We 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.
We’ve only had two days of our eco-challenge and already we’ve fallen behind.
My very first thought yesterday morning was to empty our trash cans so that we’d be able to see every time we messed up. Unfortunately, our trash bags are plastic, so that would violate the “no plastic” rule. Instead, I plan to use a paper grocery bag. Since our wet garbage gets tossed to the worms, it’s not as important to use plastic and I’ve been meaning to switch over for a while.
I also had trouble picking up some food at the grocery store. I wanted some soup and some peanut butter. The soup was no problem. Everything was in cans, so I could pick whatever I wanted. Peanut butter was surprisingly problematic. Only one brand (Smuckers) had a glass container and it had a plastic wrap around the lid (for my protection, I guess). I considered going with apple butter, since it was in a glass jar without the little wrapper, but decided to take the hit and go with peanut butter.
Maggie’s had similar little problems, the sort that we hadn’t expected when we signed up for this. Ironically, she’s had to throw away a couple of “organic” stickers from her fruit. Tonight was also a fundraiser for the Sycamore Land Trust, so her nametag eventually found itself in the trash.
We’ve also thrown away the little strip from Netflix envelopes that covers the sticky part. I think we could recycle it, but Maggie’s not sure.
I’ve also made a couple of compromises. For example, I had a sandwich today from bread in a plastic bag. Since I bought the bag weeks ago, I figured it was better to eat the bread I’ve got and then get a different type rather than just throwing it out (more trash!). In the shower arena, Maggie is continuing to use her plastic shampoo bottle since she can refill it at Bloomingfoods.
At the moment, I’d say that we’re at about 1 to 1 in terms of difficulty. Let us know if you’ve got any tips!
Current difficulty: Plastic 1 vs. Trash 1
After much deliberation, we decided to rise to the challenge of Crunchy Chicken’s Extreme Eco-Challenge. To make it even more interesting, we have each chosen to champion one of the challenges. It will be a cooperative effort but we’re each spearheading the idea that sounded most feasible.
I am going to shoot for no garbage output in May, encouraging us to beef up our recycling (I’ve been meaning to call city recycling department and get some clarifications on items like shrink wrap and unnumbered plastics) and our composting efforts, as well as paying even closer attention to packaging at the grocery store.
Will is going to shoot for no plastic consumption in May and so we will be shopping for non-plastic alternatives for our groceries and other consumables. He is a little concerned about having lost already since he ordered Wii Fit last week and it will arrive sometime in May, no doubt entombed in plastic.
Actually, we both anticipate failing. We’re viewing this challenge as an unachievable goal like perfection. Nobody will every be perfect but it’s still worth striving towards. Hopefully this will give us some insight on how we can make a few more changes at home to keep moving down the green path. Wish us luck!
My sister recently asked me whether or not she can recycle the shrink wrap she gets on packages sometimes. It used to be that most places wouldn’t accept “soft” plastics like shrink wrap, but that’s no longer true. As recycling programs have become more popular and cost-effective, they’ve expanded in scope as well. For example, Bloomington now accepts plastics in categories 1-6 (that little number inside the recycling symbol on the bottom of most plastic goods).
I did some digging and learned that shrink wrap falls into category 4: LDPE Low-Density Polyethylene. If your local recycling will take 4, as Bloomington’s does, then you can recycle your shrink wrap as normal.
I also learned that some people shrink wrap their boats to protect them in the off-season! Since some places still don’t accept category 4 plastics as recycling, you can buy huge bags that are then shipped to “Dr Shrink,” a manufacturer of boat shrink wrapping. I hear that there are similar programs for airlines as well.
The important part is that you can recycle shrink wrap just as easily as anything else (which might not be that easy if you have a traitor in the house).
I actually had fun looking up all of that, so I’ll extend my Google-fu to non-family as well. Is there anything about living sustainably that you don’t quite get or just don’t know? Leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer. Until the, keep recycling that shrink wrap!