The Pains of Living Plastic Free and How to Fix It
Who likes the idea of living plastic free?
If you're here, it's likely that you do.
Plastic has an obvious detrimental effect on the environment, but also has been researched to have a negative influence on our health. It was seen as a "wonder product" when it was first discovered, and only now we are fully understanding the consequences of using it to the degree that we do.
However, getting rid of plastic in your life, or at least single-use plastic, is a much taller order than you would initially think. So many foods are packaged in plastic film, the entire frozen food aisle is covered in it, and even normal household products are most readily available in plastic from cleaners, to garden soil, even kids' toys.
While just making a conscious effort to choose plastic-free can make a big change in your lifestyle, there are lots of "sticking points" that are thorns in our sides. Here are some common problems we find that people struggle with and how we can get past that.
Plastic Packaging at Grocery Stores
This is one that we know is a killer for many, especially in seasons when farmers' markets and stalls are not an option. While in the harvest months, shopping package-free from farmers or producers can greatly decrease your plastic wrapping, there aren't as many options in conventional grocery stores. There's often one kind of cucumber and it comes in plastic, or the peppers on sale are the quad-pack that come in a plastic bag.
The most we can do in the winter is choose plastic-free when possible, or shop at smaller stores that make un-packaged goods available to their customers. In the warmer months, we can shop from producers, pick our own produce (berries, beans, fruit, etc.), or grow your own. Items like bread can be picked up from bakeries and many other pantry staples can be bought in bulk. Bring your clean jars and bulk bags to your local bulk or refill shop, or else Bulk Barn.
Of course, remember to bring your own produce and shopping bags to avoid the single-use plastic bags!
Meat and Deli
These usually come packaged in plastic for freshness, but you can ask for them to be put in your container if there is a designated counter at your store. Bring your own rezip bags or reusable containers, ask for them to be tared and then filled with the fresh meat or deli meat of your choice. The same goes for seafood and cheeses. Many farmers' market vendors will also allow you to do this, though they won't advertise it.
Take Out Meals
This takes some research- some restaurants won't put their meals in your containers for fear of "contamination" or some other legality. A lot of the time it's about the inconvenience on their end. If you don't want to be disappointed when you arrive, call before hand and ask this restaurant if they will use your containers as you are trying to minimize waste.
When they do allow it, make sure that you communicate your appreciation and support them on social media, within your friend circle, etc., so that more restaurants feel motivated to do the same. If you are feeling especially frustrated and know that this fast food restaurant serves their "for here" customers on reusable plates, order it that way and transfer it to your container yourself. Sure the plate is dirty, but it will get washed, not thrown into the landfill.
Though this is changing, even a lot of "natural" household cleaners and detergents come in plastic jugs, bottles, or containers. From dishwasher tabs, laundry detergent, to scouring powder, many of these are now available package free or as refills at specialized eco or "refillable" shops. Now you can reuse those containers hundreds of times or refill a dedicated glass one. Otherwise, make them yourself from bulk ingredients! Baking soda and vinegar can get you very far, are cheap, and readily available.
Body and Skin Care
You'll be surprised what you can refill on nowadays, from shampoo, body lotion, nail polish remover, witch hazel, oils, and more! Companies are starting to let their stockists offer refill options, and there is more interest in making your own clean options from simple ingredients. Others run their own container recycling programs where your product containers are sterilized and reused down the line. It takes some research and some time, but many find this switch very satisfying. If a refill center is not accessible to you or you are lacking in time, always choose glass or reusable containers over ones that cannot be repurposed in any way or properly recycled.
If we really want to see a shift in the way that plastic is used in our society we need to ask for it. Voice your displeasure, write letters to the store managers, support small businesses that are making the changes, and make those "strange requests" when ordering food, products online, and more. It will be uncomfortable, but it's what will make employees, owners, and policy makers stop and think.
At Mrs. Greenway we are increasing our refill options because we see that you are using them! For businesses, it's often a risk to make these changes, but seeing that people are voting with their dollars and voicing their appreciation, makes them more comfortable investing in a shift towards more sustainable living! Stay tuned on more news on our refillery, and in the meantime, if you have any specific requests, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you struggle with or what "hack" has helped you? Comment and let us know!