How hard is it to actually go “plastic free”?
Is it difficult to remember to take reusable bags to the store or give up plastic wrap and straws? How easy is it to avoid plastic packaging?
I recently put these questions to parents with young kids, singles, and child-free couples. There were no “right” answers, I stressed, no judgments. I just wanted to see how people are dealing with going plastic-free, if at all.
In part, my inquiry was inspired by developments in the U.S. and elsewhere to get rid of some of the biggest plastic offenders, like this proposal from the European Commission to ban single-use plastics like cups and cutlery. I was also motivated by this story on CivilEats.com about how grocery stores are helping shoppers avoid plastic waste. We’ve highlighted avoiding plastic straws and plastic beads in face and body wash. Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life has been an inspiration throughout, as she has documented her own efforts to eliminate plastic from her life.
The biggest issue everyone is grappling with seems to be about something they don’t have much control over: packaging. While you can switch to stainless steel straws and bead-free body wash, what do you do when you’re shopping?
Alexandra Zissu, a mom of two girls aged 5 and 12 and a Moms Clean Air Force contributor, said, “I wish more places that offered bulk had an easy way for people to weigh their reusable produce bags or glass jars before filling them. It’s always an added step and when you’re shopping with small kids, it’s an added step that’s exhausting.” Lexy ends up taking brown paper bags and recycling, rather than use the plastic bags provided near the bulk bins. “If I could just fill up my glass jars right there, I’d be so pleased!”
Heidi Hiltl of West Chester, Pennsylvania expressed a sentiment many others feel: “I try as much as I can. I hate plastic!” Heidi keeps reusable bags with her all the time. “I’ve been known to stop a cashier from bagging my stuff and just walking out with the items!” By the way, Hiltle says that “For kid lunches, bamboo utensils and stainless steel containers are great!”
Virginia resident Memphis Holland used one word to describe the challenge of living plastic-free: “Hard.” She also reports that activists are organizing Plastic Attacks in Europe to get people to buy their week’s worth of food then, while still at the store, take everything out of the packaging and leave the disposal problem with the store. “If hundreds show up to shop at once, it makes a huge statement.”
Lia Kulla of Plainfield, Connecticut reported that, though she’s made many plastic-free switches in the past several years, “I still use plastic wrap and on occasion when I grab an iced beverage to go, it’s in a plastic cup with straw provided by the coffee shop (though I do bring it home and recycle).” The mom of nine-year-old Lia says, “I find zero waste to be difficult to accomplish with our busy lives.”
Coloradan Kelly Thompson, another mother of a nine-year-old, uses stainless steel straws with her family and gives them as gifts to friends and relatives. “We bring reusable bags to the grocery store and if we forget them, we just don’t get a bag and put everything in the cart and transfer it from cart to car.” Kelly boxes her son’s school sandwiches in stainless steel containers and otherwise uses aluminum foil or glass to store food. “Yesterday I bought kitchen garbage bags made from plants!” she said. But still, like Lia Kulla, Thompson says that “the biggest issue I have is plastic film wrap. I find it very hard to avoid.”
Marylander Melanie Lynn Griffin has managed to ditch that nasty wrap by replacing it with beeswax-covered organic cotton cloths. “They really work well,” she notes. “I’ve been using the same set for about 6 months and they are still fine.”
One problem that’s particularly hard to solve plastic-free has to do with pet waste. Virginian Susan Trivers loves her beautiful Bernese, Gabe, but hasn’t found a plastic-free way to deal with what he leaves behind. “We are told to scoop the poop,” she says. “The usual method is plastic bags.” Like I did when I had a dog, Susan uses the bags her newspapers are delivered in.
What about you? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in going plastic-free?