Striving for a Plastic-Free Life

by Katy on June 29, 2009 · 30 comments


Joining The Compact in 2007 changed my life in a number of ways. I not only began to rethink my purchasing habits, but I also became increasingly aware of the environmental ramifications of my life.

One of the big changes I’ve made in my life is to try and minimize plastic usage for myself and my family. I haven’t gotten rid of all my Rubbermaid and Tupperware yet, but I’ve been nabbing Pyrex storage containers in thrift stores and it’s starting to make a dent.

I’m lucky because I live in an area where I can recycle most plastics. I can put out #2, #5 and anything with a neck in with my weekly garbage pickup. I can also haul all other plastics to a local grocery store which sends it to be made into plastic lumber for decking. It is somewhat horrifying to see how quickly my plastics recycling bins fill up though.

The real solution is to not be using so much plastic in the first place.

Plastic is nasty to manufacture and nasty to recycle. And the shipping of the raw materials around the world is not exactly cute and pretty.

And storing our food in plastic is suspect, health wise.

Changes I have made so far:

  • I bring reusable shopping bags with me always. This includes a string bag in my purse which takes up minimal room and is ready at a moment’s notice.
  • I bring reusable produce bags for lettuce, tomatoes, etc. (I bought a four-pack at The Dollar Tree store in the automotive section!)
  • I bought a stainless steel Tiffin lunch container for my son to use for his school lunches. I have yet to buy a second one for my younger son as they are pricey and he is spacey and loses stuff left and right.
  • We use stainless steel water bottles. As much as I covet the trendy Sigg bottles, we make do with the no-name versions I’ve been able to glean from area Goodwill thrift shops.
  • In the rare instance that I am in a restaurant, I decline a straw. This may seem like it’s hardly worth it, but I’m kind of the Queen of every little bit counts.
  • I always choose the glass leftover containers before pulling out the plastic.

Changes I want to make:

  • I want to freecyle all the plastic containers and switch over 100% to glass. Because this would involve an initial significant financial outlay, I have yet to make this leap.
  • I want to buy or make reusable fabric sandwich wraps for all of our work/school lunches. Not owning a working sewing machine is a barrier, although my mother is an accomplished seamstress, so I could enlist her help.
  • I’m keeping an eye out for a glass juice container, as I hate the plastic ones that we currently use.
  • I want to remember to bring a reusable container when buying deli food. (We buy pastrami, smoked turkey and fabulous sausages from a local delicatessen.)

Plastics are killing our wildlife, destroying the oceans and will last beyond our life span countless times over.

Want to know more about how plastics are affecting us and affecting our planet? Make sure to check out Fake Plastic Fish, Beth Terry’s fabulous blog that is all about plastic, all the time.

Are you working to minimize your plastic consumption? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna June 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Good for you! This is very inspiring, although I have admit I do strive to already do a number of the items that you listed I had not thought of a few others. i.e. fabric sandwich containers!

I recently watched a scary documentary on the effects of the chemicals in plastic on the reproductive systems of developing males, if you haven’t already heard of it, it was called “The Disappearing Male”.



Karen June 29, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Our garbage service just informed us that they will no longer accept any plastic bags for recycling. Though at first I thought this annoying, since if plastics are numbered, and the bag is marked with one of the acceptable numbers (around here, 1, 3, and 5), so why shouldn’t we be able to recycle those bags, I am now trying to look upon this as another message from the universe, another way to reduce waste. I bring cloth bags to the store but sometimes I forget to put them back in the car, which means I am guilty of causing more plastic bags to be made/used. I will try to make damned sure I always have lots of cloth bags in the car, and will now retrain myself to bring all those Safeway bags that I formerly used, even occasionally, back to their own recycling bin just inside the door. So really, the garbage company’s decision turned out to be the best one in the long-run: it has caused us to reform our behavior even more. In the past 2 years, our household has cut down on a lot of plastic use, starting with not buying individual waters anymore, but there is always room for improvement. It’s a matter of adjusting our buying, and thinking it through, anticipating where we will be and what we can bring with us to avoid all this plastic mess. One thing that annoys me a lot is that a lot of our recyclable juice containers etc come with un-recyclable tops. They are unnumbered, most of them.


Jinger June 30, 2009 at 5:19 am

i found a nice 2 qt glass container for juice at walmart for about $4.00.


Katharine June 30, 2009 at 7:02 am

I’m wondering, for people who use cloth bags all the time for shopping, what you use for garbage bags?

We use cloth bags 90% of the time and use the other 10% of bags as garbage bags. I’m not willing to go back to the days of wrapping garbage in newspaper (and we don’t get newspaper anyway) and I’ve heard that biodegradable garbage bags actually consume more energy to make and don’t actually biodegrade in a landfill environment (no sunlight when they are turned over).

Clearly, reducing waste is the way to go and we’ve done that as much as possible (compost, recycle) but we still do generate some garbage and we use small plastic shopping bags to dispose of it.



Jessie June 30, 2009 at 8:25 am

I actually reuse the produce bags from the grocery store multiple times, as long as I don’t put anything slimy in them! I wash my produce thoroughly when I get home anyway.

Also, in reply to Katherine’s post, I bet you have a family member/neighbor that would be happy to offload their bags on you for garbage, and maybe that would also get them thinking! You could also go scavenging at your local grocery/recycling center!


Jennifer June 30, 2009 at 8:33 am

I am the queen of refusing a straw. So, between you and I, that is a lot of straws over the course of our lives! I want to get the Beth Terry glass straw, a girl can dream :-).


EllenO June 30, 2009 at 8:52 am

Wow, I’m inspired by all of you. A few thoughts…I bought some organic cotton produce bags that replace the nasty ones from the produce area — much nicer and washable. We’ve switched to mostly glass containers, too, and have banned any heating or placing heated food in plastic containers. We recycle all that we can and I just learned that the cheap “reusable” bags from the stores…the ones they sell for $.99 are theoretically recyclable but no one will take them! Evidently they’re made from three different types of plastics (one for the fabric, one for the thread and one for the insert) so they need to be disassembled before they can be recycled. Makes me wonder if they’re making a bad problem worse!!! My canvas bags are looking better all the time — and remember to wash them regularly to avoid ICK :).


thenonconsumeradvocate June 30, 2009 at 10:04 am

What do I use for garbage bags?

Alas, I do still use the plastic grocery bags as liners as my husband is not always so good at remembering to bring the reusable bags. (He is getting better though.) I found that he was resistant to using the hodge-podge collection of old canvas bags, but was okay with using old Trader Joe’s paper bags, which are incredibly sturdy. So I keep a tidy stack of those in the car that he drives.

Because we recycle and compost, we only put out garbage every couple of weeks, so we don’t need that many liners though. I look forward to using alternative liners such as paper bags, which is what I grew up with anyway.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


karen June 30, 2009 at 11:13 am

on the occasion that we go out for dinners & need a ‘doggie’ bag, I bring a container from home stashed in my totebag. Most places only use styrofoam or non recycable plastic containers, which bugs me to no end. As I phase out some of my plastic containers, I repurpose them for storage of non-food items such as craft supplies. I find it interesting that so many of the stores that sell their logo bags have a made in China tag on them somewhere. I prefer to make my own or buy them from a non-profit org. who will benefit from my purchase. Save the environment but promote sweat shop labor? not worth the trade in my opinion.


GLM June 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Don’t you have cats? What do you put the ahem, used, litter in? I generally use my plastic grocery store bags for that. I’m in a condo, so I don’t have the option of burying it, and I’m not sure that the flushable litter works that well.

Anyone have any ideas?


suki June 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Instead of buying or making reusable fabric sandwich wraps, I just use fabric napkins from the thrift store. No sewing skills or machine required! There is always a big selection of inexpensive napkins and I buy the largest ones, to use both as napkins and as sandwich wrappers. I wrap them the way I wrap spay packs of surgical instruments at the animal shelter, which keeps the sandwiches together, but you could figure out lots of ways to fold and wrap them. If they have stains on them but no holes, that’s perfect – you won’t worry about your PB & J oozing onto them.

I get my milk from a local farmer, who charges only $3 a gallon for today’s fresh raw milk if you bring your own containers. (His milk goes for more than twice that in plastic jugs in the store, which goes to show you how much packaging and transportation figure into the cost of food.) Another local dairy sells milk in returnable glass half gallon jugs, so I just bought some of those, paid the deposit and didn’t return them. The lids are plastic, but I consider that OK for things like milk bottles and the glass food storage dishes I carry to work, when a good seal is important. My recycling container and trash are a lot emptier without plastic milk jugs or coated paper milk cartons.


WilliamB June 30, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I have a variety of cloth grocery bags and I have them with me about 75% of the time. When I forget, or didn’t expect to be shopping, or need trash/recycling bags, I get from the supermarket: plastic for trashbags, paper for recycling.

For produce, I reuse the plastic produce bags from the grocery. Since I don’t store produce in them (that’s what veggie bags are for) they last a long time. Or would if the baggers didn’t keep mistaking them for trash and throwing them out.


WilliamB June 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Me again, being questioning. If you already have plastic containers, what is the advantage to the Earth of replacing them before they’re nonfunctional?


Rachel June 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I found fabulous snack and sandwich bags at She is a Stay At Home Mom, so I’m all for supporting her, as I don’t sew (sigh). I would use fabric napkins, but that solution is a bit too high maintenance to put into the elementary school lunch boxes – it’s all about the closure and entrapment of various provisions (pretzels, chips, etc). SnackTaxi has really fun, great patterns –and you just toss them into the wash. Great product.


Meg from FruWiki June 30, 2009 at 5:45 pm


There really isn’t a big advantage to the earth to replacing plastic containers that you already have. However, there may be health benefits because of the dangers of certain chemicals like BPA that leech out of plastic into your food and drink. For example, BPA mimics estrogen and may therefore contribute to more than a few diseases (low sperm count, breast cancer, obesity, heart disease, etc.) and be particularly harmful to smaller, still developing bodies. This isn’t “news” either — that BPA mimics estrogen has been known since the 1930s. However, industry pressure has indeed worked to keep the government quiet about it while these chemicals have become more and more ubiquitous, ramping up our daily dose.

For this reason, my husband and I try to at least reduce the amount of food and drink we use from plastic containers or cans (which have BPA in their liners). We don’t even have plastic ice cube trays or cups. By doing this, we also reduce the amount of plastic that is made (because we buy less) and reduce the amount of BPA in the water supply because we aren’t excreting as much ourselves when we use the toilet or dumping as much plastic directly into the water way.


Angela June 30, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I don’t understand fabric sandwich wraps. I guess there are some things we get so used to, we can’t imagine any other way. I know people used to use wax paper or tin foil before the plastic, but is fabric going to keep something as fresh as a plastic baggy would?

I don’t have a problem reusing cloth bags, once I made it a habit to keep them in the trunk of the car at all times, and have a lot more than I need. But I am starting to reuse plastic bags (for example, pieces of banana in the freezer for smoothies). And I guess I shouldn’t be using my 40 or 50-year-old Tupperware? Yikes. I thought that was about as frugal/green as you could get, but I guess I’m giving my husband and myself cancer.


Ellen June 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I’m with Angela. I would think cloth sandwich wraps would be breathable and therefore not airtight, which is the reason I wrap my sandwich. Aren’t they stale when you go to eat them?

Good for you though, for thinking vintage Pyrex in place of plastic storage. What’s your favorite Pyrex pattern?


Marcia July 1, 2009 at 7:27 am

Toronto just began charging 5 cents for getting a plastic bag in any store. It seems to already be making a huge dent. Not sure if municipalities are doing the same in the U.S. but it is an important initiative. There have been a few complaints but most people seem to be very behind it. A number of stores are using the money collected for plastic bags (in some cases, luckily, very little money) for environmental initiatives.


Ginger July 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm

We have joined the Compact also, and as of today are trying to go 30 days with absolutely no (new) plastic. My DH is getting into the swing of things and has offered to bake bread, and we will re-use bread bags we already have. My concern is the chemicals in those bags, but does anyone have an idea how to keep bread fresh without plastic? We will not buy juice in plastic, frozen is fine and I have a glass pitcher for it.

We also buy only glass containers for jelly, etc so as to have the glass jars for storing refrigerator leftovers. We never throw glass jars away, they are good for craft storage, garage items, etc.

The things we have to buy in plastic are saline for my contacts, but after the 2 pair I have wear out I may just stick to glasses, so the saline will become unnecessary. But motor oil comes in plastic, is there any way around that? Also antifreeze/coolant….there are a few things I can’t figure a work around for.

Vintage Pyrex is perfect! I have a Vintage shop and have little signs all over the place that says “Buying Vintage is Good for the Planet”.


BarbS July 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

I am intrigued by all the comments about re-using produce bags from the grocery store, or buying cotton versions of those bags… I wonder why bags are needed for produce at all?

When I buy produce in the supermarket, I just put it in the cart without any bag. I know I’m going to carefully wash the produce when I get home. It’s already dirty, has been touched by who knows how many people, etc. So why use a bag at all?


Jeanine July 2, 2009 at 11:36 am

I’m wondering about the health ramafacations of bringing your own containers to deli’s and such.

I once tried to take a tray into a grocery deli for 50 pieces of fried chicken, and was curtly, and succiently told that them allowning that could have them fined and put out of business. Which made perfect sense after I really thought about it. Who’s to say where that dish was before I brought it in?

I know that I wouldn’t I would not patronize anyone who allowed unsanatised dishes behind the serving counter. There’s a reason for all those health codes, you know.


Alisa July 2, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Plastic tubes (toothpaste, Desitin, benadryl ointment, sunscreen, etc.) are terrible, too, because they are just trash. They can’t be recycled anywhere that I know of. Therefore, I’ve switched to Tom’s of Maine toothpaste which is metal and can be recycled (just have to cut plastic top off), Desitin in a big tub that can be recycled (better buy, too). I need to buy sunscreen that comes in a recyclable bottle and just keep looking for alternatives to products I buy that come in plastic tubes. The other big piece of trash we all use is the toothbrush. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t purchased them yet. Our recycling center just started taking plastic bags like grocery, bread, ice, etc. I generally use cloth bags when I go to the store but not always and we eat a lot of bread so it’s be great not to throw these away.


Alisa July 3, 2009 at 12:23 am

The other thing I’ve done recently to reduce my trash and plastic consumption is buy (although you could easily make these if you sew) cloth wipes. They are very easy to use and you just throw them in with your cloth diapers when you are ready to wash them. Disposable wipes and their packaging are nothing but trash.


gfpumpkins July 6, 2009 at 7:54 am

I’ve just started reading your blog. Thank you! I just moved this weekend and you’ve inspired me to stock and furnish my new place with as much used as I can. For the sake of saving money, I would have already bought quite a bit used, but now you’ve pushed me to only buy new what I absolutely have to. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂


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