Demonizing Plastic

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog on recycling and some of the various ways even small things like mascara wands could be reused. I hope it helped people. Today, I want to look at claims I’ve seen on Facebook such as this one which states, “This family is giving up on plastic!” As much as I respect what the people are trying to do, it doesn’t seem realistic.

Gold Stars for the Attitude.

On one hand, I greatly applaud their attitude. Yes, the world needs less plastic. I completely agree that plastics, particularly one-use types are ruining the environment and humanity can certainly thrive with less plastic around. People should make changes in their lives to be less consumptive and eliminate one-use plastics from their homes. It’s great for the environment and saves money.

Another easy thought is that people can recycle the plastics as well. But that is not always true. Some one-off containers like Solo cups and yogurt containers are not recyclable. Many types, like Styrofoam and pill bottles are definite no-nos. The bottles are too small for the machines. The issues may also be getting worse too. Most of our plastic trash is sent to China to melt down and reform. China has stopped accepting our plastic and for now, recycle centers are having the mountains of bottles and containers. Until new factories are found or build, local collection centers may have to slow down on taking in plastics.

Demon Plastic!

However, I think people demonize plastic a lot. It’s evil! It kills! It’s got *gasp* chemicals! That’s just hype. Everything has chemicals, including your body. Plastic isn’t killing the animals. People’s garbage is. The plastic bottles and other garbage didn’t magically move from the factory into the ocean. Slobs put it there. Dumpers and litterers ruin our environment. So, let’s focus more on stopping them from killing the environment as we make changes to our use of plastics. Even if we got rid of all plastic in the world, the slobs and dumpers will still litter. A sea of dirty pizza boxes, bits of fabric, or aluminum cans are not healthy for wildlife either.

It’s Useful if Used Well.

Plastic is a material. A cheap material that has a lot of potential use. If you doubt this, then consider how much of your car is now more harden plastic than metal. Look at your hairbrushes, combs, TVs, some furniture, calculators, and even the computer device you are viewing this from. All plastic. Now imagine all that stuff made out of metal. If manufacturers did that, the prices would shoot up. We’d use up our limited metal resources a lot faster. Cardboard isn’t any better. Things would not last long nor be as safe if they were made out of some form of cardboard. Plus, the more we use paper products, the more we deforest the planet. Yes, we can recycle cardboard and paper but only the clean stuff. No matter how efficient recycling is, some portion of material is lost forever. So, step back a bit and think about alternatives before jumping onto the next seemingly obvious replacement for plastic.

We will probably never get rid of all plastic. The material is too useful to ignore. Nor is giving up on all plastics a viable idea for those on squeaky tight incomes. Sometimes being eco-responsible is easier if you have a comfortable income. Although I support using canvas bags instead of plastic and beeswax cloths rather than Saran wrap, these options must be purchased and they are not cheap. I bought a series of net bags for use in the produce section. I love them and now never have to hunt for the plastic sack rolls. However, they cost around $13 for 10. Ideally not a bad price but I can remember when $13 was an extravagance for my family’s budget.

Reduce One-Use Plastic? Great Idea!

Having said all of that, reducing plastic use is an excellent idea. Being eco-responsible means, we should remove one-off materials from our homes as much as reasonably possible. Here are a few suggestions that we’ve started in our house.

Plastic bottles

One-use plastics are what are really killing our environment.

Stop using straws: Let your lips actually touch the cup or glass. When the wait staff comes around and leaves straws on the table, be sure to hand them back. Otherwise, they will just be thrown away when you leave the table, ruining your good intentions. Another thought is to encourage your restaurants to use cardboard straws as some do now. If you must have a straw, buy bamboo, metal, or a hard reusable plastic one that doesn’t get thrown away.

Carry canvas bags: This is obvious but I’m surprised how many people don’t do it. Carry them in your car if possible. If you forget your bags at home, which I frequently do, then ask for paper, if it is an option. It is recyclable. In addition, use net bags for selecting your produce. Different types are on the market but my preference is for these because they are closeable.

Use reusable boxes: How many of you use Ziploc bags? I was a fanatic about them because they were so easy to use. However, they filled my weekly garbage so I’m swearing off bags in favor of closeable plastic boxes for sandwiches and leftovers. Several hard-plastic boxes are on the market which hold sandwiches and sometimes other items. We use one that has two layers: a large lower space for the sandwich and an upper space for chips and veggies.

Buy soap bars: I know many of you are fans of liquid soaps. They smell great and are not as messy as soap bars. However, their plastic packaging is hard to recycle because of the pump parts. Instead, go back to bars, which are only wrapped in waxy paper. True, multiple bars are wrapped in clear plastic, but that is recyclable along with your grocery plastic bags. If you want to keep using a liquid soap, consider buying a glass container and buying the gallon size refillable soap bottles. That will at least reduce your reliance some on one-shot plastics.

Use reusable drinking cups: Everyone has talked about the evil of one-use water bottles. When we camped, we used them all the time. However, we invested in a few large, reusable plastic cups to replace these bottles. The cups were a little on the pricey side for the insulation, but we’ll save money in avoiding the bottled water.

Ask for biodegradable rings: By this I mean write to your favorite soda, beer, or energy drink supplier and ask them to replace their six-pack rings with biodegradable ones. Here is an article that offers more information on ones that double as fish food.

Finally, recycle all the items you can BUT follow the guidelines of your local recycler. For instance, the Solo plastic drinking cups are not recyclable. Neither are most yogurt containers. Be aware of what you can put into the blue bins because your mistakes can mess up a whole bale of plastics.Plastic bottles

Working together, we can make the world a better place and still live with some forms of plastic. The trick is to not waste even the plastics. Reuse or recycle them. We are too used to the idea of one-use items, and those are what clogs our waters, kills animals, and fills our garbage pits. The human race must turn away from use-and-throw-away thinking in order to save our ecosystem. I’m going to do my bit and change my small corner of the world. Are you?




Freedom from Stuff

My husband and I started looking at our home and realized we needed to downsize our possessions. To de-stuff-ify our lives, we decided to take two paths. One involved sorting and getting rid of things. That part was easy. Kind of. He felt it was easy to get rid of my stuff and I thought his junk could go. Somewhere down the line we compromised and most everything lays in the “get rid of pile.” The other path involved not filling the space back up again with new junk. In today’s consumer driven world, that is not as easy as it  seems.

The Easy Part

The plan was easy for some items. No more buying Star Trek tribbles (my husband has a dozen so far and I fear they’re breeding), large games like Zombies!!!, or any more decorative pretties like lovely, swirly glass balls (one of our kryptonites). Saying no to things like this means we save money and our already burdened shelves don’t overflow.

The Emotional Part

So many possessions in a person’s home have deep memories attached to them. It may be a child’s finger-painting, gifts from distant friends or t-shirts from a favorite rock band. All of it has “special” moments attached, which is where the emotion comes in. Still, the memories remain even after the t-shirt becomes a rag or when the finger-painter graduates college. Don’t let things burden your memories, particularly if you have to spend lots of money to preserve them.

House lady

From Labyrinth. What I don’t want to become

The Hard Part

My husband calls me a hobby magpie. I love trying new things. In the years he has known me, I have tried bead work (with and without jewelry), rag rug weaving, quilting, Chinese painting, calligraphy, drawing, fairy gardens,  canning, food dehydration (jerky making), bow shooting, golfing, bowling, carving, wood burning, and lathe work (bowls and pens) Before we met, I did jewelry casting, painting, embroidery, crewel work, counted cross stitch, sewing clothes, leather work, and macramé. I’d try a hobby long enough to become good at it or stay terrible and then I moved on to the next one. My husband drew the line at woodworking, saying “you aren’t moving on from this,” because of the large, expensive equipment (foolish man! I just need more woodworking tools!).

The down side to all this is that over the years I’ve collected giant tubs of leftover hobby materials that have subsequently filled the basement and the garage, and that is not counting the two lathes and a band saw. This includes a 60-gallon tub nearly bursting with sorted boxes of beads because I’ve never seen a sparkly bead I didn’t like. At least three tubs have fabrics of various sizes, including two-inch strips that are waiting for inspiration. Then there’s the bottles of inks which haven’t been opened in 15 years. Now that I’m getting rid of these possessions, I need to find new homes for them.

Craft Sales are Evil!

One huge reason I accumulated so much stuff was due to craft sales. Fabric is pretty expensive so the Joanne Fabrics’ 50% off sales are my heroin addiction. I go in to find one piece of material as a backer for a nearly finished quilt and come out with over a hundred dollars of 10+ fabrics for this pretty quilt in my mind. My justification, “but they were on sale!” I then wash the fabrics, fold them nicely, and store them until I have time to cut and quilt them. That equates to time enough for the idea to disappear and me to find them a year or more later and wonder, “what was I going to do with this weird orange color? Cowboy fabric? What the hell was I thinking?”

Beads were the same way. The rainbow of sparkly colors hanging on threads across the craft store’s wall beckoned to me. “Buy me! Love me! I’ll look gorgeous in an opera length necklace!” Most of them are still huddling, crying piteously, in the darkness of the green tub.

Wood is also a problem. After all, nature’s glory comes in many lovely shades of tan, browns, reds and even blacks. The wood grains create artistry that becomes gorgeous in the final product. Yet wood is expensive and rare woods are hard to find. So when I go into a Rockler or a Woodcraft store and run my fingers over the lovely play of light and dark, you can bet I’m going to buy some. Luckily, they don’t run as many sales and are too far away for frequent visits.

The other problem with wood for lathe work is that you can get it for free if you are around when a maple or cherry tree goes down. My garage is filled with free wood chunks waiting to be transformed into beautiful bowls.

Freedom from Shopping

America’s rabid consumerism through TV ads, paper flyers, emails, and text alerts on sales all feature the same kind of frantic “buy it now or you’ll never ever have another chance again!” feeling. One day near Christmas, I was walking the local mall, knowing I already had all my gifts and our checkbook was close to empty. Yet the flood of garish displays, people handing out samples, advertisements on loudspeakers, and more felt like a building pressure similar to before massive violent storm. Shop! Spend! Gifts! Treats! It was never-ending. I left the mall with a pounding headache and a vague sense of guilt. The guilt is what the marketers want you to feel. Since then, I avoid shopping in December.

The Power to Say No

When my husband and I embraced the idea of downscaling, I felt like someone gave me permission to stop buying things. I felt lighter and freer. Somehow, I had become the old woman from Labyrinth, bent over from the weight of all my possessions. But now it was different. I had my goal in mind and purchasing more fabric, fancy wood, games, and pretty babbles was not needed.  I had more power to say no.

So now I delete the ads and throw away the sales flyers. I’m sure Joanne, Michaels, Rockler, and others will survive without my money. If they don’t, oh well, it’s not my fault. I will still create beautiful things, only now by using up the stored material. I’ve simply stopped making some crafts, like rag rugs and bead work. Goodwill will get the t-shirts and bed sheets I saved for that. The beads will go to friends or in garage sales.

This first step in our journey to paring down our possessions was harder and more emotional than I thought it would be. However, afterwards we will feel better and less burdened. We’ll also be able to save a bit of money. And that is always a good idea.