Week One of the Extreme Eco-Challenge

One week of trashWe have survived our first week of the Extreme Eco-Challenge but we’re feeling pretty darn, well, challenged. The “no plastic” goal especially is totally overwhelming. Andy was helpful enough to remind us that all those canned good we were counting on eating are actually coming from cans lined inside with plastic. Glass jars are also suspect; most metal lids are coated with plastic at least on the inside, and many of the “paper” labels are actually some crazy paper-plastic hybrid. I was thinking canning jars might be an improvement but we did a little research and found out that most of the lids are coated with plastic and that the rubber rings are often made of synthetic rubber, which seems like it’s basically plastic. (If anyone has better information about how to tell between synthetic and natural rubber, and if synthetic rubber is different from plastic, please let us know.)

Eating food from non-plastic containers has proved to be a real challenge. So has doing most anything else in a non-plastic way. Will has been feeling especially depressed and suggested we abandon the “no plastic” goal. This would give us a little more flexibility to focus on our “no trash” goal – well, lets say or “minimal trash” goal. As an example, Will scoured the aisles of our local grocery store searching for plastic-free ketchup to no avail. The two options he found were a glass bottle with a small plastic seal on the neck and a recyclable plastic bottle. Neither meets the “no plastic” goal but the former creates minimal trash and the latter creates none. Well, actually, they both have little foam(?) protective seals under the caps. Apparently it’s impossible to be sanitary without plastic.

Despite our frustrations, trying to avoid plastic has been an enlightening experience It is truly mind boggling how many of the things we use contain plastic. Our little container of trash from this week (pictured at the left) is mostly plastic or paper-plastic hybrids that we don’t think are recyclable – the waxy strip from the self-sealing Netflix envelope, nametags I had to use at various work functions, protective seals from food, organic stickers from produce, a shiny AAA decal from our junk mail. I was happy that it all fit into a fairly small container with room to spare. Admittedly, I’m not counting toilet paper and I have had a few meals out with work where we used paper napkins but even so, I think we’re doing well.

Watching our trash is also a very useful exercise. I noticed that in the past when the trash can was handy I would dump in things like hair from my hairbrush or scraps of food from dinner because it was easier than taking them to the compost bin or throwing them outside. Now I take the time to compost as much as possible. Still, even with the best of intentions I have a list of disposable items I can’t see easy alternatives to – dental floss, Q-tips, toilet paper, toothpaste tubes. I wonder what our trash pile would look like after a whole year? Well, I guess we should just focus on one month at a time.

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    arduous said,

    May 12, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

    Can’t you recycle your toothpaste tubes? Toms of Maine comes in aluminum tubes that I believe are 100% recyclable. I just cut the top part off with the plastic cap, and throw that away to be on the safe side, but supposedly I think you can recycle the whole thing.

  2. 2

    arduous said,

    May 12, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

    Oh yeah, and is there such a thing as non-plastic floss? Aren’t they all made of nylon?

  3. 3

    Jessica said,

    May 13, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    You can find natural fiber floss, I’m pretty sure. Seems I’ve seen it at Vitamin Cottage, so I suppose it would be at any organic type grocery store.
    Yeah, all those challenges seemed SUPER tough, I hadn’t even stopped to think about the plastic on the insides of lids and cans. If you’re doing minimal trash, are you willing to try minimal plastic instead of giving up the challenge all together? I know I’m trying to limit plastic and trash production, but your guy’s example shows me that theres a ton more to do.

  4. 4

    Maggie said,

    May 13, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

    I’m pretty sure there is all-cotton dental floss out there but I’m still not sure what you do with it when you’re done. I guess it would be compostable if it weren’t too waxed. And you’re probably right about the aluminum toothpaste tubes but I have this real mental block about recycling things that don’t seem clean and I can’t imagine ever getting all the toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube. Some day I need to tour an aluminum recycling plant (or glass or steel) to find out just condition is necessary to keep from ruining an entire batch.

    We could focus on minimal plastic use but it just feels totally overwhelming to think about right now. I dunno. I think it’s easier just to think about trash. There’s also that whole issue of reuse; there are all kinds of cool plastic containers that we could repurpose if we were willing to use plastic. So I think we’ll keep it around for awhile.

  5. 5

    Lauren said,

    May 24, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

    You can find biodegradable off brand q-tips made of organic cotton and paper sticks that are supposedly compostable.

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