Week 4: by Rick Chillot, senior online editor
Friday, 6:00 pm You made me very sad today, plastic-free challenge.
I went to one of my favorite stores, Healthy Alternatives in Trextertown, PA. What a great place. Locally owned, full of organic food, including fresh produce and their own soups, sandwiches, and salads. Uncharacteristically, I planned ahead and brought some reusable shopping bags with me. But it wasn't long before I ran into my old (since the beginning of the week) nemesis: plastic.
Like every other thing I wanted to buy was wrapped in plastic. Even the organic stuff!
Wild-caught Alaska salmon. Organic pistachios. Freshly made sandwich. So close. But taboo, because of a thin layer of petroleum polymer.
Even the soups of the day were served with a plastic lid. The best I could do was cover it with a napkin and rubber band. Is there plastic in rubber bands? Doesn't matter. I needed soup.
Friday, 9 am I quit! Well, not really. But man, am I sick of talking about plastic, thinking about plastic, looking at plastic, and typing the word "plastic." What else is there to say about it? (Plenty; take a look at Maria Rodale's "My Struggle with Plastic" blog post today, for example). Yesterday I got fed up and deliberately bought some stuff that came in plastic. Like my favorite gnocchi, which I really had a craving for but only come in a plastic package. I'm working on a formula to help me navigate my plastic decision making in the future. Maybe I'll reserve my plastic purchases for those things I really need and can't get any other way, and for every one of those give up two (three? four?) plastics that I don't need (even if the alternative is less convenient).
But let's try to stay positive. Check out the Oscar-nominated Let's Pollute for an entertaining take on plastic and other consequences of overconsumption (you can download the entire short from iTunes).
Thursday, 8 am: Plaskateers, be sure to check out today's Nickel Pincher column, in which Jean makes the shocking admission that even she, the queen of green and the theocrat of thrift, cannot keep all plastic out of her borders. But in true NP style, she turns it into a positive by putting wayward plastic to good use, saving money and extending its life before it gets recycled.
Yesterday I discovered that my local supermarket—one of them, at least—stocks only two types of organic chocolate bars: Green & Black's 70% dark, and Green & Black's 85% dark. I can't quite grok the thinking behind that. If 85% is too much for you, you'll probably like 70%? Anyway, I had one in my hand when I remembered the cookie incident from yesterday. And I couldn't remember if G&B bars have an inner plastic wrapper or not. So I put it back on the shelf.
|Wednesday, 3:43 pm:
I really wanted a cookie.
Wednesday, 3:00 pm: We talk about plastic like it's all the same. But of course there are all different kinds of plastic, some of which are accepted by various municipal recycling programs and some of which aren't. Sometimes your plastic doesn’t come with the little recycling number on it. And all the needed sorting creates opportunities for confusion and temptation to just forget the whole thing and toss it in the trash. Which is why minimizing your plastic use as much as possible is such an effective tactic. Every time you don't use plastic, you don't have to navigate through all those decision points.
|So this week I'm really appreciating the benefit of a workplace that's willing to shoulder some of that burden. Here at Rodale, we have plenty of places to responsibly dispose of whatever plastic can't be avoided outright. Every floor has bins clearly labeled for plastic as well as various other recyclables. There are even bins for compostable materials, like your lunch leftovers.|
|Plus there are bins for your phones, discs, and batteries, so the plastic and toxic materials can be separated out and disposed of appropriately.|
|Down in the cafeteria, meals are served with washable silverware and dishware, no plastic forks or plates. You can always spot a new hire or visitor, because they're the ones standing by the bins, holding their trays, trying to work out where everything goes.|
What I'm wondering is, how many of you have a recycling bin for your plastic when you're at work? How many of you have any recycling bins at all? Do you think having more places to take your plastic would get you to recycle the plastic you use, or recycle more of it if you're already doing so? Leave a comment and let me know.
Tuesday, 2-21, 2:30 pm:Thanks to everyone who's been making suggestions for my dish-washing dilemma. On our facebook page Danika C suggested healthychild.org, which I haven't been able to dig into yet, but I see it has a nice collection of home cleaning recipes (my butler will be thrilled). As does our own Nickel Pincher, who next week will be offering specific solutions to the biggest problems we've come up against this month. Also on fb, old friend of Rodale.com Bernadette E suggests using borax, as does Pam M-A. Here's what the plastic-free icon Beth Terry, of My Plastic-Free Life, has to say:
There are plenty of plastic-free dishwasher detergents, if you're willing to buy powdered instead of liquid. We usually buy either 7th Generation or Ecover, which come in cardboard boxes. And we use white vinegar (in a glass bottle) as the rinse aid. For laundry, there are several choices. Some people make their own, but I use one of two things. Either Ecover powdered detergent, which comes in a cardboard box with a cardboard scoop even (all others have plastic scoops) or I buy Laundrytree soapnuts, which come in a paper bag. See her site for more about soapnuts.
Thank you Beth!
|Tuesday, 2-21, 8:30 am: Time to Take Out The Trash (and Then Sort Out The Plastic for Recycling)
Here's my inventory of the plastic that ended up in my trash last week…or most of it, anyway. I'm not as conscientious as the folks on Beth Terry's My Plastic-Free Life blog about saving my garbage for photographic purposes, so I probably missed a few things. On the other hand, I do throw most of it on the kitchen floor, so it was easy enough to pile it together for a snapshot.
I can see right away that my biggest routine plastic use is food-related. Even though I've already swapped all my plastic food containers for glass ones, and I try my best to not us plastic shopping bags (see Maria Rodale's blog today for my lack of success on that front), I still end up bringing home food encased in one kind of plastic or other. It's not even that I buy all that much packaged food, either. More and more supermarkets are offering more and more organic vegetables and fruits, which is great. But often those foods are bagged or wrapped or clamshelled or otherwise plasticized. It seems to be an easy way for the merchants to make sure the organic items get scanned with the proper barcode. I think if we want organic food to be widely available, we have to expect food sellers to do what they must to operate their businesses effectively. But sometimes that creates difficult choices, like buying organic bananas in plastic, or chemically-grown bananas without. (Most weeks I'll buy the organic and recycle the plastic; but this week, I'll choose neither, to honor the plastic-free ethos.)
While thinking through this, I realized I have another big food-related obstacle coming up very soon. My dishwasher is nearly full. I have no clean plates or forks left. Do I buy dish soap in a plastic container? What are the alternatives, especially the eco-friendly ones? Does anyone have a recipe for home-made dish soap? What if I just left everything outside for wild animals to come and lick clean? Suggestions please!
|My hand isn't really this orange, though I do eat a lot of carotenoids.||Monday, 2-21: Success with Loose Nuts
Our office is closed for President's Day today, and I'm having connectivity issues from home. But if the Internet allows, I do have one story to report. I had to buy six, and only six, wingnuts at the hardware store today. Usually that means seeking them out in the nuts and bolts aisle (one of my top ten favorite aisles) and then putting them in a little plastic bar-coded bag to take up to the register. Yes, this is a bag whose useful existence lasts only for the ninety seconds it takes to walk to the front of the store. Clearly a violation of the no-plastic challenge. Yet I needed those nuts! So I scooped them up into my sweaty palm and brought them to the cashier, ready for a fight. Here's how the debate went:
Me: "Can you just ring these up if I don't have that plastic bag?"
I savored that success all during lunch, until I realized I'd bought a sandwich wrapped in plastic.
|Sunday, 2-20: Plastic On My Porch, Plastic In Your Mailbox
I've read here and there that scientists—or engineers, or technologists, or whoever it is that works on this kind of things—are close to inventing an actual cloak of invisibility. But I realized today that there's no need to spend years of research and kajillions of dollars for that. All they need to do is make the thing out of plastic. Because plastic is as invisible as it gets.
I learned this today, on my first day of the last week of our plastic-free challenge. I decided I start the week without taking any particular anti-plastic precautions, and just kind of sidle out of the way if any plastic turned up. Very quickly, I found out how many ordinary Sunday activities bring me into contact with all sorts of plastic that seems to have been completely invisible to me before I started paying attention.
Starting with the Sunday paper. I like supporting traditional 20th-century media, but unfortunately this version is delivered in a plastic wrapper, even if it's not raining. In fact, when the weather's nasty, it comes wrapped in two plastic wrappers. When I used to deliver papers, we just tossed them on the porch without any protection. It was a simpler time. We were too busy riding around without airbags, littering, and letting our dogs go wherever they wanted without cleaning up after them to worry about covering our newspapers in plastic.
I've been unwrapping that plastic every Sunday for I don't know how long, without even thinking about it. They were just a minor inconvenience between me and a non-internet news source. And that brings me to a point that's been raised by some of you over the past few weeks: What's up with a plastic-free challenge from a publishing company that mails its magazines in plastic? Well, here's the deal on that. First of all, the challenge is a project of the Rodale.com editors, not the company as a whole, Rodale Inc. We (Rodale.com) are internet-only, without any plastic encasing our product.
But to the wider point, yes, subscribers to Rodale Inc. magazines like Prevention do receive their issues in a plastic sleeve. That's because they're needed to make sure the magazines arrive intact, and there's not another material that can be handled by the machines used by U.S. Postal Service or the magazine vendors. It's not an ideal solution, and when there is one, you can expect to see it in your mailbox. In the meantime, the wraps are 100% recyclable, and the company works hard to shrink its plastic use in other ways (there are no plastic utensils or disposable plastic cups in our cafeterias, for example). So if you're a subscriber, be sure to recycle the wrapper. Which I'm doing from now on with my Sunday newspaper encasement—now that I've finally noticed them.