January 16, 2013

My Month Without Plastic: Starting at the Store

By Samantha Porter

Plastic, plastic, plastic!
In my last post, I vowed to rethink my relationship with plastics by taking a look at what plastic products are in my life and trying to not purchase or use any new plastic for one month. But first, let's set some realistic ground rules...

There are some plastics in my life that I won't be able to avoid. For example, look down, see they keyboard in front of you? Plastic. What about the phone to your left? Plastic. Or the amputated T-Rex figurine to your right (am I the only one that has that?)? It's plastic (with paperclip prosthesis, of course).

I won't be discarding the lid to my reusable water bottle (because it's plastic) or getting rid of my computer mouse or the plastic case for my cell phone. This challenge isn't about deprivation, it's about conscious living. But, I do publicly vow, Burke Blog readers, that I will not repurchase my favorite (as of late) modern invention: press and seal wrap (mmmmmm…so brilliant).

After trying to focus on all of the plastic that I encounter in a single day (plastic is ever.y.where), I realized that most of the plastic waste I generate each day is from the packaging that surrounds food. So, I'm beginning this challenge with a significant shift in how I go about purchasing food at the grocery store.

I purchased a membership at the local co-op in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, Central Co-op, and plan on doing the vast majority of my shopping there. They have a huge selection of bulk products (no plastic packaging required!), and I admire their commitment to sustainability. I've also gathered a plethora of glass mason jars, cloth bags and reusable produce sacks which I intend to use instead of their plastic counterparts for my grocery shopping.

My new bulk food companions after being weighed, filled and labeled for checkout!

Now for the "fun" part: cleaning out my cupboards to make way for my glass mason jars, which I must say, look far more pleasing to the eye in my cupboards (Pinterest users would be proud). Although I didn't find the mess of plastic I removed from my shelves as pleasing. This transition has thrust plastic off of my shelves like a scorned lover throwing their exes belongings out on the front lawn. I never paid attention to just how much plastic packaging was on my shelves because I was focused on the food inside of it. Now that I've shifted my focus it's all out there for me to see.

I'll recycle what I can of the remnants from my cupboards, but what happens to the plastic bag my rice came in? Garbage. I can’t recycle the crinkly plastic bag, it’s not #1 PET, #2 HDPE, #3 PVC, #4 LDPE, #5 PP, #6 PS, etc. therefore, ‘tis trash. And since plastics don’t biodegrade, they must be recycled or they’ll end up sitting in a landfill for decades.

Is that little plastic cup my Taco Bell nacho cheese came in when I was in high school still in a landfill somewhere? What about that plastic bag of chocolate chips that my dad and I mixed into cookies when I was little? Is it still around even though the cookies have long since been converted into giddy childhood energy? What a thought.

That's why I'm doing this challenge. I know there is no such thing as being "no impact," but I want to be more aware of my impact and try to minimalize it where possible. I've started by asking myself: "what are you willing to sacrifice?" Homemade chocolate chip cookies? Hardly. I can still get all the things I need for cookies in the bulk bins at the co-op, it just takes a little more effort on the front end.

But just how much effort is this going to take? Will it cost a lot more than buying things normally or will I be rewarded with heaps of discounts? Will I have to trek all over Seattle to find what I need or will it be a short bus ride away? Will my packed lunches become wilted and sad because they aren't sealed in by their plastic wrap friend? How will I survive?!?!

I'll try to answer these questions and more in the next few weeks! In the meantime, I'd love to hear your comments (even the nitpicky ones) and any suggestions you may have. I hope that means that you're interested in this project, but more importantly, that you're considering how you can reduce plastic in your life.

Until next time,

Read Sam's next post: "My Month Without Plastics: Unexpected Nutrition Overhaul."

The Burke Museum's Short Takes on Plastics event
Sam will share the stage with nine other presenters and discuss her experience during this month-long challenge at the Burke Museum's Short Takes on Plastics event on February 5, 2013 at the Neptune Theatre. For more information on the event of the Burke Museum's Plastics Unwrapped exhibit, click here.

About Samantha:
Sam is a self-proclaimed minimalist who loves to take on new challenges - especially ones that relate to her love of the Burke Museum. She's worked at the Burke for two and a half years, currently as our Operations Assistant.