The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 19, 2011

Michelle has refused over 10,000 plastic items! How many have you refused?

A few weeks ago, reader Kay Pere left the following comment on Facebook:

Beth: I’ve received your “Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge” update emails for a while now. I was hoping it would be encouraging to see so many other people working to reduce their plastic waste. Instead, it’s making me feel vaguely discouraged knowing that even after weeks and weeks of effort so many are still taking pictures PILES of wrappers, tubs, bottles, taps, bags, etc … How do you deal with this and keep your chin up? Just by knowing that it’s better than it would have been?

I agree that seeing how much plastic waste people still end up with while doing their best can be disheartening. But what the Show Your Plastic photos don’t show is how much plastic these guys have actually REFUSED while doing the challenge. One participant, Michelle Cassar from Portugal, sent me a list of all the plastic items she has refused in the past few years. It adds up to over 10,000! That’s a big impact.

Here’s a “BEFORE” photo of Michelle in 2008 blissfully bringing home a bag full of plastic, unaware of the consequences of her actions.

Michelle C. with plastic bag

And here is Michelle’s Tally of Refused Plastic and story in her own words:

My boyfriend and I live in a rural town on the West Coast of Portugal, just minutes away from the Atlantic. All totals are approximate. But I have under, rather than over estimated.

  • Plastic bags (including, produce bags, bin bags, bread bags, bags to put the bags in bags….) @ 25 per week = 4,000
  • Bottled water. 5L bottles (for 6 months of the year while living in a camper van) @ 4 a week = 288 bottles, 288 bottle tops, and the plastic that wraps the bottles together.
  • Small bottled water out and about @ 2 a week = 312 bottles, 312 tops.
  • Shampoo, shower gel, conditioner 1 of each every 3 months = 36
  • Deodorant 1 per month = 36
  • Mouthwash @ 4 a year = 12
  • Cotton bud/Q tips. 2 boxes of 200 per year = 1200
  • Plastic cups at events and in bars, approx 10 times a year, 4 drinks a time = 120 (They won´t refill a plastic cup because of “hygiene” so for every person they have a new cup with every drink.)
  • Plates, crockery at events. Countless!!! At one event alone I´d refused about 10 items and we have loads of outdoor events here.
  • Straws approx. @ 3 a week = 500
  • Boxed wine (i.e. plastic bagged wine with plastic tap) @ 2 a month = 72
  • Fruit punnets: @ 4 a week = 624
  • Pasta bags: @ 2 a month = 72 (the boxes still have a small plastic window, but it´s far less)
  • Crisp packets: @ 3 per week = 468 I still eat crisps, the Portuguese ones are to good. Now it´s a rare treat, maybe once every 2 months, rather than 3 packs a week like before. Which is probably better for me to!
  • Peanut butter @ 1 a month = 36
  • Tomato sauce @ 2 a month = 72
  • Butter tub @ 1 a month = 36 (though I´m sure I eat more butter, but would rather not admit it to myself!)
  • mayonnaise, brown sauce 2 a month = 72
  • Cheese. 1 a week = 156 packets
  • mini butter sachets / tomato sauce / mayonnaise when I eat out. (arghhh I love butter so this is always a hard one) 4 a month = 624
  • Bottled water while eating out. @ 2 a month = 72 bottles & 72 tops
  • Tampons. I now use a mooncup. 3 a day. 7 days of a month = 756
  • Cling film. 2 boxes a year @ 5 metres. = 30 metres
  • Clothes. All clothes are delivered to the shops individually bagged and a lot of them are made from plastic fibres. I´ve not bought any new clothes in over 3 years. (A big change from my Student cheap high street days!) How many items in 3 years??? Alot! Approx 4 items per month = 144 Now I go to charity shops, bootsales and have lovely friends’ hand-me-downs.
  • Take Away cartons: The first one opened this year and was at the bottom of the street. So @ 2 a week for 4 months = 8

Total: Over 10,389 items! + crockery at events.

Individuals DO make a difference! Refusing single use plastic did sometimes feel lonely & I look around it can be disheartening. The online community has been truly amazing for me the last few years – well, it if wasn´t for the internet I would probably think our beaches were isolated events & wouldn´t know about Plastic Pollution. Knowing people out there are doing the same has kept me going, it really has. But now I have another reason. Over 3 years I´m really starting to see my own individual actions add up. I wonder what the plastic I´ve refused in the three years since I learnt about plastic pollution would look like. A huge pile. I could probably fill my house with it! More so if I include all the plastic that wraps plastic. I´m by no means plastic free – yet. But these small refusals are adding up.

Inspired by Kay’s message and Michelle’s Refuse Tally, I have added a question to the Show Your Plastic Trash form: List of plastic items you REFUSED this week. If you’ve waited to take the challenge because you feel guilty about the amount of plastic you have consumed, why not instead jump in and focus on what you refused? We all need to pat ourselves on the back for our successes, right?

What plastic items have you refused lately?

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5 years ago

I regularly refuse plastic bags in supermarkets but it is depressing just how many products are packaged in plastic. A local supermarket — Bon Preu — in Torelló, Catalonia, has just extended its premises. After the re-opening, I was dismayed to see how much of its product line had been ‘modularised’ in transparent plastic boxes. Now I buy my milk in glass bottles instead of TetraBriks and this morning I am going to try buying cheese at the market and having them put it either into my own Tupperware or into waxed paper.

We really have to make an effort. There are millions of tons of plastic loose in the world and much of that will end up in progressively smaller particles that will become part of our food, tissues, and the very air we breathe.

6 years ago

I refuse all plastic straws now and live just fine without them. I have started making my own salad dressing to avoid the plastic bottles. I am forever picking up plastic to throw in my recycle bin. I always wonder of it gets reused
I have not used a plastic bag in years I wish they would be banned. I work on health care and the plastic waste is horrendous. We all have to keep on trying. G

9 years ago

Beth Terry winterholly This one is over $200 but there are others with aluminum instead of stainless steel that are $35-$60.

10 years ago

@Wendy Schroeder

One of the hard things is finding small kitchen tools and appliances. I found a great electric skillet a New egg that is only glass and stainless steel. It is a breeze to clean up with a damp rag and cooks very evenly. Still looking for a coffee maker.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  winterholly

Hi. Could you please provide the link for the plastic-free skillet you found?

10 years ago

I recently read Beth’s book and my husband and I are working on refusing/reducing plastic. I just went toe-to-toe on my first plastic “battle” at the pharmacy. Doc ordered a prescription (pills) but when I picked it up, each pill was housed in its own plastic applicator, which was then wrapped in a plastic blister pack individually. It is insulting our intelligence to think that we could not load an applicator on our own. So I refused it. I’ll be calling the doc tomorrow to see if there are alternatives. And I actually got online and sent the company an email, ending with a challenge for them to think greener. Made me feel sooo good. It’s about time I started taking a stand. Long overdue.

Beth Terry
10 years ago
Reply to  Deb

Hurray! Not for the stupid packaging but for your taking action and speaking up. Please let us know how it goes.

11 years ago

Hi Amy –

Since you mentioned shampoo, I buy that in bulk. I can bring my own container, which I weigh at the check stand before filling it. I’m lucky enough to live by a community market and they stock a variety of liquids (and some powders!) in bulk. Of what I can remember, they have multiple options of: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap, lotion, massage oil, dish soap, and laundry detergent.

If your local store doesn’t have things in bulk, ask the grocer/body care specialist. The Whole Foods near my boyfriend’s house had nothing in bulk, so I asked if they would start adding things, and sure enough, they have! (I’m still working on them to add bulk dish soap – that’s one they’re a bit resistant to, oddly enough.)

As a total nerd side note, when I get my bottles weighed, I tell the clerks to skip writing the weight – usually something like .25 grams – on a little sticker, which would usually be affixed to the bottle. Not only do those stickers come attached to a plastic backing, I get to test my memory by doing this. (If I’m concerned though, I’ll write the numbers on my hand or put them in my cell phone as a note.)

11 years ago

Lovely reading everyone’s comments…

Hi Amy, don’t feel bad about “having a lot of work to do” I’ve been at it over 3 years & things take time. A lot of things I’m going to start working on – now, because I still have plastic. (for one example those annoying things in olive oil & vodka. I’m capable of pouring & sometimes I just wanna pour it quickly. Especially on those few vodka pouring occasions!)

Q tips- in my health food shop they have organic cotton ones, so happens they are paper sticks. Still a tiny plastic window, but I go with that.

Shampoo, deodorants etc – I use LUSH now. They have a naked range, all the products are solid. Sure you’ll have them online there, if not a store.

Moisturiser – I use a lush one to, but it’s expensive, so when I’m home or before bed I use olive oil. (yes it still has the annoying plastic pourer thing – but less plastic than a bottle) & you get use to smelling like a salad! Bit strange at first I admit.

Cups in public – I take a mug or glass with me when I go out. I usually know I’m going, I don’t often get caught by surprised, I ask for a glass when I do or drink local bottled beer. (when I think they’ll be food I take a plate & crockery to…) Now I have a glass I found at a bootsale as it has the measure on so people don’t think I ripping them off! In the summer we went to a festival, we were 3 of 40,000 people. The only ones with mugs & bottles. I had to sweet talk the police to let them in! but they did. Yes we stood out, we were swimming in plastic cups. But every bartender or vender we spoke to was at first confused, but cool & they filled us up (we tipped well which maybe helped!) & by the end of the 3 days we were no longer weird, they saw the state of the place….. & were equally horrified. & we still had our fair share of fun!!! (apart from being disgusted by the HUGE sea of plastic we were in. Which is something I’m still learning to detach myself from, but on this occasion my boyfriend was more angry than me. Sometimes things are so big we have to let go… get merry & dance! even in that sea of plastic)

I STILL need to sort my toothbrush out. I still have to sort my work plastic out. There’s loads of other stuff to. Some friends are getting on board now! so we’ll be able to bulk buy (before I’ve just gone with out a lot of food stuff, which isn’t the best idea!) I should properly write to the organisers of that festival… 2012 the year to up the ante a little bit more!

Hope this helps Amy, I’m more than happy to answer any more questions.

There’s some photos here of that festival & our local plastic on our beaches here & in another set, if you’d like a look.

11 years ago

I love reading about all of the plastic that was given up here, but I’m wondering what she replaced it with, with certain items?? Like for example q-tips, beauty care items, plastic cups in public….Where do I find glass or cardboard for shampoo, deoderant, floss…? BTW I just found this blog a couple weeks ago and really enjoy reading it. I thought I was making a difference but it is so minute compared to everything else I’ve found here. I have a lot of work to do!

Sarah "Angry Butterfly" Schumm
11 years ago

This post goes well with my experiences this week. I’ve been slacking off on refusing plastic and feeling very guilty about it. I left my re-usable bags at a friends house last week and had to use plastic ones for Christmas shopping. I hardly ever shop at places like Walmart or Target and even more rarely accept plastic bags, but last night I took 5! The thing is, they just don’t work! They are just the most inconvenient thing ever, and even re use them for dog poo, but two were ripped before I even got to the car, and I had these huge pink marks on my arm from carrying flour and sugar in them. The occasional produce bag ( I went back to them for farmer’s market grapes after several incidences of extreme stickiness) makes great dog poo bag but regular shopping bags are useless. I’m looking around at all these people using plastic bags with my arms hurting from carrying them and wondering how they do it.

The other thing is when someone visits, my dad was in town and we went to buy TP and he reached for the ones in plastic, and I had to tell him, “No Dad, I don’t buy the ones in plastic, I use the ones in paper” Or when I have a friend over and someone else does the dishes and I have no dish soap because I use baking soda in a shaker.

There are all these little changes I’ve made that I suppose add up to quite a bit. I know soda bottles alone have to be at least 50 a year. I have no idea how many bags even being imperfect about refusing them because I got in the habit so early. (I’m still using a bag I got from Modeling School when I was 16 LOL) I know clam shell berry and bakery containers are probably between 40 and 50 a year, shampoo is probably only about 3 or 4 a year but I suppose that adds up. I probably refuse at least 3 straws and drink tops a week now. It is more encouraging to think about how many I refuse. I know even though I give in more than I’d like to to packaged food, I certainly don’t eat it every night anymore.

11 years ago

Per month:
Refused at farmer’s market: 10 plastic bags for veggies per week x 4= 40
Refused at farmer’s market: 10-15 plastic bags for plastic bags x 4= 40
Refused bag at any store: 2 per week x 4: 8
Me: Pack lunch 5 times per week with silverware, cloth mat & napkin: 40 plastic forks, knives, no paper napkins
Spouse: pack lunch 2 times per week with silverware & cloth napkin: 16 plastic forks/knives
Child: pack lunch with waxed bag for snacks, sandwiches, wooden spoon, reusable water bottle fork 5 times per week: 80 plastic baggies, 40 plastic forks plus 20 plastic mini bottles of water

Conservative saving of plastic items: 320 plus per month! Per year: 3840!!!

11 years ago

This is really great! Big thanks to Michelle for sharing and Beth for passing it on :)

11 years ago

Hi Alanna, I’m lucky enough to live in a wine region, it doesn’t come that far. Also, I drink far less now. Wine on tap can be a bit tempting….!

Betsy (Eco-novice)
11 years ago

Great idea!

11 years ago

For things like boxed wine, is it better to consume less plastic or less packaging? A box of wine saves a lot of packaging (they’re often 3-5 bottles worth). Those bottles are heavy and have to be put in boxes to go to the store, and they travel on trucks, which use fuel – and the less they weigh and less space they take up, the less fuel is used to move the. I think 72 boxes of wine is better than 200+ bottles of wine. That is a lot of waste, even if it gets recycled.

Wendy Schroeder
11 years ago

Michelle has found the key in tallying refused plastic! Good for her, that is the true victory when it doesn’t even have to be MADE in the first place.

As someone who used to stock up on items before I became committed to reducing all plastic and waste in my life, i am having to think carefully about who to give stored garbage bags and plastic utensils to! Amazing how fast your thinking can change when you start labeling your garbage “Landfill”…
Thanks Beth for your website, it is so nice to hear others with the same passion when the world around you seems so clueless.

11 years ago

I really LOVE the idea of counting our successes rather than focusing on the plastics we still use. I only did the challenge for a few weeks before I got totally worn out, and I’m not plastic free by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m certainly more aware of it than I used to be.

My most recent success was that I wanted to get my kids (meaning kids of the feline variety) a scratching/climbing kitty tree for Christmas. I initially was going to buy one, and I found them online pretty cheap… but the more I researched, the more I discovered that anything which cost under $400 was made from plastic PVC pipe. So instead of bringing more plastic crap into the world, I made a kitty tree from scrap lumber I had in my garage and some carpet scraps that I got on FreeCycle. I know in the broad scheme of things it’s not much, but it’s something… and something I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about before reading Beth’s blog.

Emily @ Crunchy(ish) Mama
11 years ago

Every time I check in on your blog I am so impressed with the commitment you (and others) have to your cause. I am sloooooowly trying to decrease my plastic usage. I’m a baby steps kind of girl. Right now we’re just eliminating plastic from any contact with food (and I sort of hate noisey, blinky plastic toys). Like I said… Baby steps! Thanks for all you do!

11 years ago

Personally, I can say ten times a week, by bringing my trusty old mugsly to the coffee shops, I don’t use 520 plastic lids per year. And I don’t use plastic soda bottles much anymore (thanks to my Soda Stream). And I cannot count how many bags I didn’t use because of bringing my own bags to the stores. Would have to be at least 4 a week.

Kay Pere
11 years ago

Yay! Thank you for adding this item. Looking forward to adding it all up and watching the combined tally grow!

Tracey TieF
11 years ago

SO ENCOURAGED!!!! What a great idea to make note of what we are NOT using. Thank you.