Change the World Wednesday: My Plastic Free Week

If you don’t already know about Change the World Wednesday, it’s a weekly green challenge hosted by Reduce Footprints, and this week’s was to go a week without buying anything that involved plastic. (Not to live without using anything plastic, which would be much, much harder.)

It was a good challenge. I blame the cat for my failure. She had to have some teeth removed and came home with antibiotics (glass bottle, plastic lid), a plastic syringe (that doesn’t even work except to spray both of us with horribly bitter antibiotics), painkillers (plastic pill container). Then, in an attempt to bribe the cat into taking her meds, I bought her some liverwurst, which also came wrapped in plastic. She sniffed it and carefully ate around the concealed 1/4 pill. Damn cat.

On the human side, things went better. I made my grocery list, looked carefully at each item, and either found ways to get around plastic or came up with reasonable alternatives. I noticed I was especially good about preparing for my trip to the grocery store this week. Knowing that I couldn’t take a plastic bag if I really needed it meant that I packed more reused bags and containers — enough for everything on my list and a few extras. Here’s some of the stuff that was on my list this week:

  • Popcorn. Buy in bulk with reused container, pop on the stove. (Tastes much better than microwaved popcorn, by the way.) Toss with olive oil (glass bottle), sea salt (bulk bins), and garlic (bulk spices) and nutritional yeast (bulk bins).
  • Fruit. I hated walking past the plump blueberries on sale, and the strawberries were just as tempting. But I missed the farmers’ market this week, which was my only opportunity to get berries without the plastic packaging. Instead I ate stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines) which are in season locally and can be purchased without a bag.
  • Salad and vegetables. My local market lets me bag my own salad greens as well as mushrooms, potatoes, leafy greens, and other vegetables. I don’t bag anything that doesn’t need it and often (but not always) remember to bring a bag for mushrooms, green beans, brussels sprouts, etc. I was good this week, so no new bags.
  • Milk. Most dairy comes in plastic, so I used raw almonds (available from the bulk bins) and made almond milk. Sadly, my almond milk yogurt experiment fell through. No [new] cheese or other dairy this week, though I had some on hand.
  • Snacks. Most snacks are heavily packaged, so you can either buy them from the bulk bins or DIY your own kale chips, applesauce, or granola. And did I mention popcorn?

Apart from some produce stickers and the cat stuff, I brought no new plastic into my life this week. Preparation seems to be key. I often find that consciously identifying problems (forgetting produce bags) and then coming up with solutions (keep them in a more prominent place) helps me improve.

At the same time, my no new plastic week was only possible because it was the right week. I didn’t need contact solution or dish soap or toothpaste.  The cat didn’t need new litter, my shoes didn’t wear out, my computer didn’t break. Point is, there are lots of situations in which plastic might be hard to get out of, or in which I don’t want to do reasonable alternatives forever.

Still, it was a great exercise in being more conscious about how much plastic comes into my house, and I’m now in the mindset of always asking what my alternatives are to buying something that involves plastic.

Did you try this week’s challenge (or would you)? How did you do?

10 responses to this post.

  1. Good job! I’m totally with you on skipping packaged berries, though my heart aches when I walk past them in the store. Luckily I’m rarely in grocery stores anymore now my CSA is in high gear. I just wish my local farmers’ market was open for business on a weekday evening rather than Saturday mornings when I’m too busy to go three weeks out of four. Definitely missing out on the fruit.

    Reply

    • Hi Andrea,
      Alas, I can’t say I’m swearing off supermarket berries for good. One store by me has blueberries on sale this week, and I am so tempted! Not sure I can make it to the farmers’ market…

      Shopping (or getting your food) from the right places is a huge part of being able to buy things without plastic. Some stores just can’t resist the urge to package lots of its produce in plastic. I’m lucky that my closest greengrocer is mostly a bag it yourself (if you want a bag) type of place — for everything but berries!

      Reply

  2. Wow … you did a great job! And you deserve Kudos for passing on the plastic-wrapped fruit and making your own almond milk! I love your enthusiasm!!

    Reply

    • Thanks, Small Footprints! I loved this week’s challenge — not too easy, not too hard. It made me realize that I’m less dependent on plastic than I thought I was.

      Reply

  3. well done you – I failed miserably, but I didn’t really try that hard; I think you have to be super motivated and as you say, organised in advance. I *could* have done much better with will power – I blame it on the PMT when my yogurt craving shoots through the roof and my energy levels are zilch (Hmmm, wonder if there’s a connection there).

    Anyway, love the kitty story and hope they heal soon- I have, erm fond memories of chasing my cats around trying to get them to take antibiotics. By the end of the week the one would hold the tablet in her mouth, make a convincing swallowing motion then look at me, scarper and spit out the tablet as she passed. God I miss my cats….

    You are my almond milk making Goddess of the week….

    Reply

    • Hi Mrs. Green!
      Yeah, being prepared is definitely a big piece of the puzzle. If I could figure out a good substitute for things like dish soap, I’d have half a shot at making it work before running out of dish soap and picking one up at the store because I need it right now. I don’t get yogurt cravings, but I do get egg cravings. I sometimes think cravings are my body’s way of telling me that I need something.

      The cat is doing fine; I’ve just read too much about antibiotic resistant strains due to not finishing a course of antibiotics, so we are duly finishing up the dose. Sadly, my bathrobe gets more of it than the cat, who is remarkably squirmy and about as uncooperative as she could be.

      Reply

  4. Woah, I don’t think I could do that! How do you get the stuff from the bulk bins without using the plastic bags? FYI, I use an air popper to make popcorn and it is delicious, reusable, and super healthy.

    Reply

    • Hi Sarah!
      I save those big 1lb plastic yogurt tubs for the bulk bins, or I bring back bags I’ve previously used, or I bring the glass jars I store my bulk bin items in. Er. As you see, it’s not the most organized system, but I usually have at least one out of the three on hand. I put a strip of masking tape on the bins so I can just write the bin number on it without taking a plastic tag. (Of course, masking tape is probably part plastic, too, but I just cross it off and write a new number for as much space as I have.)

      We used to have an air popper at home, which was endlessly entertaining for me to watch as a child. I actually prefer the oilier, crisper consistency of stove top popcorn. It’s definitely higher in calories, but…gosh, what doesn’t taste better with a little oil?😉

      Reply

  5. Amazing job! It’s so challenging not to use plastic-it’s everywhere! I was at the market today and needed eggs. The organic eggs came in a plastic container-really! Fortunately there was one cardboard carton of organic eggs left-they were almost $1 more than their plastic alternative. So many issues for just a carton of eggs. I really like how you planned ahead and really thought through your purchases. I would love to do that-not sure I’m capable🙂

    Reply

    • Hi Lori,
      Urgh! I think you should write to the organic egg company about their plastic cartons and point out the logical inconsistencies. My latest tactic is to call companies, restaurants, and stores out (in the politest way, of course) through email, FB, and whatever other mediums I can get to them, and suggest greener changes. If you mix in a few compliments about how you love their products, who knows, they might be receptive if they get enough requests.

      I think going plastic free for a week might be harder with a bigger family. It’s just Kevin and me, which definitely made it easier to accommodate everyone’s favorite foods. It might be worth a try if you could sit down together and figure out a plastic-free alternative for each person’s favorites.

      Reply

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