Sunday, December 9, 2007

Protect the Environment: Ten Tips for Avoiding Plastic

In the earliest days of my blog I posted a list of tips on how to avoid using plastic, but I grabbed it from another site since I hadn't solved much of the plastic free puzzle yet. Well, at this point, I'm a bit wiser (although I still have much to learn) so I wanted to provide my own list. Here it is...

Ten Tips for Reducing Your Plastic Consumption

1. Bring Your Own Bag: The EPA reports that between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide. Avoid this needless waste by always carrying a bag or two with you and be sure to bring grocery bags and produce bags with you when you go to the market. Ecobags offers a wide variety of cotton and string bags that a great for grocery shopping, and you can also probably find great canvas bags at your local thrift shop. See here for tips on how to remember your grocery bags when you go shopping.

2. Drink Tap Water: Americans consume at least 22 billion bottles of water each year (I've also seen statistics reporting much greater numbers), and nearly all of these plastic bottles end up in the landfill. Unless you have serious water quality or taste issues, this is an easy way to curb usage. Here's an additional list of reasons not to drink bottled water.

3. Buy from Bulk Bins: This is a great way to avoid buying food products in plastic packaging. Stores like Whole Foods offer granola, cereal, dried fruit, dried beans, nuts, candy, and grains that you can bring home with reusable cloth bags. Use the internet to find out if you have stores in your area with bulk bins.

4. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle: Sometimes you just need a drink, so be sure to carry a reusable water bottle with you. Don't forget that Nalgene bottles are made of polycarbonate, a type of plastic that is likely to have many adverse health effects.

5. Bring Your Own Mug: If you love hot beverages, be sure to carry along a mug. Stainless steel mugs are a great option.

6. Discover Fresh Foods: Almost all processed foods come in plastic in some form or another. Buy fresh fruits and veggies (be sure to use your produce bags!), get your meat wrapped in paper from the meat counter, and find a deli where you can get your cheese in paper.

7. Do Some Baking: Lots of baked goods that usually come packed in plastic can be made easily at home. Favorite examples include cookies and bread. Note that breadmakers turn baking bread into an easy task and are simple to find at local thrift stores and garage sales.

8. Enjoy Slow Food: Among the many ills of fast food, it's almost impossible to avoid plastic packaging when eating at a place like McDonald's. That means it's time to slow down and start cooking your own meals. If your new to cooking, Allrecipes.com has an amazing collection of user-reviewed recipes.

9. Kick Your Soda Habit: Americans consume billions of bottles and cans of soda each year (note that aluminum cans are lined with plastic to prevent the aluminum from leeching into your soda). To avoid this waste and possible health consequences, pour yourself a glass of agua from the tap.

10. Use Natural Cleaning Products: Products like baking soda and vinegar don't have to come packed in plastic and are multi-purpose and effective. Learn more about natural cleaning products to reduce your plastic consumption.

23 comments:

marsha said...

Drink your tap water from a Swellz TapSack!! The Swellz are eco-friendly and fun to drink from. As you drink your own safe drinking water, the TapSack collapses as the water is consumed making it a great product to carry - no bulk. The Swellz TapSack has a latex interior - no plastic - no bispenol to worry about! The exterior is soft leather - you can customize it with your own art and dress it up in many ways. Check them out at www.swellz.com! Thanks.

LifeLessPlastic said...

It looks like your product has a plastic cap, right? Still, having one reusable container with a plastic cap is better than buying hundreds of water bottles each year.

Bag Monster said...

Is there a problem with single-use plastic bags and the monsters they create when they accumulate? Bag Monsters aren't so bad, you know... we're family monsters with millions of little Bag Monster spawn to worry about. Some of us live under kitchen sinks, but most of us live in the ocean. To learn more about how hard it is being a Bag monster and new bag bans around the world go to BagMonster.com. All these bag bans are because we make an expensive mess, cause "environmental damage," and because many of us are eaten by marine animals... Don't they know better than to eat Bag Monsters? With competition like ChicoBag and Ecobags, I don't know how long Bag Monsters will last without endangered species protection. *sigh* It's tough being a Bag Monster.

Laura said...

Thank you so much for these tips! I searched craigslist for a bread machine in my area and I found two. I could be making bread tonight if I can snag one of them! :)
I carry a stainless steel water bottle (not insulated though so, not good for hot drinks) and I love it! I also love the Workhorse bags from reusablebags.com (note: they are made of nylon). They stuff into a tiny little sewn on stuff-spot(ingenius!) so they are always with me.
Tupperware has been replaced by canning jars of all sizes and (clean/new) mens handkerchiefs tied with string for wrapping sandwiches.

LifeLessPlastic said...

Awesome! I'm so excited that you found a breadmaker. Like I said, they're everywhere! :) Anyways, I think I might do a post on baking bread at some point. I'm not an expert myself, but it might be fun just to describe how easy it is.

Good luck with your breadmaking! Let me know how it goes!

Kel said...

Good list!

Re: Number 2 and Number 4 on the list. I'm sure drinking tap water is better than buying water in plastic bottles, but our household pipes are PVC. My plastic struggle is on two fronts: the health of the Earth and the health of my family and I, and these sometimes conflict.

LifeLessPlastic said...

Thanks very much!

As for your water, I guess that sort of means you have a serious water quality issue and don't really have a choice. But that's okay, as long as you do your best to protect the environment in other ways.

As for thinking of the Earth and the health of your family, these things usually go hand in hand, except for cases like your PVC pipes. For example, choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products is also probably the healthiest way to go for your family...

theXsolution said...

Nice tips. I think an important point to remember is not to pick a substitute because it IS NOT plastic, but rather picking whichever is the lesser of two evils. Steel is much worse than plastic in almost every regard when speaking about the environment. Thanks for the enjoyable read :-)

EllenO said...

Thanks for the nice prop for Ecobags :). I put your list of quick tips on our blog at blog.ecobags.com.

New for fall: 12 oz. stainless steel water bottles that have a squirty top instead of just a twist-off. The reasons I like this one better than others: 1) it's not as heavy b/c it's 12 instead of 16 oz, which means it fits better and won't break my kids' backpacks and 2) I don't have to be concerned @ the kids losing the twist on/off top!

Deepika said...

I think what you are doing is great! I found your blog from the TIME magazine. I have a question about carrying your own mugs. My husband makes coffee everyday in Black and Decker one mug at a time coffee machine. The mug itself is stainless but is lined entire with plastic. Any alternative to that? I've already ordered a Klean Kanteen bottle for myself.

Anonymous said...

Deepika---try a French press coffee maker--there's no plastic involved!

The Minimalist said...

Congrats on the TIme Magazine article! I'll have to pick it up. It occurred to me the other day as I used up the last of my bulk rice that I could just take that same bag back to the store with the same twist tie with the bin number already on it and save myself another plastic bag twist tie and time. I wrote rice on it and I'm going to see how long it will hold up. Mind you I buy huge amounts of brown rice because I cook for my dog, I know, don't say it. Have you been to her blog?

SustainElaine said...

Your ten tips for avoiding plastic seem so common sensical and after people get used to remembering to bring a reusable water bottle everywhere, not so hard. Any ideas for spreading the adoption of these simple ideas faster? We can be role models for others and talk up the benefits to friends. Other than that, what can we do?

SustainElaine said...

Did you know tin cans have a bisphenol-A plastic lining in them? BPA is an endochrine disruptor - messes with hormones in your body. Another reason to go for fresh, simpler food.

Toni said...

Abeego Designs would like to inform you that a handcrafted, reusable, natural alternative to plastic food wrap and plastic baggies has arrived. Please check out our online store. www.abeego.etsy.com

everysongsaboutagirl.com said...

Thank you for the article, very insightful

Rob said...

Thanks for the great article! I manage to avoid buying plastic by all the methods you suggest. My one last sticking point is... how can I completely avoid buying plastic when buying MILK?! Even the milk that comes in the cardboard cartons have plastic lids/caps. I now live in Ontario, Canada, but I remember that when I was younger and I lived in England we would get our milk delivered (on an electric cart) in recyclable glass bottles. If anyone could suggest something, I'd be very appreciate! Thanks again for the article.

Jae said...

I can see that you are really trying to do something good, but I think you would be better served by focusing on ways to get the most impact for your effort.

I don't want to shock you too much, but I work in logistics for one of the major retail stores in this country. Every day at work I see pallets of inventory wrapped in yards and yards of plastic. That's merely to keep a pile of boxes together (they also do this in some mail distribution centers as well). Take off the used plastic (which is now awaiting a landfill), and you have a pile of boxes. Open up one of the boxes and you have several options. You can have a box with items that can go onto the shelf with no internal packaging except perhaps a bit of shrink wrap (less frequent), a box of items with more packaging internally...usually plastic (most frequent), or a mixed box (less frequent). In a mixed box you have many different packaging options, but it mostly boils down to several different items in the same box with more plastic and/or cardboard being wasted.

The amount of plastic and cardboard boxes that are used to ship ANYTHING is astounding, even clothing. Clothes can be individually wrapped in plastic, put in a box with other plastic wrapped items of clothing, and then sent on its way. We have multiple cages of flattened boxes and plastic that are filled to the brim every morning. And the amount of packaging that these items are encased in from the products companies to the main distrubution center would also need to be factored in.

I can tell you confidently that the major source of plastic use for each item that you purchase is not in the packaging of the item you buy on the shelves, but in the way the item was packaged before it even got to the store. In this way, most items are created equal in the amount of waste from packaging. It doesn't matter if you are buying Pantene or Burt's Bee's. They are shipped in the same way, with the same amount of waste involved.

I'm not trying to disuade you from your attempt at being plastic free. I'm just saying that if you are trying to reduce your impact, then you should just stick with reducing consumption in general and not stress so much about each individual item. If you cut down on buying things you don't need, as I can see from your blog that you are doing, then you naturally reduce the amount of things that are packaged and shipped. That and buying locally will reduce your plastic "footprint" by a much higher degree than anyone around you and ensure that you are doing your part.

I hope this doesn't sound critical, as it wasn't intended to be. I do think your ten tips are great. I only occasionally get plastic grocery bags (as I use them for my bathroom trash). I always carry my reuseable cloth bags with me to the store. I carry my water bottle with me every where, etc etc etc and never buy bottled water or soda. But, I'm not going to stress over my once a week plastic gallon of milk. There are some things you just can't get around. At least not yet.

Rob said...

I realized your point, Jae, before you wrote your comment - but it was good of you to bring this to our attention again. I think it's very important, as consumers, to show our disdain for plastic in every way possible. If I can set a good example personally and refuse to buy anything in plastic, then hopefully others will follow my lead, and eventually our shift to a much less plastic filled world will start happening. I cannot change the entire world, but I can be responsible for my life.

Kevin said...

I am grateful to have found your blog. I can remember many many years ago, Coca-Cola was the first to use plastic bottles. Those were only on the shelf for a short time before they were pulled off due to health concerns. But it was only a few years later that plastic bottling re-emerged in a big way. Since that time I have always wondered about the ill effects of the use of plastic in the food, and in the clothing industry. Many thanks for the information you are providing here on this site.

Radha said...

I feel good, cause I'm doing already all of them:))

Debbie L. Feldman said...

Hello. Love your blog. I've been working on avoiding plastic for several years. I, took, have a concern about drinking water, because my apartment has PVC pipes. (At least they aren't lead.) But, even if I used a Brita filter, the pitcher and filter are both plastic.
Debbie, Brooklyn, NY

Hydro Flask said...

Drinking tap water is a great step. We also make reusable water bottles available at many stores or at our web site.