : Waste as Trash” you will be able to see more and pass it on. Truly genius idea!

12 years ago

Wanted to update: Not 24 hours after writing my (above) comment… I changed my mind… thanks to my husband, of course ;) Instead of doing the “Show Your Plastic Challenge” at least once a month….We will be showing off our plastic waste for 52 weeks this year!! :)

Happy New Year Everyone!!

12 years ago

Hey! Thank you to everyone for your kind and supportive comments. I love that many of you are going to commit to taking the Show Your Plastic Challenge this year!!! I’m going to plan on doing the challenge at least once a month in this New Year!!

@Mary Ann: While purchasing in bulk has really helped me reduce the amount of plastics that I use…. I also do other things such as making my own bread (I just made burger buns!!!), pasta (I’ve even made ravioli), popsicles, granola bars, brown sugar, etc. (One of my goals this year is to learn how to make corn tortillas!!) Oh, and I use glass jars or old yogurt containers for bulk :)

@Kurt: We haven’t had Newman O’s since that week in September!! During our plastic-free food week (and the months that have followed), I’ve made the commitment to myself to not purchase things that I consider unnecessary. Sure we LOVE us some Newman O’s (and some other packaged products), but I don’t love the packaging. Truth is I dislike the packaging more than I like the cookies. So when we’re in the mood for cookies, I make cookies. (And Thank you Beth!!!…. I can’t wait to try to make those cookies!!! Homemade is ALWAYS better!)

@Lisa: Cheese in paper is AWESOME!! BUT… I didn’t know that I could get it in paper until I asked ;) Call around to locally owned food stores….you might be pleasantly surprised…. and even if you can’t find a place to wrap paper in cheese… you will have planted a little seed ;)

@Melody: I, too, strive to buy local. In fact, from April to December 80-90% of our foods are local. One of the best things about buying local is that you get to talk to the grower (or raiser) of your food. If you haven’t already, I would suggest talking to the farmer about getting meat without plastic. Can you purchase a bulk pack instead of individually wrapped?? Or maybe they have a solution that you haven’t thought of :)

Vegan Snorkeler
12 years ago

Inspiring! Thank you for the helpful tips. I’m always trying to use less plastic, but I think I’ll really turn this into a full on resolution in 2011.

12 years ago

Thanks for showing how a family can reduce their plastic use. We are gradually shifting away from single use plastics, but I find myself having to pick between plastic free or local from the farmer’s market. I can get things like rice and popcorn from the bulk bins at a local store, or locally grown in a plastic bag. Similarly, the local grassfed meat is frozen in plastic to bring to market. If the local health food store would put my meat in my own container, it’s still meat from far away (which probably came to the store in plastic.)

8 years ago
Reply to  Melody

Or just stop eating meat and other animal products. Your arteries will thank you. What was shocking about this post is that the author’s recipes from her blog are loaded with fat, sugar, oils, and animals. None of that is healthy and it’s REALLY not good for the environment, no matter whether you buy from “bulk bins” or not.

12 years ago

Thank you for reciprocating and visiting my blog today, great to see you! Sorry for the duplication but the one above isn’t carrying today’s post ‘Join the (plastic) dots’

12 years ago

Thank you for reciprocating and visiting my blog today, great to see you!

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
12 years ago

Wow, I wish I could get cheese in paper, that right there would save SO much plastic. We eat so much cheese in this house haha.

12 years ago

Thanks for this post! Very inspiring—just in time for a new year, full of possibility!

bonnie monteleone
12 years ago

My favorite line? View the grocery store as a landfill! That does it for me Danielle. After seeing how our excessive plastic waste ends up floating 1000s of miles in the middle of our oceans, grocery stores are an ocean-fill too.

Sofia's Ideas
12 years ago

Thank You, Danielle for sharing your story with us.

I have to admit that even though I was all about NO MORE plastic just a few short months ago, I have been severely slacking as of late. Your story has inspired me to do a challenge with my family too. We are a family of 7, going on 8, so I’m a bit hesitant to collect our plastic for the same reasons you were. But what better way to learn & grow than to face the problem head on this way?

Fantastic post! :)

12 years ago

I Love what you do here and have included your blog in my post today on Magical Meadows;) All about us all, and plastic! Look forward to your posts, thank you from england xxx

12 years ago

I noticed that your first plastic tally included Newman-Os. I have struggled with finding a bulk sandwich cookie, so I wouldn’t have to buy ones with the double packaging. Calls to Newmans have proved unsuccessful. Because of cookie breakage they won’t adopt a package-free alternative. Perhaps you found a bulk solution?

Thanks for the post.

C is for Cookie in Portland

Denise Yribarren
12 years ago

Hi Beth,

I’m a little fuzzy on what counts as plastic trash…We do not have milk available in glass bottles in our area…ergo I use plastic bottles that are recyclable…So, if I send a plastic bottle (something for instance not available in bulk or glass), am I “sinning” when I purchase such a product and then send it to the recycling bin?

Any wisdom is always appreciated.



12 years ago

This is for Mary Ann. Here’s a link to a list of food co-ops and health food stores by state. Hopefully there’s something helpful in there:

At the stores where I shop (Whole Foods and Sunflower Market) I just take my container to the customer service desk and ask to get a “tare” for them (that’s the lingo for the weight of the empty container). But sometimes this can be a pain in the rear, hence my rip-stop nylon bags (parachute fabric) which weigh about the same as a plastic bag. Good Luck!

Molly de Vries
12 years ago

Thank you beth and Danielle,
Even though this is my business making textiles to carry food and shopping, I have not taken this challenge and I think its because I’m scared to see how much I am still using, but I think its time. As much effort I have made to live a non-disposable life, there is always room for growth. I will be thinking about this challeng the next couple of days. Yikes

Mary Ann
12 years ago

On so many blogs that I read, about reducing waste, etc, .they always mention buying in bulk. Where do all these people live? Besides fruits, vegetables, and candy, I can’t think of anything else I can buy in bulk in the area that I live in (southeast Virginia). And what do you put these purchases in? A jar? And then don’t you get charged for the weight of the jar? Or do you not care? I think I’m missing something.

12 years ago

I am impressed! Congratulations are in order.

My Christmas gift to myself was 3 yards of parachute fabric (ripstop nylon) which I am sewing into bags for bulk foods and produce. Next thing on my list is to make some cloth bowl covers for the fridge. I’m hoping to never have to wash another plastic bag in 2011!

Emily @ Crunchy(ish) Mama
12 years ago

This is too funny! I’m new to the whole green movement and I just did a blog post about how I met some people who didn’t use plastic and it blew my mind!Not only did I not know it was good not to use plastic, I didn’t know it was POSSIBLE not to do it. Great post!