Monday, March 01, 2010

Make it Work Monday: Use Less Plastic

I don't like plastic for a number of reasons, and what I find is that at least one of those reasons will resonate with most people. For you liberals, we have the pollution of oceans (floating plastic mass the size of Texas, anyone?) and the rest of the planet, since plastic is not biodegradable, and for you conservatives, we have the fact that plastic is made from petroleum, and you'd be hard pressed to avoid all that foreign oil and ensure that your plastics were domestically produced. Unfortunately for all of us, plastic is everywhere, and frankly, it's also pretty handy. I'll be the first to admit that there are some plastic items that I have yet to find an alternative for (particularly for freezing things), but every small change gets us closer to the goal of zero petroleum based plastic. While plastic is recyclable, it does require a bit of new plastic to make fresh items from that recycled plastic, so optimally, using as little plastic as possible and reusing what you get is the best way to ensure that there is less petroleum based plastic* created. We still use plastic in our home, but we've made the following changes and find that there's a lot less of it floating around.

1. Choose to purchase products with as little plastic packaging as possible. For me, this means that I chose safflower oil instead of canola because it came in a glass bottle, that I take my own reusable bulk bags and purchase from the bulk aisle instead of the pre-packaged aisles (this also saves money, as much as a dollar per pound on many items), and that I buy larger sized containers as opposed to single serving containers. If there's a non-plastic option, I take it. Of course this also applies to taking my own reusable bags everywhere. Additionally, if I'm buying produce, I simply don't use a bag.

2. Invest in glass storage containers. You can often find these at thrift stores. I've compromised and allowed glass containers with plastic lids since I know that I will reuse those over and over again. Unlike lids on Gladware and the like, these lids are made to last. I particularly like this set of twelve dishes from Crate and Barrel; these would work well for small bits of pre-chopped whatever (usually onion, in our house) and would also likely do just fine in the freezer.

3. Don't buy bottled water. Not only is the plastic made from petroleum, but it takes a lot of petroleum to transport that water. The bottles are only designed for a single use, so it's a lose-lose issue. Take a reusable bottle with you and fill it from the tap or a water fountain. We use stainless steel bottles and are quite happy with them. If you drop them, they dent, but that just shows that you are committed, right? Right.

4. Use non-plastic bags for transporting snacks and lunch foods. We use waxed paper bags, which are biodegradable, and you can also find a bevy of attractive reusable snack bags on sites like Etsy.

5. Take your own reusable cup to the coffee shop. I'll freely admit that I'm still working on this one, having had a hard time finding a cup that is the right size. But that's just an excuse, and I am on the hunt for a cup to have filled with my favorite iced beverage. Promise.

6. Use biodegradable trash bags. Yes, they are more expensive. However, through a combination of recycling, reusing, and composting, we have a single bag each week that goes to the curb. For what you spend each week on your biodegradable bags, you couldn't even buy a cheap cup of coffee. Just throw some of those bags in your cart already.

7. Keep looking for alternatives to plastic. We have so many options available to us for almost everything we consume; with a minimum of effort, you can find good swaps for your usual plastic habits.

I'm sure I'm leaving about twenty kajillion things out. What do you use instead of plastic? Share your tips!

*The very first plastics were made from plant matter, and you will find that there are plastics of that sort available today if you look for them. A basic search for biodegradable plastic cups on Amazon reveals a variety of options.

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