January 31, 2013

My Month Without Plastic: Wrapped Up

By Samantha Porter

Not only have I had to rethink how and what types of foods I purchase during this month without plastics challenge, but it's also made me rethink other aspects of my life. Have you ever noticed how many everyday items you use are either made of plastic or wrapped up in it?

Plastics are literally everywhere! They're surrounding my shampoo, kitchen sponges and laundry detergent. They're in my clothes, face wash (what do you think those little microbeads are?) chewing gum, and dental floss. Even the little plastic aglet on the end of my shoe laces. It's a fact: plastics exist in my life and in my home.

I certainly can't avoid all plastics and there are some that I don't want to avoid. Can you imagine having a glass shampoo bottle in the shower? That's a lawsuit waiting to happen. Even though there are some plastics I can't easily avoid, I've found ways to lessen the collateral damage of my overall consumption.

For instance, instead of buying one sponge as I need it, I purchased a 12-pack of pop-up sponges from Trader Joe's and cut each one in half before reyhydrating it with water so I get a total of 24 sponges from one pack. Yes, they come packaged in plastic, but I figure that one wrapper for all of those sponges is far better than 24 packages for each individual sponge.

There's also the option to refill your already existing plastic bottles with certain products at some stores. Rainbow Remedies on Capitol Hill and Central Co-op both provide this option for shampoo, conditioner, dish and hand soap, detergent and even some oils. However, I will add that it can sometimes cost more to purchase the refill soaps than to just buy a new bottle. Even though these items do sometimes go on sale, it just depends on timing. I believe that when we shop we are essentially casting a vote for the world we want to see, but some votes are harder to cast than others because of their cost. Still, I find that doing what I can as often as I can do it helps to create a momentum for change.

Reducing my plastic consumption has helped me reduce my consumption across the board. Today’s specimen of focus: tissues.

Tissue photo by Joe Nicora, Flickr Creative Commons
I don’t tend to use a heap of tissues, but I usually keep a small pack in my bag when I go out. Since they're wrapped in plastic, these small packs were on my list of contraband for this month.
In their place, I've started using a lovely little collection of colorful cloth hankies that I got while I was in New Zealand. Much like Goodwill and Value Village, Kiwi “op-shops” have a sweet assortment of things you didn’t know you need.

It might seem gross to carry around a little cloth in your handbag used to wipe nose dribbles but I haven't felt that at all. I remember my dad always carrying a handkerchief in his back pocket. He would fold it into fourths and as he used it throughout the day he would fold over the blotted side like a hygienic origami. Another benefit of hankies: I feel like I have less clutter in my bag and I don’t have to find a trash bin as often to throw away tissues. At the end of the day, I put the small cloth into my laundry bin and feel a sense of accomplishment for not using a disposable resource to wipe my nose.

I've also found that these hankies (washed of course) make a fantastic substitution for plastic wrap and baggies for sandwiches and snacks that I bring to work for lunch. If the snack is small enough I can wrap it up and tie it in a knot but if it's bigger I use a rubber band, or just fold it over and hope for the best. For more of the plastic-reducing ideas and alternative products, check out the Burke's Plastics Unwrapped Pinterest board.

Click here for event information.
This month isn't wrapped up just yet. In less than one week, I'll debut the plastic I ended up using this month and talk more about this challenge at the Burke's Short Takes on Plastic event on Tuesday, February 5 at the Neptune Theatre. It's a fun, informative, and fast-paced event, so I recommend checking it out!

Lastly, I'm proud to say that my house has significantly less trash output since I've started this challenge. In fact, my roommates and I didn't even have to take out the garbage last week because there was nothing in it! It's a good feeling. Perhaps that could be the motivation you need if you're someone who hates taking out the trash? Just stop using plastic and you won't have to!

Until next time,

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.