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…and why it matters

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of the Houseshold Hacks that we already use, as well as try out and evaluate some new ones that I’ve stumbled across.   The goal is to post some alternative practical uses for reusable or renewable objects in the home, to take the place of disposables or non-renewables…

First though, I’ll be starting out with this depressing environmental lesson, about the bane of my domestic tranquility…plastics (particularly disposable plastics).  Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour.*  And yet, how often do we actually think about where those bottles go after we are done with them?

*FWIW, this is an oft-stated factoid on various recycling program and environmental sites, but I never could find an original statistic.

In the Pacific Ocean, there is this thing called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As you can tell from the title, it is a large patch of nothing but garbage!

How was it formed? The improper disposal of trash and plastic results in piles of garbage which enter the sea and are swept up by a swirling vortex called the North Pacific Gyre. The North Pacific Gyre is 10 million sq. miles in size. This vortex is a slow moving clockwise motion that pulls garbage and other materials into the center of the gyre, creating what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch…


Actually…there are 5 global garbage patches.  And the plastic we *think* we are recycling is problematic (but still better than nothing).  The simple fact of life is that plastic ends up in the ocean.  From here on out, every time you see a juice bottle, a soda bottle, a water bottle, a container of body wash, a milk jug, shampoo and conditioner, throw away lunch containers, Styrofoam, lighters, shopping bags, produce bags, or anything else you can think of, I challenge you to think the following:

This is going to end up in the ocean. If I were an albatross, would I want my baby to eat this? If I were a minnow, would I want my stomach full of this? Do I want my food chain  filled with the same chemicals parent’s won’t allow in a container their child drinks from? Should our children (or ourselves) have to play on polluted beaches, building castles from plastic sand? As a Pagan, what kind of reverence am I showing (and teaching my children) for the home of the gods we worship (not to mention the home we share with every other living thing)? 

That’s a boat load of guilt, yeah? Pretty damn depressing isn’t it? This might make you feel better:

The good news is that you can do something about it. Particularly in the realm of DISPOSABLE plastics.  Its quite simply a matter of identifying where you use plastics in the home, replacing them with other materials when their lifespan is up, reusing the containers as long as possible and then recycling them to better their chance of not ending up in the ocean.  Some simple ways to achieve this (which are often more economical as well):

  • Matches, not lighters!  If you use a lighter, use a metal refillable Zippo style lighter (not only is it better for the environment, but it looks more stylish).
  • Cloth or string bags for shopping.  We all should know this one…but even I’m guilty of forgetting mine when making an unexpected trip to the store or of not having enough from time to time.  If I have an option when this happens, I get paper bags (remember those?)–they are great for kids crafts, and we also tear down our boxes and recycle them all together. When you do end up with plastic shopping bags, reuse them as many times as possible before recycling them.  Here in our home, the hubby takes his lunches in them, and we have used them as packing material for breakables when moving.  We then take them back to the store to reuse again, and I’ve make plarn out of them for crocheting–they make great reusable bags and scrubbies for cleaning.
  • Cloth, mesh or even paper bags for produce bags.  When I go buy herbs in bulk, I bring my own paper bags (the kind kids used to take their lunches in) since it works better for some of the powdered herbs…but for produce and things like bulk pasta or rice, we’ve made our own bags out of a sheer set of curtains my grandma donated to the cause, and for heavy duty produce like apples, potatoes, and onions, I’ve made (really easy) crocheted bags–I didn’t use these instructions, but from the pics, it pretty much looks like how I did it.
  • Just say no to balloons!  And if you do say yes, for the love of the ocean, don’t release them.  (EDIT 8/24/12: check out the bio-degradable balloons, made from latex!)
  • Choose your pre-made foods without plastic packaging.  Buy jams, jellies and sauces in glass jars when possible; they can be reused and recycled.  You can use these jars in the fridge for left overs, to store everything from craft supplies to hardware to jewelry.  Talk to your butcher (even the one at the grocery store), he might be able to wrap your meats in freezer paper rather than with Styrofoam and plastic-wrap.  Buy your bread at a local bakery (or make it yourself) and either take your own bread bags, or often bakeries will use paper, rather than plastic, and toss it in a bread box when you get home.  If you do buy bread in plastic bags from the grocery store due to economics– reuse the bags.
  • Powdered detergents and bar soaps!  Powdered detergents generally come in boxes, not bottles, and bar soaps generally have far less plastic to their packaging than body wash. And…you can easily turn bar soap into liquid soap.  Which is great, because we use Dr. Bonners, which is much more affordable in bar form. You can even get shampoo in a bar form (when I had short hair, I loved Burt’s Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar–which they discontinued, though LUSH makes some awesome bar shampoos that work for all hair types…though they are a bit pricey)
  • And no more plastic scrubbies! Loofahs (which you can grow yourself), natural sea sponges and even the good old cotton washcloth work just as well.
  • No more plastic beverage bottles–Bring your own beverage container (preferably stainless steel, though ours are Nalgene, and made the US–plus they last forever, I still have my first Nalgene bottle from 15 years ago).  Buy soda in cans or glass bottles (Coca Cola in bottles from the Mexican food section also has real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup).  If you recycle these, you can even get money back in some states, and there are quite a few ways to reuse a glass beverage bottle (some easier than others and which I’ll be talking about next time).
  • Change your dental hygiene habits! When its time for a new one, switch to a renewable bamboo toothbrush or a toothbrush from this company, which they take back and recycle again (they have other products as well).  Also, consider making your own herbal dental rinses, and tooth powder (maybe I’ll do a post on this in a few weeks, after I work my way through my list of drafts).  If that doesn’t appeal to you, there are some other alternatives (as well as DIY ideas offered in this post by plastic-free blogger, Beth Terry (featured in the above video). Dental floss is still problematic, as its entirely plastic, often coated with Teflon and packaged in plastic.
  • Buy big & reusable.  If you need something that can only be found in a plastic container, buy it in the biggest size possible and refill a smaller container, then reuse the container for other stuff. Or, alternatively, if the plastic container is a matter of safety (IMO: glass+bathroom+small children=bad idea) simply refill your existing plastic container from your bulk purchase (or better yet, plastic-free alternative).