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?




Chewing on a Moral Conundrum

Imperfect Produce has hit my Facebook feed in the last few weeks, spouting all kinds of wonderful moral reasons why I should love these orphaned fruits and vegetables and feel good about myself. Being a lifelong person who believes in zero population growth, not wasting anything, and recycling everything, I decided to check it out.

How it worked.

First and foremost, the price of ugly food did not seem out of whack with what I could get at the grocery store. They deliver once a week and I have a couple of days to specifically choose which produce I wanted. On the other hand, the choices were somewhat limited to what was being harvested now, I guess. In this case, that meant no imported items that I can find in the store such as grapes from Chile or bananas from South America. That is completely reasonable considering I’m supposed to be supporting American farmers.

Ugly fruit

I don’t have a problem eating bunny shaped tomatoes.

What I got.

I wound up ordering include carrots, mandarin oranges, fingerling potatoes, small apples, onions, and lettuce. Nothing looked horrible. The potatoes were a little spotty with bug eaten sections but still very usable. The apples and oranges were extremely small but very tasty. The carrots were just carrots, not malformed at all. I could have picked up an identical bag off of the grocery market shelf. The one disappointment was the very wilted lettuce, which I eventually threw away. I suspect it came in such sad shape because it was a wintery day and the Imperfect Produce delivery person had kept it in some kind of too-cold storage unit, like his trunk. The lettuce had partially frozen.

My Opinion

Nothing lasted as long as the store-bought equivalent fruits and veggies. I’m assuming that was because big corporation food produces use chemicals to make their perfect fruit last longer while this company didn’t do so.

Therefore, the experiment was a mild success so far. The downer side of vegetable delivery to the house was that I had to be better about my meal planning. I usually knew a week’s worth of stew on Monday, chicken on Tuesday kind of thing but never planned down to the side dishes. That was a case of opening the frig or freezer while the meat cooks and thinking, “what is about to go bad or sounds good tonight?”

Why I feel guilty.

However, three days after I ordered my produce box from Imperfect Produce, a report came out about how companies like this are hurting food banks. What?! I’m taking food away from those that need it more? Of all the worthy charities out there, I think food banks and food related systems ranks among the highest in importance and I support them the most. People always  needed feeding.

I suddenly felt like a Lex Luther-style corporate mogul. My convenient middle class-supported home delivery service was actually hurting others that needed the food much more than I did. They probably lived in food deserts whereas I could put my lazy butt into a car and drive to a number of quality grocery and super stores in under 10 minutes.

It really bothered me so I cancelled the next delivery.

Ugly Food Issues

But the more I read, the more complex the issue looked. Here is an article from Food & Wine that describes the dilemma. Why the Business of Ugly Produce is so Complicated.

Food waste is a huge issue. I appreciate Imperfect Produce and other companies addressing this issue. I also want to support farmers who always struggle to make a profit. When they must give the ugly chunks of their harvest to food banks, it hurts their bottom line. But the impact of these companies on food banks is real. The companies like Imperfect Produce are simply banking on our moral feelings and social consciousness, which is not a fun idea either. I hate being manipulated. Thus the conundrum.

What do you think, dear readers? To buy or not to buy ugly food in the future?  I honestly don’t know, but the one thing I understand is that food banks will need our help more than ever. So maybe it matters less where I buy my fruits and vegetables and more how often I cut a check to the food bank or (as my grocery store does) buy a bag of food for the locals who can’t afford it. If this trend of big business banking on our moral feelings continues, their profits will soar while the poor starve. The food banks will need us more than ever before.