Plastic Free July – end of month check-in

Plastic Free July went as expected: not bad, but I still need to work on changing some habits.

After some adjustments to accommodate my lack of interest in taking the garbage out and the summer heat, I think that I’ve settled on a garbage bag free scheme that I can live with (see below). I just need to get better about taking the garbage out as needed instead of waiting for the garbage can to be full. I never let it get bad enough to have a smelly apartment (I live in a small space, so I refuse to live with bad smells), but there were times when I pushed the limits and ross things grew in my garbage can.

But, here’s what seems to be working:

As I mentioned in my kick-off post, my bathroom garbage doesn’t accumulate smelly or gross things. Mostly, it’s just a place to dump my dental floss and all the dust and such that I sweep up. It gets dirty from the dust, but it’s not decaying or rotting, so it’s fine and doesn’t require a garbage bag.

In my kitchen, I did have some problems with rot, decay and food sticking to the bottom of the can (which meant having to soak and wash the can before using it again). Because of this, and because it’s summer, I decided to default to freezing everything food related. It’s still been a bit annoying, I miss garbage bags, and I miss being able to just toss something in the trash instead of having to open the freezer, taking a container out, etc. But, it works.

I did try a few other options over the month:

  • I tried to convince myself to empty the garbage every couple of days (2-3), but that will require a fairly big habit shift or maybe storing my garbage bin by the door (not ideal – I prefer not having to look at it and I live in a small space). Again, I know it seems silly, but it’s not like I’m just walking to the end of the garden (I’m several floors up and have to open a dumpster, which can smell really bad in the summer).
  • I tried lining my bin with flyers to keep food from sticking to the bottom. It was certainly better, but not by much and I would still have to empty the garbage more often. Also, that still requires extra resources (flyers).
  • I considered using plastic bags I had on hand (from things like frozen foods that I could only get in plastic), but I worried that this was just one very tiny step towards spiralling back into either buying garbage bags or using it as an excuse to allow myself to buy more things in plastic. Not to say that I’m completely plastic free (I still buy frozen peas), but I’m trying to avoid plastic.

This is definitely something that I still need to work on to find a solution that works best for me, but I have some large yogurt containers that I could use for perishables. I’m considering keeping one on my counter until it’s full and allowing myself to accumulate a couple containers in the freezer before taking the garbage out. I’ll still use the garbage can for non-perishables and plastics.

Speaking of plastic, I’ve been tracking my plastic consumption these past few weeks to see where I can make improvements. It’s been an interesting project and I’m pleased to say that my plastic consumption has reduced in the past few months.I still have room to improve, but I’m happy with the progress.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of things I had:

  • Labels from jars that I wanted to save. A couple of thelabels were made of plastic. Needless to say, I’ll try to remember to always look for non-plastic containers with non-plastic labels.
  • The mesh and label from a package of garlic because I could not find it un-packaged that day, despite trying more than one store. Usually, I’m well stocked with garlic, so this is rarely a problem.
  • A chip bag (or two). I like chips on occasion, but I know I can find good enough options (like bulk pretzels or popcorn bought in bulk, made on the stovetop, and flavoured with herbs or with bulk flavouring that you can get at the Bulk Barn). This was a case of letting a bad day supercede my good intentions.
  • The packaging from frozen peas. I’m just not ready to give them up yet and bulk peas from the market are expensive, if you can find them. I do try to buy the largest bag possible (even if it means separating them out into a couple of containers in the freezer to keep them from getting too freezer burnt).
  • Odds and ends of things that were small but represented other areas I need to work on. For example, plastic from a package. I could have bought that book with less waste overall if I’d gone to the store when the book was published instead of pre-ordering it online.
  • A wrapper from a chocolate bar. It was fair trade chocolate (yay), but it still came in plastic (boo). I could stop eating chocolate (as if) or I could just get off my lazy butt and go to the grocery store that has really great bulk.

Despite not being plastic free yet, I think that the Plastic Free July challenge was incredibly helpful and a useful challenge. It allowed me to recommit to the idea of living a low-waste life and allowed me to finally give up something I’d been really resistant to giving up (who knew garbage bags were so important to me).

So, Plastic Free July was a success for me and I’m taking some new ideas and habits into August. My intention is to continue to be low-waste and work towards being as close to zero waste was I can.

Did you try giving up any plastic for July?

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Plastic Free July – what I’m giving up

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’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.

Garbage bags

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:

  1. Most of this packaging is recyclable, so it’s not that big of a deal.
  2. Other than this, I’m low impact because I use transit, etc., so I’m still more environmentally friendly than the average Canadian.
  3. 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?

Plastic Free July challenge

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’m participating in Plastic Free July, which is a challenge created to encourage people to reduce their use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.

I’m not plastic free or zero waste, but I would like to be, as much as possible. And, it’s something that I’ve been working towards, especially these past few months as it relates to my goal to be more eco-friendly, which is part of my slow year experiment.

What is zero waste? A lot of people assume that it means zero waste produced, which would be extremely difficult for most people, especially people who don’t have access to the types of resources needed to be zero waste (ex: a garden to grow your own food). Many also associate zero waste with tiny jars of garbage. Though it would be wonderful if we all strived to only accrue a jar of garbage each year, or even each month, this is also unrealistic for most people and it gives you a false sense of how much garbage is actually produced to support you and your lifestyle (ex: even bulk food is shipped to bulk stores in bags or boxes of some sort, so buying bulk in reusable bags or containers still creates garbage). And, then there are the zero waste lifestyle fanatics who, much like the minimalist lifestyle fanatics, portray zero waste as being a trend that requires bamboo straws and coconut shell bowls.

Zero waste doesn’t have to be any of those things. The important thing is to make as many choices as you can to reduce or eliminate waste, which is simpler, more attainable, and more useful than trying an extreme or trendy lifestyle that you can’t sustain.

Plastic Free July isn’t about being zero waste, but reduced plastic and zero waste endeavours support each other and promote similar actions. And, zero waste focuses a lot on plastic use because a lot of the garbage households produce are plastic – plastic wrappers, plastic straws, plastic containers, etc.

People are finally starting to recognize that plastic is a problem and that plastics can last for generations (that straw you used this morning? it could still be here for centuries). Worse, despite what we all think, a lot of plastic isn’t recycled or recyclable (check with your local waste management to see what’s recyclable in your area). There are also a lot of plastic sources that people aren’t aware of, such as paper to-go cups. Disposable coffee cups are often lined with a thin layer of plastic, so they aren’t recyclable or compostable.

Think of every plastic item you touch in a typical day – how much of that is recyclable and how much of the recyclable plastic do you think will find its way into a recycling bin?

I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics in my life, and I’ve continued to work on avoiding or minimizing plastics as much as possible, with the exception of plastic items that I already own (sometimes the best option is just to keep using that plastic container that you already have). But, after taking the Plastic Free July quiz and reviewing their action picker form, I realized that there were a few areas that could use improvement.

The action picker is a good tool to use to get started with the challenge. Each row includes what to avoid (ex: grocery bags), how to avoid it (ex: take a re-usable bag), and a graphical representation of how much of an impact that option makes, based on the positive impact for the ocean, landfills and global warming. Most of the actions are focused on ways to avoid plastics (food packaging, microbeads in cosmetics, plastic bottles, straws, garbage bags, litter, etc.), but they also include making sure that everything that can be recycled goes in the recycling, instead of the garbage.

I’ve decided to focus on garbage bags and food packaging, as most of the other items are irrelevant to me (my cosmetics and such are plastic free) or rare (I rarely eat out, so it’s rare that I would need to worry about plastic straws and such). I’ll talk about my plans in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to at least take the quiz and consider what single use plastics you might be able to reduce or eliminate, regardless of whether or not you participate in Plastic Free July.