As we move closer to recognizing and practicing this year’s Plastic Free July, I’ll share a few thoughts about ways we reduce plastic pollution here in The O Household.
Almost two years ago, as we learned more about low-to-zero waste practices, we came to understand just how much plastic pollution we were creating, especially single-use plastic waste.
Like many of you, when school is in session, we make a bagged lunch each day for our child. Until two years ago, we used plastic sandwich bags for the sandwich and two snacks, averaging at least three plastic sandwich bags per lunch; that’s 15 bags per week, 60 bags per month, and about 600 bags per school year. 600 single-use, one-and-done plastic bags!
I cringe to think about that now. These bags can take anywhere from 200 to 1,000 years to “degrade” (not decompose) in a landfill. Since plastic bags have only been around for about 50 years, we don’t have first-hand experience about how plastic breaks down; scientists can only run tests that approximate the process.
Suffice to say, if we use these bags and don’t recycle them, they’ll be around a long, long time after we move on to whatever fate awaits us. What kind of bed are we making for future generations?
Those Glad Bags I used in kindergarten? They’re still in the landfill somewhere outside of Boston…and will be there in the year 2970, right next to my first toothbrush.
But back to our kitchen two years ago:
Having become more aware of our usage of single-use plastics and wanting to do something about it, we took action and decided to try a few products that have kept us from buying plastic lunch bags and plastic wrap for two years now.
Some of our Favorite Eco-Products that Reduce Plastic Pollution
We took a chance on StasherBags and have been very pleased with their quality and performance. These bags are made of durable silicone and are easily washable and reusable. In fact, we’re still using the 4-pack we bought two years ago! Do they cost more than an $8.00 box of 100 plastic bags? You bet – up front they sure do.
HOWEVER: two years of packing school lunches in 1,200 sandwich bags carries an expense of a little over $90. That sure puts the price of Stashers into perspective. We spent about $45 on our four Stashers: thus, so far we’ve netted a savings of $45, which keeps GROWING with each use! Know what I’d do with $45? Mmm-hmmm.
Perhaps $45.00 doesn’t sound like a lot to some people but consider that this is for only one child. If you make lunches for two or three children, that’s a savings of $90 and $135 respectively. And think about the impact of keeping 2,400 or 3,600 plastic bags out of the environment for the next 1,000 years…and that’s just one family! Think about the math if you calculate 10,000 families practicing this.
As more of us begin to practice responsible lifestyles of reduced single-use plastics, the world we leave behind becomes incrementally better for our babies and their babies and their babies’ babies and so on.
I will add that the Stasher Bag company says they will receive any unusable Stasher Bags so that they can be repurposed into soft playground pebbles.
A Favorite Zero-Waste Product
Another great product that’s performed really well for us are Khala Cloths. Khala Cloths are sheets of organic cotton cloths infused with either beeswax or plant-based waxes and oils (for a vegan option). This beautiful product removes any need one might have for plastic wrap! Sandwiches and snacks can be wrapped in these cloths and, with varying sizes offered, containers holding leftovers can also be covered.
Cleaning these cloths after use requires only mild dish soap and some cool water. The cloths should be allowed to air dry. Using hot water or hot air or direct sunlight would degrade or melt the wax and diminish the cloth’s usefulness.
Like the StasherBags, the set of Khala Cloths we bought two years ago is still in use, so there’s quite a bit of savings achieved by not having had to buy boxes of plastic wrap during that period. By spending a little more money up front on durable and reusable products, you save money over the long-term and reduce plastic pollution.
Over time, as their effectiveness diminishes a bit, Khala Cloths can be “recharged” by laying them down on a rack in a warm oven. When they have finally seen their last use as wraps, they can be cut into strips and used as fire starters when camping or kept around as jar openers. But what’s really cool is that these cloths can be composted! Yes, these will biodegrade in your compost – amazing!
Plastic Happens: Going Zero-Waste Isn’t Realistic For Everyone
It’s important to note that it’s really hard to avoid using plastic entirely. Sometimes it’s just not possible or practical or affordable to opt out of using it. For example, we enjoy having a homemade smoothie each day and, when strawberries are out of season, we buy large bags of frozen strawberries at the grocery store.
Of course, these strawberries come in a resealable plastic bag…which just happens to be large and durable enough to hold a major batch of homemade soup or other leftovers in the freezer. No need to buy large zip-locks for the goulash, know what I mean?
The Bob’s Red Mill Flaxseed Meal bag that we keep around to put in our green smoothies, for example, makes an excellent bag for a sandwich or a school snack if Stashers aren’t available. These are actually good quality bags that can be reused a number of times before tossing them into the recycling bin.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed: Green Living Can Be Easy
If you stop to think about it, there are so many plastic items we touch and use every single day. Using plastic is almost unavoidable, so don’t feel any sense of personal failure by using it. But there are some things we CAN do to cut back our plastic usage, so start by picking ONE thing and moving on from there.
Here are a few ideas:
- Refuse plastic straws – try going “reusable” with bamboo, or steel or glass straws. (Living in the southeastern USA, we get to make our own bamboo straws from a stand in our backyard! Want one? Let us know in the comments!)
- Commit to not buying any plastic bottled water – find a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle.
- Use cloth grocery bags and refuse plastic grocery bags. It’s easy! Just remember to bring them with you to the store! Hang them on your doorknob on grocery day.
- Avoid using plastic produce bags: talk about single use! Ugh! If you’re handy, use old pillowcases that have been cut and resewn or buy some reusable produce bags.
- Use Ball’s glass jars, or something similar, for bulk grain purchases.
- This month, buy ONLY those products that use recycled and/or plastic free packaging.
No need to feel overwhelmed! By picking just one approach, you are doing so much for your family and the planet.
Our Plastic Free July 2018 Pledge to Reduce Plastic Pollution
To match our “No Plastic Wrap and No Sandwich Bags” commitment of the past two years, starting NOW we are FINISHED using plastic produce bags in favor of reusable certified organic cotton produce bags. (Psssst! We’ll be selling these soon! Check back here in a month or two or, better yet, get on our mailing list so we can let you know when these high-quality bags are launching!)
Since we already use cloth grocery bags, we pledge to buy a cloth grocery bag for the person in line behind us each time we do our “big” weekly shopping: that’s just four bucks a month and takes a bit of plastic out of the waste cycle every week, and it makes at least two people feel good!
We also enjoy doing litter pick-ups – either in organized groups or on our own when we’re out walking. We now have a “grabber” for picking up the litter, but before then we wore gloves. Not all grabbers are created equal: we really like this brand because of its easy trigger mechanism, which is less stressful on the wrist and hand, and because it’s light weight, well made and durable. So in this month of Plastic Free awareness, we’ll be doubling up our litter pickups as well; this is just another way of keeping the environment plastic-free.
If you would like to make an effort to reduce plastic pollution along with thousands of others, head over to Plastic-Free July’s website to register yourself or your business or school. Your involvement will help increase awareness of our growing plastic pollution problem.
Children Are Watching: Our Actions Can Teach Them Sustainability
So there you have it: a few easy and affordable ways to avoid (or repurpose) single-use plastics. I have to say that once you begin this undertaking, you start to feel something inside – you experience a kind of joy with the accomplishment and even a bit of pride with saving money. You also begin to consciously look for ways to reduce your plastic usage. Conscious living: it’s a good thing!
Finally, you should know how AWESOME it is that your children are witnessing purposeful, environmentally conscious behaviors: YOU are setting a fantastic example for your kids, a standard that may change an entire culture and impact our planet in the best ways for generations to come.
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