Good day readers!
I have a bone to pick this week about the lightweight, any-colored, jack-of-all-trades material that has infiltrated our everyday existence down to the smallest fishes in the sea… I’m talking plastic. I bet wherever you’re sitting or standing at this very moment, within view, there is something made of plastic. From your plastic grocery bags, to your credit card, the rings on your canned beverages, cling-wrapped produce (like, really?), your shampoo bottles, and even to those pull loops on your non-dairy creamer... it’s not only excessive and infuriating, it’s unnecessary and frankly, surprisingly difficult to avoid.
Now that I’ve challenged myself to a year of zero waste (except for my little jar), I’ve really had to take an eagle-eye precision-type of awareness to my purchases. To start with the basics, grocery bags are a no-brainer. Back in 2012, I helped lead the UCSB chapter of CalPIRG in efforts to ban plastic grocery bags from California. I’ve canvassed for this cause, walked around campus in a suit made entirely of plastic bags taken from the trash to bring awareness to my peers, I even at one point sewed hand-made tote bags made from reused plastic bags… this particular unnecessary product of our single-use society is easy to refuse. Yes, not only to avoid, but to refuse.
Refuse the plastic bag, and instead, buy some tote bags from whichever charitable cause or trendy store you prefer, use your backpack or purse, use your hands even.. not only are these plastic-alternatives sturdier, but infinitely better for the environment (and your pocketbook). Avoid the small plastic bags when buying in the bulk section too by bringing your own containers or cotton bags like these (Muslin Cotton Bulk Bags (Amazon.com)). I’ve gotten some funny looks from other shoppers when I come up to the cash register with all types of different jars and bags full from the bulk bins, and to be honest, some stores freak out when trying to subtract the tare weight of the jars, but if enough consumers (us) make this a habit, we can make this the new norm!
Hot tip: Do yourself (and the cashier) a favor when using your own containers by getting the tare weight from the cashier first before any bulk items go into the containers, place little stickers on your containers (or keep track on your phone) of their tare weights, and voila, should make the check-out process a breeze.
Refuse the items with plastic packaging and instead opt for the items with recyclable packaging, or better yet, those without any packaging whatsoever. For example, of the 6+ varieties of coconut oil on the shelf, opt for the one without the plastic wrap sealing the screw top or instead of buying body wash in a plastic bottle, opt for a bar of soap (which you can often buy without packaging at soap stores or at Whole Foods). Or, see a final example below. I was recently in the market for some pasta, and found the same pasta was packaged both in plastic as well as boxes. I’ll give you three guesses as to which I opted for, and your first two guesses don’t count.
Though it seems like the obvious choice to go for the pasta in the box rather than the plastic bag, be sure the pasta box you’re reaching for doesn’t keep the pasta inside a plastic bag that’s sealed inside the box (like cereal). Many brands will do this. Carefully inspect the pasta box before making your decision. Remember, for these little decisions and purchases, when you refuse the plastic, you’re voting with your dollar and lessening the demand for items with plastic.
One of the disappointing parts of this zero waste process is learning that sometimes the only option for avoiding waste is to simply not buy the item anymore; this has been the most unfortunate case for my coffee needs (i.e. my non-dairy creamer). For freshness, every non-dairy creamer I’ve come in contact with on the shelves has either foil or the plastic pull-loop sealing the container, and it’s looking like my only options are to either: a) opt for ordinary real dairy creamer, or b) start drinking my coffee black. Obviously, as I’m sensitive to lactose, neither of these options is ideal, and there doesn’t seem to be a convenient solution. But such is a zero-waste lifestyle.
It can be inconvenient that I need to patronize four different grocery stores, because each of them has waste-free/ packaging-free items and alternatives I can’t get at the others. It can be inconvenient for the cashier when I use my own containers for bulk items. It can be inconvenient that I need to bring reusable cutlery, containers, and/or a coffee thermos wherever I go. But you know what? The convenience is part of what got us here in the first place. Be inconvenient and shake up the common complacency. Get people thinking. Explain to the curious people standing behind you in line at the grocery store why you’re holding up the line as the cashier rings up your bulk jars.
What you can also do is talk to a store manager and request they stock certain items (plastic-free/ packaging-free items), and explain why. Although I am yet to do this myself, I’ve heard from other zero waste blogs that managers are often very willing to meet the needs and requests of their customers.
There is so much more I could say about plastic, but for now, here are some takeaways:
- REFUSE convenience,
- REFUSE packaging
- REFUSE plastic
- REFUSE waste
- For the love of Mother Nature, REFUSE PLASTIC STRAWS
To get you started, see below for a quick list of plastic items and ideas for alternatives. For most, if not all alternatives can be found on Amazon.com.