Saturday, March 26, 2011

Three Weeks' Report and Stubborn Plastic Packaging

Over the past three weeks, since March 5, we have generated 7 oz. of plastic waste (trash and recycling combined) between the two of us.

Now we're talking.  That's getting somewhere!

Things I have yet to find a way to work around or do without in the world of plastic:

  1. Cooking oil bottles.  I can't convince myself that using more imported olive oil is actually better for the planet than the plastic ubiquitous to vegetable oil bottles.  And gallon bottles are so much thicker than the smaller ones that there is no appreciable reduction in plastic waste to buying in bulk.  Alas.  I'm still waiting for inspiration to strike on that one.
  2. Hand lotion.  I don't use much--the extra large bottles I bought two years ago, before moving into Chestnut House, just ran out this winter.  And I do use lotions and salves packed in metal (Bag Balm, Burt's Bees, and so on) on my hands.  But my face, too, gets very dry in the New England winter, and I can't use those on my face.  Shampoo I can do without, but lotion for my skin in mid-winter, not so much.
  3. Sanitary Pads.  None of the organic-cotton, eco-friendly alternatives quite work for me.  The fact that my job does not permit me to use a bathroom whenever I wish makes this surprisingly difficult--not the only place I've found where modern life gets in the way of doing an environmentally-friendly thing. For the moment, I'm sticking with a brand that is composed of paper, and packaged in a thin layer of plastic.
  4. Plastic wrapping around locally produced meat and cheese.  This, I may eventually be able to do something about by learning to make my own cheese.  (No, I'm not kidding--I think this may be fun, in fact, and a way to have affordable and sustainably-produced cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and maybe one day even cheddar.)
  5. Bottle caps and can liners.  Even glass bottles come with  plastic caps, and cans are generally lined with plastic these days... as are coffee bag liners, but those we can avoid if we plan ahead and bring our own bag or jar. 
  6. Ammonia and bleach bottles.  We're sparing with both--ammonia is what we use to disinfect things like handkerchiefs and rags that have been used in funky bacterial-contaminated cleanups, and bleach is used to sanitize brewing equipment and the occasional countertop--but we do use them.  Since we do not use hot water for our laundry, we need something to sanitize with from time to time.  (Bleach, the more toxic substance, lasts almost forever.  Ammonia we go through more quickly.)

Overall, though, we've settled into a groove around plastic avoidance here.  We're not avoiding everything, and we do make mistakes.  But on the whole, this part of trying to live a more environmentally friendly life is becoming habit, and much easier than I'd have supposed last June, when we began the experiment.


  1. For sanitary products, I've found re-usable cotton pads (I like Luna pads) and the Diva Cup to work very well. Your mileage may vary, of course, but the reusable ones give you some options (more than one liner, for example) and are to me more comfortable. I also found the Diva Cup surprisingly comfortable -- tampons never worked well for me, but the cup is pretty great, once I got past the initial learning curve.

  2. I, too, wanted to recommend the Diva Cup or the Keeper, because they can hold a lot and often need changing less frequently than tampons.

    As for dry skin, have you tried lanolin? I haven't found a solution that avoids plastic, but a tub or bottle of lanolin lasts me more than twice as long as the equivalent size in lotion, so less packaging is needed overall.

  3. Like Ivy I use Luna Pads.

    When I worked as an EMT I didn't have the option to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted. I found them to work just fine even on heavy days.

  4. I appreciate the suggestions; there are not I've tried yet that work for me. (Anyway, I've reached an age where, if I wait long enough, this problem will go away! *grin*)

    I am more troubled by the question of cooking oil. I suspect that our locavore ancestors would have used either butter or animal fats from roasting. I am giving this idea some consideration.

    1. have you come up with a cooking oil plan yet?

  5. Hi, Mari!

    I'm trying to use olive oil when I can--though I can obtain it in steel cans, I know it is shipped a long distance, and of course it isn't suitable for all uses. And I also use butter--local butter--where I can, though my health convinces me that I need to be cautious there.

    Mostly, I'm trying to buy oil in containers that use as little plastic per unit of oil as I can. And I try to purchase oil that is grown in as friendly as manner as possible; sunflower, for instance, is grown in a more environmentally-friendly way than either corn or soy.

    But, well... this one is still a place where it is tough to get the plastic out!