The Unexpected Abundance of Going Without

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Here’s the deal: we’re quitting plastic.

Not forever. For four months. Starting January first, we will buy no new plastic. Nothing wrapped in plastic, nothing made of plastic. No new plastic.

At its core this semester-long experiment is a way for us to step outside our comfort zone, so rife with cop-outs like filling our eco totes with heavily packaged food. It’s a symbolic action, but one that feels necessary to take. We can’t realistically throw away the keys to our cars or turn out the lights. We can’t move to the country and live off the grid. But we can get by without plastic.

I think.

At first, I looked at the countdown to New Years Day as a doomsday march. However would we get by? I considered sneaking extra toothbrushes and packages of baby wipes into the shopping cart each week to build up a supply for desperate times.

But a funny thing happened. Once I started looking, I saw all around me how easy it was to not use plastic. The abundance was startling and intoxicating. I mean, have you ever really looked at what is available in the bulk food section of your local co-op? I hadn’t. Those hippies figured it out forty years ago. Where have I been? Trader Joe’s, apparently.

Transitioning to a plastic free life is a bit like preparing for a trip to a foreign country you’ve always wanted to visit. In my case that foreign country is The Olden Days. A land where I get to bake my family’s bread, milk goats, and churn butter. (Just kidding on that last one. If butter came wrapped in plastic I wouldn’t have agreed to this experiment.)

Of course, you don’t need to quit plastic to do any of these things. But it all fits together, this letting go of one thing and welcoming in of another. Our desire to reduce plastic to help the planet, or at least to do less harm to it in our daily lives, was the inspiration for this experiment. The potential it offers us to achieve long dormant dreams, to grow in unexpected ways, to claim our power as agents of change—these are the things that will carry it forward.

It’s still two months from our experiment’s start date, but we’ve already reduced our plastic consumption by more than half. Simply opening ourselves to the idea of making such a big change has changed us in big ways.

15 thoughts on “The Unexpected Abundance of Going Without

    • Ah, excellent question that I’ve been meaning to address. Four months seemed to us like a realistic time frame to make this commitment and keep it as stringently as we possible could. That means, if we need new tires for our cars, or ink for the printer, or anything, really, that’s plastic or plastic wrapped, we are going to do everything in our power to not buy it or otherwise acquire it for these four months. We’ll simply go without, perhaps discovering along the way that we didn’t really need it in the first place, or finding a non-plastic, non-waste alternative. Eventually, though, we’ll need new shoes and who knows what. The idea was that a four month “fast”would give us enough time to cleanse our system. To break out of the plastic habit and reorient our patterns to a more sustainable rhythm. The majority of our changes we have every intention of continuing with forever. when we first made this commitment it seemed like the greatest challenge in the world, and all we would ever be able to do. Now, though, I’m learning that it was just the first step in what will no doubt be a series of long term and life-affirming changes.

  1. “Those hippies figured it out forty years ago. Where have I been? Trader Joe’s, apparently.”
    i just laughed out loud.
    thank you.
    i’ve often thought of completely outing plastics, it just seems too daunting…i like that you started with a time line, it makes it seem so much more do-able.

  2. So what do you do about things like baby wipes? Even making your own out of paper towels would be out since they come wrapped in plastic…plastic seems to be in practically EVERYTHING, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’d actually pull it off. It sounds really cool and really impossible. I’m hoping you’ve done a follow-up post somewhere and am about to go looking. 🙂

    • I use cloth baby wipes, store them wet, and make a solution to spray on my daughters bum: 2 cups herbal infusion of chamomile, rose, or whatever, a dash of mild castile soap or baby wash, and a dash of baby oil. Look under my plastic free category for many of the posts that address our discoveries and innovations along the way.

  3. Pingback: Fields and Fire » Whole Grain Weekends – Homemade Tortillas

  4. Did you have any problems with stores & the bulk section bags? I was recently told by one of my co-ops (which I am a member owner of) that according to the town’s health policies, I couldn’t use my reusable bulk/produce bags, I had to use their plastic ones. Same goes for the bulk liquids like shampoo & soap. I sent an email to the Mayor for his “Mayor’s Memo” show on public access, but he hasn’t addressed it yet.

    • Kerrie, does your co-op at least provide paper bags for bulk goods? It’s not as good as being able to bring your own, but if the health code says you must use a new bag, at least paper is recyclable, and renewable. (And if your town really does have that health ordinance, definitely make some noise about it! It’s amazing how much power we have over local politics, if we try. I’m just discovering that myself.)

      For bulk liquids, ask if your co-op will let you use a glass jar, like a Mason jar. (Bring an extra empty jar so they can use it to tare the scale and get an accurate measure of how much soap you bought.)

      Kyce, I’m impressed! Are you going to stop using any of things you already own that are plastic (plastic bags, etc)? I certainly understand not wanting to stop using the computer or car (which both contain a lot of plastic). Where are you drawing the line? This is such a great idea! I am going to try to do it in my life, too.

    • Hi Kerrie,
      Wow, if I had run into this problem it would have been so discouraging to me. The only place where health codes limited me was in buying raw meat–I couldn’t bring my own container for that. To not be able to use your own bottle for shampoo is positively ludicrous. Sounds like you have a future as a community activist! Best of luck and keep the faith…

      • Kyce & Caroline,

        As far as I’ve seen, they’ve only had plastic bags, which I’m guessing is a cost-issue, as I remember paper bags in the produce section & they haven’t been there for a while.

        I’m guessing one reason for not allowing personal bags could be in the bulk section, in case of gluten allergies perhaps? Never know if someone really washed their bag before reusing it (which I’m fine with not doing if I’m just using a flour bag for more flour), but you could always use a store bag & go for wheat flour, change your mind, then go for a rice flour, which perhaps could trigger an allergy? Precautions, precautions! So much to worry about!

        It’s not my town, unfortunately, though I am a member-owner of the co-op, & have been making a big stink about the mayor wanting to install paid-parking kiosks in the lot behind the store, which the town has never taken care of and is using the “no funds” excuse while I slip on the ice trying to get me & my son safely to our car!

  5. I read your post and realized, “I CAN DO THAT” – along with giving up paper towels and processed foods and living on a tighter budget – well as tight as it can be without sacrificing essentials. I am a little old gramma who is living on a fixed income and up until January 1st, has been living over budget. “Not any more”, I roar – not any more!

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