June 2, 2009

Susan, Week 1 in Plastic


I (female) live with my (male) partner in a smallish single family house in an old suburban neighborhood in a heavily developed area of the east coast. The two of us share almost all of our meals except for weekday lunches. We try to consolidate shopping trips and reduce food packaging by buying larger rather than smaller sizes of items. I purchase loss leaders in multiples for future use. Bulk bin is not easily accessible to us on a weekly basis — what is often has a low turnover on some of our staples. My partner works primarily from home; I sometimes work from home. We both have a profession that can require intense multi-day deadlined work. I do not drive. I usually take my lunch to work and it’s usually soup or leftovers. My office eats lunch out together once or twice a week.

My partner is not participating in this experiment. But most of the plastic waste related to food is mutual plastic. One interesting aspect of this has been my reaction to the project. At first, I was fairly detached; then I resented the disruption to my household routine involved in saving things that usually I tossed into trash, recycling or reuse areas. When I set it all to take a picture and started cataloging, it was rather cathartic . . . until my partner grabbed a camera and started taking pictures of me sorting trash. I haven’t seen those yet, I figure he’s saving them for blackmail.

Here is my list of plastic from Tuesday, May 12, noon EST, when I read Beth’s call to arms, and Sunday, May 17, 8 p.m. EST, when I took out the trash for weekly pickup. I didn’t go digging through the trash for the 36 hours before I started saving plastic but no significant plastic for the week is missing. I’m not weighing plastic — just counting pieces. I’ve grouped items below in a way that makes sense to me, based on how I shop.

[RU] items I re-use
[D-RU] items I have re-used and am now discarding

[ReC] items that are recycled via curbside pickup, single stream: plastics 1 & 2, glass, metal, paper including window envelopes
[ReS] items that are recycled via supermarket dropoff: grocery bags,drycleaning bags, newspaper/flyer bags
* purchased or acquired after Tuesday, May 12, noon EST

Plastic from Farmer’s Market Food Products — 4 pieces
4 pcs: 4 rubber bands from two bunches of farmer’s market asparagus [RU]

Plastic from Organic Food Products — 8 pieces
1 plastic mesh bag from 2# Sespe Creek Organic Lemons [RU]
1 plastic bag from 5# of Wegman’s Organic carrots [RU]
1 plastic bag with vacuum valve from 5# of Camino Island organic fair trade shade grown coffee
2 pcs: quart plastic container and lid from Horizon organic yogurt [RU bottom definitely, top maybe]
1 quart tetrapak from Imagine Organic bean soup
2 pcs: half gallon plastic container and lid from Wegman’s Organic milk [ReC-container only]

Plastic from Conventional Food Products — 19 pieces
2 pcs: part of a wrapper for Sorrento mozzarella cheese, part of a nutrition label from the same cheese
1 plastic mesh bag from 5 pc garlic (asian store) [RU]
1 corner from the plastic bag for 5# of Haio Reum coarse seasalt
1 corner from the plastic bag for 5# of Haio Reum pressed barley
2 pcs: plastic container and lid from Black Bear Black Forest Horseradish Sauce [ReC- container only]
2 plastic deli bags: my partner’s purchase, but I ate some
1 plastic wrapper from vacuum packed smoked trout
6 pcs*– 2 plastic containers, 2 interior plastic pads, and 2 plastic top sheets from Shady Brook Farms Family packs of ground turkey
3 pcs –grocery store “styrofoam” meat tray, clear wrap and interior plastic pad

Plastic from Restaurant/TakeOut — 1 piece
1* “Have a Nice Day” shopping bag from Chinese takeout — my partner’s purchase, but I asked him to make lunch [RU]

Plastic from Personal Care Products –9 pieces
3 pieces including cap from a cut-up tube of Neutrogena moisturizer with sunscreen
1 piece of a cut-up tube of Neutrogena sunscreen
5 1″ wide cloth bandages
Not shown in picture or tabulated: dental floss

Plastic from Garden Products — 4 pieces
1 plastic bag from 10# of bird seed, this is an interior bag from a 40# box of Morning Song seed
1 corner from the a new plastic bag for 10# of bird seed
2 pieces of tape that held the manufacturer’s label on a piece a gardening fence

Plastic from Other Consumer Products –3 pieces
1* light plastic wrapper from an art museum exhibit catalog
1* Blockbuster bag — my partner’s shopping trip, but I’ll watch the movies he got [RU]
1 plastic clothing tag hanger, found on the floor, who knows when or where it came into the house

Advertising and Mail Plastic — 11 pieces
2* bags from local free circulars thrown in my yard [ReS]
8 window envelopes: 2* financial, 3* advertisements from organizations or entities I do business with or support, 2* junkmail, 1 bill [ReC, all]

Reused Plastic that is being discarded — 3 pieces
1 large plastic bag that will be next week’s garbage bag (held a bushel of farmer’s market apples last fall) [D-RU]
2 beat up broken worn out plastic shopping bags from ancient unknown sources, one of which will go in the trash holding bones from soup stock after holding this weeks plastic smelly savings and one of which will hold next weeks smelly plastic savings [D-RU, both]

TOTAL: 60 pieces of plastic
including 11 pieces that will be reused
3 pieces that have been reused and are now being discarded
2 pieces being recycled curbside, not counting window envelopes since the plastic is not recycled
2 pieces being recycled via supermarket dropoff
Total number of plastic pieces newly acquired in total — 19 pieces


What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?
During the farmer’s market season, I can replace bagged organic carrots from California with locally grown non-organic (at least not certified) carrots, which result in only a plastic rubber band. Also, I am planning to grow carrots for later harvest — whether that is actually less plastic, I don’t know.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
There are items on this list (deli meat, chinese takeout, smoked trout, supermarket redmeat, ground turkey, horseradish sauce) that I might not buy or buy as frequently if it was just me.

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?
Tetrapak black bean soup (but I bought this in part because it is convenient); yogurt (because I can and do make my own on occasion); horseradish sauce

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Dental floss; sunscreen for this very fairskinned person; bandages for someone who seems to get a lot of small cuts and scrapes in places that bleed on important papers.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
(1) Give up my partner? Not eat with my partner? Educate (or subliminally retrain) my partner? Let’s just say I’m working on a relationship-wise friendly and respectful version of the last of these.
(2) Give up meat and dairy: been there, done that, and it didn’t work well plus there’s the first item listed above.
(3) I could buy loose lemons and garlic and do when it seems cost-effective and an equally useable product. Plus I’m going to try growing garlic for next year.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
During the week tabulated, I made my yogurt week to replace the yogurt I used up, bought farmer’s market carrots to replace the carrots we used up, and will be ordering a less plastic coffee (our regular choice) to replace the coffee we used up.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
Because of the way we shop I need to do this another week at least. But it is clear that most of my plastic waste (which is also largely “our” plastic waste and also account for much of our total trash) results from food packaging. And most of the rest is either packaging or advertising or those pesky bags that I do try to avoid. Looking at the picture, it’s rather shocking how the plastic bags dominate.

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