What it’s like to give up plastic for a week

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Plastic waste. Credit: Pixabay. 

Complacency (we all recycle, so this plastic bottle is just fine!) and a glut of products (shampoo, toothpaste, take-out) have made living plastic-free seem impossible. 

In fact, the average person produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day and 40% percent of recycling centers in California have closed in the last five years. Meanwhile, there's more plastic production, and much of it is for single use only.

I wanted to see if it was possible to cut single-use plastic from my life and actually did pretty well. I ended up cutting some 95% of my plastic, but it was tough. 

A rude awakening

On day one, I was feeling good about eating my leftovers at work from a glass container, and washing my hair with my package-free shampoo and conditioner bars. 

But then I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. I said no to the bag, but it still came in a plastic packet. There wasn't a way to get around that.

Then I came home to a bill in the mail. The envelope had that little plastic "send to" rectangle in it. Another piece of plastic sent directly to the trash.

I fed my dog out of a plastic dog food bag, and went online to discover that bulk dog food was twice as expensive. I felt defeated.

Grocery day

After I learned to settle for less than perfect, I found a lot of success. 

The vast majority of my plastic came from the grocery store. So then I became an avid bulk section shopper. I scooped bulk oats into my reusable bag. I asked the butcher to put meat directly into my reusable container. I gave up frozen foods and boxed dinners.

However, there's plastic in stickers, and stickers were on everything: each piece of fruit, a jar of honey, every canned good. 

Even if I managed to find stickerless products, they came at a cost. The foil-wrapped butter was twice as expensive, and the milk in glass jars was four times as expensive. I couldn't afford to pay those prices.

So I had to cut my losses. The jar of honey might have a plastic label, but a label is a lot smaller than an entire container. 

Finding alternatives

The rest of the week, I found a number of plastic-free alternatives that didn't break the bank:

  • Tooth pills to replace toothpaste
  • Facial cleanser, shampoo and conditioner in package-free bar form, just like a bar of soap
  • A reusable menstrual cup that’ll last me 10 years
  • A reusable cloth Swiffer pad
  • Rags instead of plastic-wrapped paper towels
  • Mesh produce bags for nuts and grains from the bulk section
  • Beeswax wraps to replace Ziploc bags
  • Flushing my dog’s poop down the toilet, instead of throwing it in poop bags
  • Making my own almond milk using water and bulk section almonds, thrown together in the blender (and the remaining pulp can be dehydrated to make almond flour)
  • Lining the compost bin with newspaper junk mail ads instead of plastic bags

Takeaways

Quitting all plastic is next to impossible. Quitting most plastic is doable.

I got used to it. I put potatoes loose in the grocery cart. I said no thanks to the plastic bag when getting food for takeout. I brought my own utensils and water bottle like my life depended on it. And at the end of the week, my trash and recycling bins weren’t even close to full. None of that cost me more money.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly plastic-free, at least not in our currently packaged consumer culture. I can’t figure out how to find tortilla chips outside of a plastic bag, and I am not willing to give that up indefinitely. But cutting 95% is pretty good.

--By Caleigh Wells