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Trying to go “plastic free”

2013 July 22

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Greetings from New England!

Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Robin Johnson

Like most people, I use a lot of plastic. Virtually all of my food comes wrapped in it; it houses my toiletries; and some even sneaks in as cups, straws and bags despite my efforts to choose alternatives. Let’s not even mention the plastic in my appliances and gadgets.

Hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge flotilla of garbage floating in the ocean – and albatross chicks dying from ingesting plastic reminded me that the environment pays the ultimate price for our love of disposable plastic.

When I heard about a campaign to use less single-use plastic, I was intrigued. Could I eliminate it from my life for a month? Only one way to find out!

So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Most plastic can be avoided by carrying a water bottle and reusable shopping bag. My bag can be packed into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up room in my purse. Morning coffee is more challenging. I have to make my coffee at home, or stop in the office to pick up my travel mug.

At home, I’ve come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy. I switched to milk sold in reusable bottles. I bring “empties” to the store and get the $2 deposit back, but I have to recycle the plastic lid. From the milk, I make yogurt, which is pretty easy. Finally, I’ve started making my own almond milk and protein bars.

I may be green, but I still love pizza, Thai, falafel, and other foods. Getting takeout without disposable plastic usually means getting it in my own container. I purchased a reusable plastic clamshell container that I take to my favorite restaurants. Most restaurants are happy to fill my container, and some even give me extra food or a discount. After all, I’m saving them money.

Personal care products may be the biggest hurdle. Few shampoos and sunscreens are available without plastic packaging, and those that exist are online. I’m going to use what I already have, while looking for better options.

I’m keeping a “dilemma bag” filled with plastic garbage I couldn’t avoid. At the end of the month, I’ll continue to look for alternatives.

Could you go without single- use plastics for even a week? What would be the biggest stumbling block for you?

More info on plastic marine debris from EPA

About the author: Robin Johnson writes wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.  She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two cats.  She spends her time vegetable gardening, swimming, and knitting.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    July 22, 2013

    Loved your pos! Yes, reducing the use of plastic is SO much harder than simply recycling.

  2. Arman.- permalink
    July 22, 2013

    Don’t Throw Our Plastic……..!

    It is a best discovery of mankind and influencing for our civilization. Our duty is repairing and continuing all of technologies, and preparing to step out into the other planets…… No one were garbage, and its solutions are new technologies.-

  3. Maggie permalink
    July 22, 2013

    Lush has all the bath products you could ever need that are plastic free. From shampoo to deodorant, even toothpaste tabs. They have stores all over so there might be one near you. My children and I have a competition each week to see who can use the least amount of trash, which includes recyclables. Our biggest challenge is traveling in the summer and finding plastic free alternatives.

  4. Tomas J permalink
    July 22, 2013

    To recycle and reuse plastic containers should really be something that everyone does. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, but from what I can tell, more and more people are doing it. So I’m optimistic about the future, but we all need to spread the word. That’s why I have created a website totally dedicated to environmental slogans.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. Megan permalink
    July 22, 2013

    Re: Carry out
    I’ve been hesitant to ask restaurants to fill a plastic container that I bring them. I wonder if they would say no because they don’t want the responsibility in case the container isn’t bacteria free.

    Good luck on your challenge.

  6. diane ashton-caucci permalink
    July 22, 2013

    When touring 5 food markets for the foods we planned on eating the next day. Our host families carried cotton netting carry bags that expanded as more and more items when in them. They had different size netting bags based on what they planned to buy….not to mention they folded up to nearly nothing when finding room in a purse to carry them. One German handbag came with a net shopping bag in the side pocket. We also noted that Europeans don’t freeze as much food as we do, therefore daily shopping in urban cities was common.

    I found similar netting shopping bags in a catalog recently, and plan on using them to cut down on the mountain of plastic that builds up in the storage area from my shopping bags. I hope that in using these bags, I’ll reduce buying things I don’t really need, just because they are on sale and often get thrown out, while reducing the amount of plastic I currently have to throw away. No effort is too small when it comes to our environment.

  7. Robin Johnson permalink
    July 23, 2013

    Hi Diane,

    Great to hear about the grocery bags. I have quite a few cotton bags now that I use for groceries and produce. Every little bit counts, and others see your example.

  8. Robin Johnson permalink
    July 23, 2013

    Hi Megan,

    The only place I’ve gotten that comment is Whole Foods, and it’s because of corporate policy. Small businesses don’t tend to have those policies and are happy for the business, whichever container it’s in.

  9. Robin Johnson permalink
    July 23, 2013


    I’ll have to give Lush another look. My only problem with them is that the fragrance in their store is overwhelming! My biggest challenge is finding plastic-free sunscreen. Too bad Lush doesn’t sell any, or I’d be all over it.

  10. Amy Warne permalink
    July 24, 2013

    Yup, Its a challenge, to be sure! This is my third year of trying Plastic Free July and its getting easier and more and more habits are changing and sticking with me beyond July.
    If you want more tips and ideas about how to live plastic free check out the website or post questions on our Facebook page

  11. bakpia yogya permalink
    July 25, 2013

    I support your article post, it’s time to shout the world is not on plastic … because plastic has a lot of environmental damage .

  12. Annie permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Beth Terry, a blogger and author decided to take on the challenge of living a plastic-free life. She goes far more than carrying her own containers for carryout places and coffee. She shares lots of tips and experience of the steps she took and the things she learned on this journey on her blog and in her book (which is made from almost no plastic materials)– these are very informative for anyone that would like to reduce their use of plastics. Highly recommended!


  13. mesin kemas plastik permalink
    October 18, 2013

    I support the use of simple materials as a substitute crushed plastic

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