September 11, 2012

Sorting Out Our Plastic Predicament

Last month, Whitney Lauritsen, a.k.a. Eco-Vegan Gal, started an eco-vegan book club on Google+. Our first discussion is posted on Youtube for anyone who is interested in checking it out.

For our first book, we read Beth Terry's book Plastic-Free. It was eye-opening in so many ways. For anyone who is interested in living a more environmentally-conscious life, I'd recommend reading her book. She touches on almost every topic you can think of that is related to plastic consumerism (like recycling, grocery shopping, personal care products, furniture, companion animals). Each topic is matched to a real-life example of the activism in practice and a comprehensive list of resources. With her welcoming approach and sheer volume of resources, it's almost too easy to introduce eco-friendly changes into your life. 

I don't think cutting back on consumption/waste should be limited to plastic, as I feel that the greatest impact I have on the environment comes from my vegan lifestyle, but I'm glad I found such a great resource for our plastic dilemmas.
Terry offers up a challenge to the conscious consumers of the world. Collect all of your plastic waste for a month if possible or for a minimum of one week. This provides a visual and (hopefully) inspiration to make some changes. I collected my plastic waste for one week. The only things absent from my collection box are bags of dog waste (I use 2-3 BioBags per day) and a couple of receipts that I forgot to put in the box.

During my collection week I was involved in a project that increased my usage of packaged products. This snapshot contains some items that are atypical in my daily life. Because of this, I initially thought that my monthly plastic usage would be lower. As I think about it more, I don't agree with my original assumption. Throughout the month, things like empty mouthwash bottles, envelopes, toilet paper wrappers, and other items would even out the loss of the more uncommon plastic purchases I made.

After taring the weight of the box, the trash added up to 12.7 oz. That means that my typical monthly plastic usage is roughly 3 pounds. Not too shabby, but I've got some work to do!

So, what are some good habits that I have, and how can I improve? I'll start with the good.

As my vegan diet has evolved to include mostly whole foods, I've produced much less waste. I generally don't buy much that is processed or packaged. I buy food in bulk and love to make things from scratch. If something in a plastic jar is also available in a glass jar, I usually get the glass. I then reuse the glass jars for storing bulk items or leftovers. Besides the eco reasons, it also saves money. Glass storage containers can be expensive.

As for non-food plastic habits, I seldom buy anything new. My budget has been mostly allocated to doctor bills and wellness practitioners. Also, the shopping bug that runs in my family skipped over me because I don't like acquiring “things”. I'd much rather spend money on food. Food is my medicine, and it makes me feel so much better than any new outfit or gadget ever could.

Can I whittle away at the waste I still create? Of course. There's always room for improvement. One thing I did right after reading the book was order reusable organic cotton produce and bulk bags. I am hoping get some better grocery bags as well. I use the cheap reusable bags that they sell at the grocery stores. They're made of plastic (even the liner that looks like cloth), many leach harmful levels chemicals, and they are known to be breeding grounds for bacteria. I'd like to get some organic cotton ones that are washable and chemical-free. Repurposing tote bags would be the cheapest option, but due to the aforementioned apathy towards shopping, I don't have any lying around. Maybe a thrift store trip is in order.

This cotton mesh bag holds up to 50 lbs!
The other way to cut down on waste I produce is to start composting. A huge amount of my garbage is food scraps. I use as much of the food as I can before discarding. I juice stems or tops of parsley, kale, cilantro, beets, and carrots. I reuse juice pulp, dehydrate lemon peel, and am successful at rarely letting a food go bad in the fridge. Plant foods are natures gift to us, and I squeeze as much life out of these gifts as I can.

Back to composting. I've seen a few people really botch the process, and the smell was not pleasant. It's not that complicated, but it does demand some attention. This is one major change I am going to make very soon. It was almost like the book was whispering in my ear, “Hey, remember how you keep saying you want to start composting? Well, this seems like as good a time as any.” Once I figure out what method I want to use and find a place for it to go, I'll get the ball rolling. As of right now, my partner and I fill our garbage can every 2 weeks. Who knows how often we'll have to take out the trash once I start composting! I'll report back on that one. 

Organic cotton bulk and produce bags. Durable and inexpensive.
 For reducing non-food plastic usage, I'll have to enact many smaller changes. They won't have as large of an impact as the food-related plastic usage, but it's still important. I am going to be more vigilant in hunting out non-plastic items. If those aren't available, I'll go for the next best thing which is easily recyclable plastics.

I'm figuring out what to do about dog waste, too. I recently switched to BioBags, but realized after reading Plastic-Free that it is no better than using plastic grocery bags if I'm not composting the bags myself. Terry recommends a few alternatives in her book. I'm undecided as to whether I want mess with my current method at this moment in time. It might be more beneficial and worth my time to focus on the other things I mention.

Check out Beth Terry's book Plastic-Free (Get the Kindle edition or library copy to avoid creating waste!)  as well as her amazing website. Thanks to Whitney Lauritsen for starting this great book club and bringing Terry's book to my attention. By the way, the book club is open to all. Come join us!

What are some ways that you try to lessen your impact on earth's resources?


  1. This is fantastic! I am so glad you joined the book club and read this. It is so important to consider how we use plastic in our lives and you're doing a great job reducing it - I'm proud of you!

    1. Thank you, Whitney! With every step, I see even more that I can do. And that's a great feeling, not an overwhelming one. It's exciting to live a life that increasingly impacts the world in a positive way.

  2. It actually wasn't until I started recycling obsessively that I became a conscious shopper.

    Plastic Waste Recycling