The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 4, 2012

Plastic-Free Progress Report: Sarah Schmiechen

Sarah Schmiechen is a long-time reader of this blog and prior participant in the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge.  She emailed me recently to let me know about some of the successes and challenges she’s had in reducing her plastic consumption, and she suggested that it might be useful/helpful for me to post profiles of readers and the changes they’ve made in getting plastic out of their lives as well as the difficulties they still face.  I thought that was a fabulous idea and asked Sarah if she would like to be the first.  Sarah was up for it, so the following is her post.  I have added my own comments at the bottom with a few suggestions, but I’m sure you guys will have a lot more for her.

Recently, I was at an out of town family wedding catching up with my cousin April. We were chatting about blogs we read, and The Compact, and I mentioned My Plastic-free Life and how I’d won the Show Your Plastic Challenge.  April asked me what I’d changed as a result of reading this blog, and my mind just kind of went blank – I could only think of a couple of things I was doing differently. Surely I was doing better than that?

When I got home the following week, I started noticing little plastic-free things around the house, habits that had become so ingrained that I didn’t even think about them any more, like the bar soap we use now instead of buying liquid soap in plastic pump bottles or the coffee beans from the bulk section in a paper bag.

It has been over a year since the Show Your Plastic Challenge and I had absorbed and pretty much forgotten about many of the changes I had made, but I’d also lost steam on making more changes or being diligent about some plastic-free initiatives I’d been making. With that in mind I thought it would be great to take stock of what I’ve done and where I still need to keep working. Maybe some readers out there have some great advice for me!

Some of the things I’ve done:

  • Switched to bar soap instead of pump bottles. This one was really easy, I just had to buy some soap dishes and some bars of soap and I was all set.
  • Stopped using Brita filters and started drinking tap water. Another easy one, just stopped doing it. The tap water here tastes just fine, so we’re lucky there.
  • Switched to using cloth rags instead of paper towels. I have a pretty good system going for this one – when kitchen towels become too stained or worn for my liking, I cut them in two, and they become rags. I keep a cloth tote bag hung up on a hook in the kitchen to put the dirty rags in. When it’s time to wash them, I throw the rags and bag in the wash together.
  • Bring empty egg cartons back to farmers at the farmers market to reuse. This was a suggestion from someone during the Show Your Plastic Challenge. It’s a great example of community helping each other out. I never would have thought of that, and it really cut down on some bulky items in our recycling.
  • Joined a meat CSA. This meat still comes in plastic, but hopefully less of it, and it’s organic, so there’s no pesticides on the other end.
  • More items from the bulk aisles of the grocery store. We’re not as diligent about this as I’d like, but theoretically we do this when we can.
  • Use stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic. Like the soap, I just had to buy a few initial items and we were set. I bought Kleen Kanteens. My takeaway on them is that overall it’s great, but the sport cap is terribly leaky, and the ones that are painted a color are a bad choice for the dishwasher, as it chips off.
  • Bring my lunch to work in the lovely cloth bags from Ambatalia that I won in the contest, instead of a cooler. I found in the past that eventually things would leak into a cooler bag, and the lining would break up, food would seep into the inside and the cooler bag would start to smell bad. With the cloth bags, I just throw them in the wash and they’re good as new. There’s no insulating properties, but I don’t take a lunch that needs insulation and the problem is solved. (I could also use our gross office fridge if I had to).
  • We got rid of one car. I walk or take the bus to work. That decision was made mostly from a financial standpoint, but we do buy less gas and other maintenance-related items.

Some of the plastic I’m still using:

  • Cosmetics: I’ve had really mixed success with this whole area. It’s a case of the spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak. I’ve tried going ‘poo-free, using baking soda instead of deodorant, and just using soap to wash my face. All of those worked okay in the short term, but left me feeling gross in the longer term. When I look in the mirror and my hair is lank and my skin is all broken out and I smell, my morale goes out the window and I have to run out to the nearest CVS and buy lots of plastic packaged cosmetics. Another thing I haven’t been able to stop doing is dying my hair. The gray starts coming in and it makes me look 10 years older. I feel guilty about it, but not guilty enough to stop, I guess. Any suggestions? Some things that have worked great for me are using a simple sugar-and-olive-oil scrub on my face once in a while, using Rosehip Oil in a glass bottle for moisturizer, and using soap to wash my face once a day at night. (In the morning I use Clean and Clear on my face in the shower).
  • Diapers: We had finished with diapers, but then we had a second child. I tried cloth diapering the first time around with my son, and it just didn’t work for me. The diapers would leak and smell, even when clean. When my girl gets past the infant stage of needing a diaper every hour, I might work up the energy to try it again. For now, we’re just using disposables. We do use cloth wipes, so that’s something I guess. I know there’s a million options out there for cloth diapering, each with their devoted fans. I’m wondering if prefolds might be the way to go for us? We also use a lot of plastic bags to then dispose of the diapers.
  • Almond milk: I can’t drink dairy any more (my nursing child is sensitive to it), so I switched to Almond Milk. As far as I know it doesn’t come in glass.
  • Gifts: We have a very generous family and they give us a lot of presents for our children. Most of them are plastic of course. If I can get my hands on it before they see it, I’ll sometimes donate it or regift it. I did try asking people to give us less stuff (diplomatically, I thought), but at least one person got in a big huff about it, so I haven’t pressed the issue a lot. I’m also just as guilty of buying other people gifts in packaging.
  • Luggage: This is just a random one that came up – when we got back from our last trip, all our remaining luggage had gotten damaged by the baggage handlers or just from use. I need to buy a new set of suitcases. Any thoughts on minimizing plastic there? (All leather Louis Vuitton trunks?)

Sarah, congratulations on your progress.  It’s true that once a lot of these changes become habits, we just don’t even think about them anymore, right?

Here are some of my quick tips:

  • The Reflect Klean Kanteen is made without any paint (the design is etched onto the bottle) so it cannot chip off.  And the silicone ring inside the metal cap keeps it from leaking.
  • Soap can be very drying for the face.  I honestly don’t wash my face with anything but water in the shower, and my skin is great.  Other people recommend scrubbing your face with baking soda.  Coconut oil makes a fabulous moisturizer.  Other suggestions?
  • I’ve had success covering my gray with dark brown henna.  Lush sells henna bars that come plastic-free.  Also, some bulk stores sell henna powder in bulk.
  • A metal razor works just as well as a plastic razor.  For real.  I don’t cut myself.
  • Eco-Dent dental floss comes in a cardboard box, although the floss itself is Nylon.
  • I’ll let others chime in with the diaper suggestions since I don’t have kids.  But I do have a section in my book on diapers, soakers, etc.
  • If you’re up for it, almond milk can be made from scratch.  Cashew milk is even easier because you don’t have to cook it or strain it through cheese cloth.  Hemp milk is another one that doesn’t have to be strained, although I don’t love it.  Google for recipes online.  They are there!
  • Maybe look into secondhand luggage?


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hi mom


I’ve been reading this book, Healing Remedies, that has some recipes for hair coloring. I haven’t tried them, but it sounds like they would work.


I make my almond milk with a Vitamix blender, 1 cup previously soaked (supposedly raw) almonds, 3 cups water blend, strain in a “nut milk bag.” I don’t recommend the paint strainer method some people suggest! If you like sweet than a pitted date (bulk or farmers market) and a bit of vanilla extract. No steaming needed and I think it tastes better – just make sure your nuts smell fresh and not rancid! That said I’m not sure if steamed almond milk lasts in the fridge longer. We have to be careful not to leave ours out of the… Read more »


In the San Francisco Bay Area we have a compostable diaper service called Earth Baby. You use paper disposable diapers (the brand is Naty) and they work as well as conventional disposable diapers. The diaper service picks the dirty diapers at the end of the week, drops off new diapers and wipes, and takes the dirty ones to their composting facility. You might want to contact Earth Baby and see how they got started with their business – maybe you can convince an entrepreneur in your area to start a composting diaper service business!

Sarah S

Maybe I ought to start that myself Emily! I’ll check it out, thanks!


I think this is a really great idea to post people’s successes. I always think about doing the Plastic Challenge but I don’t always have the time to take pictures and write every week so I haven’t. But I have made a lot of similar changes as you Sarah and its great to see someone else is having the same difficulties (i.e. deodorant/antiperspirants, shampoo). Plus this helps me out because I am going to use some of the advice on the posts! I have been trying out different types of shampoo bars and often times I find they dry out… Read more »

Sarah S

Thanks Megan!


I too was loath to give up anti-perspirant, until I was persuaded to try a deodorant crystal. The crystal has been far more effective than my old plastic-encased anti-perspirant was, and it lasts forever (I’ve been using the same one for three years and have scarcely made a dent in it). It also comes in a little chamois bag with no additional packaging. As for shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, I buy these in bulk, re-filling my containers at our local co-op. I too use Eco-Dent floss, which comes in a card container, though the spindle is plastic. I use the… Read more »

Sarah S

Wow, thanks everyone for all the great comments! I’m really feeling re-inspired and hope to add a few new things into the mix when it’s convenient – sounds like maybe the almond mlik and henna should be easy next ones. I’m trying out just washing my skin with water to see how it does. With the deoderant, it’s really the anti-persperant I don’t want to forgo. I think (hope) I’m not too smelly but it gets really hot in my office. In order to avoid sweating I’d have to be wearing next to nothing. Excited about all the different cosmetics… Read more »


I don’t know what type of cloth diapers you tried before, but I’m a big fan of prefolds. They’re all cotton, so they don’t get smelly the way all the polyester diapers do. They’ll stand up to any wash routine you throw at them. There are diaper forums that have lots of washing tips, but the biggest mistake that happens around here is when someone forgets to give them a rinse in cold water before the hot wash. Have you tried shampoo bars? I’m a big fan of Chagrin Valley. I didn’t think my hubby would go for the switch,… Read more »

Sarah S

Thanks!! Prefolds are definitely next to try – I used microfiber Bum Genius last time. I sold them all on and the lady I sold them to had no problems with them so it’s definitely a wash related issue,


You can make almond milk in a soy milk maker if you want to lose the tetra packs.

Thanks for sharing your progress!

Erin Fowler

I started making my own nut milks last week and i am hooked! If you don’t have cheesecloth, you can use a metal strainer and it works pretty well too. :)


Dear Sarah, My no-plastic “frontier” for personal change has been pens and markers. I’m using second hand now, and pencils. Still, the post office sometimes makes me write over pencil in pen! I still can’t stop relatives from buying plastic gifts. I used cloth diapers with both my children. I found that after they could crawl onto a potty, they preferred that at home. I kept a second hand plastic potty in the bathroom, and downstairs, so they were diaper-free at home. I used 26″ flannel squares folded into kite-triangles with a cut towel tongue and water proof velcro moisture… Read more »

Sarah S

Might have to hit you up for some more diaper advice – is the tongue like a liner attached at one end?


Another poster mentioned coconut oil and baking soda for deodorant, and I want to second that. I’ve tried the crystal salt rock deodorant, baking soda and cornstarch mixed together, a solid deodorant from Lush, and Tom’s deodorant, and none of them have worked to completely get rid of bad odor for me. I recently found a recipe on Pinterest for 4 tablespoons of coconut oil mixed with 1/8 of cup baking soda and 1/8 of a cup cornstarch. You can also add some essential oil for smell if you want, and I added grapefruit oil. It works amazingly well for… Read more »

Melissa Brown

Definitely have to second the crunchybetty dot com recommendation. Lots of DIY face, hair & body tips.
When I recently visited family & forgot moisturizer, I just used olive oil :)


People have already said this – but make your own almond milk! It is supposed to be super easy – here is a neat, artsy video I found that shows you how to!

Green Jeanne

What a great idea! 30 years ago life was less plastic and for that many years I have tryed to leave a small impact on the earth. Everyday I learn more and more about what I’ve been missing with the help of people like Beth and yourselves. My hair was dry and wavy, using just water or baking soda for many years it’s still wavy. I love the gray earned every one. Deodorant; I tryed baking soda and oils, was still stinky and the baking soda made me break out. Now, I use everclear in a atomizer it works great.… Read more »


Wonderful post! For skincare, I rotate what I put on my skin, including face. Sometimes coconut oil which feels cooling esp. in summer. Sesame seed oil is great also, and according to Annie B. Bond in her book Better Basics for the Home sesame seed has some natural sunscreen properties.(lots of good recipes in her book…for body care etc) I use sesame oil pretty much always in spring and summer. As the weather gets colder and winter sets in, I prefer thicker olive oil. A little goes a long way, I rub upwards inwards towards the heart when applying it.… Read more »

Sarah S

I’ll check my library for that book, thanks!


For haircolor, I also use henna to cover my grey. Light Mountain Henna – color the grey medium brown. I just love the extra shine the henna adds. There is plastic in the packaging… Ill look into trying the product Beth mentioned. It must be good because I had no idea she colors her hair.

Katie Ostrich

I switched to non-toxic cosmetics a couple years. Now, I’m also trying to eliminate plastic, with mixed success. The following list is not entirely plastic free, but at least you aren’t washing yourself with toxins using these products. Plus, I’ve saved money and seen improvements in my skin and hair in both manageability and appearance: Shampoo: I’ve switched to the J.R. Liggitt shampoo bar. (Lush products are toxic, so I steer clear) It really works (yay!), smells great and is ideal for camping/travelling. It suds surprisingly well and smells nice. I also use this as my shaving cream, body wash,… Read more »

Sarah S

Katie – what a great list! Thanks!! I have used some mineral makeup and powders before in the past but I’ll have to look into them again.

Katie Ostrich

I had a friend get me on the toxic free band wagon and the biggest hurdle is just finding what works for you, so I’m always happy to share if it means other people won’t have to go through as much trial and error.


I second the recommendation for henna – read up on it at longhaircommunity first. It’s cheap and will eliminate a lot more chemicals, as well as making your hair healthier.

Ferris Duvall

I use water and oil also for cleansing my face with washcloths. No facewash needed.

Ferris Duvall

Nut milks are easy to make. But they are different than store bought because they use thickeners. I cloth diapered and yes sometimes they are stinky you just have to figure out what works for you to get them clean. Google searches help with lots of suggestions. There is also the elimination communication system where you don’t use diapers at home, just hold the baby over th toilet or tub. :) I’m going to try that if I have a second child.


I don’t know about in the US, but in the UK (certainly larger) businesses have to send their sanitary waste for incineration. So to ease the guilt I had about using ‘sposies in those early baby days, if I knew I was going somewhere like a supermarket/mall/doctors surgery.. any place that would have an industrial sanitary bin, I would gather/save 3 or 4 of the most recent nappies (many more and the bulk and smell start getting silly), pop them in the diaper bag, then dispose of them for incineration when I got to my destination. Not ideal, I know,… Read more »


Diapers – I used to make my own all in one diapers, and they were okay, but high quality chinese cloth diapers still remain my favorite. Just fold and pin them, and you’re good to go! Almond milk is a breeze to make. You only have to soak almonds to make almond milk if you don’t have a high powered blender. I have a vitamix and make almond milk that kicks store-bought almond milk’s butt! SO much tastier. I don’t use soap anymore… just wash with water in the shower and watch out for foods that make me break out… Read more »

Sarah S

I had a quick look on craigslist, and only saw some cheapie ones for sale. I’d like to buy some good quality ones this time that will last. I guess I’ll just keep my eyes peeled!


With the cloth diapers, it sounds like you need to figure out your wash routine. Once you have that figured out (depends on what type of water you have and what type of washer you have), it’s real easy!

Sarah S

That’s a good point – I have no idea if our water is hard or soft or what…


Beth, Sarah’s posting reminded my of my own little minor victory in the battle to teach my 13-yr-old son about “ooooo Mooom, evil plastic!!!” This is the affectionate taunt I get from him on occasion. BUT read on: last week he rode his bike to a Subway down the street, first time on a busy road, he was proud of himself. He called me to tell me he had made it, he’d ordered, was eating, and ‘yes I got milk. … Well, actually I didn’t get milk. But Mom I have no plastic lid on the soda, and no straw!!”… Read more »


It’s nice to see how other people are doing with the plastic free thing and the challenges they still face. Good work Sarah! I have found that some of my new habits have completely stuck – like always using cloth bags for shopping, using a bar shampoo and soap from lush instead of plastic containers, and I have completely stopped using cosmetics (except on special occasions) lotions and face-wash. I wash my face now with water and green tea. I used to have problem skin but omitting lotion, facewash and cosmetics have completely cleared it up! However, I still have… Read more »


I make my own nut milk and I use a stainless steel fine mesh strainer. Here is a cool video on how to

Regarding cosmetics, I use baking soda and vinegar to wash and rinse my hair, honey to wash my face, baking soda and coconut oil in my deodorant and toothpaste recipes. I make my own mascara. My favorite resource on this:

Sarah S

I’ll check it out – thanks!


Hi! You’re doing great! You can make your own almond milk in a Vitamix or other high powered blender. Buy bulk almonds, cheesecloth and make your own!

Theresa P

Shaklee sells the following to clean your face plastic-free: Meadow Blend Soap-Free Cleansing Bar. It comes in a paperboard box without any plastic wrap on the inside or outside, it smells heavenly, and works well. I also just bought their dryer sheets which don’t come wrapped in any plastic and can be thrown in the paper recycling bin after use.


I was looking into the luggage issue myself the other night. After much searching I decided the best, cheapest and most eco friendly thing to do would be to try and get the luggage fixed. I read that many places that fix shoes have the right equipment to fix certain luggage tears. If that doesnt work then Ill try for secondhand luggafe like Beth suggests. If all else fails there are certain “eco friendly” options out there you can look up on google like this place –

Good luck!


I’m with you on the cosmetics. I think I’ve tried just about every natural-ish (including solid) shampoo and have yet to find one that works as well as my old Citre Shine. I wash my face with a sprinkle of baking soda and jojoba oil — mix the two, apply to damp skin. It’s not too drying because of the oil, and the baking soda has just enough texture to clean. I have super sensitive, oily, breakout prone skin but am amazed by how well this has been working for me. If you have dry skin, you can also add… Read more »

Sarah S

Lots of love for the homemade nut milk! Sounds easy enough.

Sarah S

Thanks for all the great tips Beth! I didn’t know henna came in brown – I always pictured it in my mind as red. I’ll check the other stuff as well! Looking forward to hearing any other tips from readers…