Purging Plastic: First Steps

The other daymy husband and I were walking from a store to our car, and in the parking lot, I stopped to pick up some dropped food containers. I walked them back to the curb and threw them in the trash bin next to the door. Now, was that so hard? I couldn’t help but thinking. I wish I lived close to the coast and could spend my time picking up beach trash. But then, you put the word “beach” before pretty much anything and I will be game! Since I don’t have the ability to participate in beach clean-ups, I pick up trash wherever I see it. My husband gets annoyed with it sometimes… He says its takes me too long to get anywhere because I’m distracted by the trash! The large majority of it being plastic. 

On our last visit to the Caribbean,I was blown away by the beauty of the untouched spaces and appalled at the human footprint (trash, destruction, vandalism). Shortly after, I found a company called 4Ocean whose main purpose is to clean the trash from the ocean and prevent it from getting there in the first place. Add in my love of the ocean and ocean life, and I knew what my mission was to be! I began to observe our family habits in product purchasing and trash production. 

At first, I was appalled by our own footprint!We used to buy plastic cutlery and cups, single-use water bottles, K-cups, and brought home plastic bags every time we went shopping. (I would at least collect the plastic bags and keep the ones without holes to reuse and recycle the ones we didn’t keep at the grocery store.) We ate fast food pretty often and used the cutlery, cups, and straws when we did. I discovered we generated a lot of unnecessary trash!

I have begun the processof cutting down on our trash production and disposable consumption. My goal is to be nearly plastic-free by the end of the year. This doesn’t mean I am going to go out and replace all the plastic things we have… there’s too much plastic used in our daily lives to realistically be able to do that! I am, however, doing quite a few things differently. 

Here are the First Steps I have enforced upon my household (Insert evil laugh here!):

  • Recycling!We have the option to recycle in our neighborhood and all I had to do was call and have that service added to our weekly trash pickup. It is only $2 more a month; I couldn’t think of an adequate excuse not to do so! I have now set up a bin and a bag in our kitchen: the bin for plastics, glass, metal, and paper that goes in the recycling bin outside, the bag holding plastic bags and wraps that can be recycled at the grocery store. Getting my family to use these two additions has been a challenge, to say the least! I am constantly picking things out of the trashcan saying, “This doesn’t get thrown away anymore!” But they’re learning. 
  • I purchased reusable straws for my husband and myself to try them out. I found some collapsible ones on Amazon that fit on a keychain for around $10 each. I wanted to see if it would even be worth spending the money on before I bought them for children who may leave them behind and lose them. I absolutely love mine and my husband uses and likes his as well. I have now ordered some for the kids since they liked them so much and want ones of their own. (I suppose the idea is catching on after all!) 
  • We say NO to disposable plastic straws and cutlery. This can be hard to do when you’re on the go and haven’t been able to plan ahead. Fast food places tend to put straws and cutlery in the bag without you’re asking (for convenience sake) and we have to stop them, tell them no thank you, and/or hand them back. I get lots of strange looks by the employees! I am also working on getting a few bamboo cutlery sets I can have in the car or a travel bag to combat this problem. 
  • We use reusable shopping bags, water bottles/cups.I have a couple of bags that roll up tiny so I can shove them in my purse or car and have them on hand for any impromptu stop that may be needed. I have a couple of foldable crates that (while they’re made of heavy duty plastic) are great for large shopping trips and hang out in the back of my vehicle until they’re needed. I make my own coffee in the mornings with my travel cup and take a metal water bottle also. My goal is for no more plastic bags or bottles to come in my house, but we will recycle any of them that sneak their way in!
  • Ditching the K-cup!I have a fantastically simple (but plastic) French press coffeemaker that uses hot water and a K-cup to make a 10oz cup of coffee. This contraption comes with a reusable coffee ground cup for you to use your own grounds. I have been using this thing for a couple years now and love it… mostly because it’s so simple. I don’t think they make it anymore so I will have to learn to use a real French Press once mine is no longer working. But it bothers me to throw away a used plastic pod every morning, so I have found some companies that make biodegradable pods to replace the K-cup. San Francisco Bay has a few good blends that I’ve tried. There’s also Glorybrew, Hill Bros., Cameron’s, and Faro to name a few more. These I can feel good about throwing away since they will break down and can be composted.
  • We now use wool dryer balls with essential oils instead of disposable dryer sheets. Not only are they something else to throw away and sit in a landfill, but dryer sheets contain lots of chemicals that coat our clothing and dryer and can clog up the lint trap. The synthetic fragrances in them are known carcinogens and our bodies absorb these chemicals in small doses each time we use dryer sheets and wear our clothes. I am also looking into refillable laundry detergents to eliminate the plastic laundry detergent bottles, but I have been curious about this “Laundry Egg” (which can be found here: Get Laundry Egg) and “Wash Wizard” (which can be found here: Get Wash Wizard), contraptions that don’t use detergent at all! That’s even less waste and mess!
  • We are making different choices at the storeto reduce how much plastic packaging we are bringing home. Instead of buying the individually wrapped packages, we try to buy in bulk and separate what we need in reusable containers. Changing our diet at the same time as trying to overhaul our plastic use and reduce our waste is just too much for me to take on. So our food choices have changed to reduce plastic use, but not dramatically, so we have a lot more room to grow here. Food packaging is one of the biggest single-use areas that can get pretty expensive to try to avoid. Junk is cheap and easy; quality, organic, whole foods are not. 
  • I am researching companiesthat are concerned about their impact on the environment in their production process and ingredient choices and trying to start purchasing our everyday needs from these companies instead of the mass retailers who have atrocious carbon footprints but sell at the lowest prices. I will be looking for local farmer’s markets and food stands for groceries instead so we are supporting local families. I will also be looking for the lowest prices among these quality retailers since we don’t want to spend more money on things just in the name of eco-friendly. And the point is not for us to buy more, but to buy less because we have things we can reuse rather than single-use disposables. 
wool dryer balls

My family has reluctantly gone along with this process. This was my idea, not theirs, they will tell you. So far they have been accepting, even though we’ve had more than a few eye rolls, and I am hoping that seeing these changes will get them more excited for taking better care of our planet. Once the weather warms up, we will be taking out that new-to-us sailboat we have purchased and cleaning up trash from whatever body of water we get to cruise around on! They know this is coming and this part has gotten the least amount of eye rolls to date.  The most complaining I have had, to be honest, is about separating the recycling from the trash. It will just take time for them to get used to that. 

We will continue to make more changes as we go. I know I want to invest in some produce bags so plastic produce bags won’t come home, etc. I will share information I find on some of these companies also so we can support the companies who are trying to take care of our world. If we stop supporting the companies who are wrecking our world, they will have less opportunity to do so. We can force their hand to make changes IF we work together. I am working on doing my part. Are you?

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Purging Plastic: The Beginning

M​y family is on the journey to a plastic-free household. This is a huge change in our disposable modern culture! We have a blended family of six, so nothing is ever cheap for us. And there is always laundry and cleaning to do. I am now ashamed to admit that we (used to) be one of those families that bought disposable plates and cutlery and cups too often of the time. Life tends to be busy and we often go for what is convenient. But t​his habit is devastating for our world!

Single-use and disposable plastics are some of the worst inventions of man! Because of the type of plastic they are, they are difficult to recycle. This means they get thrown away, finding their way to landfills and, unfortunately into riverbeds and streams, and finally to the ocean. W​e have also known for several years that plastics contain ingredients that are harmful to our health. Most plastics are made with BPA (bisphenol-A), a compound that makes them stronger and more resilient. It is used in food containers, personal care products, CDs/DVDs, feminine hygiene products, household electronics, receipt paper, and even dental fillings and eyeglass lenses. There has been much public debate over BPA and its harmful effects, so you’ve probably heard of this stuff.

The problem with BPA is that it leeches out of the plastic into the substance contained in it. BPA mimics the structure and function of estrogen in the body, so it can influence a variety of body processes, such as growth, cell repair, energy levels, and reproduction (Petre, 2018). It may increase chances of infertility by lowering egg production in females and slowing sperm motility in males; It may increase risks of prostate and breast cancers by how it affects the cell structure of those tissues. It is linked to increased incidence of heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, and Diabetes Type 2, including insulin resistance, and obesity. Lastly, children raised on BPA have had higher incidences of hyperactivity, nervousness, and depression, and have become more emotionally reactive and aggressive (Petre, 2018). These are all changes over time that remind me of the frog in boiling water metaphor. There have been many studies on BPA and, over the last year, the FDA has said that BPA is safe. They say the levels of BPA found in people and in the test subjects of these studies are not toxic and do not cause obesity and hormonal changes or increase rick of cancer (Center for Accountability in Science, 2018). Perhaps these levels are normal now, but 50 years ago, before plastic was in practically everything we have, we probably would have been horrified by these same results. And, call me a conspiracy theorist if you really want, but I have a hard time calling it coincidence that, after years of research leading to proving the toxicity of BPA, now that the war on plastic is gaining some steam, it’s suddenly “safe” after… what? One study? That smells stink of corporate payoff to me!

I​ also find it interesting that several alternatives to BPA have been studied and developed and…. then gone nowhere! Such as the material developed by a graduate student from the University of Delaware, Kaleigh Reno. This material, called Lignin, is part of the secondary cell walls of plants and some algae and is part of what makes wood strong (Fischer, 2014). It is a byproduct of the process of making paper and can be made into a BPA alternative called bisguaiacol F (BGF). This research, and a couple other similar type compounds, were being developed around 2014-2016 but have disappeared from the media since. Sounds like more research is needed!

B​ottom Line: the jury is still out on the chemical safety of plastics in our daily environment. My house and I are choosing to purge them from our lives. Not only is the use of disposable plastic wasteful, it can be harmful to us and is burying our world in trash that does not break down fully. The way plastic breaks down, into micropieces, is even worse than big floating trash because of the way animals ingest it. So here are some practical steps to avoid the poison of plastic in the home:

A​void packaged foods: plastic or canned! Canned foods have a lining of BPA on the interior of the can to seal the food away from the metal and keep bacteria from entering the contents.

D​rink from a glass or metal water bottle. Some of the metal ones are insulated and can maintain your beverage’s temperature, while the glass ones are often more aesthetic. Reusable is best, avoiding reusable plastic is even better!

A​void microwaving food in plastic containers. Instead try a glass or ceramic dish or plate. When plastic substances are heated, they leech out more BPA.

S​witch to a beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap for leftovers. It’s cute and reusable! There are several companies on the market now, so they are more affordable than they used to be.

M​ost of the time, the rule of thumb for avoiding plastic use is to plan ahead! If I bring my reusable bag, bottle, straw, and cutlery set when I am out and likely to need them, I will be prepared. Yes, it means that I’m carrying more crap with me, but since I carry a purse, I just throw it in there. It is not as convenient, but my planet matters more to me than convenience. Even just paying attention to our plastic consumption and trying to find small ways here or there (such as avoiding fast food) to reduce them is a change for the better. We can all take one step today. Just one.

R​eferences:

Center for Accountability in Science. (2018). “FDA says bpa is safe. What does that mean for you?” Center for Accountability in Science. March 1, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.accountablescience.com/fda-says-bpa-is-safe-so-what-does-that-mean-for-you/

Fischer, K. (2014). “Natural, renewable alternative to BPA in the works.” Healthline.com Retrieved on 8 February 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cancer-renewable-bpa-alternative-found-031614#1

Petre, A. (2018). “What is BPA and why is it bad for you?” Healthline.com Retrieved on 6 February 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-bpa#what-it-is