June 29, 2009

Lauren Hamilton’s Plastic Tally

Plastic Tally

Starting Saturday June 6, 2009 ending Friday June 12, 2009

I work as a 6th grade reading teacher at a charter school for economically disadvantaged students, so I often work 12 -14 hours a day. Thus, convenience foods play a more predominant role in my life than I would like. Nonetheless, I want to tally my plastic once during a week of school and once during the summer. This is my last week of school and while it is only a four day week with 1pm dismissal times, it is a fairly typical representation of my personal plastic use.

Summer gives me more time to find non-plastic alternatives, and more importantly, eliminate more of the convenience food I rely on during the school year.

I have decided not to include items that may be lined with plastic materials, or items used by my partner only. I have included mutually beneficial items and items used at work.

Usually, my work plastic would include more dried up overhead markers, transparency film and the film packaging on Post-its, but being the last week of school, I’m done with most of that stuff.

Kettle Chip single serving size bag: I am certifiably addicted to Salt and Vinegar chips. They are my favorite salty snack. On Saturday, we picked up prepared sandwiches for lunch (in compostable packaging), and I could not resist the bag of chips. I checked the Kettle Chips website and they call their packaging “all-poly.” They are investigating alternate, more sustainable packaging that still ensure fresh chips. I am waiting.

Two bite brownie package(#1 snap lid and bowl): This is a vice. I know I can make my own brownies. But these are sooo good! I limit myself to no more than 1 per month, if not less often, but when summer comes, these are out. I will make my own. On the plus side, I wash these containers and save them until I make massive batches of homemade granola and give some to co-workers.

Bag from sliced sourdough bread: This was bought from a local bakery. I also often buy my sliced sourdough from the local farmer’s market. I prefer pre-sliced bread (see preface for my explanation regarding convenience foods) during the year, but I don’t mind slicing my own when I am not racing out the door with my toast. That said the bread does go stale sooner without the plastic bag, so I may just stick with the local farmer’s market version.

Plastic vacuum packaging for top sirloin: I know: eat less meat. I am working on it, but until then we get our meat from a local sustainable meat purveyor at the farmer’s market.

Yogurt container (#5):
I want to buy a yogurt maker (I have had mixed results with non-electric means), but I am opposed to buying one new. I have subscribed to the Craigslist feed for yogurt makers. In four months, only one has appeared in my area and it was snagged before I got to it. I am now holding out for a used crock pot, which I found out you could use to make yogurt, not to mention other yummy meals.

Yogurt container lid (#4): While the pot can be returned to Whole Foods, the lid cannot.

Yogurt pot inner seal:
Also, not recyclable.

DVD plastic wrapper: Only after I purchased this did I realize I could have rented it from Netflix. Grrr! But on the plus side, it is for work and will be donated to my school for use in the years to come.

Plastic seal on Ben and Jerry’s pint: See above for refrains on convenience and my penchant for sweet things. The ice cream shop around the corner from my house has an INSANE line. (Bay Area folk: Get thee to ICI, pronto!), or else I could satiate my ice cream craving with local, organic ice-cream-in-a-cone.

Plastic lid and straw to a small McDonald’s Coke: (not pictured due to carelessness)
Junk food is my nemesis, eh? Now, I rarely go to McDonald’s on my own. We had a raffle/auction thing for my students and one of the prizes was a McDonald’s lunch. I had to pick it up for the student, so I bought a Coke. 99 percent of the time I order a drink at any eating establishment, I refuse the lid and straw, but this time I went through drive-thru and didn’t prevent it. End. Of. Story. Moving along now…

Plastic vacuum packaging for chicken: Same farmer’s market supplier.

Plastic seal on Ben and Jerry’s pint: Boyfriend polished off my first one, so he bought me another one!

Full-sized Kettle brand salt and vinegar chip bag: Boyfriend strikes again!

Plastic fork: 8th grade promotion celebration at my school. I hadn’t had dinner yet, so I couldn’t resist hors d’oeuvres.

Small plastic (or cellulose?) film bag:
Contained a single, delicious chocolate chip cookie from a local bakery at the Promotion celebration.

Used markers (not shown): Cleaning out my classroom each year means dumping dried-up markers.

Small plastic straw from a juice box/ Juice box (not shown): Last day of school! Field Day! School-wide BBQ! I had my refillable water bottle, but it was empty and I had students to monitor, so I couldn’t duck back into the building to refill. I drank from a juice box instead.

Plastic spoon:
The spoon came from a helping of potato salad. I own bamboo flatware for when I bring lunch from home, but I don’t have it with me everyday. Even if I had a reusable one inside the school building, it wouldn’t have been feasible for me to leave my group and get it. I would have had to refuse, but I was starving after running around all day with sixth graders.

Single wrapper from a Nature Valley granola bar: The day after school ends is a work day to clean classrooms. I needed something to stave off hunger and delay leaving for lunch until I was done working.

• What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?

Dessert! Treats! Food, in general, clearly. Although, what this tally doesn’t show is the multiple ways I have eliminated other forms of plastic from my food choices. For example, I usually refuse to take home the green basket that my strawberries come in by dumping them in a small reused bag and handing the basket back to the vendor. If I don’t have enough reused bags with me, I keep the basket, wash it and return it for reuse. In light of this, and other similar actions, I tend to justify my ice cream and chip habit.

I am bummed about the plastic straws, bag and 2 utensils from end-of-year events that I could have resisted and didn’t. I didn’t plan ahead to make sure I wasn’t famished before my only options were plastified (new word!).

• What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?

The brownies. I can make my own. The chips? No way. The ice cream? From my cold dead hands. I did mention going to get ice cream in a cone now that it is summer, though.

• How many of these items are from “convenience” foods that could be made from scratch with less packaging but might take more time to prepare?

Damn brownies again. Ice cream and yogurt, if I had the tools. Chips, I suppose, but I’m least willing to attempt those. I made homemade granola bars once, and I didn’t like them as much as Nature Valley. I can try again though.

• What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?

I would say the meat. Clearly, it is not essential in the truest sense of the word, but we are not vegetarians and enjoy eating meat at least two times a week. We have tried to incorporate more meatless dishes into our repertoire.

However, it is important to me to purchase more sustainable meat products, and to patronize the local farmer’s market vendor who only packages meat in vacuum-sealed plastic bags. The only other option would be to find a local butcher that sources sustainable meats and doesn’t mind using my reusable Tupperware as packaging. I’m not there yet.

• What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?

Quit teaching? I have a high stress position and it leads me to make decisions that don’t always put the environment first. That said, I am pretty happy with what I do accomplish: homemade dinners 3-4 times a week (thanks to the novio); farmer’s market shopping, virtually no-waste lunches that I bring from home most days, etc.

• What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?

There will be no plastic utensils! That doesn’t require much sacrifice, though, because I rarely use them as is. This week was an aberration with two. So in the spirit of true change, I will try out a different brand of yogurt that is sold in a reusable ceramic crock.

• What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?

Food is clearly the biggest barrier to a plastic-free lifestyle for me. Without those choices, I would have two items: DVD wrapper and used markers. Not surprisingly, plastic use with food is one the easiest for me to justify. I recognize that plastic allows for the safe transport and longer shelf life of items I enjoy. On the other hand, I know that plastic can present a host of toxic dangers to my food, so I should be least tolerant of plastic on/in/near my food. I do the best I can to reduce in light of this dilemma.

Total # of items: 22

1 Reusable item:
#1 Brownie package for homemade granola.

Sometimes, I wash and reuse plastic utensils to get one more use out of them, but not this time (due to close proximity to the used meat plastic)

Normally, I wash and reuse the plastic bread bags, but this one was smushed in with the meat plastic, so I will use it as a trash bag instead.

1 Recyclable item: #5 yogurt pot to Preserve collection at Whole Foods.

Total weight: 6.5 ounces
(not including the lid and straw from McD’s, the juice box (which I found out is 70% plastic), and the used markers which were all carelessly tossed at work)

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