Seems like I could go on and on forever musing about the poetic and philosophical reasons to reduce plastic waste. Yes, it’s lovely to live in a way somewhat approximating my great grandmother’s youth. Yes, I’m baffled at why it took me so long to make simple changes that bring me so much pleasure, not to mention a whole new understanding of what it means to live more lightly on the earth. Yes, the light reflecting on the snow is beautiful. Etc. Today I’m postponing my regular programming for a bit of practical, nitty gritty advice on how to get by without plastic.
Disclaimer! Partly why I’ve not given much how-to advice is because each of our needs are so different and I am confident that you can find the solutions and methods for your family. My only real advice is to Just Say No to plastic whenever possible. Buy food in glass or paper, buy it in bulk, or make your own. Inevitably, though, after I give my just say no spiel, I get asked:
But what about…
Plastic bags used for bulk food and produce? I was on the verge of bringing my glass jars to the store with me to fill with beans and rice when I thought of cloth. I made a few dozen drawstring bags in sizes that range from “enormous head of kale” to “poppy seed.” Durable produce keeps well in them for a week or so. Fragile greens like lettuce do well once transferred to the salad spinner or a lidded bowl or jar. Things like carrots and celery can be kept partially submerged in a bowl of water.
Milk? Look for it in a returnable glass bottle. If this isn’t available, it might be better to choose a recyclable plastic jug than a carton, which is plastic lined but not recyclable.
Cheese? Most grocery store deli sections will cut you a hunk of cheese from their bulk supply and wrap it in butcher paper. Bring a reusable container to cut back on paper waste. Lunch meats are also available this way. It is fun and surprisingly simple to make soft cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella. This book tells all, but an online search probably would too.
Yogurt? I’ve had my ups and downs making goat milk yogurt, then switched to a commercial brand sold in glass jars, and am now making my own from cow’s milk with great success and for impressive savings. You can use your favorite natural yogurt as starter, or buy the little packs (plastic free!) in the refrigerator section of your store (or online). No fancy equipment is needed, unless you count the thermometer, which is helpful. Also of interest is this company that recycles #5 plastic (which yogurt containers are made from), something that most cities do not offer recycling for.
Toilet paper? I get asked about this one all the time. Even big box stores sell individual rolls wrapped in paper. If you really want to get eco-groovy, though, cloth wipes are not as weird as they first sound.
Crackers? This was one of the things I was most concerned about how we’d do without because it was one of the few things my daughter would reliably eat. But for that same reason I was a bit relieved to remove them from our cupboard. Why are organic kid’s crackers made with white flour and sugar? Why? I’ve only found one brand of paper wrapped cracker in our town, and my daughter won’t eat them. Well, now that she’s forgotten all about those peanut butter sandwich ones, she’s starting to a bit more. Anyways, I make crackers every so often.
Bread? I make all of our bread with the five minute a day method. It feels a bit like cheating–no kneading–but is so good and easy that I don’t care.
Chips and tortillas? Try your local burrito shack—many sell them in paper bags, oftentimes made fresh. Also, look around your town for a Mexican bakery/grocery where tortillas get made fresh and can be popped into a paper or cloth sack. No luck? Here’s my post on tortilla making.
Body care items? My co-op offers many shampoos and lotions in bulk, but I’ve been enjoying making my own (my recipes are here and here). If that’s not your style, this company makes shampoo bars which I’ve heard good things about. Toothpaste is one thing I’m not ready to give up. Could it be one of the best inventions of the modern era? Look for it in a recyclable aluminum tube. Hint: Tom’s.
CDs and DVDs? Download music, rent movies.
Tupperware? This post discusses quality storage.
Everything else? Seek and ye shall find. Most of the time, anyways, if you’re patient and persistent–two skills I’m discovering my capacity for.
We’ll return to further Deep Thoughts…sooner or later, no doubt.
In the meantime, what ways have you found to reduce plastic waste in your home?