May 2, 2013

Plastic Challenge: Natalie, Week 2


How to anticipate surprise plastic in restaurants and cafes?

IS there a law about having to give lids for paper cups in NY or anywhere?

Better places for buying bulk in central NJ or NY? I know of some, but Unpackaged in London sounds like a dream.

Ideas about, given the choice, to get plastic takeout containers or throw food away (less long-term impact, but methane and waste of precious product)?

Something I struggle with is packing efficiently. I’ve been taking a stainless steel water bottle AND coffee mug the last few days because I never know what I’m going to want, plus the glass container I carry lunch in and my laptop and notebooks etc and it’s killing me. Wondering if there are any tips for packing light on a sustainable diet?

Location:, New Jersey, United States

Name: Natalie

Week: 2

Personal Info:

I’m a student on a gap year while figuring out my path, and I’ve been getting more active about my passion for health and the environment this year while I’m home. In terms of plastic, it’s mostly packaging and bags here, and since foods that are heavily packaged are generally more expensive and less healthy, I’m heading that way anyway. I have always cared about the environment and animals, but have been pretty cynical about what impact I could have. Definitely I am still learning how to make things work. I admit that I love shopping — being sold a product and then enjoying it — it feels like I’m part of something. But I’d rather be part of something good than something bad.

What I found surprising this week:

Looking for glass bottles without plastic lids or seals around the lids – was surprisingly hard. but when I managed to find something, it turned out to have a plastic label.

I went out to eat a few times, and they kept giving out plastic straws! I wasn’t prepared. I finally went out again (I know all this isn’t good for the environment), and asked for and got no straw, but there was a surprise container for the cole slaw on my plate – when they could use a little bowl if not just put it on the plate.

Worst shock was asking for coffee with no lid! An independant NY coffee shop (in a pretty progressive area) said they couldn’t do this because of health code. I want to know IF that’s true, and WHY? Is there something I can do?

I wanted to get chocolate chips, and our local health food store sells them, but they weren’t fair trade, so I didn’t get any. Very disappointing.

Natalie’s personal blog:

List of plastic items REFUSED this week. (Yay!)
11 Shopping Bags
1 Plastic straw
6 takeout containers
18 produce bags
2 produce bags
3 coffee cups
4 Bottles of Water
3 deli containers for feta/olives
Plastic bottle
Pre-packaged treats at the farmer’s market
Cheese shrunk in plastic

Total items collected: 50

Total weight: 500 grams approximatley

Items: Recyclable
Hummus/Pretzel double container
Individual serving chocolate milk bottle (I just got so excited that a local farmer was selling this in the train station – but wasn’t pleased with the plastic aspect! Their bottles of fresh milk are in glass)
2 Deli Containers
3 shopping bags – will be reused
5 Produce bags – reused, will be again
1 banana bag w/tape (I always get bulk, but I waited too long so someone else went shopping)
Milk carton (I just use a little with my tea)
Soy milk carton
2 Newspaper bags
Big #5 Container +Lid
Container from cole slaw, no lid
Container from local ice cream w/lid
Blueberry bag from frozen (will be reused)
Container from fresh basil (consciously bought because of reduced price in “soup” bin, which usually goes to garbage otherwise)
2 deli containers
Container from strawberries
Zip Lock bag – asked not to have something given in one, but got a new one anyway

Items: Nonrecyclable
Plastic tea bag cover
2 Feta Containers (my family puts this in salad – I don’t want it but it’s there. I buy in bulk from cheese store)
Styrofoam container (Ahhhh! I picked this place for plates over another where the food is in plastic-lined paper containers, but the servings were way too big!)
Seal from around new olive oil jar
Olive oil lid from old jar (not photographed)
Butter container from restaurant (I knew what I was doing)
Plastic-lined frozen yogurt container (HUGE! Why??? to sell more I guess. I didn’t ask if I could bring my own.)
Plastic plate from biscotti at coffee shop
Seran wrap (family used on salad)
2 coffee cups
Potato chip bag
2 Labels from glass jars
3 straws – I gave them to my grandma though who uses them
Hummus double container plastic shrunk over
1 coffee lid
Spoon knife and fork, plus plastic wrapper (I shared the spoon w/someone else)

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
Coffee cups
Milk containers
Bulk olive oil (but it’s not as fresh)

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Milk (also see: glass from market)
Nasty snacks (see preservative-laden hummus and potato chips)
Soy milk (my plan – make my own and otherwise go without)

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Trash bags, feminine stuff, etc. none of it is really unnecessary, but at the moment we have tons of bags and

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
Never leave the house?
Mindfulness and planning

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
I will try to give up spur of the moment treats and lunch/drinks out. That’s the only thing I really use independantly and just relies on planning. I don’t buy food except when I’m hungry,

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
I wish it would be easier! I know that it’s not fair to blame the world. I just wish I could be rewarded for wanting to cut down. It’s so good to know what I’m using though.
Shockingly this is much worse than last week. Some of it was mostly other people in my family so maybe I changed that – it’s really hard to know how to gauge those things.

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