The last few days have been a little hard. I am struggling with how to find substitutes for some of the things that I really enjoy. My efforts to cut down on shopping backfired a little, and I bought a few things yesterday and today that I’m not sure I really needed. I want to cut down on my plastic usage, but at the same time I want to be able to relax and enjoy life. Part of the goal here is to have fun reducing my plastic usage in creative ways. I think I was trying so hard to use as little plastic as possible that I was beginning to resent it. That was how I came to find myself walking home with a (plastic) bag filled with sale clothing. And some new pastels. There was plastic packaging involved. Oh dear.
I know. I know. But I wanted to be honest about this because I think that this is a problem I have in terms of living more sustainably. I doubt that I’m the only one. How do we practice going with less without feeling resentful? How can I move from the “No, you can’t buy that because it’s bad for the environment” mindset to the “Yes, I choose to live in a more sustainable way because it makes me happy and it’s good for the planet” mindset?
I am not sure I know the answer to that question. I guess I want to find the balance between living for myself and living for the planet. Because both are important. This may seem like a dangerous thing for an environmentalist to say. However, I firmly believe that I am a better citizen of this planet when I am happy and balanced. It’s just true.
In other news, I finally made it out to Green11 here in San Francisco. And it rocks. So if you are in the area, check it out!
Despite my best efforts, I have built up assorted plastic that does not go into the regular recycling, and I’d like to find a way to deal with it. I know that some stores, including Safeway, place bins out in front of their stores in which you can recycle used plastic bags. I also found this helpful site called plasticbagrecycling.org, which reminded me that you can totally recycle the plastic wrap from paper towel and toilet paper rolls. In general, as long as the plastic is clean and free of food or grease, you can recycle retail bags, newspaper bags, and dry-cleaning bags. Under the Consumers Tab on the site I mentioned above, you can find plastic drop-off locations in your state.
I am planning on filling up stainless steel bottles at Green11 or at Rainbow Grocery when I need more shampoo and conditioner. I might try the same thing with face wash. This might not work at all, as it might be hard to deal with non-squeezable metal bottles. But I’ll let you know how that goes. These two stores are in San Francisco, but there will likely be similar stores, which carry bulk body care products, in your area.
I am feeling good about what I’ve done so far, but I am still using plastic every day. In today’s world, it is almost impossible to avoid. I think I need to start thinking about how to grow the project beyond myself and my individual choices. I would welcome any thoughts about how to do this. Thanks in advance for any input!
Until next time.
So, I made bread. And it was–get this–delicious. Here is the recipe for honey whole wheat bread that I used.
However, I am not going to solve the problem of plastic waste by baking a couple of loaves of bread each week. Which brings me to the core of today’s posts. A friend of mine brought up the question of where the chief responsibility for plastic reduction lies: does it lie with the producer or the consumer?
I think that the power of consumer choices is often discounted. What I mean is that the choices that we make every time we purchase something do, collectively, have an impact on what is produced. If people are not buying what a company is producing, the company will not survive. If consumers are choosing to buy products that have less of an environmental impact, then companies will produce more of these products.
The only catch here is that one individual consumer is not able to have a really measurable impact by herself. Shifting my own habits is important to me, but my individual actions are only part of a much larger picture. As I mentioned in my very first post, part of my goal here is to educate others and increase others’ awareness of these issues. I would welcome any suggestions about how to get the word out further about the importance of reducing our plastic usage.
One of the lessons I have learned as part of this project is to slow down and consider the entire life-span of products that I buy. Where are they coming from? How much energy did it take to manufacture this sponge or that face-wash? And once I am done with each product, where will it go? If it ends up in a landfill, will it break down at all? Into what components? Will anything be harmed by this object leaving my hands and entering the waste-stream?*
Companies need to begin shifting the materials they use in consumer items and packaging. But they need our help, too. As consumers, we wield the power of our pocketbooks. Companies produce products that sell.
*A word of caution: it can be depressing and overwhelming to spend too much time worrying about, and judging oneself harshly for, throwing things out. DO NOT beat yourself up. We live in a world where disposable products are everywhere. It is not worth your time to lose sleep over every piece of non-recyclable plastic.
Now that I am a few weeks into this project, it’s time to reevaluate. I have been taking my cloth bags with me, and storing food in glass or stainless steel containers; my replacement toothbrushes are made of bamboo and are compostable (these are the ones I have); and I have been buying less in general.
However, there is still a lot more that I could do to simplify. One thing that I think I could do is to avoid buying products packaged in plastic whenever possible. There is a group of people here in the Bay Area called “The Compacters” who have resolved to only buy what they absolutely need, and to buy used whenever possible. Although I think my philosophy is a little different in some ways than that of The Compacters, I certainly could take a page from their book. I think that this week, my project will to look for alternative ways to get products that I have traditionally bought in plastic packaging. To name a few: cheese, yogurt, dried fruit, roasted almonds, bread, toiletries, stationary supplies, and art supplies.
Many of the food items I might be able to find at the Farmers’ Market tomorrow. I suppose I could try baking my own bread. My loaves usually come out sort of lumpy and odd, but I might give this a shot and see how it goes. I could also likely buy cheese without plastic packaging if I spring for something a little nicer. I tend to make a beeline for the economy size (read: size of Western Europe) chunk of mild cheddar. But only when it’s on sale.
But yogurt is a tough one: I may try making my own, but I am a softy for the amazingly rich and creamy Greek-style yogurt that I find at the supermarket…in a plastic tub. Argh!
I’ll keep you posted.
I posted a question on Quora a while back asking how much plastic was in a typical cellphone and a typical laptop, and how much of it was recyclable. Razvan Baba kindly answered my question, and quite thoroughly, too. (Thank you, Razvan!) Answer: a lot. Batteries in particular are pretty bad, environmentally speaking. However, it turns out that aluminum laptop cases, (such as those used in MacBook Pros and HP Elites) are made from recycled aircraft aluminum, and the aluminum can be recycled again after the laptop is discarded. Recycling companies that deal with laptops typically dismantle the computers to salvage working parts. As Razvan points out, if you want to get rid of a computer that is still functional you can always donate it. Laptop Donation is one option I found with a quick search, but there are certainly others.
In terms of cellphones, some companies, such as Nokia, use a great deal more plastic in their products than do others. Apple comes out looking pretty good in this sense: iPhones have a glass screen and the case is made partly from aluminum. If you want to recycle an old cellphone after you upgrade, you can check out organizations like Call2Recycle.
Another possibility, which is less fun but perhaps most effective, is to only upgrade your cellphone or computer when you absolutely have to. I realize that this is hard, and that getting new cellphones and laptops is pretty awesome, but I figured I’d mention it! Speaking of which, I made a few blunders this week and ended up buying more plastic-packaged merchandise at the grocery store than I had intended. I recognize that it’s hard to reduce plastic usage, because clearly I am struggling myself.
My goal for this week is to think before I buy. I am also planning to take my stainless steel containers to the grocery store so I can use them to buy bulk items. I’ll let you know how that goes. I imagine I will get some funny looks, or else other shoppers will simply judge me silently. “Hippy freak,” they will mutter under their breath as I struggle to fill my Lunchbots with bulk almonds.
Until next time!
Well, 2012 is officially upon us. I apologize for skipping a post, too–the holidays always get a bit crazy, but I should have written. In any event, here I am.
I recently came across the Yogic concept of aparigraha, sometimes translated as non-possessiveness, or non-hoarding. (Check out this helpful article from Yoga Journal by Helena Echlin on the daily practice of aparigraha.) I think that this is the guiding principle I was searching for in my plastic-reduction efforts. Together with the principle of ahimsa–practicing non-violence toward all living things–aparigraha gives my project a deeper meaning and a greater sense of focus. As I mentioned in a previous post, a often fall prey to feelings of guilt and fear when it comes to my environmentalism. I am not doing enough, and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, I find myself thinking.
But this is neither productive nor very enjoyable, and the idea of aparigraha gives me the opportunity to reconnect with the reason I took on this project in the first place. I want to do my part the keep plastic from entering the waste stream, and from ending up in the ocean. In part, this is because of ahimsa: I don’t want turtles to choke on the plastic bags in which I carried my fruits and vegetables home from the grocery store. But in addition, I want to promote my own happiness by simplifying my life through the practice of aparigraha. When I buy less, and pay attention to the amount of packaging I bring home, it means less junk that I have to deal with later. His Holiness the Dalai Lama put it well when he spoke of being “wise selfish” instead of “foolish selfish.” In other words, I am pursuing this project for what I hope are wisely selfish reasons: I am happiest when I am striving to make myself, those around me, and the planet, healthier.
In practice, this means I am going to try to be a bit more mindful about each and every purchase I make. I enjoy buying things. I admit it. But I also recognize that my actions have a small but real impact on the planet. I can do with a few less purchases, I think. Till next time.