As we were browsing YouTube to find a few new exercise videos, we happened across about a million other interesting videos we wanted to watch – like a whole collection of ones on food and sustainability from CBC Marketplace. So, instead of ogling Tiny Houses, we’ve been watching things like “Food Waste: How much food do supermarkets throw away” and “Why buying plastic free groceries is so hard” during our lunch breaks this week. The videos have been enlightening, but more importantly, they have served as a great reminder to get back on track with some of our own lapsed sustainability efforts – like remembering to bring our cloth bags to the store and reducing the amount of single-use plastic we purchase.
I’d love to be able to purchase zero plastic but sadly, a lot of our store-bought produce comes in a clamshell or overwrap and 100% of the produce on the clearance rack is bagged in plastic mesh. I hate it but I hate the alternative even more. Yes, we could (and often do) purchases loose apples, oranges, peppers, and other produce using our own reusable mesh bags but our first choice is always going to be the plastic bag of 6 apples on the clearance rack for 99 cents that is 2 steps away from becoming food waste. To us, saving the food trumps avoiding the plastic. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t still feel bad about it. I mean, there’s absolutely no way to reuse or recycle those plastic mesh bags. Or is there?
Enter YouTube for the save! I’m definitely going to try some of these this week.
In addition, I also found that some communities allow these mesh bags to be placed in the recycling bin. Though they aren’t usually labeled with recycling symbols, the bags are generally made from polyethylene plastics No. 1, 2 and 4 or polypropylene plastic No. 5, which are recyclable materials.
Along with the mesh bags, we also use some plastic in our kitchen. If you came to our kitchen, you’d probably be in shock at the number of plastic lunch meat containers that we actually have in the cabinet. See?
And that doesn’t include the ones you can’t see.
We do not eat lunch meat. Neither does my mom, but one of her work friends feeds her dog deli chicken and saves the containers. A few years ago, she brought us an entire garbage bag full of them. We saved them for a while and then last April, we purged our kitchen of plastic and sent them to recycling (they are labeled as No. 5 plastic). A month later, she brought us another bag of them. This time, we decided to use them as freezer cups. We’ve been using this same set of containers in the freezer almost a year now. They work great for sauces, homemade veggie broth, and portioning servings of desserts (cakes and cookies freeze very well, by the way). As the containers break, we do take them to recycling but only after extending their life many, many times over.
Then, there are the Glad containers.
We bought these divided plates several years ago when we were travelling more often. They made it easy to take meals with us, saving us money on dining out. When we decluttered the kitchen a few months ago, we thought about donating them to Goodwill as part of our continued “plastic purge”. But…for as much as I’d like to believe that someone would scoop them up and use them every day, there’s a chance that no one would want them, or Goodwill would deem them unfit for resale. Do you know what happens to items that Goodwill can’t sell? They throw them away. Yes, there are some stores that attempt to recycle what they can, but the fact remains – somewhere between 25-65% of all donations end up in the landfill anyway. I can’t, in good conscience, leave the fate of the plates in the hands of a stranger. I bought them. I’m responsible for them. I will continue to use them until they wear out and then I will recycle them. They are also No. 5 plastics.
Oh, and the Ziploc bags.
We stopped purchasing these things about a year ago but sometimes, we still end up with one. Our apartment manager loves to fill them with candy and leave them on the door for holidays. It’s a thoughtful gesture but it leaves us with a bag that can’t be recycled. So, we wash and reuse them…until they are beyond dead. These two have been around for about 4 months now.
The best course of action is to never buy plastic in the first place, but until manufacturers drastically change their packaging, this is unrealistic for most of us. We’re inevitably going to end up with something made of plastic in our grocery cart – whether it’s a milk jug or a mesh bag. The second-best course of action then is to repurpose those single-use plastics. From pot scrubbers to freezer containers, there are many creative ways to extend their life, even if it’s only a few extra uses. And when their lives really are over, recycle.
Do you have any creative uses for single-use plastic?