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Getting to Plastic Free

On the heels of reading the inspiring book Plastic Free by Beth Terry, our family has decided to enter a plastic recovery program. That’s where we figure out how to stop using plastic. Currently, we’re in detox.

Cover of Plastic Free by Beth Terry

For years my husband Miguel and I tried to move away from plastic toys, plastic containers and plastic crap, but found it difficult to commit wholeheartedly to going plastic free.  Honestly, we didn’t commit to anything, and just felt guilty whenever we fell victim to its lure.  We’d go through periods of pushing plastic away via garage sales, Craigslist, Goodwill, landfill or consignment store, threatening never to see it again.

Then we invite it in over and over via grocery shopping, attending conferences, accepting well-meaning gifts, buying an iPhone and getting Thai take-out on busy nights.  We recycle everything we can, compost, and make home-cooked meals.  But the truth is, we’re kidding ourselves.  According to research, the majority of our plastic (even the recycling) is destined for the dump, China, the ocean and Albatross. 

Albatross Found with Plastic In Its Gut - by Change.org

In the "real world" there is no "away" and our good-natured recycling is mostly an illusion.  By sending it away from our sight, it doesn't really disappear.  There are several organizations working on solutions, but the problem is much bigger, and it begins with consumers.  We are contributing to the plastic pollution problem every time we buy anything with plastic, and unfortunately, that's almost everything.

People Sifting Through Huge Piles of Plastic in China

Is there any possibility of finding peace again with good ol’ wood, metal, unprocessed food and organic fabrics?  Can I live without my Silk Vanilla Creamer? Tea Bags?  Cheese?  Ziploc bags? I love all that stuff.

Getting Started

I don’t know where I was back in 2011 when Plastic Free was published, but sadly I’m very behind.  Being a competitive person, I need to catch up to this PF thing ASAP.  Fortunately there is a well seasoned support group with people all over the world that are doing this.  I’m only sorry it has taken me so long to commit.  Fortunately, I’ve convinced everyone in my house to help.   October 2016 marks the beginning of our family’s journey toward being plastic free.

My 2-Week Collection of Plastic Garbage

Here is a picture of almost all the plastic I used in 2 weeks.  The remains of everything plastic destined for the landfill or recycling because I was here for 2 weeks.  It may not seem so bad, but there are many people that don’t generate this much garbage in 4 years!  I can change.

The place to start wherever possible is with "Refuse" - the New "R" in Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Refuse single-use plastic.

The Goals

  • Eliminate our use of single use plastics completely by January 2017
  • Reduce our plastic garbage by one type of item per week by doing without or finding a plastic free replacement
  • Responsibly retire or find new uses for our current plastic products
  • Reduce garbage so the 4 of us produce less than 1 gallon combined for the year 2020
  • Refrain from buying new stuff  - especially new plastic
  • Start the process of making our schools Plastic Free Schools

Plastic disposal & recycling is a problem of an overwhelming scale.  However, our family says  “We can do this”.  And along with many thousands of other plastic-free enthusiasts around the world, we’re ALL IN.  Little by little, we are eliminating the beast.  Believe me, we know it’s going to take some time to really get to a “professional” level of plastic free sobriety.  It’s going to take a lot of self-discipline and forward thinking, and we’re so ready for the struggle and adventure.

What We've Done So Far

  • Made homemade ketchup with our garden tomatoes
  • Started using baking soda for deodorant (works great, btw)
  • Don't accept drinks in plastic bottles
  • Didn't use plastic mini-bottles or Krueg disposables in hotel
  • Making my own tortillas
  • Made a list of ingredients I can buy in bulk
  • Asked our nanny to make homemade granola bars
  • Stopped eating box cereal
  • Stopped using Vanilla Creamer (this one is tough)
  • Stopped accepting straws
  • Stopped using facial toner
  • Bought toilet paper in bulk from Amazon w/o plastic wrapper

What About Gifts?

With the season of gift-giving just around the corner, we’ve decided to give experiences rather than material gifts.   Actually, there has been quite a bit of research done on this topic, and studies show that experiences are more fulfilling and provide more enduring happiness (source).    

We've planned a getaway for the 3 days after Christmas to explore a new city, and we've made a list of classes, annual memberships, events and programs we can attend instead of material gifts.  With small children, this will be a transition year, so we might not be perfect, but we're going to give it our best shot.  We've also created a wishlist of plastic-free containers, utensils and supplies to replace the plastic bags and Tupperware we're using in the kitchen.

Don't be surprised if you get homemade ketchup in your stocking this year Mom.

In her fabulous article “46 Ways to Give Experience instead of Gifts this Year”, Wellness Mama describes the benefits of Experiential gift giving like a pro, along with some practical ideas for receiving and giving gifts.  

We will not buy new plastic toys for ourselves or for our children, and we invite or families to support us by not buying plastic for us.  We walk a fine line between protecting personal convictions on gift giving while not offending those who do not hold the same convictions we do.  By establishing boundaries, giving suggestions, and leading by example, we hope to minimize the undo stress around what and what not to give.

What About Stuff We Already Have?

We already have a lot of toys and gadgets that are made of plastic, and our first priority is to use the heck out of them (as long as not for food) and then to slowly give them away responsibly.  This includes toys, CDs, polyester, nylon, kits, figurines, electronics and anything stored or wrapped in plastic packaging.  The landfill will be our very last option for getting rid of stuff.  We will give away and recycle what we can, but most importantly, we will fight the urge to get more stuff we don't really need. 

Inspire Others

In the spirit of inspiring other kids to think about minimizing plastic, our 7 year old daughter has decided to ask her school to stop using single-use plastics in the lunchroom & elsewhere.  She is saddened to see kids taking multiple straws in the lunch line, just to be funny.  One-time use plastic cups and silverware being tossed into the garbage daily, and she’s ready to raise her hand with alternative ideas.  

If this article has inspired you to think about your use of plastics, I encourage you to check out Plastic Free by Beth Terry.  Her writing style is comforting and not at all disparaging, which I really appreciated.  Everyone is in a unique place in deciding how far they are willing to go, and you have to make the decisions that feel right to you.  No doubt you’ll find something of value in this book, no matter where you stand on the issues.

What is your biggest challenge with eliminating single-use plastics in your life?

Heather is the founder of Wildini™, a zero waste company dedicated to supporting animal conservation through eco-friendly products for kids. "As a kid I always wanted to help save wild animals and Wildini is a vehicle to living that dream." says Heather. Heather writes about minimizing waste, animal conservation successes and clever products at Wildini.com.

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