I’m giving up garbage bags this month, and that’s actually freaking me out a little bit
I’m participating in Plastic Free July. I wrote a bit about it and zero waste in my last post, but as a quick summary, it’s an event originating out of Australia used to encourage people to rethink their plastic use, especially with regards to single use plastics. I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics out of my life, but I know I can make some improvements with regards to garbage bags and food packaging.
I currently use compostable bags for my garbage, but I had to go find them and do a bit of research to confirm that they were actually compostable and not just biodegradable. There’s a big difference – biodegradable plastics may look like they go away, but they may just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastics (the microplastics that scientists are finding in the ocean and even in bottled water). My compostable bags are safe to put in the compost, so they probably aren’t doing that much harm (save for the resources needed to make them).
I use bags partly to avoid a gross garbage bin and partly because I typically only take trash out when I’m already heading out the door. That requires a bag or container of some sort that doesn’t need to be returned to the apartment. So, basically, I guess I’m lazy and grossed out by icky garbage.
I currently have 3 places where waste is collected: a plastic bin in my bathroom, a stainless steel bin in my kitchen, and a random (whatever I have available) bag to collect my plastic waste (I started tracking my plastic waste several weeks ago, so I’ve been separating it from everything else). I also have a large re-usable bag for recycling, but I don’t line it with a bag, so it’s irrelevant to this challenge (side note: did you know that blue bags aren’t recyclable? I learned that a year or two ago and immediately stopped using them for my recyclables).
The stainless steel bin in the kitchen can be easily washed and won’t absorb odors. It also has a handy lid with an odor neutralizing carbon filter. The plastic bin in the bathroom is the only thing I’ve ever found that fits in the narrow space, which is the only reason I put up with it being cheap plastic. I rarely put icky things in it as I only empty it as needed. In both cases, I can easily live without a garbage bag if I’m willing to wash them out as needed. And, I have some old yogurt containers that I can use to store things in the freezer temporarily (ex: organics that are wet or prone to rot/mold). I should note that I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I would try to find a re-usable container or re-usable plastic bag to store meat packing in the freezer until I was ready to take it out.
My plan for July is to not use any garbage bags at all. The cans will be emptied when convenient or as needed, and cleaned regularly to avoid bad odors or built up ickiness. And, I have an extra can that I can use for my plastic waste, so that I can avoid wasting a garbage bag to collect plastic waste.
It sounds so simple and easy now that I’ve written it down, but this is something I’ve considered and been really resistant to for a very long time. Rotting food grosses me out (just thinking about it is making me a bit queasy), so I’m not looking forward to cleaning out the bins. But, also, for some stupid reason, going down and up 6 flights in an elevator just to take the garbage out seems like a big deal in my head. But, it’s not and that’s no excuse to avoid this challenge.
Plastic wrapped foods
I’m embarrassed to admit that 5 years ago I called myself an environmentalist, but still bought tonnes of food wrapped in plastic: frozen entrees, prepacked fruit and veggies, boxed or bagged rice and pasta, packaged greens, etc. And, while I rarely ate in restaurants, I was always guaranteed to take part of the meal home in those little Styrofoam containers they provide, because I always forgot an extra container.
I justified these bahaviours in a couple ways:
- Most of this packaging is recyclable, so it’s not that big of a deal.
- Other than this, I’m low impact because I use transit, etc., so I’m still more environmentally friendly than the average Canadian.
- I don’t enjoy cooking and I deserve to be able to escape a chore I dislike on occasion.
The truth is that I was just being lazy. I have no children, I’m not expected to take work home at the end of the day, I have very few external responsibilities, etc. I just wanted yummy food that didn’t require any time in the kitchen.
One day I quit frozen entrees cold turkey (with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza). I just decided to quit buying them. I wish I could say it was because I realized how much plastic I was purchasing, but I think it was mostly because of how expensive they can be (I’m a picky vegetarian, so I rarely found cheap entrees). But, I still bought a fair amount of things in bulk: bags of lentils, containers of greens, bundled onions wrapped in plastic mesh, etc.
Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes in what I buy and how I buy it. One of the very few exceptions has been greens (lettuce, sprouts, spinach, etc.), which I continued to buy in plastic containers or wrapped in plastic. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found many low or no plastic options. Kale, the occasional beat-up bundle of spinach and bok choy are the only consistently low-plastic greens I’ve been able to find, even at the market. In fact, kale with minimal packaging is abundant, but I hate kale (I’m sensitive to flavours, especially bitter flavours, so kale tastes bitter and horrible to me, no matter how it’s prepared).
Other exceptions have included: cheese, the occasional bit of yogurt, the occasion frozen pizza, various nuts or grains, etc. I’ve already switched to buying as much as I can in the bulk food sections and I’m trying very hard to resist cheese. I buy yogurt very rarely and always re-use those containers multiple times over, so I may allow it as an occasional treat, but not during July (except that I already have some yogurt that I bought in June).
The last exception has been local food from the market, which often comes in plastic. This one is a hard one for me because food in my city is predominantly shipped from other countries (not as much in the summer, but even then, a lot of things are shipped from other provinces). Is it better to buy something local that’s in plastic that I can reuse, or is it better to buy something plastic free that was shipped from California or Mexico? Honestly, I’d rather buy the local foods. Plastic free isn’t the only thing I advocate for (shop local, low impact living, etc.), so sometimes I have to pick the “best” option instead of the plastic free option. This will be the one and only exception I will consider making for July.
So, my plan for this part of the challenge is to avoid plastic (with the possible exception of local produce at the market, if I can’t find a plastic free alternative). Of course, I do have some plastics that I bought before the challenge: some yogurt, some greens, two chocolate bars, a couple books that were preordered and may come in packaging with plastic, etc. So, I don’t expect my garbage to be completely plastic free in July, but I do hope to have hardly any plastic garbage and I expect to be able to account for any plastic that I’m responsible for. More importantly, I hope to both find alternatives where needed and shift my habits.
So, those are my two Plastic Free July challenges – no garbage bags and low to no plastic packaged foods. I expect it to be challenging, but not impossible.
Are you considering reducing plastic use in your life?