Plastic Monday: The Challenges of Going Plastic-Lite

Submitted by aatkins on November 14, 2011

So, it’s been three weeks since the Green America editors started our challenge to purge “stupid plastic” from our lives. The “Take the Plastic Challenge” issue of the Green American should be hitting your mailboxes—or perhaps you’ve already received your issue. If you’ve had the chance to read it, let us know what you think!

As I’ve worked to get the unnecessary plastic out of my life, I’ve run into three major challenges:

  • I’ve discovered that by far, my worst challenge is packaging, especially food packaging. (Looking at Andrew and Sarah’s Plastic Monday posts, I’m sensing a trend with food-related plastic.) I am lucky enough to have a family-owned grocery store nearby that doesn’t wrap its produce in plastic (Trader Joe’s, I’m staring at you.). But here’s my problem: I hate cooking. Hate, loathe, despise it with the white-hot, fiery passion of a thousand suns. I envy all of you who love it—I wish I did. But there are so many other things I’d rather be doing—playing with my kids, reading, tackling one of my many unfinished art projects, or, chief among my options, eating something that someone ELSE has cooked for me. Unfortunately, my partner hates cooking just as much as I do, so the two of us have a habit of aimlessly opening and closing cupboards  around dinnertime as if hoping we’ll magically conjure up an organic, home-cooked, four-course meal by sheer force of will. That has yet to happen.
    You can probably guess where this is going. Organic dinners-in-a-bag have long been a standby for those nights when I’m too tired and grumpy to cook, and I’m all over Ethnic Gourmet and Amy’s Organic microwave lunches. But now I’ve seen the plastic-free light. Those microwave meals have had to go.
    SOLUTION: So now, I’m forcing myself (and my husband) to cook more often. I’ve dusted off my slow cooker and my collection of cookbooks with phrases like “quick meals for busy people” in the title. And even though I have a black thumb, I’m still inching my way toward having my own garden. I now have some herbs in containers, and next year, I’m going to try a raised bed of something (preferably something I can’t kill). I’m still waiting for the “joy of cooking” to hit me, but it hasn’t yet. However, the joy of eating fresher, tastier food is starting to make up for it.
  • Toys: I just had a birthday party for my youngest daughter, and even though I told the parents of our little guests that they did not need to bring gifts, of course those wonderful, polite people brought them anyway. We got lucky, and the majority of the toys were either wooden or mostly wooden (i.e., board games).  A couple of people, knowing how much my daughter likes to draw, sent art supplies. (Markers are plastic! Ay!)We celebrate Christmas in our house, and Santa doesn’t want to be a Scrooge, so he does bring a small, sane number of gifts. Art supplies and books are big, as are gently-used-but-new-looking items that Santa secretly finds on eBay or Craigslist. But sometimes, my 5- and 7-year-olds just want one of the “it” toys, and the “it” toys always tend to be plastic. And I just found out that the dolls they’re currently going crazy for have styrene bodies and PVC heads.
    SOLUTION: I’m trying extra hard to steer them toward sustainable toys from my old standby, Hazelnut Kids, and some of the other toy companies in theNational Green Pages. (Imagination Box Co., anyone?) And like I said, I try to ensure that most of their gifts—even from family members—tend to be gently used, green, or of the educational/artistic variety. We also take extra-good care of our toys (I’m rather OCD about ensuring that all the little bits and pieces stay together), so they can be handed down to another child when mine have outgrown them.This year, I’ll also forgo the markers and let my budding Mary Cassatts try out a pack of artist pastels instead. And when we go shopping for the local Angel Tree, where we buy gifts for an anonymous low-income girl or boy in our area, we’ll go as plastic-lite on the gifts as possible.
  • Tupperware: A new study, discussed at length in the “Take the Plastic Challenge” Green American, found that all types and shapes of plastic—even those with recycling code numbers 1,2,4, and 5, which were previously thought safe—leach hormone disrupting chemicals when heated. So I’m minimizing my Tupperware collection, since my main use for them has been dumping hot leftovers into them.
    SOLUTION: I’m sending some of the flimsier #5 “disposable” food storage containers I’ve been saving and reusing to Preserve’s Gimme 5 program, which recycles #5 plastic and turns it into Preserve personal care and kitchen items. (Preserve tests the plastic in its products to ensure that it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.)I already have some glass containers I’ve started using for leftovers, but they are fairly large. I’m  making an investment in some smaller stainless steel and glass containers, and use the remaining Tupperware-style containers for cold items, only.
    And gentlemen, you may consider this one a bit TMI, but women’s hygiene products are also a plastic problem in my life. I know, the solution is simple since plenty of green companies offer plastic-free alternatives, but I have to confess, I’ve been lax about embracing them. I will, though, and in the next couple of weeks, Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist and I will be (tactfully) discussing that particular green step.
    So there you have it—my biggest challenges so far. What are your biggest challenges to going plastic-free? And if you’ve gotten your issue of the Green American, what did you think? 

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