The Great Plastic Packaging Reduction Update: How We're Dealing with Phase Two
A while back, I wrote a post detailing thirty different ways we were using less plastic packaging around the house. It was a little overwhelming at first, even with all the steps we had previously taken to reduce waste in general. Still, we made a pretty good initial dent in things. Several areas of waste reduction were still outstanding however, and I felt the time for an update post was at hand. Read on to see what new areas we've tackled, how we've done it, and what things we've noticed along the way.
UPDATES AND NEW STRATEGIES
Paper wrapped meat update
At the time of the last article, my plan was to try getting sale meats wrapped in paper the next time a great loss leader sale came along. So far, the best loss leader meats have been at Sweet Bay and I have to say they've really stepped up to the plate. With no quibbling over this issue, either. I've snagged half price salmon, ninety-nine cent per pound boneless center pork chops, and two dollar London broil steak. They wrap it in paper and seal it with the price label. Then, if I need to break it down into smaller amounts, I can wrap it in waxed paper and seal with tape. We store it in larger airtight freezer containers, like the upside down Tupperware cake holder I used this week.
The turkey sausage and pepperoni still come in plastic packaging as do any chickens or turkeys we buy. Much of our seafood comes in plastic as well, as do some of the bulk meat purchases from the warehouse store. But with Sweet Bay grocery chain stepping up to wrap sale meats in paper for me, and a workable alternative to baggies for some of the meat breakdowns, we've definitely had a significant reduction in packaging in this area.
For the occasions when we're hosting people and want to serve smoothies or other beverages where a straw might be necessary, we found some really great (and affordable) bamboo straws, which are pictured above. We have a flexible tube cleaning brush that goes with one of our camel back water supply pouches we use while hiking or doing yard work. A pipe cleaner would probably work too.
Reduced waste lunch kits
We put together two portable kits for reduced plastic consumption while eating on the road. The way we did it is a bit different from other systems I've seen, so I'm putting together an entirely separate post on the subject. Stay tuned.
Occasionally I still forget my reusable bag when not at an "errand" type store. Clothing stores are a good example. Although, since I've basically switched to cloth grocery bags and have a reusable produce bag solution, I've become much more aware of the bags that certain things still come in. I try to buy as much package free as I can, but from time to time I still end up with produce and other items that come in plastic bags. I save them all now, even the ones that are sealed on both ends. I used to tear them. Now I cut the top end off carefully and use the entire bag for other things. Sometimes those bags will only get one or two more uses, but it's better than getting tossed right away. I've also come up with an affordable solution for transitioning to cloth bags for bulk bin shopping.
Did you know you can snag a plastic free lunch at McDonalds, even without a reduced waste lunch kit? It's true. They don't use styrofoam for the boxes anymore, and with the combo meals you don't need plastic silverware. As long as you eat inside, you can get ketchup in the paper portion cups and skip the plastic straw and beverage cover. Voila! Affordable and plastic free, if not low calorie. Drive through is harder to be plastic free. You can skip the straw, but you really need the top for your drink to prevent spilling. Also, if you're determined to have ketchup on your drive through fries, you'll be stuck with the little packets.
Alternative storage for baked goods
We're using our retro advertising tins for muffins and other baked goods, as well as extra large glass containers for biscotti and such. For a bread storage solution, I found a set of two brushed steel containers with metal lids from Ikea. I'll line them with waxed paper.
Transitioning back to reusable feminine products
I had pretty much been there before the flood and our winter septic issues at the lake, but during the transition I found I just needed a little more convenience. I'm about fifty percent back to the green zone now in this area. Also, for those that continue to use disposable, some brands come with way more packaging than the others. Just something to be aware of.
For the large bags of shredded cheese we buy at the warehouse store, my plan involved finding out which stores carried canning supplies year round. The answer? Ace Hardware. Now that I have the different sizes of lids and jars I need, I no longer need to break down the bulk cheese supply into smaller baggies. I can use canning jars with lids. For meats as I mentioned above, we're going with paper and waxed paper wrapping stored inside larger airtight containers. While some of the bulk items still come in plastic, I don't have to transfer them into baggies anymore. This cuts into my efficient flat storage system a bit, but since we're no longer remote it isn't such a huge issue.
ISSUES OF NOTE WITH PLASTIC PACKING REDUCTION
Noticing new areas all the time where plastic is woven into our lives.
Medicine bottles are a classic example, as are cosmetics containers. Not really much to be done about it that I can see, other than to research which companies are the most responsible and purchase conservatively in the first place.
We're actually dropping a little weight.
Not real huge processed food fans in the first place, we've reduced them even more. With paper-packaged popcorn as our main snack of choice, we're basically down to the occasional bag of Sun Chips in that department. As far as meal items, we keep anywhere from 1-3 frozen pizzas on hand along with the occasional bag of frozen breaded chicken breast tenders for nights when we just can't deal. That's still five or less processed meal items per month with plastic packaging. Not bad considering how busy we are. And since our already low consumption of processed foods has dropped even more, so has our weight. Score!
It's harder when I'm pressed for time.
The other day, things were completely out of control on the work front and a couple of other errands took way longer than expected. As a result I had time for one grocery stop and one grocery stop only. Since I needed a couple of things I could only get at the warehouse store, it was off to Sam's Club. Several of the items I needed could have been purchased elsewhere without packaging. I felt off about it, but it was that or not get groceries. So I'm working on not feeling guilty when things don't flow as smoothly as I'd like on the reduced packaging front.
Significantly reduced trash output.
We had already noticed the fact that we regularly put out about half as much trash as other people on our street, but now we're generating even less with just the moderate changes we've made. For example, there are two different trash pick up days here in our little corner of the 'burbs. Once we got over the initial overflow of unpacking, we've pretty much stuck to once a week with our rolling trash can and there's usually room left over. Now, it's only half full at maximum. In fact, we got so distracted the other week, we forgot to put the trash out at all. Rather than snag it on the second day we decided to see if we could tough it out until the following week. We did it with room to spare.
Fun side perk? Many bar items are plastic free.
Examples include the cases of microbrew, Seagram's coolers and Smirnoff Ice at the bulk buying club. Ditto with wine. Most hard spirits come in glass as well, but I noticed that my favorite brand (and the more affordable one) of coconut rum still uses a fair amount of plastic.
Other plastic packaging has ceased to be the “white noise” it used to be.
Now that this issue is in the forefront for us, the amount of incidental plastic in our lives is literally in our faces. There's no denying it. How I never noticed it before is beyond me. I've dubbed it the “white plastic noise phenomenon” and make a point to observe how others either notice it or not when we are out and about. For example, how come nobody asks whether you would like a bag or not anymore? When a friend got a refill on a drink the other day when we were grabbing the $1.50 polish sausage and beverage lunch deal at Costco and came back with a second drink cover, I also took note. Not wanting to be the annoying environmentalist, I decided not to mention it.
Does anyone else every feel like they are swimming these plastic reduction waters alone? Logically of course, I know that's not true. There are plenty of other blogs around with loads of followers, all talking about using less plastic and waste reduction in general. That being said, some days it's just plain hard not to feel overwhelmed with everything that's left to address when most of the people around you don't even appear to notice. It's not that I don't empathize. It all used to be white noise to me too, remember? So I'm not passing judgement. It's just hard. That's all I'm saying. Anybody else?
To wrap things up, I'd like to request commentary below on what other things people have noticed as they make the transition, as well as ideas for tackling some of the tougher areas. We have reached the level now where the next few things we tackle are going to take some serious precision research and multi-step action. Finding the time to dig through pages of Google research is going to be tough. Any advance tips or systemic change strategies are more than welcome.
Other articles of note on waste reduction include Andrea's pieces on ridiculous packaging and urban composting, Linsey's article on the disposable chopsticks debacle, this piece on alternatives to small plastic trash bags, and Nora's pieces on coffee cup waste and reusing wine corks. Recommended web sites on the subject: Fake Plastic Fish, Life Less Plastic, Plastic Less and My Zero Waste.