The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 13, 2011

Is It Plastic?

ruchi-stewart-colbert-081My friend Ruchi is full of questions.  The following is a guest post from her with answers from me.

So many dilemmas

When the Artist Formerly Known as Fake Plastic Fish emailed around asking if people would be willing to contribute a guest post, I was … flummoxed. See, I really wanted to help out. I did. But I had a problem. Anything and everything I know about plastic, avoiding plastic, wasting less plastic, etc, comes from … none other than Beth Terry, plastic-avoider extraordinaire. I mean, I COULD write some post about giving up zip-locs or not wasting plastic produce bags, or some such. But I’ve DONE that. The Artist Formerly Known as Fake Plastic Fish has DONE that. A gazillion times.

I have a lot of plastic problems. Now that I compost, it’s crystal clear just how much plastic I use (because that’s the majority of my trash.) And while it may not be as much as the average American (at least I hope it isn’t), it’s still a lot. Some of this plastic waste reflects conscious choices I have made. But some of it is unconscious.

You see, I think a big problem at hand is that plastic is so ubiquitous, that sometimes, we kind of forget what is and what is not plastic.

Take CDs for instance. They are shiny and look vaguely metallic, and I used to be able to recycle them with my work’s electronic recycling. But I know that they are, in fact, plastic.

Or take this face scrub I once bought. I had no idea that it had hidden plastic in the actual scrub itself. Once I found out, I quickly stopped using it.

So in the end, I decided I wanted to write a post about what is plastic and what is not. I figured I could pose some questions: plastic or no. And then I’d get a very wise plastic zen master to answer my questions.

Except … how many plastic zen masters do I know?

Just one. Slaps Forehead.

Luckily for me, and for you, the honorable Beth Terry has decided that she is willing to answer my inane questions (and probably yours.)

So here we go.  I await your responses, oh Zen Master Terry.


1) Plastic or no? My silicone contact lenses? It depends on your definition of plastic. For purposes of this blog, plastic is a polymer based on organic chemicals (carbon and hydrocarbons) usually derived from fossil sources like oil and natural gas (although recently some companies like Pepsi have found a way to derive those materials from plant sources.) Silicone, on the other hand, is a polymer based on a combination of organic and inorganic materials, the inorganic material being silicon, or sand. I would assume that the organic ingredients also come from fossil sources. Yes, it’s technically plastic. But whether or not it’s safer or better than organically-based plastic, I don’t know.  Supposedly it is more stable.  But I have a lot more research to do on silicone.

2) Plastic or no? The tetra-pak soy milk? Tetrapaks (aka aseptic packaging) are the boxes that sit unrefrigerated on the shelf and hold anything from soy milk to soup or even wine. Juice boxes are tetrapaks. And yes, they contain plastic. In fact, they contain multiple layers: plastic, cardboard, aluminum, cardboard, plastic, which makes them difficult to recycle.

3) Plastic or no? The non-tetra pak lemonade carton?
Side note: I’m assuming that the little spouty thing on the lemonade carton is plastic even if the body isn’t?
Side note two: Why do they have the little spouty things on everything these days? Is it because of that Friends episode where Joey couldn’t open a milk carton?
Side note three: According to the not-very-helpful pictures on my compost bin, I’m still allowed to compost the lemonade carton. How am I able to do that if the spouty thing is plastic?
Side note four: Why can’t SF recology make better pictures?

Yes Ruchi, cardboard cartons, the kind that must be refrigerated, are also lined inside and out with plastic. Many people assume it’s wax, but it’s actually polyethylene. Ruchi also wants to know why they are allowed in her compost bin if they are coated with plastic. That’s a good question. I think various municipalities are reconsidering whether they should go in the bin or not. According to an article in the East Bay Express, Berkeley’s compost facilities don’t want them anymore because they are not breaking down.  I’m not qualified to answer questions about Recology’s photography skills.

4) Plastic or no? My magazines? I guess it depends on what magazine. They are made from coated paper. The coating for magazine paper is usually made from clay, but according to Wikipedia, the clay may be bound to the paper using various materials, some of which are synthetic. So there could be some plastic I guess. I haven’t called a magazine house.

5) Plastic or no? The glossy stuff on books? Do you mean on the cover? Most likely yes. It’s plastic. Here’s a page about various types of coatings for book covers.

6) Plastic or no? Confetti? There are different kinds of confetti. Some confetti is paper. Some is mylar, which is a metallic looking plastic.

7) Plastic or no? Glitter? Same answer as confetti. Glitter could be paper, plastic, or metal.

8) Plastic or no? See the theme here with the confetti and the glitter is we ordered our wedding invitations recently. And they are super beautiful (and cloth). But they also have little doodads on them and I have no idea if they are plastic or not. Probably you have no idea if they are plastic or not either (at least not without looking at them.) How am I supposed to tell if little shiny things on my invitations are plastic or not?! Um… taste them? Personally, I just avoid shiny doodads these days, wherever they appear, assuming that most of them are plastic. Do your remember my post about obsessively removing the plastic beads from some tops? That was extreme. But anyway, if you’ve already ordered them, and you love them, chill out.

9) Plastic or no? Meltdowns? (This is more of an existential question.) Claire says, “Meltdowns are entirely NOT plastic (unless you were to speak literally of “melting down” plastic), they’re part of your brain which is (hopefully) completely plastic free, unless you have some kind of implant.” Claire, of course, is referring to the plastic material. But if you’re using plastic as an adjective, then yes, it is very plastic. “Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change as a result of one’s experience, that the brain is ‘plastic’ and ‘malleable’.” You can mitigate meltdowns through meditation, or so I am told. :-)

10) Plastic or no? Our planet? Once again, noun or adjective? There’s a lot of plastic here, but a lot of other materials too. And the planet definitely has the ability to change and adapt. Whether it adapts to the benefit of humans or not is a different story. That depends on us, right?

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Hello, just discovered your blog via waste AM and I can see I am going to find lots of interesting reading material here! We recently started our own war on waste and plastic in particular here in Portugal where we live as part of a larger project to raise awareness about the environmental impact of household waste. Friends came for a meal this weekend and they brought a total of 4 plastic bags into our house…….they meant well as they brought fruit and gifts, but it’s amazing how endemic the plastic bag habit is.
Best Wishes
Sonja Morris
Sintra, Portugal

Donna Mitts

Hi, Here’s my interesting fact as a way of entering the glass container contest:

There have been a number of research studies indicating that vermicomposting can significantly reduce levels of pathogens in waste materials, such as biosolids.

I’m a garden teacher at a small public school in Hawaii and have been composting with worms for the last 6 years.



Beth – I meant to write back about the cat litter rat in the toilet thing earlier, but it’s been crazy around here. I did read, and was duly horrified by your post. In fact, I think about it often… One of my cats who doesn’t generally like to snuggle seems to find my lap irresistable when I’m sitting on the toilet. Wierd, I know, but who can figure out what goes on in the mind of a cat. Anyhow, I hate to shoo him away because it’s such a rare treat to get a cuddle from the Smoky Bear… Read more »

Melissa B

@EcoCat Lady: regarding your plastic bag rant: I switched pharmacies due to the bag issue (Walgreens :p ) I think Fonda LaShay uses beeswax treated cloth to wrap cheese etc. As to storing produce, another option (which might not work for the plastic free) is a produce set Chicobags sells. They come with three bags for different purposes. One made from cotton, one from um? some mesh, and one from recycled plastic for letting ethylene out and whatever.


My love of chips. I can’t get over it. I limit them in the extreme, but still – those crinkly plastic-foil composites call to me every time I’m in the grocery store.

I also take a bath when I get home sometimes, after I’ve already taken a shower in the morning. The water waste gets to me.

Eve Stavros

Beth, Ha – I used to put the scooped poop in old,recovered,found plastic bags, but thought I’d be doing a better thing by using the cardboard box! Back to the bags, unless…is Swheatscoop safe for septic tanks? This is my only concern for the flushable litter. And my cat, who is so darn picky about his toilet habits!


On the kitty litter front… We actually compost it. We’ve been at it for a year or so, and there are several tricks that we’ve picked up along the way. Here’s what we’ve discovered. 1) You can’t use clay litter because it won’t break down. You’ll just end up with shitty cement (literally!). We use SWheat scoop, because we like the smell, it clumps well, has very little dust, and because it comes in a paper bag. There are litters made from corn, corn husks, walnut shells, recycled paper and pine… although I wouldn’t recommend pine because of the volitile… Read more »


You could do what my neighbors do (for the cat): don’t have a litter box and let the cat out to poop in the neighbor’s yards. There used to be a nice sandy area in our yard with a kiddie playground on it, and we had to take it out because it was just a giant litterbox for the neighbor’s cat :/

Condo Blues

I replaced my boring builder glass and metal dining room light with a Norm 69 light that I absolutely adore! It is made entirely of plastic. I went with the Norm 69 light 69 because the all metal Artichoke l really wanted is $7,000 – ouch! The only consolation is that I love the Danish mid-century Norm so much that it’s not going anywhere – ever. But I felt pretty darn guilty about installing an all plastic pendent light in my house.

Eve Stavros


I save the cardboard box my cat litter comes in, (or any sturdy box w/all four flaps that comes my way) scoop the dirty litter, etc. into it (along w/any compostable matter like bones, avocado or mango pits), close it up and set the box out for trash pick-up.

Eve Stavros

Behan – One little trick that might assuage your paper towel guilt: I save the paper towels I use in public restrooms, reuse them to dry my hands throughout the day/week, then bring them home and re-use them for the dirty/gross tasks that I just can’t bring myself to use a rag for. (like picking up cat hairballs and wiping out the cast iron greasy skillet).

Sarah S

My kids toys I would say are my family’s worst spot (now that we don’t diaper any more, that was awful). He loves all those little plastic figurines and trains. We get a bunch secondhand, but we buy some new as well.

Karen e

Guilt? Yeah, I have guilt. My vehicle is too big, but I do plan to downsize after I move across the country with it. I also still use plastic bags when scooping the litter box. I need to find a better solution to that, especially since the little would break down otherwise.


My guilt is my job. I’m a photographer. It goes hand in hand with plastic. I take images of plastic, but the irony isn’t lost on me. I need a new lens & body, but AGAIN I’ll refuse new & go for old. Other items, cds, memory cards are not so easy.

Shame I don’t have access to internet at mo, so not so much time to read every ones.


Hey Behan… I’m not sure if the drain in a boat can handle the oil or not, but I rinse mine out with really hot water, which gets rid of 90% of the oil, then they can be wiped clean with a dish towel pretty easily. Which brings me to guilty confession number three… We have movie night once a week over here, complete with hot, buttery popcorn. And we use paper towels instead of cloth napkins for greasy popcorn fingers because of the cat hair. With 4 cats, everything has at least some cat hair on it, even the… Read more »


My guilty confession: I can’t stop using paper towels. We cook in cast iron… which just gets cleaned with a wipe of the inside, unless they are truly icky (in which case… a little hot water & NO detergent.). This is great, but wiping them clean after cooking something with lots of oil is more than my kitchen rags can take. We don’t use hot water for laundry and they just get way too gross. Wastefully using something disposable gives me guilty pangs every time, but I can’t find a good alternative. I see that roll of paper towels in… Read more »


Beth… thanks so much for sharing your plastic bag rant, I’m so glad I’m not the only person who hates washing those things. And your produce storage post was WONDERFUL! I think the bottom line is that I just need more glass containers. Maybe I can figure out how to use the mason jars for that purpose. They might actually work really well for cut scallions. Anyhow, I also have another guilty confession. I take long hot baths. My upstairs shower doesn’t work eventhough I’ve tried to fix it twice… and I don’t like going down to the basement to… Read more »


feel guilty when i unnecessarily drive my husband’s truck, with worse gas mileage, because the radio is better. kills the wallet and the environment in one fell swoop.


My biggest guilt is over buying the occasional crackers or cookies. Not only are they not beneficial for my health, they always come in some sort of plastic bag. I can usually talk myself out of them thinking about the nutritional aspect, but I can no longer talk myself out of them thinking that I can just make them at home. With a toddler and relentless homework from grad school, I know I’ll just never have time. All of my cooking time needs to go into healthy things :/


Congrats to the winners!! (winning is so much fun!) :) … I love that you’re doing this. I’m with you on the hot showers. While I love long hot showers, a couple things I do are: share the shower. We get our 3 kids in the shower at the same time and while one is getting wet the other is washing and they keep switching out until their done. Same amount of time… more people washed :) And for the times when we’re not sharing the shower, we turn off the shower (Navy shower) while we’re scrubbing and then turn… Read more »


I feel guilty about buying beer at ball games, particularly cricket games which last all day long. I try and try to get them to refill my plastic cup, or, better yet, the green metal mug I carry with me everywhere, but they claim they can’t because of the way they keep track of the numbers, or some other ridiculous thing. Makes me sad. Sober is all well and good, but sometimes you just feel like drinking a beer on a hot day.


I just bought a plastic homemade popsicle mold. I’m hoping in the long run it will cut down on ones that are bought from outside and allow me to make them. I’m eating a homemade rassiberry, yogurt and ginger as I type.


For me it’s antipersperant. Everything else that I do when it comes to beauty is completely natural, except for my antiperspirant. And I know how bad it is for me, too! But I’ve tried natural deoderants and they only work for an hour or so, and then I start smelling. I have no idea what to do about it.

I don’t have a Facebook, but I do have Twitter.


First, I would like to say how impressed I am by the folks who have already made their confessions. Although it is obviously not healthy to let guilt rule your life, the fact that you have feelings about these things means you stay aware of them and strive to continue to make a positive change. Just remind yourself of all the good you are doing, be able to forgive yourself, and continue to move forward in a positive direction. That said, I think I have guilt stamped on my DNA. My biggest guilt comes in the form of a double-edged… Read more »


My ecoguilt is having a swimming pool in the back yard … in the middle of the desert where people probably shouldn’t even be living in the first place, much less with 20,000 gallons of water in a hole in their yard…


I feel guilty about buying food items I know I can make. Tofu, soy milk, etc. I feel guilty because every time I buy for convenience I have to throw packaging “away.”

Eve Stavros

Oooh I got a dessert to go after a company dinner the other night and it came in a – gasp – styrofoam box. And my tiffin was in the car but I was too embarrassed to go and get it. Double guilt – for giving in to the sweet tooth and for the styrofoam. And it’s not the first time.


p.s. I can’t Tweet or FaceBook my plastic produce bag guilt because I don’t have a Twitter or FaceBook account… sorry. (I’m not in it for the prize anyhow)


I’m with Martha on this one… the pile of plastic produce and ziplock bags on the kitchen counter is getting ugly! Here’s the thing… I’ve made bags that I use for produce and bulk foods, so I don’t bring home new plastic bags, but I’ve been washing and re-using the same old ones for several years now and I feel guilty sending them off to the recycling until they are ripped or have holes in them. Plus, I’m not even sure if you can recycle ziplock bags. I generally cut of the zip part, but I don’t know if that’s… Read more »

Alyssa Lee

First of all, thanks so much for the giveaway and for the chance to give a “confession” of little guilts. I’m reading through all of them and I just want to tell everyone how much they impress me because despite the little bit of plastic that we can’t seem to get rid of, so many people have already done so much! It’s really great. My guilt is constantly forgetting to unplug my laptop! As a student who tries to print as little as possible, I’m using my laptop CONSTANTLY and bringing it around campus and reading on the bus and… Read more »


First of all, all of the comments are making me feel guilty! This is my confession, and its a big one! When I did my last shopping trip to the store, my kids really wanted the individually wrapped cheese sticks. Yes, twenty-four individually wrapped cheese sticks packaged in a plastic bag. Well, I bought them and they are eating them but every time I open the fridge and just shake my head at the excess waste that we just created.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama

That I’ve resorted to using ziploc bags for freezer meals in an attempt to get our family back on track with budgeting and meal planning!


My guilty item is disposable nursing pads for breastfeeding. I have cloth nursing pads and use them overnight, but I leak too much during the day. The disposable ones are the only thing that works. I guess I could change cloth pads multiple times throughout the day, but that would entail buying a lot more cloth nursing pads and a lot more hassle during the day, since I nurse every two hours or so. The worst part is that they are all individually wrapped in more plastic. Once I run out of the boxes I have, I’m going to try… Read more »


I feel guilty that I compromise and regularly buy soy, rice and almond milk in cartons I know are plastic lined. My kids just won’t drink the pure stuff I make and since I’ve moved, I haven’t been able to unpack my soy/rice/almond milk maker (no really, this place is under construction, so it’s like camping in a bad place). So I haven’t been mixing it 50/50 like I used to. So now I’m 100% guilty, whereas I used to be 50/50.


bulk organic veggies and grains that come prepackaged in plastic at Costco. I have a seriously love hate relationship with the big box store–on one hand, it is great that they are starting to offer some organic foods, and they are WAY WAY cheaper than the bulk section of the local natural foods stores. (organic sprouted beans that take only 5 minutes in the rice cooker??? = love!) But they are of course packaged in plastic. Sigh. We have a family of six, and feeding us well without breaking the bank is hard. I have resigned myself to spending a… Read more »

Meredith Torres

My guilt comes in diapers. With my daughter (now 3 years old) we were really good about using cloth or FuzziBunz all the time. There were periods when we didn’t even own a disposable diaper. Then my son came along (now almost 2) and we used *mostly* reusable diapers. Slowly the disposables have crept back into our lives though. When we do use them, we use Nature Babycare, which are mostly biodegradable, but still have nasty SAPs in them and come wrapped in plastic. Every time I pull one out I feel tremendous guilt. I did just take my sister… Read more »


I’ve been able to do most of my grocery shopping plastic-free for the past couple of years (my mum made several cotton produce bags for me, mostly with fabric which she already had), but I buy cheese at the farmers’ market and it comes wrapped in plastic. I used to bring my own container to buy cheese at the farmers’ market when I lived in London (there was a fantastic vendor bringing cheese wheels to the market every week!), but all the cheese in the farmers’ market where I now shop here in DC comes pre-packaged … Every time I… Read more »


My guilty action is getting a new cell phone when my old one could have been repaired and possibly lasted at least a bit longer.


I’m simultaneously dueling with seriously curbing my consumption of single-use plastics, meat (also because of environmental concerns), and foods that are really bad for me, mostly sweets. (I don’t eat fast food or drink soft drinks, but I have a hard time turning away from cookies, cakes, and the like.) With all of these things to consider every time I buy something, just grocery shopping often makes me feel horrendously guilty: the non-meat/healthy snack things often come in plastic (Larabars being my big indulgence – quenches the sweet tooth, but still good for you! – but also sugar snap peas… Read more »


My guilty action is still using plastic produce bags. I reuse them over and over until they have large holes, and then bring them back to the grocery store to recycle, but I know reusable bags would be better. I even have an old sheet that I started to cut up to make reusable bags with, but I don’t have a sewing machine (and don’t know how to use one anyways) and hand sewing would take forever. Though I’m sure if I had begun hand sewing these a year ago when I first had the idea, I’d at least have… Read more »


I feel guilty about the way plastic bags (which I intend to wash and reuse) pile up on my kitchen counter. I haven’t bought plastic bags—it’s just the ones that somehow sneak into my life. Right now I have a stash under my kitchen counter where I hastily hid them when we were expecting company…