Reducing our Dependence on Plastic

by Michael Nolan on 2 February 2011 · 15 comments

in Health & Home

I got involved in a discussion on the Growing a Greener World website yesterday on the movement by for a Plastic-Free February and I wanted to bring information from that chat here for those who may not have seen it.

Bottle in a Landfill

photo: orchid85/stock.xchng

Even before we were aware of this movement, John & I were talking about our desire to get away from plastics by the time we build and move into the new recycled/reclaimed home we are planning.  Those talks got me thinking about just how deeply plastic is embedded in our lives even when we don’t realize it.  Don’t believe it?  Try to get through a single day without buying something that contains plastic or is packaged in plastic.

In my case I ask myself how things were done before plastics were in use. Glass and ceramic containers just make sense to me for food storage. The freezer remains a bit of a mystery to me though, I must admit.

At the supermarket the first rule to remember is that the simpler the ingredient, the less packaging it should require. Sugar, flour and most baking needs come in recyclable paper-based packages.  For vegetables and fruit I plan to make these reusable produce bags from reclaimed sheers.  Larger quantities of beans and rice come in canvas bags and they cost less to boot.

While John & I aim toward purchasing beef in quantity through a coop that allows me to buy “half a cow”, you can also ask the meat department personnel to package your meat in deli paper the way it used to be done.

If you purchase eggs, purchase them in recycled paperboard containers instead of foam. Milk is rarely found in glass these days so the next best thing will be cartons, though many of them these days have plastic spouts and lids.  Still, a reduction in the purchase of waste plastic is better than no change at all.

At the very least I hope that people can see the tremendous amount of plastic that is wasted on a daily basis and actively seek ways to consume less plastic and send less of it to the landfill.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Lamp'l February 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I love your idea about having the grocery store butcher pack the meat in paper. On my first day of this experiment, I failed terribly! I stopped by the grocery store on the way home from a few errands only to realize I forgot my reusable shopping bags. Strike one. I thought I had that problem licked as I was prepared to buy a few there. No luck. They didn’t have any! Strike two! Chicken was on the menu. Using your trick, I was going to have the butcher sell me the meat wrapped in paper. There was no butcher! Strike three. I decided I better come a little better prepared the next time so I decided I’d start my challenge the next day (today) instead. So far so good!

Michael @ MEG February 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Even though you didn’t accomplish the exact goal, I wouldn’t consider it a failure. Don’t you think it was a success in that you are now more aware of all of those instances where plastic is being used in a very basic trip to the supermarket?

The first step is always awareness. Once you know what you’re up against it is an easier task to tackle.

The only failure would be not trying.

marie February 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I use ball jars in the freezer. Regular peanut butter jars work fine, too. The trick is to leave about an inch of headspace for the ingredients to expand as they freeze. If not, the jar will break in the freezer. For good measure, I also leave the lid off while the contents are freezing. If the jar has a narrow opening or “shoulders” they could also get in the way of expanding liquids. It can take a few ruined jars of soup to get the hang of it. Also, I let things cool on the counter then fridge before transferring to the freezer.

Michael @ MEG February 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Thank you for this. John & I have been talking recently about how to use canning jars in the freezer and you’ve helped a lot.

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand February 2, 2011 at 1:58 pm

WOOT-WOOT Joe on the awareness, never a failure when you can bring such important highlights to an issue.

Our lives have been made to be simplified, which is why there are few stores with real butchers behind the counter. I can tell you the price of meat/chicken to the consumer did not go down when they omitted the butchers position and started shipping in the plastic wrapped products.

I’m looking forward to the challenge! Annie

Tara Kirschner February 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Okay, because I’m really, really old,57, I can tell you there are still dairies that put products in glass. But, cartons can be reused. Freezer – whole trout in water, for example. Cartons can be used for starting plants for your garden. Toilet paper rolls make good collars for tomatoe,squash, and pepper plants. If you can’t avoid packaging, you can settle for repurposing it, at least, recycle.

Michael @ MEG February 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm

There aren’t any local dairies (for me) who still use glass, unfortunately. I do plan to have dairy goats in the near future though. In my home we recycle/reclaim/repurpose every chance we get!

Mike Lieberman February 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm

When buying in bulk, you can bring your own (glass) containers. Just make sure that you weigh the containers before hand.

Michael @ MEG February 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Great advice. Unfortunately in many suburban and rural areas there aren’t many bulk food options. Even here in the Birmingham area the only two options for any bulk foods are Whole Foods and a local health food store.

Beth Terry @ My Plastic-free Life February 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I totally agree with you that the point of the exercise is awareness and education. Until you try living plastic-free you have no idea how easy or hard it might be or what resources you might or might not have in your area. I’ve had great success buying meat for my cats (I’m a vegetarian) from the Whole Foods butcher counter in my own stainless steel container. But I realize not everyone has access to an actual butcher. All we can do is the best we can — and then when we hit our limits, begin to ASK for what we want — talking to store managers, writing letters, creating petitions or Twitter/Facebook campaigns, etc. We don’t have to accept the menu that is offered!

Here’s a list of the strategies I’ve discovered thru living plasticfree for the last three years:

Rebecca Lane March 6, 2011 at 12:55 am

My grandmother saved those foam flats that meat came wrapped on and reused them endlessly. She made beef patties and froze them for later cooking, she cut up chicken and froze individuals servings on them… not sure what else she did. She always had a stash of them in her kitchen.

She raised kids on a ranch during the depression. She once told me she saw some beautiful peaches at the market, but didn’t have the money for them, and “the farmer wasn’t taking the buttons off my sweater for them”.

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