Why We Still Use [Some] Plastics

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?

The (Partial) Plastic Purge

I’ve read it. You’ve read it. We’ve all read about how plastics aren’t perfect. Even the BPA-free ones aren’t really that free from toxic chemicals.

A study published in the journal Environmental Health assessed the estrogenic activity of both BPA-free plastic and BPA-containing plastic. Researchers found that both types of plastic had estrogenic activity (EA), including BPA-free plastic and the chemical compounds that were intended to replace BPA in plastics. These human-made chemicals pose a threat to humans and to children in particular. Research shows that EAs increase aggression, affect the immune system and seriously affect hormones. ~ Michelle Schoffro Cook (April 7, 2016) @ Care2 Healthy Living

Once again, we’re late to the party. In this case, the glass party. Yes, we ditched plastic water bottles a long time ago but up until, oh say yesterday, I was guilty of reheating plastic containers in the microwave (and wondering why they were all permanently stained and looked like a dog had chewed on them). You can reprimand me now. I deserve it. I’m educated. I read. I should know better.

Convenience is my only excuse. With a full set of Rubbermaid containers sitting within arms reach of the stove, it was always easiest just to grab one for leftovers rather than getting a jar from the closet or a bowl from beneath the counter. Today, I fixed that problem. I tossed all the plastic containers into a box and replaced them with glass containers. I also moved the jars to the top of the pantry. I’m not sure yet what the fate of the Rubbermaids will be (except for the mangled ones, which are going to recycling this afternoon). The ones in good shape can still be used for transporting food when we travel. Note to self: I said transporting, not reheating.

So why the sudden interest in glass? I think part of it is the just the natural progression of becoming more crunchy (ie. environmentally aware). Another part is because I believe that better food deserves a better container. If our goal is to eat right and eat mostly fresh foods, I want those foods to be stored in a container that best retains their natural flavors and won’t make them taste like whatever was stored there before. (Ever tried to reuse a plastic container that had an onion in it? Everything thereafter tastes like onions!)

We’re also switching to glass (and other sustainable materials) because it’s more cost effective. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve replaced our plastic containers over the years. This last set cost us $20 and we’ve only had them about a year. And then there are the storage bags. I have no idea how much we’ve invested in Ziploc this century but I’m sure it’s enough to fund a nice weekend getaway. Glass lasts…well, forever…or until you break it. The Pyrex bowls that my grandmother passed on to me 23 years ago are still in excellent shape.

Before I went out and purchased new glass storage bowls, I did a quick assessment of what we already had but just weren’t using – including Granny’s Pyrex set. Our upgrade to glass cost $9. With that I bought a set of 4 smaller glass storage containers with locking lids and some generic lids for our existing bowls (at a closeout store). To finish up the plastic purge, I decided now was also a good time to ditch the plastic cooking utensils and measuring cups. That purchase, along with cloth napkins, set me back another $20.

We’ll never be completely rid of plastic in our home but I can say with certainty that we won’t be cooking with plastic anymore.

Out with the old:

In with the new:

In keeping with our minimalist philosophy, for each new item purchased, at least one old item was recycled or donated.