JessTrev ponders plastic: confessions of a recovering Ziploc-aholic. I'm sure many of you are avid Beth Terry aka Fake Plastic Fish fans just like me. A woman who single-handedly got a huge corporation to recycle and take responsibility for their environmental impact? Must be larger than life. I had the pleasure of meeting Beth at last year's BlogHer in San Francisco, and was so impressed by her calm, peaceful demeanor. I often think of her when confronted with gratuitous or excessive plastic packaging and wanted to join in the Green Moms Carnival she's hosting about plastic consumption.
Why the frack is there so much plastic around? I'm no engineer, but among the many purposes I can spot seem to be: plastic helps to prevent theft, retard spoilage, keep costs down, minimize breakage, circumvent rust, and performs unique functions (ie siphon hose or iv). Multifaceted material. Too bad about the giant plastic garbage patch in the ocean (plastic outweighs surface zooplankton 6:1!), the fact that it doesn't biodegrade, and the pesky leaching issues. Seriously. It's an adaptive material. That's why I don't completely rid my life of plastic, I just try to get rid of the foolish (in my humble opinion) uses.
At the Trev house, we do the usual things to minimize plastic packaging: buying in bulk, bringing reusable grocery and produce bags, avoiding take-out containers (by bringing Tupperware) and skipping the disposable cups, plastic food wrap, and resealable baggies (we do have a few coveted ones we wash and reuse, particularly for freezer use). I occasionally buy products just because of their packaging. For instance, I recently sought out ketchup in a glass bottle since the idea that something can't truly be organic when it's leaching plastic out of its container stuck with me (heh heh). Sometimes I avoid buying products altogether (read: rotisserie chickens packaged in plastic clamshells, which used to be a staple in our house). Or I make my own (ie, salad dressing) or do without. I would say I do this about 75% of the time. Next step I need to take: following Beth's lead and writing all of these companies (I've sent a few letters but need to get on this!) to let them know the rationale behind these purchasing decisions.
I also try not to buy things gratuitously packaged in plastic. If I do, I get a really big size. For instance, I get my kids California Baby fragrance-free bubble bath. I got tired of the cost and pile of containers in my recycling bin a while back and decided a while back to pony up the $$ to get a giant gallon-sized bottle from the manufacturer. It lasted us for three years! And the containers (with a pump) were fiercely contested on freecycle! This one is tricky, though. I clean with baking soda, and recently found giant bags of it at Costco. Smaller boxes are cardboard and therefore recyclable. But bigger bags? Last longer, are cheaper, probably use less energy to create and ship, and keep me from using more toxic ingredients to clean. For now, giant bags o' baking soda stay in. For product materials, I try to avoid plastic (ie I got a glass cutting board recently) but if I do get plastic (ie painting tray liners for my recent house refresher) I go for recycled plastic content.
At Casa Trev, we do love our electronics. One way to skip the planned-obsolescence hamster wheel in that regard is to follow my honey-geek personal MacGyver's path and relentlessly research new tools while saving useful items (cough: pack-ratting away every cable and piece of functional electronics you've ever possessed). Recently, we got a really cool (but plastic!) wireless music player which said tech guru hooked up to an old-ish (circa 1990s?) boom box in the kitchen and a spare laptop. Music while I am cooking! Woooo hooo! And, as my friend noted with amusement, should y'all need to play any of your old cassette mixed tapes, our kitchen is the place to go! So: new plastic purchase, but re-use of old, unused plastic item. Possible avoidance of many plastic items (cd clamshells) since I'm currently addicted to Radio Paradise, which beautifully enough, is advertising a ceramic travel mug (no plastic taste!) on its website...but I digress.
When buying new, I consider alternatives to plastic. Does the item's plastic confer some advantage? Since I just broke a small storage jar of vinegar on the tile floor of my shower, I'm betting that breakability is going to be high on everyone's list. But all I needed to do to avoid the breakage was to change a habit -- to keep the jar on the floor of the shower instead of up high on a shelf. Does the item's plastic pose a threat to human health (ie, will the plastic leach as was the case with BPA? if food contents, are they acidic or fatty?) Then I avoid plastic use altogether. And I keep in mind what my father --at age 70--responded when I talked to him at length about toxins leaching into food: "Honey, I am seventy. A slow-leaching plastic is the least of my concerns." So, for my dad, his personal health is not a top issue when it comes to plastic like it may be when I'm thinking about my still-developing babes in arms. My dad's a birdwatcher and naturalist, so he does use a reusable metal water bottle. Just, in his case, he won't stop using his plastic food containers. In my case, I often end up giving useful plastic items to someone like him who has different concerns so that the item will end up in use rather than in a landfill. My local listserv and freecycle have all taken in plastic items I'd rather not use but didn't want to chuck (and a few of my neighbors chuckled when reading my 'this is not bpa-free' disclaimer lingo).
Then there's the reuse of packaging - we love classico jars in our house because of their screw tops and seeking out plastic alternatives. I use glass jars to freeze soups, pesto and stock. I have found all-glass food fridge storage containers, and all-metal snack containers for my kids' lunchboxes (which are neoprene, but multi-use). That's not to say that we don't have some plastic -- quite a bit of it -- lingering around. But I've made sure that the plastic that stays in kitchen circulation is BPA free and that it gets limited use.
In general, I'd say I probably use half the plastic I used to, but still have a long way to go. These days, I am struck by small things: a strip of plastic on a glass spice bottle. And the omnipresence of the material: yogurt tubs used to be made from wax coated cardboard, right? and weren't cereal boxes in the day lined with wax paper? I wonder now about why so-called progressive and green companies aren't returning to older, pre-plastic packaging options - cost? lack of awareness that their target market cares deeply about this issue? If it's the latter, I have a bunch of letters I need to go write. Many thanks to Beth for making me think more carefully about a substance that's toxic to create, doesn't degrade, causes environmental pollution, damages wildlife and natural habitats, and threatens human health -- and is absolutely everywhere.
P.S. My favorite trick for purging of cheap plastic toys, courtesy of Green Bean? Stashing the most offensive of the lot in a designated spot and dropping them off at my (enthusiastic) kids' dentist's office. She has a ready supply for her treasure chest -- and I only have to bring two items back to my house.