Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chipping away at the waste in my life

Inspired by Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life I have been attempting to slowly whittle away at the waste in my life. Plastic mostly, but waste in general too. Slowly because I think it would be far too overwhelming to attack everything at once. And, I'm lazy.

Here then, is a list of the little things I've managed to do to eliminate plastic from my life.

Be prepared! I ordered a purse off etsy and I made sure it would be big enough for my Klean Kanteen (although I usually carry that or put a glass bottle in my purse), and have lots of pockets for everything I need. It doesn't look bulky and yet I manage to carry around with me: utensils, a straw, Newman's Own mints (in a tin), kleenex, a pen, reusable bags, a glass water bottle or lunchbot, lip gloss, moisturizer, nail file, my wallet & phone. Seriously, its great.

Water/drink bottles: I would feel lost if I left the house without my Klean Kanteen water bottle or thermos. I am absolutely in love with it. I've taken it on road trips and filled it at airport water fountains and in restaurants. Since I'm always prepared, I never have to buy water.

Utensils: I carry a set of to-go ware bamboo utensils in my purse wherever I go. It has a knife, spoon, fork and chopsticks.

Straws: I bought a set of stainless steel straws and I keep one in my purse for those drinks that just need a straw (Thai iced tea, fresh juice). I actually prefer the glass straws (glass production is less labor intensive than steel) and I have some of those at home.

Soap: I am now using solid soap for my hands and body and only have liquid soap for dishes and laundry. And my face, but I intend to replace that with a bar once its done. I might use soap nuts for the laundry or make my own. I can refill my Dr. Bronner's soap bottle at Whole Foods and use that for dishes. Once the shampoo is gone I will get a bar for that too. A Wild Soap Bar (which is local) makes some shampoo/body bars, while Lush and several other companies make exclusive shampoo bars. There is also the "no-poo" method where you wash your hair with a mixture of baking soda and water, and rinse with diluted vinegar. I'm looking forward to finding a bar of soap that will work for my face, body and hair and getting rid of some of the clutter in the bathroom. Bonus: solid soap bars are no problem to carry through on planes! Update: I currently buy good quality natural soap and just use that on my face and body and once or twice on my hair.

Toothpaste: I had been using Tom's of Maine toothpaste as it was fairly environmentally responsible and came in an aluminum container, but as they have moved to plastic tubes I've decided to make my own. Beth Terry actually has a great post on it with all sorts of plastic free options. I made a batch yesterday with coconut oil, baking soda, stevia & essential oils. Not bad, but the keep in mind the consistency will vary depending on the temperature in your home. I tried using cinnamon and clove essential oils for my first batch but there wasn't much flavour, I am now using ginger and orange extract which tastes better. My favourite thing about homemade toothpaste is that is rinses right out and I can immediately eat or drink what I want without it being effected by the toothpaste flavour.

Deodorant: I gave up antiperspirant long ago. Sweating is good for you. It gets out the toxins. I don't mind it, just the smell. I tried natural deodorants from the store and none really worked. Straight up baking soda on your pits is supposed to be great, but it gave me a rash. I spritzed alcohol on my underarms for awhile (in a reused eyeglass cleaner spritzer) but that stopped working. I use the salt crystal (as do my dad and brother) which works mostly but not always. Currently I'm using the crystal and then dusting a mixture of baking soda and corn starch on top of that. It seems to work. I'm sure other people would have an easier time, but working outdoors in Texas (and just being a sweaty person) makes it tough. Unfortunately, it seems shaving helps with the smell, but no matter how I shave I irritate my skin. Got to fix that.

Eggs: I only buy eggs in compressed paper containers because if it doesn't get recycled it'll biodegrade.

Toothbrush: I buy preserve brand toothbrushes from Whole Foods which you can either recycle where #5 recycling is allowed or send back to the company. They're made from recycled yogurt containers.

Lady products: I love love love my lunapads. Check out my write up on them. They are the most comfortable thing ever. One of these days I'll do something permanent so I can get rid of the birth control plastic.

Lube: Coconut oil is the best! Ya gotta be in a committed relationship (not condom compatible) but it totally rocks. I don't have half the problems like I used to once I got natural on my stuff.

Grains and spices: I buy them in bulk, its cheaper! byo bag or spice jar or glass container. Bonus: you only get the amount you need.

Lotion: I tried coconut oil for awhile on my face but it was not thick enough. Olive oil is actually pretty good. Currently I'm using a body oil from Badger Balm but I might replace it with something homemade. Badger sells all sorts of balms in tins (bug repellant, muscle rub, lip balm, moisturizer) so I plan on going away from water based lotions. Give them a minute to absorb and they're great.

Cooking: I avoid teflon (the debate rages on, but I'll just be safe and avoid it) and use metal or wooden cooking utensils. When used right cast iron is totally non-stick. Used right, by the way means heat up the pan, add oil, and let the food cook until its developed a "crust" (fish, pancakes, egg).

Clothes: Trying to buy clothes only made from natural fibers. I had thought recycled plastic clothes might be a good option, but apparently lint from synthetic clothes can end up in the oceans (I guess thats a duh) and as insignificant as it seems, I'd like to avoid adding more plastic to the collection thats already out there.

Napkins: I use clothe napkins at home which saves my pants & paper towels :)

Cotton Balls: I got the cutest little reusable flannel rounds to use in place of cotton balls off I love etsy. If there is ever anything you need, look on etsy. I keep them in a cute glass jar and put them in a mesh bag until they're used up.

Cleaners: I clean just about everything with baking soda or vinegar (yeah... in a plastic bottle. Got to work on that one). Sometimes I use hydrogen peroxide. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are supposed to be just as effective as bleach in killing staph and other harmful bacteria. The only problem I have here are unreliable spray bottles.

Cleaning: I got a cool wooden scrub brush for dishes, I'm waiting until I can afford a wooden toilet bowl brush, a friend got me some cute reusable clothe wipes to clean surfaces with and I'm waiting to buy a cute red Thai made broom. Hey, if you buy cute cleaning supplies, cleaning is more fun! I also use natural celulose sponges for the dishes and old socks/clothes to clean dirtier surfaces.

Bags: I bring my own produce & grocery bags to the store. I always carry a compact bag in my purse so I don't even need at a bag at the mall/hardware store/etc. I intend to make a bread bag big enough for a loaf of ciabatta. Toss them in the wash occasionally to avoid germs.

Spreadable butter: I found a recipe online where you blend 1/2 cup oil and a stick of butter to make it spreadable. I put it in a Bonne Maman jelly jar and its been working great. I've also been thinking of getting a butter bell crock... thing.

Fast Food/Eating out: I try to avoid fast food - or eating anywhere where the food is not served on reusable plates with reusable utensils - but when I do eat it, I use my Klean Kanteen, tell the server "no straw", and try to bring my own container for leftovers or the food itself. Lunchbots or to-go ware tiffins are great for leftovers.

Needs improvement:
I need to work on meat, frozen fruit and vegetables. I should be able to get meat from the butcher counter at Whole Foods in my container, I just haven't tried yet. (Update: brought a sturdy container and managed to get meat put in it) I'm not sure how I could affordably stock frozen fruit for smoothies and keep vegetables on hand. I think its going to involve planning. I've got to learn how to plan meals so fresh vegetables get used and don't go bad.
I need to try to make my own almond milk & yogurt. Yogurt is supposed to be easy, but will almond milk be cost effective?
Austin doesn't compost, and I no longer live close enough to Whole Foods to bring them my veggie scraps. I've thought about a worm compost bin. I feel bad sending compostable scraps to the landfill where they'll never amount to anything.
Ice cream. Well, no one's perfect.
Allergy pills: dare I try the neti pot? Will it work?
Tissues: can hankies handle allergy season? Update: they almost can! I should probably make more. Old t-shirts work great, and you don't need to hem them.

Challenges: Its hard enough not bringing in plastic on my own, but what do I do about plastic from other people? There is a well meaning customer who twice now has bought me a cold bottle of water and said "stay hydrated" running off before I could refuse it. Gifts can be a challenge although I do my best to let everyone know I am trying to acquire no new plastic. Buying things online can sometimes be hard. Whenever I buy something online I say "please package it without bubble wrap, not in a poly envelope. For some reason, someone from ebay still sent me fabric in a poly envelope. Um, because fabric is not waterproof? My other biggest challenge is things I no longer use, but hate to throw away. I don't want some of these damn sample lotions anymore, but without a recycle symbol they're doomed for the trash!

One might wonder; Why eliminate plastic at all? Its so wonderful! Where would we be without plastic? What would I type on? I do accept that plastic plays a useful role in modern society, but also that it has far exceeded that role. Prosthetics are great, disposable spoons are not. Drilling for oil to make plastics can either lead to toxic oil spills, or endless wars (either we are fighting for oil, or someone else is. It cannnot be denied that like gold, blood has been shed to aquire and own it). Even if you responsibly throw your spoon/straw/bag in the trash it can quite easily blow out of a dump truck or landfill and make its way to the nearest waterway. Floating plastic looks very similar to jelly fish and for this reason it has caused many birds and turtles to die when their stomachs are filled with plastic. Of course, the typical answer to all of this is: Why not just recycle it? Unfortunately, in order to make something new you cannot use 100% recycled plastic. Even recycled plastic products require virgin petroleum, thus continuing the cycle. Plus, how often is a batch of recyclables trashed due to a bottle cap that shouldn't be there jamming the machine, or some dirty take out boxes causing the whole batch of recyclables to be tossed.

The point is, plastic may have its place, but we passed that place long ago, and have just become lazy. I am not scientifically minded nor am I likely to list statistics on how many turtles die from bag pollution, nor how many gallons of water are tainted from oil drilling or plastic manufacturing, or how many people have died trying to secure an oil field. I've been to the dump and seen the trash blowing around, I've gone to the beach and filled up bags of trash, and passed more trash than I could collect. I feel guilty when I go on a hike and do not collect trash. Frankly, that's good enough for me.

Finally, I should probably add that I am not a dirty hippy. My teeth are as clean as they've ever been, my skin looks as good as it is going to without microdermabrasion, and my clothes are clean. My hair is crazy but honestly, when has it not been? It actually looked its best when I was putting cornstarch in it for the shingles.

I'd like to apologize to the grammarians that shudder at my blatant disregard for the proper use of a colon,
semi colon or any other grammar rules for that matter.
I swear I tried to double space after the period, I just don't know what happene


  1. Inspiring!

    Check out this t-shirt

  2. Bravo sister! Keep the Revolution alive & strong!

  3. Came across here while researching ways to reduce waste and saw you were able to reuse containers at the butcher counter at Whole Foods. I've read elsewhere that their policies have changed. Are you still able to do that?

  4. Hi! I just bought a pound of ground turkey this afternoon at my local Whole Foods in the top tier of my metal tiffin with no problem! I've also used my metal lunchbot and another stainless steel container. The only problem I had was the butcher was concerned the top would come off the lunchbot container.
    If you are near Austin there is a new store called in.gredients that is all byoc - bring your own container.


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