Confessions of a Plastic User

by Katy on April 19, 2011 · 28 comments

I work hard to try and minimize the plastic that enters my home. I always bring my own bags to the grocery store, (even for produce) I follow The Compact and buy only used, (which usually means no packaging) and I store food in glass Pyrex containers. However, there are a few plastic items in my house that serve their purpose well.

Example number one is my under-sink compost container, which is an ancient Rubbermaid brand container we received as a hand-me-down when a friend’s family switched over to keeping kosher. It’s chipped at the edges, the lid is cracked, and yes, it’s perfectly functional. I can bang it along the sides of the compost bin to get all the sticky stuff out, and normally don’t give it a second thought. I am aware that there are all kinds of attractive non-plastic options to my compost container, (this stainless steel one on Amazon costs $45.99 and requires endless purchases of charcoal filters.) but I think my own version (which we’ve been using since 1996) is perfectly functional, thank you very much.

My compost container ain't pretty, but it sure is functional!

The second example of plastic in my non-consumer home is a nesting set of Ikea bowls that I received as a gift from my sister. I hardly ever use them, but they have served an important function in my home as barf buckets. (or “emesis basins” for all my RN pals. 😉 )Feel nauseous? Well then, you’re going to bed with a bucket. And if you fall asleep without actually vomiting, chances are you might put it on your head as a hat. However, your mother loves you enough to refrain from snapping a photo, but kind of wishes that she had. (Seriously, the middle bowl fits perfectly as a hat, which is somehow irresistible to my children.)

I do not want to send my kids to bed with a breakable bowl, so keeping these plastic bowls on hand comes in real handy a couple times a year.

Barf bucket or hat? You make the call!

I am not suggesting that you run out and and buy a bunch of plastic stuff for your house, (Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life might call me out for that!) but life is not so black and white that there isn’t valid usage for the plastic that is already owned. Plastics recycling is far from perfect, and is considered by most to be downcycling, which has its own negative environmental consequences.

To find a use for what we already own is almost always preferable to buying a brand new eco-friendly alternative.

With or without that hat.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”



{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Plastic-free Beth Terry April 19, 2011 at 9:42 am

I’m shocked that you are using plastic in your house!

Seriously, I use a lot of plastic too — plastic I already had. I don’t buy new plastic, but I have no problem using the old stuff I already had as long as it’s not for food contact. Definitely repurposing is better environmentally as well as financially than throwing stuff out.

Plus, what do you think I’m typing on? 🙂


Katy April 19, 2011 at 9:44 am

A laptop solely constructed from repurposed driftwood gleaned while doing a beach cleanup?



Jane April 19, 2011 at 10:05 am

I wish I had glass jars everywhere a la the Zero Waste Home, but I have a rambunctious toddler and a clumsy (or spiteful?) cat and together they manage to knock over a lot of stuff. So I have a lot of plastic containers. Sorry, earth.


Holly April 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

I’m curious – do you freeze any meals? I love to make large quantities of delicious food like soup, and then freeze several portions for the future. It doesn’t seem like glass containers would be good for this, but maybe I’m just ignorant. Any recommendations?


Katy April 19, 2011 at 10:17 am

I do freeze meals, although not as often as I should. I’ll often freeze food in a 9 X 13 Pyrex casserole dish, (lasagna, enchiladas, etc.) and I know I have some cooked refried beans in a round pyrex dish as well. I guess the downside would be if all your nice glass containers sat in the freezer for an extended period, thus making them unavailable.



Rebecca April 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I buy the pint size wide mouthed Ball canning jars, they are short and wide and the size is great for individual servings of soup or chilli or beans. Just leave an inch of headroom and leave the lids off till they are frozen solid to minimize the risk of breakage.

The only downside here is that ALL canning lids contain BPA. Ball does make some solid plastic lids that don’t contain BPA and can be used in the fridge and freezer, but are not for canning, sadly. I am considering switching to Tattler lids which work on Ball and Kerr jars, and do not contain BPA even though they are plastic.


Rebecca April 19, 2011 at 1:00 pm

A trick for this is to line your pan with parchment paper first, then fill and freeze. When it is solid, pop it out of the pan and wrap it well to store in the freezer making a note on the wrap of what container you used. That way you can still use your dish while having casseroles in deep freeze.


602Laura April 19, 2011 at 10:36 am

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I’ve saved large plastic sherbet containers to use as barf buckets.

I’ve never tried freezing food in glass jars, because I just assumed the jars would crack. I have a nice collection of pyrex, but I don’t have the kind with snap on lids. Mine are ancient and have glass lids that just rest on top . I love them, but I have to be careful what I store in them. Sometimes I’ll wrap a couple of rubber bands around them to secure the lid because too many times I’ve had to clean the fridge & throw away good food that my goofy kids tipped out of the pyrex.


Jessica April 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm

We use our sherbert buckets for our compost 🙂


Melissa April 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

I have the same bowls (not blue, however), and that is exactly what we use the big one for in our house, too! I’d use the medium one, but my kids are too little for me to trust their aim.


Leslie K April 19, 2011 at 11:48 am
Katy April 19, 2011 at 11:55 am

I’m interested in reading this book.



Bonnie April 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Me too! I missed today’s Fresh Air interview with the author, but I did hear her earlier on another show. Sounds like she makes the point that plastic can sometimes save other resources, either as raw material replacing something more limited or by being lighter to transport. Not unlike your excellent observation about existing plastic as a non-consumer choice.


Alicen April 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

My daughter was sick last week, she went to bed with a stainless steel bowl. Although her bowl was on the shallow side… your bowls are definitely deeper, and thus better for their potential purpose. Ironically, the previous time she was sick we used an old plastic container.
Glass bowls are too heavy, and breakable to send to bed with kids!


Ann April 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I try to limit the amount of plastic coming into my home, but I also get a lot of satisfaction out of reusing plastic that seems to have been with us forever.
My under the kitchen sink compost bin is an old icecream container. No lid. I just empty it into the compost pile every evening after cleaning up the kitchen. Or, if the scraps are paticularly pungent (onion) I’ll empty it straight away.
Our family sick bowl is a large plastic bowl that used to have a lid. I think it was for storing salad, or transporting food to parties etc. It’s wide rim ensures that even with the worst aim, most sick ends up in the bowl and not the bed!


Katie April 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm

It *would* be really hard to barf into a Mason jar.


Katy April 19, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Actually . . . as a labor and delivery nurse, I am an *expert* on the physics of vomiting. We have literal barf bags, which have a solid circle at the top. Quite handy, actually. And the diameter is about the same size as a wide mouth canning jar. 😉

Katy, who has many hidden skills.


Katie April 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Well, I’ll be darned! The things I learn on this blog…


FrancesVettergreenVisualArtist April 19, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I’m impressed at your compliance with your “contract”. Things have slipped in our house since our son arrived 2 years ago. Sleep deprivation seems to lower standards all round.

Seems to me the real rule should be “no new plastic”. It doesn’t make sense replace perfectly functional items with new stuff, regardless of how environmentally sound said stuff might be (toxic or energy-hogging old things excepted, of course). And I have to say that though aesthetically I prefer natural materials, there are lots of really good plastic toys readily available second-hand. Lego, anyone?


Katy April 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Ahh . . . legos.

We have bins and bins of Legos.



Cyndi April 20, 2011 at 6:30 am

We have tons of Legos and K’nex too. The other good thing I found is that they were great for Great-Aunt Martha who just couldn’t let a birthday pass without buying a new kid toy. It seems every family has one person like that and I decided a small new set was a good compromise to save the relationship. Others may disagree… 🙂


Twyla April 20, 2011 at 4:00 am

muahaha, this mother would not have been so kind with the camera.


ChasAnon April 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

Hmm, I’m an adult with a chronic disease that leads to more queasy days than i’d like to admit to. I often end up laying on the bathroom floor for fear of not being able to make it from bed to potty in time.. Why has it NEVER occured to me to take a ‘basin’ to bed? Ack! (although i notice this concept is mostly applied to children, is it okay for a ‘grown up’?)


robbiekay April 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Our barf bucket is also plastic and, ChasAnon, there are only adults in our house!


Jessica April 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm

At risk of grossing anyone out, I use our everyday stainless steel Faberware (bought used) large pot for barf purposes. It has handles so it is easier to … hit the target(?) Anyway it is not breakable and can be thrown in the dishwasher and thoroughly disinfected.


Megg April 23, 2011 at 8:58 am

We have that stainless steel bucket and I do love it! It was a gift for my birthday last year (what does THAT say about me??) but before we had that, we used a bowl on the counter! It was plastic, however, sad to say.


Lisa April 23, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I too have been parring down our plastic. For years I used what ever plastic bucket was around for the compost bucket. But dh hated them on the counter. He wanted me to get a ceramic one. But they were priced about $35-$40 after shipping. I happened to stumble upon one though at a local discount store this fall. $25. Dh is very happy. Now if I can get the kids to empty it every day.


Elaine April 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I have loads of plastic in my house, mostly because I have arthritis in my thumb joints and can’t grasp very well. I also gave away my stoneware dishes and bought Corelle. I still drop things, but they don’t break!


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