When I started to read Fake Plastic Fish, it turned on a light bulb in my brain. It made me realize that while I may complain about plastic packaging, it's ultimately my decision to purchase (or not purchase) plastic packaged items. Yes, this is much easier said than done, but I have been in the process of changing my purchasing habits over the past few months. I have a long way to go but have already made a lot of progress.
I have a list on my freezer of a lot of food items I use that are made with plastic, and while I don't have alternatives for everything yet, there are some things (like pizza dough) that are so easy to make that I instantly made the switch.
Recently, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish issued a challenge for her readers to tally up their plastic waste for one week. I have wanted to do something like this for a while, but I feel like now is the perfect time to finally get around to seeing how much plastic I go through in a week.
I have to preface this list by noting that this is only household waste (nothing from work is counted, although I had a lucky week where I created no plastic waste, I have a very eco-unfriendly job). This is also waste generated by two people - Jeff and me.
Here is the tally for May 13-19, 2009:
- Tempeh Package - I love tempeh, and as a vegan it's one of my main "meat" sources. I don't tend to like faux meats -- tofu and tempeh pretty much do it for me, and tempeh is my absolute favorite. I know this is something that I can eventually learn how to make myself, and I will, but for now I am scared off by the idea of fermenting my own soybeans. For now I will continue to buy tempeh, and it is unfortunately packaged in plastic. (Although, I do feel like I have done a little bit to help by purchasing Soy Boy tempeh, which is a great small company, and I boycott LightLife products, which are made by the Evil Empire ConAgra.)
- Scotch Brite Sponge - Jeff (who is also eager to help catalog my plastic waste) asked me if a sponge is made from plastic, and if not, could we compost it? Apparently the disgusting smell coming from my sink wasn't coming from my sink, it was coming from my sponge. Gross. I tend to use sponges over and over for several months, and it's high time I get rid of this one. I looked online and while the spongy base is made from wood pulp, the green scouring top is made from nylon fiber. In the future I will make the switch to Skoy Cloths, but in the mean time I have several more sponges that I bought over a year ago sitting in my pantry waiting to get my dishes clean. (For the record, I intend to put the spongy bottom into the compost and see what happens.)
- Scouring Pad - I've had this thing sitting around for ages, and I don't know why I didn't get rid of it awhile ago. It long since lost its ability to get my cast iron skillet clean (and I've since switched to a grill brush which should last much, much longer than scouring pads). It's also Scotch Brite, so it's similarly made from nylon fibers. Needless to say I won't be buying these again.
- Tempeh - Again.
- 5 Soy Sauce Packets - I'm not sure if these are made out of plastic but I think so, and am going to include them. I usually always have tamari on hand in the fridge, but I was out, and had these soy sauce packets from take-out sushi way back when, so I used them while making fried rice.
- Nip Guards - I'm an avid runner, and even though I wear a sports bra, it's not enough to prevent painful chafing during my long runs (>6 miles). Unfortunately I haven't found anything better than nip guards, and not only is the packaging (not present) plastic, but so are the things that the nip guards are on. I'm not sure if the nip guards themselves are plastic but I'm including them just in case.
- Tempeh - Yep, I love tempeh.
- 2 Drinking Straws & 2 Small Cups - I went back to my hometown to visit my family, and that means I went out to eat. (I almost never go out to eat when I'm home in Boston.) I meant to ask for no straw, but I forgot. This is my straw, Jeff's straw, and the mixing straw (talk about useless plastic!) from my gin and tonic. The two cups are from asking for BBQ sauce for my french fries (both me and Jeff). I thought I'd get a bottle.
- 2 Drinking Straws - Went out to eat AGAIN and I ordered a drink and got another straw. Oops. Also, they put whipped cream on top. I get so lazy in my veganism here in Boston where I only go out to eat at vegan restaurants that I forget that "normal" restaurants put whipped cream on things like Piña Coladas. The other straw/stirrer is from Jeff's margarita. (You can't even drink through those tiny things, so it baffles the mind why they give them to you in the first place!)
- 2 Plastic Windows - I came back and had a lot of mail. One piece was a solicitation from a local charity that came with a plastic window. I have mailed them back asking to be taken off of their mailing list. One was a mailing from an insurance company from when I got hit by a car door last year. I should hopefully never be getting any mail from this insurance company ever again.
- 2 Plastic Bags - I ordered two books from two separate people. I bought them used so I didn't think I'd get any plastic in the packaging. So I was surprised to find these two book sized plastic bags enveloping my books inside the bubble wrap mailers. These are books, they don't need to be housed in three layers of protection!!! I don't order books often but when I do I guess I need to ask for no plastic.
- 2 Chopstick Wrappers - I go to Grasshopper's buffet every month. Sometimes I remember to bring my own chopsticks. Sometimes I forget and use their chopsticks, which are packaged in plastic. Grasshopper is currently the only place I've been to in the Boston area that has plastic (instead of paper) chopstick wrappers. Genki Ya on Harvard Ave is the only place I know of that has reusable chopsticks. (One of the wrappers is missing from the photo, it's probably in my pants pocket somewhere.)
- Plastic Wine Thingy - I love wine, and it seems that the cheap wine tends to have real corks. However, this one also had a stupid plastic thingy around the cork, that I thought was foil when I bought it. It's hard to tell what you're going get, sometimes it's foil, sometimes the cork is cork, and sometimes there's foil around a screw top.
- Ice Cream Lid Seal - One thing I can't live without is delicious vegan ice cream, and Trader Joe's Soy Creamy Black Cherry Chocolate Chip is about as good as it gets. When I first bought this ice cream I'm pretty sure they didn't have plastic seals, but now they do. I'm not sure this is something I could give up, even though there is plastic involved.
- Pasta Box Window - Why do these windows exist? People already know what pasta looks like, and on the off chance they don't, like 99% of all other products out there the company could just put a photo of pasta on the cardboard box. Jeff has a pasta maker, so we will definitely start to make our own pasta. At least the windows on boxes are better than the plastic bags of pasta they sell at Whole Foods.
- Corner of Plastic Package - I just wrote a detailed post about my stance on food products, and then I went and bought vegan butterscotch chips at Price Chopper when I was back home this past weekend. They are definitely not food by any real definition, but sometimes a vegan just misses eating butterscotch! I'll figure out a recipe for the stuff but in the mean time I'm going to make some mean cookies.
- Plastic Baggie - This is from a razor Jeff just bought. Yes, the razor was packed with plastic and had packing peanuts (not sure if they are starch or polystyrene) but this is going to prevent the future consumption of plastic disposable razors. I will probably also use it, so that will be less plastic razors used by two people!
While this isn't a lot of stuff, this is certainly a lot of stuff that I could live without. I do think that it reflects an outlier week, in that I went home and that accounted for a lot of waste (6 straws and 2 plastic cups out of 30 total items), but I can't just make excuses. I have learned to be more vigilant about packaging in online orders (I made an order for some personal care products yesterday and asked for them not to be packaged in plastic), I have learned to be more vigilant about asking not for straws (although I normally eat out three times a month, and neither place I eat out at uses straws).
I have also continued to make some lifestyle changes. Jeff purchased a real razor. I bought a grill brush for my cast iron skillet (it's plastic, but better and more robust than sponges). I recently purchased cloth sanitary napkins and am excited not to have to purchase any more of those awful plastic ones from CVS.
And there are some things I still have to learn. Making tempeh would probably cut my normal plastic waste by half. Learning how to make large batches of pasta for consumption over the course of a few weeks or months would also lead to less plastic from the pasta containers. Maybe if I ever learn how to make soy ice cream, I can reduce my plastic tally even further!
One final thing is to note that I don't think that any of the stuff in this tally is recyclable here in Boston. I will probably put the two plastic cups (labeled as #6, polystyrene) in the bin, but everything else is not specified on Boston's recycling website, and I know they don't recycle plastic bags. So unfortunately they will go out with my trash, which is, sadly, in a large plastic bag (I will switch to paper bags in the future).