Monday, March 5, 2018

Question: Are There Tips for Cutting Back on Plastic?

Reusable Grocery Bags - Photos by Salt Water New England
As more plastic is found on ocean floors, and trips to the supermarket result in the inevitable acquisition of non-recyclable plastic, one question is, are there tips for cutting back on personal plastic consumption?

Some of this packaging can be recycled, but the plastic bags are not accepted.

What to do with this kind of ubiquitous plastic packaging?

Once the growing season arrives, it is less of an issue, and some containers can be returned to the farmers to be used again.

49 comments:

  1. I'm with you on the LL Bean tote bags, although mine are in different colors! Red and Navy. I avoid plastic bags as much as possible. When I must use them, I make sure to recycle them for something else. Non-recylable still make decent cat liter bags at least.

    We now get our milk in glass bottles and use a filter rather than plastic water bottles.

    What is awful to me is how much packaging is around items like a tooth brush. One must cut into thick plastic just to free it. Why can't they simply be in a sterile sealed container without so much mass?

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  2. Our family goal over the past couple of years has been to reduce our waste and eliminate all plastics. We bought cloth bags that we use for our produce/ grains/ bakery bread, bring our own mason jars or glass tupperware for bulk peanut butter or deli items (just have the container weight tared first), and buy almost all of our food from the bulk section. The best resources I have found are Zero Waste Home, Life Without Plastic, and Trash is for Tossers.

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  3. In Europe you have to pay for grocery bags. It annoyed me when I first moved here but now I think they are on to something (although I still wish they would bag the stuff for you at the grocery store!) I keep a shopping basket and various shopping bags (including an old Boat and Tote with frayed handles!) in my car trunk so they are on hand for grocery shopping and the like. I also keep a small foldable shopping bag in my purse.

    -EM

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    1. 5p a bag in the UK, personally I'd charge more. It's up to consumers to take responsibility and invest in their own re-usable shopping bags which reduce the need for constantly using plastic ones. It's also up to retailers to start providing sustainable/recyclable bags where feasible.

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    2. The 5p plastic bag charge applies only to large stores. Small shops are not legally required to apply the charge. I now use canvas cartridge tote bags - https://www.williamevans.com/products/gifts/gifts-for-him/we-bag-for-life. As it says - perfect for every shopping trip.

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    3. I bought a 5 pack of 'Envirosax' a few years ago when they did a gent's version which included camouflage, Argyle and windowpane check prints. Still going strong. I also have a couple of very nice homemade (by my mother) tote bags in cotton lined Harris tweed fabric.

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  4. We take our lunches to work, and we have eliminated all plastic containers for storage. We use glass containers, and while it's more cumbersome and heavier than plastic, and it rattles in the car, we're happy with this decision...and healthier, too.

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  5. I always carry small tote bags in my purse--they are easy to pick up at various museum gift shops, etc., and are a great way to support non-profits and cultural institutions as well! Also, I try to buy items in bulk and in containers that are reusable and recyclable, like juice or milk in glass bottles instead of plastic. Also, bringing a water bottle with you is a great way to cut back.

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  6. We recycle as much as we can. We've cut down on plastics, though frankly, there is so much of it, it's nearly impossible to avoid.

    Like others, we buy from the local farmers in season, and also buy in bulk when we can. We've also stopped eating meat and dairy. This was for better health, but a nice side-benefit is the impact on the environment. The animal industry dumps an awful lot of pollutants, so we feel good about that. At least a few farm animals won't experience that horrid, worse-than-concentration-camp environment.

    We also recycle our vegetable waste. Some time ago, Muffy posted a smart composting system where you don't have to water and turn. We built this in our back yard. It's been going strong for a few years, now, and provides all the black gold soil we need.

    Aiken

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    1. I also have gone vegan Aiken and am already turning around many physical heart related problems because of it. I plan to only become healthier and healthier!
      I only wish I had committed to it when I was younger.
      it's better for the poor voiceless animals (THAT should be reason enough!) and the environment AND ourselves.
      let them keep their big pharma drugs. it can be done with health. am turning around heart disease! my tests now prove it's working.
      we have a city compost for people who live in apartments. and I use cloth bags and recycle as much as I possibly can. I agree with the commenter on the plastic packaging of EVERYTHING. tooth brushes and all. it's ridiculous. at least if it has a 1 to 7 in the little triangle I can recycle it where we live.

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    2. tammy j -

      Congrats on going vegan and addressing your heart health. Within a few months of changing to plant-based, I'm back down to my fighting weight of 165 (from 207), and total cholesterol went from 213 to 142. It really surprised me, but it was pretty effortless -- no starving, great food, all you can eat, basically. It's not really a 'diet' but a (non-carnivorous) lifestyle.

      My wife had a similar experience and, like you, has been taken off high blood pressure meds because her blood pressure is now around 115 over 70 and no longer needs meds.

      I like cooking from a plant-based orientation, too. Very easy, tasty, and lots and lots of great recipes. Don't miss meat in the least, nor dairy.

      Research shows that even if you are over 60, there are significant health benefits. My 87-year-old mother also changed her diet recently (at 86). She was lifelong "plump." Now, thin and lean. She had been on antihypertensives for decades. After a few weeks, they were discontinued as no longer needed.

      People forget, but all meds do have side effects.

      Aiken

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    3. Aiken, do you have a source that you prefer for plant-based recipes?

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    4. Suzanne,

      There are several. The Engine 2 Diet by Rick Esselstyn has good recipes crafted by his mother and wife. They are the real cooks and have another good book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, which is also excellent. Forks Over Knives produces a magazine and cookbook that are both very good.

      We’ve gotten a lot of ideas from The Foodie Bar Way (Hagenburger). Lindsey Nixon has several books, Thug Kitchen has tasty offerings (but, it is peppered with foul language, which is unnecessary, but recipes are good, so fair warning). The McDougall’s also have a lot of recipes, many very good, but we always bump up the spices as we find their pallet is a little bland.

      We like to cook with the Insta Pot (pressure cooker) and refer to Jill Nussinow’s The New Fast Food a lot. We’ve gotten great recipes from the Great Vegan Bean book (Hester), as well.

      We also love bread. I’ve been a bread baker for about 40 years and my favorite method is found in Van Over’s Best Bread Ever. He wrote this for the person who invented the Cuisinart, so it is all Cuisinart recipes. And they are good. This is not vegan, so some adjustments are needed, though the basic bread recipe has no dairy or oil. I always make bread in the Cuisinart – it kneads the bread for you. I like that.

      I wound up making a notebook of "keeper" recipes that I refer to often. In a fairly short period of time, we have great pasta, Italian, Moroccan, Asian, Indian, Mexican, and eclectic recipes.

      Aiken

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    5. Tammy check out Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. He is at the Cleveland clinic. Very interesting man who promotes health based on plant based diet. Graduated with my father from Yale.
      Worth a look ! [ father of Rip Esselstyn]

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    6. so glad I came back to this post to check. though you might not see my reply now. but thank you so much for the wonderful and valuable info Aiken and Anonymous! you've given me great help.
      I've been having fun researching it all too. and I appreciate your own knowledge and experiences and recommendations. I guess one just has to feel bad enough finally to wake up. and just as you say Aiken ... it's now my total lifestyle and I've found that it's amazingly easy!

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    7. I have been eating a plant-based/vegan diet for the past year. My favorite sources for recipes are The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner and The Minimalist Baker, a blog.
      I make most of our food from scratch and it cuts down on plastic and the foos tastes better. I make our own vegan pasta in 15 minutes. Invest in a high quality food processor (I have a Breville) and soon you will quickly make your own vegan butter (like Earth Balance), doughs, and even peanut butter that you can store in reusable jars. Imagine how small our grocery stores would be if all processed food was eliminated and the only food available was staples like flour, sugar, oil, salt, etc and in season vegetables?

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  7. Here in Montgomery County, Maryland we have a bag tax. While it was an adjustment initially, you do get used to it. When grocery shopping you just have to remember to bring your reusable bags (and thereby avoid the tax and the waste). It is a little more problematic when getting carryout foods or buying something that you hadn't planned for that requires a large or specialized bag (such as a bag to cover a suit or overcoat). If you are stuck with plastic bags the grocery stores collect the used bags for recycling. Additionally we have a very good single stream recycling program here as well.

    JRC

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  8. Wash and re-use your ziplock bags. My parents always did. Not because the wanted to "save the Earth," but just because they were of good, old Yankee stock and it was "wasteful" to throw them out after one use.

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    1. We do this too...you can get several uses out of those ziplocs! I've noticed some decent options on amazon though. ARH

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    2. What? There is more than one!

      Washing out Ziplocs seems a little "too Yankee" to me.

      But I have odd practices, too. Example: I aways fuse the small residual piece of old soap to the new bar.

      Aiken

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  9. Please stop using plastic drinking straws. Please encourage other to stop using plastic drinking straws. If you must use a straw, which there really isn't a need except for a very small number of reasons, there are paper and biodegradable versions available.

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    1. They also make stainless steel drinking straws - it’s easy to always carry one in a handbag to use when out and about.

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    2. Be careful when using metal straws. I've chipped my front tooth from using one. Grabbing my water bottle for a quick sip, and being not used to metal straws, I accidentally clinked the straw against my front tooth and that caused a chip. Metal straws are good for the earth, they cut down on plastic, but they do have some flaws. Haven't tried glass straws though which are another option.

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    3. Why are adults drinking out of straws, anyway?

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    4. @Sartre - I can't answer for all adults, but my mother does because she has Parkinson's and her tremors get in the way and my father did because his rheumatoid arthritis made it impossible to hold a beverage. I don't because I really only drink coffee, water and beer and none of those really lend themselves well to a straw.

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    5. Brilliant! Almost spilled my coffee ; )

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  10. We installed one of those reverse osmosis water filters under our sink, and it enabled us to stop buying bottled water at Costco. I was so happy to stop using so many plastic water bottles, it just seemed so wasteful.

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  11. I use these reusable mesh bags at the grocery store for vegetables and fruit and in the fridge too! They are great! And always bring my totes to the store, any store!!
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/your-account/order-history/ref=oh_aui_pagination_1_2?ie=UTF8&orderFilter=months-6&search=&startIndex=10

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  12. LL Bean boat and totes for shopping (mine are navy handled). Brita water filter for water. Coffee grounds in the yard. Am always happy to get other ideas from the community.

    MaryAnne

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  13. Bringing your own reusable jars and ziplock bags, as well as the fruit baskets that you get with berries in the produce department, to shop in the bulk foods section at the grocery store or health food market.

    CSA boxes for produce and breads. You end up re using the boxes that the orders come in for the next order.

    Making a point when shopping to buy things in jars that you can re-use is another good one. Making sure that the lids on those jars are able to be washed repeatedly , and have a good seal, so that they get reused. So many companies have been using mason jars to hold their products these days, like pickles and salsa and peanut butter, that if you keep an eye out you can get a nice little stash of jars for your cupboard. These jars you can bring to the bulk section to re fill.

    Making your own nut milks so that you won't have to toss those big plastic coated paper containers they come in at the store. Go to the bulk section and buy a cup of nuts that you prefer and then give them a whirl in your blender or Vitamix at home with some water, a pinch of salt and some cinnamon. Put that in a re usable pitcher in the fridge.

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  14. Tonight's NBC news ran a story about the mass of chewed up plastic bags that outnumber fish off the coast of Bali. I believe Lester Holt said that virtually every piece of plastic ever made is still out there somewhere. That's depressing news, and we all need to be addressing it. I'm glad you brought it up.

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  15. I live in Los Angeles where the grocery bag ban has been in effect for awhile. I had always reused these bags as trash can liners in the kitchen and bathroom. Because I don't have as many bags lying around, I've started to curtail the amount of waste I generate. I would like to ask, however, for those who are in similar situations how you have adapted to this. What do you use as can liners?

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    1. For the bathroom trash (which is not as large as my kitchen trash) I keep the plastic bags that orders and individual items come in from my various mail/catalog order clothing purchases. I also sometimes use the produce bags after they have carried home produce.

      -EM

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    2. I have most to-go warm beverages in my own reusable travel mug (so I am not using so many of the disposable to-go mugs, as well as the plastic lids.) It saves plastic (as well as money).

      -EM

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    3. You can buy biodegradable/compostable trash bags or waste basket liners.

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    4. Yes, you can. BioBags have been getting good ratings. Google them.

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  16. While I agree that some plastic is unavoidable, we have slowly made changes in our home. We have replaced our plastic storage containers with glass, we (attempt, honestly I don't always remember to grab them) use washable mesh produce bags to avoid the plastic ones (previously purchased from W & S but it didn't look like they carry them online anymore), and we are currently on the search to replace our plastic water bottles (recommendations welcome!). We're all for longevity and it's taken us "west-coasters" awhile but that cost per use is absolutely worth pursuing in all aspects of our lives. - hrplo

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  17. I carry around a metal fork, knife, and spoon in my car/briefcase to avoid using disposal utensils. I also bring a reusable water bottle into restaurants that would otherwise have you use a disposal plastic water cup. I try to use a reusable hard plastic straw, but that one's harder since it's not easy to clean on the go like a metal fork.

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    1. What a great idea. I never know what to do with the plastic utensils I get from take-out. Next time I'll make sure to the restaurant keeps them. Metal straw does not work for me. Sorry.

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  18. Are coaster tacky? How do you protect your furniture if you don't use them?

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  19. Any environmental- friendly ways of dog refuse disposal? I have a Mastiff and two bull terriers.

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    1. I'll be interested in hearing from others, as well. We have two dogs, terriers. We recycle the plastic bags from the produce for this, but that doesn't seem like much of a solution.

      What do you do with dog poop?

      Aiken.

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    2. Megs & Aiken: they make biodegradable dog poop bags in various sizes - you'll be looking for ones that meet the ASTM D6400 standard which means they will actually compost.

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    3. Earth Rated brand. I think they may also make a compost version.

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    4. Biodegradable bags are a plus, but I think I remember that dog waste shouldn't be added to the compost?

      Aiken

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  20. Do they make snootmobiles that don't have plastic covering half the sheetmetal?

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  21. England's Country Life magazine has a cute yet informative 7-8 part series on giving up plastic. The young journalist (Rosie Paterson) has given up plastic for the 2018 Lent season. http://www.countrylife.co.uk/food-drink/living-without-plastic-start-40-day-40-night-21st-century-challenge-173551

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