Plastic Packaging: Thirty Ways I'm Using Less and Why
It's everywhere, isn't it? And once you become more aware of the problem and commit to using less, one walk down any aisle of the grocery store is nearly enough to make you pass out. It's simply overwhelming. At our house, we still have quite a ways to go, but have taken a number of initial steps to start making an initial impact. Wanna know how we're doing it?
First, with a great deal of inspiration from Beth Terry. This Wise Bread reader is seriously taking on the plastic reduction issue to an extreme level. Her site is also where I first saw a video of the Pacific Gyre and its effects on marine life. I can't tell you how much of an impact this made on me. I felt physically ill and weak in the knees. I was immediately both motivated about making a difference and paralyzed with a feeling of helplessness. How much of a difference could I even make? In the end, I obviously decided doing nothing was not an option. There are many more things we need to do, but this list represents how we're starting out.
I considered combining some of the similar items into a single category due to the length of this post. I want the article to make a positive impact, after all. The more I thought about it however, I decided that artistically having a list which might be a bit overwhelming to the readers was, after all, the point. This is an overwhelming problem in every sense of the word. Additionally, having a list like this represents more accurately the process a person goes through when they start looking around their house and seeing that reusable grocery and produce bags are literally just a drop in the bucket of the overall plastic problem. So, without further ado . . .
I only buy the ones in the cardboard boxes with the wax covering. The ones in plastic bags are a thing of the past. Frozen fruit is another story. I haven't found the most affordable local fresh source yet, and I have yet to see them in boxes.
We are exploring the bulk bin options where you can empty the loose beans into sealable paper bags. The only option we've found in our area is more than double the cost of what we are currently paying. So unfortunately, we'll have to continue to explore for a while.
It took me a while to find an uber affordable option for these. Making the transition to reusable produce totes requires WAY more bags than you need when switching only to fabric shopping bags. My solution? These little four for a buck numbers I found at Dollar Tree. Score!
Cloth shopping bags.
For large trips, I have the fold up cheapies from various stores. But those unexpected stops I always found myself unprepared for? I now have a specially designed one that fits easily into my purse. Here's a review article with a few options.
The bulk stores in my area only have pesto in plastic jars with plastic tops. The most affordable brand I've found so far that also has responsible packaging? Classico. Glass jars, metal tops and no plastic shrink wrap sleeve. Their pesto is fantastic, and the jars are actually miniature Atlas canning jars with the measuring lines on the side. Since they are the narrower mouth jars that fit on the base of your blender, this makes them great for grinding red peppers, peanuts and more. So not only do have a great tool for the lazy gourmet, you have an easily repurposed container as well.
The price on the cardboard boxes is definitely comparable to the large plastic container at my local Sam's Club, so I'm making the switch as soon as the batch is used up.
I actually have Fake Plastic Fish to thank for this one. Beth Terry was the one to alert me to the fact that the cardboard cases of Seventh Generation toilet paper arrive with virtually no plastic packaging whatsoever. The packing tape is the only bit of plastic you'll see. All the rolls are wrapped in recycled tissue paper. It's a huge case that lasts a long time too.
This one's sort of a fifty-fifty approach. On one hand, I am trying to bake more in order to reduce plastic packaging. Most of the types of bread that I would normally buy don't come in the cases where you can put them in paper or fabric bags, at least at the stores where I shop. (Although that's a great option, if you live near a store that offers that.) On the other hand, I haven't found a source of non mesh fabric bags for bulk bins that would afford me to stock up on the large number I feel I would need to make the transition. So for the bread bags (and other similar ones) that I do end up bringing home, I've decided to make them into my temporary bulk bin solution. If I can finally find time to take up sewing again, then that would be a great solution as well.
Save A Lot.
There happens to be one of these stores very close to my house. It's dirt cheap place to shop, and at least with regards to produce, they have a reasonable selection of loose items that don't come in plastic bags or containers. A few produce items I buy there regularly include cilantro, sweet potatoes, cabbage, bananas, tomatoes, onions and Spanish potatoes.
Compared to other hot sauce brands that come in plastic jars, this stuff comes in a glass bottle. The top is plastic though.
Whole foods carries the Santa Cruz organic kind. It comes in a glass jar with a metal lid and no plastic sleeve around the top. Bonus? The price is definitely comparable to the plastic bottles we'd been buying. We go through a fair bit of lime juice on a regular basis, so buying fresh limes to squeeze our own isn't really feasible given our schedule.
By checking the snack aisle at my local warehouse store, I found popcorn in a paper bag instead of plastic wrap.
I still have to use up the supply I have, but I recently discovered the Asian market I go to will open up their larger direct import bags and measure out a set weight if customers request it. I don't think they carry basmati, but they carry a ton of other varieties, including brown jasmine.
I refuse to purchase the styrofoam containers, and have even stopped buying the bulk sets in cardboard since they are wrapped in plastic. I go only with the cardboard containers. If I can ever find a local egg person, I'll even be able to reduce that waste.
Sun dried tomatoes.
The Bella San Luci brand comes in a glass jar with a metal lid. Now I still like the dried kind that don't come in oil for things like scones and flavored breads, but instead of buying the in a plastic bag, I'm going to hit up a fellow blogger for her homemade recipe.
I'm switching over to glass jars and bulk cans. We've always done that to some extent anyway, but would snag a large plastic jug if that's what happened to be available where I was shopping when I ran out. Also, oils in general I'm starting to make precision choices about. For example, grape seed oil at the stores in my area always comes in a plastic bottle. But at Whole Foods which is further away, they sell a version in glass. We try to make it down there every 4-6 weeks for the few items that we purchase from that chain. Since I'm almost out, and they have a comparable price, that's the kind I'll buy from now on.
Taking advantage of bulk bins.
I'll be honest. I don't have that many available at the stores in my area. And while I love the fact that we do have a Whole Foods in Tampa, it's bulk bin selection isn't nearly as large as others I've seen. In fact, it's bordering on disappointing. It seems that all the folks out west have access to more package free bulk buying than those of us on the other side of the country. I've seen remarkable images of stores with rows and rows of nothing but bulk bins on either side, and storage tanks with things on tap like lotion, shampoo, honey and olive oil. Why are we so far behind the times on this coast? I have no idea. But I'm at least committed to making the best of the few options I have. Kuwait actually had some decent options for this when I lived there, and I noticed they still did when I was visiting a while back. The old souk was not only a fun place to shop and hang out, but they had great options for package free produce, spices, nuts, etc. I've noticed similar options throughout the Middle East and other countries where the open air markets are the norm.
Actually, I've been doing this for a while for both toxicity and frugality reasons. So the reduced plastic container waste has been going on for a while in this particular department. If I was trying to make all of these transitions at once, it would be far too overwhelming.
Keeping a keen eye.
I have found myself viewing the produce aisles of the stores where I shop quite critically. For example, one of them has portabellas (although not the baby ones I love) available without packaging, but none of the other types are available without plastic. Just down the street, another store has loose champion mushrooms for the same price as the plastic packaged ones.
Once we have used up our two large bottles of rubbing alcohol (We use it for mirror and faucet shining, spray sanitizer in the bathroom, electronics cleaning, etc.) we are switching over to using vodka for the same purpose. It's available in glass bottles with metal tops. Now, the peroxide and witch hazel are still things we'll need to use plastic bottles for. But at least this is one switch we can make easily.
I just can't stop thinking of reasons to love this store. Check them out for glass containers with stainless steel tops. Shakers, pour tops and other types of non plastic containers are available there. We use them for things like cinnamon and sugar blend, cocoa for a coffee bar party and more. You can also use them for things you might see in a restaurant like shakeable Parmesan, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning.
Precision tea purchases.
Honest to Pete, do we really need to have extra plastic packaging here? And don't get me started on the same argument for coffee. For crying out loud, this stuff comes clear around the world in a burlap sack. I think we can safely store it in paper. I went to pick up a bit at the grocery store the other day. No loose options were available at the store I went to, so I went for the boxed. The one and only brand that came without an outside layer of plastic wrap? Bigelow.
Like I needed another reason to love these. For foods that aren't going to expand, they are going to be my new freezer storage solution. For example, I can cut down on the use of freezer bags when I break down my bulk purchases of shredded cheese by putting the shredded cheddar and mozzarella into pint jars. I've also heard of some stores being willing to pre-weigh the jars you bring in and subtracting from the total new weight once moist products like feta are added in. Haven't checked that one out yet in my neighborhood. Now, I'm finding that a fair number of stores I used to be able to find the jar lids at are no longer carrying them. So this is going to be a bit of a quest in my new area. Also, some stores only carry them seasonally. But I will press on and make it happen some how. Stay tuned.
We are nearly finished our very last package of plastic-encased floss. Standing by is our new brand. Eco Dent. No petroleum waxes, and it comes packaged in a paperboard container. Score!
For our own use, we are making a conscious choice to buy it in glass jars from now on. It's a little challenging though, because I've always bought the larger jugs of the cheaper stuff for doggie kong stuffing. Not sure how I'm going to replace that one yet.
Compiling a list of local farmers' markets.
So far, this is as far as I've gotten since we've moved here. But I did come up with a list and forward it to a few friends. Several of the markets aren't open in the summer, but others are. We are in the process of setting aside some times to explore them as a couples' activity. They are a bit far away to make them work on a regular basis, but for certain things that are cheap enough to seriously stock up on, it could be a fun day outing with a side grocery benefit.
This has been nearly impossible for me, but here's my plan: The next time there are a few loss leaders at different stores, I'm going to call the meat departments ahead of time and request butcher paper packaging instead of the styrofoam and plastic wrap the meat sale items usually come in. It probably won't work so well for full turkeys, but I'm hoping they'll play ball for things like ribs, roasts and chicken breasts. I'll keep you posted.
We already do this when traveling, so I'm not sure why we haven't previously made the decision to do it on a regular “out and about” basis. Beth Terry has inspired us though, so we're going for it.
Glass or plastic?
Many products come in both types of containers on the very same shelf, although it may be a different brand. If the price is comparable, I'm going with the glass.
I only go through enough of this stuff to buy one of the smaller bottles every month or so. Since that size comes in glass, I've committed to buying it that way from now on. White vinegar is a little tougher. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw the gallon jugs in glass, and that's how I need to buy it. The smaller glass bottles represent too much of a cost differential for the way we've committed to allocating our funds. I feel good about the fact that we're halfway there, but the amount of white vinegar we use is so much greater that I'm left feeling like I've somehow missed the boat on this one. In the meantime, I'll keep looking for an option.
These are the choices we've made to start making an immediate change. We have a few others in mind, some of which will likely result in a product review or two. I invite those of you who are trying to use less plastic in your own homes to share your trials, successes and strategies for some of the tough switch overs below. Thanks for tuning in.