The No-Plastics Challenge

Can you go a whole week without buying plastics? An old friend of mine challenged us through facebook. (I’m ahead of you – I did the shopping yesterday before the I heard about the challenge.) That would include things wrapped or packaged in plastic. Oh.

That would have excluded two blocks of cheese, two boxes of strawberries, a bag of spinach and a head of lettuce that comes with its roots (Living Lettuce – fresher, keeps longer, wrapped in plastic, so natural.) I tried to give back the berry boxes, but the vendor didn’t want them. Those I can reuse by covering them with a scrap fabric liner, for hairclips or bobby pins. As for the plastic wrap – it’s not recyclable here.

The top of the cream container I bought has a plastic cap. The rest I can recycle when empty. I doubt if it is actually waxed cardboard – although wax is also a petroleum product, so it comes from the same source as the thin plastic they coat milk cartons with nowadays.

This is much harder than it looks. No cups of take-out coffee, no jumbo bottles of pop. We may have to drink wine and beer – the wine will have to have a screwtop rather than a cork and plastic overwrap, but I’m no wine snob.

No crisps or packets of biscuits for dear husband. I will have to bake.

I always take my own shopping bag, but sometimes I just about have to slap the clerk to keep her/him from using THEIR bag. I always seem to have a few in the house from lack of attention on my part.

It could become a habit if we survive the week without too many arguments.

The Dairy Queen ice cream cake for Father’s Day came in a big plastic dome on a big plastic plate. This, however, is non-negotiable.

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20 thoughts on “The No-Plastics Challenge

  1. Yes!!

    I’ve been banging on about this for years!! i do what I can to minimise plastics use… there is so much more I could do though… We’ve survived until the second and third decade of the 20th century very well without them; plastics were novelties in the 20’s and actually made into things that would last; didn’t ‘last’ long though… from post WWII onward, we’ve been swamped with them. In Aus, plastic cling wrap came in in the late 70’s-80’s, plastic shopping bags became commonplace from 1980 onward; even commercial bread was no longer packed in wax paper but plastic… I remember as a kid, the supermarket would set aside their boxes for customers to load their groceries in. What’s the betting OH&S has outlawed this!! I want a way to store my bought veg without it; even cheeses and other goods brought from the deli or providor are packed in plastic; health regs and packaging regs etc.

    The little sushi kiosk in our local shopping centre just puts the roll into a paper bag for the customer; you can tell when the health inspectors have been around because they package in plastic sushi ‘boxes’ for the next few days before going back to paper bags again, having survived another inspection… To go without plastic would mean a serious reorientation of everything; my laundry detergent, dishwashing etc, to make my own and store in glass or stainless. Then there are Visin impaired gadgets; a good braille slate and stylus was once, even the A4 folding slate, made of brass, heavy wear alluminium or even copper; the styluses carved out of timber; beautiful! Now its all plastic!! I cherish my timber handle styluses dearly because they are simply unavailable. Oh how i wish I had bought a beautiful brass and walnut Braille slate set when I had the opportunity!

    Don’t get me started on the Lithium battery technology debate now!!!!!! Lithium is a rare mineral; we simply can’t just jump from oil to lithium for batteries in electronic equipment (Ipad, Iphone, Kindle, electric car, electric solar storage etc) and ignore the inevitable consequences!! We are simply just changing horses if we move from oil to lithium!

    Blessings,

    Sarah,
    Sydney,
    Australia.

    • Maybe you can find an antique or used one, probably at a pretty penny. I regretted that we couldn’t keep using the old bakelite rotary dial phones, but everything is digital now. I look around here in the office and so much is plastic, in a house built before plastic existed. If we couldn’t have plastic, or we had to pay its real cost (consider the cost of the BP oil spill and all other current spills) we would much less. But aren’t we all whinging and moaning and regretting the BP disaster (or whatever your equivalent is where you are) and then hopping in the vehicle to go by something?

      As for changing horses – just what I am considering, if I can move somewhere that would work well.

    • Thee speaks my mind. The electric car is a pet peeve of mine. The Prius is such a status symbol here, but frankly, in a country (USA) where at least half our electricity is generated from coal and we mine coal by blowing the tops off mountains (mountain top removal) I think switching to electric cars is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

      • Most hybrids recharge themselves entirely, I believe. I had a Honda hybrid back in the States. The purpose is to supplement the gas, and make it last longer, which it does. One friend is getting up to 60 mpg with her Prius. But you point out something quite right – we are not going to be able to charge our electric cars off our roof-top array of solar cells! While solar is useful, the technology is improving, and the prices are coming down, but the real costs probably aren`t, considering the plastics and metals used to make the panels. It is a fantsasy scenario that we will be able to maintain our energy-slurping ways depending on alt-energy.

        I am seriously thinking that I want to go back to horse and buggy – not where I live now, but when we move. It will be a big consideration for us. Do you realize that GM and Ford and the governements they financed convinced the municipalities that motor vehicles would be so much cleaner than horse-drawn vehicles- No manure to shovel off the streets! No foul runoff in the gutters after it rains! Where did they think the exhaust went-

  2. I’ve been minimizing it for a while, but I don’ t see how I could go plastics free. Since I heard a program on NPR a few years ago about unnecessary and wasteful packaging (the presenter observed that bananas come pre-packaged, and therefore it is not necessary to wrap them in plastic) I started paying attention to this ( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6506897 ). None of my produce comes home in extra packaging; apples, oranges, pears, bananas etc come home as naked as they day they were born. Of course cherries and other tiny fruits come home in the package they are sold in. Heck, even fish from the fishmonger (the fish counter) come home wrapped in paper. I even shop with a shopping basket most of the time!

    However, that being said; most everything else comes in plastic. Off the top of my head; cheese, bread, bulk food items (out of bins), etc. I do re-use the bulk food bags – they make great pooper scoopers or kitty litter box cleaning bags.

    Also, thinking of all the things I freeze; meats, stock, beans, fruit, etc. In the fridge it’s a different story. I try to store food and left overs in none-plastics. I have stainless steel tins like the ones people use in India ( http://www.needs.com/fullsize/5504/5776 ). I made this choice to reduce waste and to reduce my exposure to plastics.

    • I do notice that the stainless steel container is wrapped in plastic! What gives with that? I suppose it keeps it from getting scratched on the shelves, so there is some sacrificial waste to save your plastic waste in the future. Do you have some way to identify the contents in the refrigerator? Freezer storage is our big plastics consumer. I can’t seem to get away from plastic ziplock bags or plastic containers. I could use glass jars for some things, but I fear dropping them into the freezer or dropping something on them. And how do we buy meat without plastic? I notice that even the butcher’s paper is plasticized.
      There’s a local orchard that lets you pick your own cherries. I may give them a try soon, if I can bring my own containers.

      • Indeed, the stainless steel container came shrink wrapped in plastic. I imagine they would not look very good without some kind of protection in shipping. I think freezer storage is the big plastics consumer in my home too. Plastic just takes a beating without breaking, cracking, fracturing, etc. And all of those are risks with frozen. I don’t think my butcher paper is plasticized, but I’ll check the next time I buy fish. I really think plastics-free is impossible.

      • I suppose we could freeze in steel, but the expense would be high, and there would likely be airspace. My mother used to use a waxed cardboard box rather like an old-fashioned popcorn container, although paraffin wax is not improvement on plastic.I have frozen directly in the butcher paper, and have no objection to it, although I wouldn’t leave anything for very long.I will see if Lehman’s has anything non-plastic for the freezer. As it is, I often re-use ziplock bags.

  3. Today our local paper had an article about this very subject–it is almost impossible to go without some kind of plastic in daily living. Thanks for the challenge!

    • As I noted, it would have been hard to buy what I did if I had known about the challenge befoe grocery shopping. Cheese was the biggest problem. I could have bought cream in a smaller, recyclable container, or told DH to use up the milk in the refrigerator first!

  4. Magdalena,

    This is a greater and far more grave problem than many of us even imagine.

    This voyage http://www.theplastiki.com/trackplastiki/ seeks to raise attention about the seriousness of the plastics epidemic. You and most of your readership would know of, for instance, the disgusting great oceanic garbage patch’ in the pacific; even at the most remote of maritime locations, members of this expidition’s crew dove beneath their bote and cited tiny shards of plastic. its captain (see the site) mentioned, during a radio interview I have just heard, that the dangers are not only to the sea mammals and birds that die after injesting plastic waste, but the injestion by sealife of plastics at their micro and molecular level, as the waste breaks down, it fractures into smaller and smaller incriments but does not disappear; rather, it becomes a toxic element within the food chain; think of what is going on by the time we consume fish. This is not a call to go vegetarian or exclude fish from the diet, but a screaming cry to remove this filth from god’s creation!!

    • And think of those possibly usuable hydrocarbons just rotting away, getting ingested, ending up, as you say, polluting the food chain. The first step is to buy less plastic, and the second is to discard NO plastic. I tmust be recycled, not landfilled, not garbage-scowed.

  5. I do my best to purchase products that have a minimum of packaging. My biggest way of doing this is home canning. Yes, the lids must be discarded or used for other types of storage like vacuum sealing (although there is a “new” brand of canning jar on the market with reusable rings). However, you can reuse the glass canning jars for years and years.

    When I was a little girl in the 60s leftovers were stored in glass containers with clear glass lids, not in the plastics we use now. Butter and margarine came in sticks or blocks wrapped in waxed paper and one used a glass butter dish to serve rather than the tub of margarine now used.

    Also, almost every home had a rack where the family would hang the plastic bags that they had washed. Of course, many homes also reused aluminum foil as well.

    Here in the US a brand of corn/multi-grain chips called Sun Chips. They don’t use the typical metalicized bags, they use a bag that is biodegradable. The bag makes quite a racket compared to the usual chips.

    Where we live now, there is no possibility of recycling, so we try our best to keep our trash to a minimum.

    • I wash plastic bags now and hang them on various sticks around the kitchen to dry, or even out on the clothesline. I have tried re-using lids by boiling them with a little baking soda. They seem to seal okay, but this is not recommended!

    • Yes, I heard the same, but the local council would like us to use them until something better comes along, rather than having plastic-encased dog poop in the landfill for decades. A composter would be the best thing for us, but since we are here temporarily,it isn’t practical. I used to have a special compost hole just for cleaning up after dogs.

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