Friday, May 21, 2010

Life Less Stuff

These past few weeks, I've been looking for ways to reduce my usage and tossing of stuff, particularly plastic. The reports I've read of BPA, a synthetic estrogen, being not only in plastic, but in the lining of most metal cans are frightening. We've all grown up drinking canned sodas and using tupperware. It's still too early to tell what the long term effects of having it in our systems are, but the short-term effects are definitely not good. And then I got to thinking about landfills and my personal contribution to them. It's a lot. I prefer buying things online, because I can do price comparisons. But my packages come with so much extra stuff. Why not try to reduce for the good of people who have to live near landfills and for future generations? It's a no brainer. I hate thinking that in just a few generations, we have quickly turned parts the earth into an irrevocable dump.

Our friends the Peters had just moved into their new house and decided that it would be a good time to implement changes they had been thinking about for while, such as eliminating all plastic from their kitchen and using cloth towels instead of paper towels and paper napkins. Of course, I got all revved up about it and thought of the stuff I'd go buy the next day to do the same. I realized that I would be buying more stuff, so it depends if the health risk of using plastics (and just not heating them up in the microwave) is worth continuing. I ended up snagging 5 Italian glass containers with BPA-free lids from Marshalls at a reduced price. B still uses our tupperware though. We also still have 4 fat rolls of paper towels to use up, so I have a bit of time to figure out a cheap but reliable alternative. Kitchen cloths are pricey, even at places like Walmart, so I looked in flour sack cloths and even hand towels. My friend Jocelyn pointed me to some cheaper toweling from her quilting company. I have yet to learn how to use my mini sewing machine, but if I can master finishing edges, then I'm thinking this will be the best and most enjoyable option.

Each trip to the grocery store, I pick up so much packaging, mostly plastic. I am aware that by buying less processed foods, we could reduce this. I have also stopped using those thin produce bags to separate fruits and vegs. It requires a little bit more work on the part of the checkout guy/girl, but they seem to be OK with it. The meat we buy comes in a styrofoam tray and is wrapped in plastic wrap. I don't see another alternative to this, except stop eating meat or asking the store to ask the farm to find other packaging. Because I am married to a diehard carnivore, the former is not going to happen. I pinged Wheatsville Co-op and this was their immediate response: "We package some and get some already packaged. The general consensus is that there isn't a very good quality choice for a greener package than what we're using. There are alternatives out there, but they have performance issues that concern us. Anything you buy from our full service cases are usually placed in butcher paper or can be for the most part." Hm. Well I am glad they have already looked into this.

I've been reading up on shampoo bars and the baking soda "no poo" wash. While the latter seems too intense for me, I ordered some bars from Chagrin Valley. Great name, huh? The soaps are packaged in paper, so no more plastic bottles in our shower if they work out. I've seen Dr. Bronner's bar soap mentioned as a replacement for dish soap too.

Also I did get around to getting a bucket for the cat litter so we wouldn't have to continue to collect plastic bags. I used to fake forgetting my bag just so I wouldn't get heat for bagging in plastic. Terrible, huh? So we bring our cloth bags to the store when we remember to.

I am aware that I could possibly not even need kitchen trash bags if we composted (and did not eat meat). But we do live on the 2nd floor of a house and don't have any ground space to do that. And I am grossed out by worms. One day, perhaps. It is largely dependent on if we decide to move in August. We are thinking 78704 or 78703, if we can swing it.

This blog, Life Less Plastic, has been an invaluable resource to me.

I'm trying not to stress myself out about this while I'm still figuring out what works for me and us as a couple. It also stresses me out thinking of people in general and people I know who don't care about this and continue to buy and toss. We are friends with a certain group of people we see regularly a few times a week; they don't recycle, drink HFCS, drink milk, eat conventional red meat, don't buy local, live in the suburbs- they don't embrace any of our lifestyle values. And I know it's unrealistic to stop using plastic and disposable items completely. I'm not ready to rethink toilet paper, feminine products, medical supplies, or floss just yet. Hopefully both companies and consumers will get on board and opt for greener and safer packaging. I just think the costs of rampant plastic usage, both hidden and open, are too great. Now, this isn't some personal passion of mine and I don't spend the majority of my time mulling over these issues. I know I can be a more responsible steward while figuring out how to live my life. And the real issue for me may be the 1st R: reduce. I love stuff. I love researching it, buying it, and using it. B made the point that he uses everything he buys, while I use one thing at a time and leave everything else untouched. This was in light of the new jacket I bought (it was more on sale), as if I needed any more. It's true that I tend to turn towards materialism when I am bored or anxious. Gotta work on that.


SuzyFormager said...

As far as trash bags are concerned, we actually opt not to use reusable shopping bags most of the time and instead reuse paper shopping bags in place of plastic trash bags. Obviously you have to be a little more careful about getting rid of any excess liquid before trashing something. Not sure if this is the most environmentally friendly choice or not, but it's free and not plastic, so I'm sticking with it until someone gives me a good reason to change. This probably works best if you buy minimal packaged foods and have correspondingly minimal trash, although so much of food packaging can be recycled these days, so that's going into a different container (a bucket in our case) anyway. I think we use about two paper grocery bags/ week for our trash.

Our co-op sells bath products (shampoo, conditioner, soap) and household cleaning products in bulk so that you can reuse your containers but still use liquid products if you prefer. Wonder if there's anywhere in Austin that does this? Of course this means remembering to bring your containers with you to the store.

You know if you're serious about all this going green stuff, you could probably save yourself a lot of stress and energy by just moving up here... :>

Fern said...

I would love to move up there!! It's the whole job thing that has got to get worked out...

Wheatsville actually does have bath products in bulk. I might try to do that. I think you have to weigh your containers first?

Rachel B said...

It might not surprise you that I think about these things too. I try to reuse plastic before recycling it or throwing it away. For example, I reuse Saran wrap and plastic bags, including bags that our bread comes in. We also don't use thin produce bags, unless it's something like green beans. You can use your cloth bags at places besides the grocery store, and when we forget our bags, we use the plastic sacks we get as trash bags.

I think the best way to use less plastic/packaging is to buy less stuff (or buy it used (locally), if possible), and also to cook from scratch.