Deplasticize Your Life!

This movie from the 1950’s shows Disney’s “House of the Future” which is totally kitted out in plastic EVERYthing. Ironic that here I am from 2008 writing about how to get plastic out of my life!

I haven’t picked up a plastic bag in weeks now*, and I’m looking for a new eco-challenge. I think a wholesale elimination of ALL plastic from my life could be a worthwhile next step towards the continuing greenification of my life.** Why plastic? Yes, it CAN be great (plastic medical devices save lives and plastic helps reduce the weight of cars so they’re more fuel-efficient), but mostly, it’s evil.

Reason 1: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area TWICE the size of the continental U.S. that’s filled with floating plastic debris. The smaller the plastic gets, the higher in the water column it floats, with marine life choking on the stuff. The source of the debris? North America and Asia (that’s you and me).

Reason 2: Plastic is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource that we’re spending millions of dollars and the lives and well-being of our fellow humans to obtain. Eight percent of oil worldwide goes to make plastics. My use increases demand.

Reason 3: Many plastics (we’re not even totally sure which ones yet) leach toxic chemicals into our environment (and us, especially fetuses) when they’re created, and into our bodies when we use them for food and beverage storage. Life is toxic enough without adding to it.

Instead of plastic storage containers, try: Glass ones.
There are all kinds, from traditional round-shaped ones from Pyrex, but I like these square versions with frosted tops even better.

Instead of plastic produce bags try: Cloth or reusable ‘green’ bags (or none at all).
Naturally-protected produce like bananas, oranges, apples, limes and avocados don’t need a bag- I never use them and my veggies aren’t suffering. Only leafy stuff and small fruits and veggies (cherries, brussels sprouts) really need to be bagged. I use the Evert-Fresh bags (but several companies make these now) because they keep produce fresh in the fridge way longer than supermarket produce babs. You can bring these to the market for those items that demand a carrier, and you can just rinse and reuse these. (I’ve had mine for four years now.) A friend of mine likes different-sized cloth bags which she throws in the laundry every now and again, so that’s another option.

Instead of plastic wrap try: A dish! (My father who lives in Australia actually taught me this one-thanks Dad!) Instead of putting plastic over a plate of leftovers, just use another dish of the same size or smaller. Want to be able to see what’s under there? Use a clear glass plate. For bowls, use teacup saucers (you can find these a goodwill for pennies. Food will stay moist and protected sans plastic, and the plates are reusable forever.

Instead of plastic baggies try: Wax paper bags or a cloth napkin.
This is a toughie. Sometimes there’s nothing like a sealable plastic bag- for something mushy or potentially messy- if I have to, I use mine over and over until they die so I don’t buy more than a box of these every couple years, if that. But for drier items (sandwiches, fruit, cut veggies) a wax paper bag will keep moisture in and it will eventually biodegrade (unlike plastic). I use a cloth napkin for short-term transport of homemade burritos, sandwiches and veggies which won’t leak much but need a bit of protection. I can use it as a napkin while eating; plastic, not so much.

Instead of plastic silverware, try: Bringing your own.

I carry my own utensils- or I should say utensil- with me: the Aussie splayde is perfect, but a spork works too, so I never need to use plastic. You could also try a set of collapsible chopsticks (I find a need a spoon more often than a fork, but think about what you eat and what works for you).

*The key to avoiding plastic bags is to carry an oversized bag so you always have a place for small items, keeping a fold-up reusable bag like Envirosax in your bigger bag, and leaving your canvas bags for grocery shopping in the car so you’re always prepared.

** So far I’ve switched to 75% organic food in my home, I drive only on the weekends, I’ve gotten a super-efficient furnace, use only low-VOC paints, compost food scraps, grow my own veggies and herbs, buy from my local farmer’s market from April-October, adopted all my animals, buy more than half my clothes and shoes from sustainable companies (see my blog, Eco Chick for a listing), take the train instead of flying, switched from a desktop to a laptop (they use 90% less power), bought a water and energy efficient new washer, and line-dry my clothes whenever possible. I’ve been vegetarian for 15 years, so that’s not recent, but it still counts!

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.