Thursday, November 27, 2014

Going plastic free - or very nearly. A beginning

The goal: to reduce my use of plastic in my life, with a focus on the kitchen and food related plastic.

Why?  I've had a lot of failed attempts at writing why; it all tumbles into long rants about the world going to shit and how we each need to do our part.  My part begins here.

Inspiration:  Began with a book I accidently borrowed from the library called Plastic Free by Beth Terry (a book that the library had kindly coated in plastic to preserve it from the excessive use they anticipated it would get - libraries are funny like that, and apparently not the only ones to plasticize the plastic free book).

Generally, I'm interested in reducing any negative environmental impact I create and moving towards plastic free would be a huge step in this direction.

Another source of inspiration came from digging in the garden last spring.  I noticed when digging that there were hundreds of plastic fruit stickers in my soil.  These are the stickers that grocery stores put on their fruit to make life easier for the till workers.  Always before, these stickers use to disappear into the soil after a few months, but here I was digging in a section of the garden where no new compost had been added for at least 4 years, and there they were, an excess of plastic.  It was such a little, everyday thing this digging in the garden, but it struck home the realization that plastic is forever.

So what am I going to do about it?  

I am starting with simple observation.  I want to know just how much plastic is in my life right now; more specifically, how much plastic do I waste?  I am taking The Plastic Challenge.  For a week I am collecting up all the plastic that I would otherwise toss in the trash or recycling, taking a photo of it, and documenting how much plastic do I waste in a week?

The goal of this week is to develop a baseline for my personal plastic use.  I'm not trying to change anything at this stage, in fact, it may be an overrepresentation of my plastic use as we are going through a major cleaning phase in our life right now.

Here it is, one week worth of plastic:

Week 1 plastic pile
 My theory was correct, almost everything here is food related (or related to raising food), except for the shampoo and mail.  All in all, it weighs in at 3/4 pound.  According to the book Plastic Free by Terry, the average American uses 4 pounds of plastic a week.  

I sorted it into two piles:  Unavoidable and Might Be Able to Do Better.

Things like the envelope with the plastic window in it is necessary.  For starters, I am not convinced that e-communication actually is less eco-damaging than paper letters, but even if it is, I still prefer the paper trail when dealing with official documents.  Apparently this makes me evil - so be it.

This blue string, it's called binder twine.  It is used to bind the bales of hay together so that they are easy to use and transport.  We feed the hay to the animals, so it is a necessity in life.  Unfortunately it's made of a nasty-give-me-blisters plastic (a bit like coarse fentex).  Until relatively recently, binder twine was made of jute or sisal (plant based fibres) which are strong, biodegradable over time, and what's more, supported many third world economies.  Now, short of moving to a tropical climate and growing the jute myself, I don't know where to get natural binder twine.  That's a shame, because each day we cut at least 12 feet of plastic twine off the hay.  The twine goes into a bag where it sits until we can use it for things like tying together hurdles (temporary sheep fencing), which is what this pile of twine was reused as before meeting it's end.  Even though we re-use the twine before sending it to the landfill, we don't use it as fast as it comes in (anyone want an armful of bright blue plastic twine?).

So those are the kinds of plastic waste in my life that are currently unavoidable.  However, there are a few items here that I might be able to do better on.

For example, this tea bag wrapper.  The company brags that the teabag is compostable (which it is, I tried it) and the box is recyclable as well as made from recycled materials.  However, this individual sachet has a plasticized coating on the inside, which I assume is to help keep the tea fresh.  It might not even be a plastic, who knows?  But it feels like plastic and has yet to compost in my worm bin, so it goes in my plastic pile.  The solution, buy another brand of tea, or better still, drink more loose leaf tea.

Plastic bread bags also fall under the 'might do better' title; although, I'm currently stumped as to how.  I'm quite proud of my bread baking abilities, especially the ability to bake a loaf that will last at room temperature for two weeks (or more) before going moldy - using only flour, water, and salt!  One of the elements to this long lasting bread is the bag it's stored in.  Wrap it in a towel and it either goes hard or soggy, but either way only lasts a couple of days before we toss it to the chickens.

I wonder, how can I store bread without plastic bags?  Another question that taunts me is how to freeze bread without plastic?

Re-using plastic bags, even washed ones poses problems.  There are fancy things about chemicals leaching into the food, but more important to me is that the cleanliness of the bag is one of the factors that helps preserve the bread.  It's impossible to get a bag completely clean with home-washing.  Besides, the goal is to keep my bread fresh without plastic, not to re-use plastic.

One of my biggest sources of inspiration for finding solutions to this and similar problems, is to look at history.  What did they use to do before plastic was ubiquitous?  Could I use a bread box or wrap my bread in paper for example?  These are things I'm just going to have to try and discover for myself.  I'm looking forward to the experiment.

For more information on going plastic free, have a look at this blog: My Plastic Free Life, written by the same author that wrote the book I mentioned at the beginning.  I'll also be joining the discussion (I hope) at the Plastic Trash Challenge.

I've also discovered this very interesting Canadian based online store called Life Without Plastic which, as you guessed it, focuses on plastic-free alternatives for everyday items.  I have had a great deal of fun bumming around their site and feel very hopeful that there are possibilities available, if a bit beyond my price range.

  A final thought, this is a great challenge for Transitional groups like Transition Victoria, who dedicate themselves to gathering skills for living in a post-petroleum age.

Recyclable on the left, destined for the landfill on the right :(

The goal of going plastic free brings up a lot of questions, especially regarding food storage, preservation, buying, &c.  I feel that in most areas of my life, I use a darn sight less plastic than my peers, but I really want to cut down my kitchen waste.  That's why I'm writing about this on my food blog and not my (currently sleeping) yarn/life blog.  Let me know if you find this interesting or better yet, inspirational.

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