May 17, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Ellen Simpson, Week 1


Does anyone know where I could get plastic-free ravioli? Is this something I could buy at a deli counter or a specialty food store? One of my sons is a vegetarian, so I like to get cheese ravioli or spinach-and-cheese ravioli.

Location:Salem, Massachusetts, United States

Name: Ellen Simpson

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I live with my boyfriend Paul and my two children, ages 10 and 11, in Salem, MA. Paul and I both work during the day, and my two boys are in school. We have a dog and a cat. This plastic tally is for all four of us. If we had plastic waste from snacks/lunches outside of the house, we brought it home.

Ellen Simpson’s personal blog:

Total items: 58

Total weight:

Items: Recyclable
plastic clamshell (#7)
three plastic containers with lids from takeout Indian food (#5. I will reuse these many times before recycling, but I felt like I should include them in the tally)
Hershey’s syrup bottle (#7)
generic Cetaphil-like facial cleanser bottle (#7)
three plastic cookie trays from Pepperidge Farm Nantucket cookies (#1)
coffee lid (#6)
Coke can

Items: Nonrecyclable
deodorant container
milk carton
toothpaste tube
piece of plastic downspout (had new gutter downspouts installed this week, there was more than this thrown out, but this was what was left by the workers)
plastic-backed receipt and plastic pull-strip from package ordered online
spaghetti jar lid
granola bar wrapper
three candy wrappers
three single-serving butter wrappers (breakfast is offered at work, and this is how the butter is served)
broken spray top to a bottle of cleaner
coffee stirrer
duct tape (had a shower repair done this week and this is what the contractor used to protect the new grout from water)
package from super glue (needed to repair watch)
another package that I can’t remember
needless redundant lid that comes under the lid of the facial mosturizer I use
small bit of polyester fluff representative of a lot more fluff that our dog chewed out of his toy
bit of medical tape from wrist surgery this week (many home and medical repairs this week, apparently!)
dental floss (one piece, representative of many)
bread bag tab
hair band that broke
rice bag
carrot bag
ravioli bag, also plastic that was wrapped around another brand of ravioli
plastic wrap that was wrapped around a homemade dessert brought to our house for a birthday celebration
two small bits of plastic whose origins I don’t remember
two straws

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
I could definitely get rice at the bulk bins at Whole Foods or the food co-op nearby. I could also buy carrots loose at the supermarket. Also, two of the candy wrappers are for nonpareils, which I think I can get in bulk at another supermarket near me (not my usual supermarket).

Last summer, I requested that the Indian restaurant I go to put my takeout order in my own containers, and they wouldn’t do it. They said they had spoken to their attorney, who advised them against it (apparently other people must have had the same request). I still go there all the time, because it’s delicious and three blocks from my house, but I think this is kind of crazy. I’m a regular customer, they know me, and maybe if I pushed it, they’d reconsider. I could give this a try.

Milk in glass bottles is available at a dairy nearby, but the mild spoils much more quickly than the ultra-pasturized milk I get in cartons, and I end up pouring it down the drain. However, I hate throwing away those bulky cartons, so maybe I could try this again, and just buy milk in smaller amounts, more frequently.

The coffee lid was a lazy slip-up. I typically bring my travel mug.

Nantucket cookies — I love them, but I could make homemade chocolate chip cookies instead.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
I don’t buy granola bars (this was brought home by one of my kids) and I could live without drinking Coke at home (this was my boyfriend’s), so I could give those up, although I don’t think my boyfriend would give up the Coke. I can stop buying the Hershey’s syrup.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
deodorant — I just don’t want to try the baking powder alternative at this point
generic Cetaphil — my face is sensitive and it does well with this
dental floss
toothpaste — I have a tube of Tom’s of Maine, but that has a plastic cap, plus it sounds like they’re making a switch to plastic tubes
one-time items like the gutter downspout and the medical tape

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
I’d have to do more baking at home, I think. I enjoy making bread and could eliminate bread bags and bread tabs that way. I could also make cookies and eliminate cookie trays/wrappers. I’d also need to change where/how/how often I shop. Instead of just one trip to Market Basket, I’d have to go to Whole Foods and/or the Harvest Food Co-op in Cambridge. I could probably get by with going to those places once or twice per month, though, so that wouldn’t add too much time to my shopping.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I eat nonpareils almost every day as a treat after lunch at work. I still have another small plastic bag of nonpareils at my desk, but I will go to Stop and Shop, where I think they have bulk candy, and get nonpareils in bulk in my own bag, and bring some to work in my own container every day, thereby eliminating the daily small plastic bag.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
I am least flexible in the area of personal care items. I don’t want to give up toothpaste, floss, facial cleanser, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, etc., so maybe what I could try to do in that area is use less of each product — one pump of facial cleanser instead of two, 1/4 inch strip of toothpaste rather than 1/2 inch — and in that way I could at least go through fewer plastic containers.

Also, I need to get more involved in cooking/baking. It will be healthier as well as produce less plastic.

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