I mentioned towards the beginning of July that I signed up for Plastic-Free July. I have blogged about Plastic before and have been slowly reducing my plastic usage over the past year and a half. I had sort of stagnated, but this challenge gave me some renewed spirit. I checked out Plastic Free (Beth Terry) from the library (then ended up purchasing it because it is a really great resource guide). I will not claim to have had a completely plastic-free July, but this challenge definitely motivated me to get back on track with eliminating more plastic. My husband is really supportive of this also, which helps so much. In fact, a couple months ago he mentioned in passing one day that he thinks avoiding plastic is probably the greenest decision you can make. It was just a small comment that he made, but I'm so glad he said it because it made me feel like he would be on board with going further in our plastic-purging. Having a supportive spouse makes this kind of thing so much easier, and actually fun in some ways.
I thought about the things we were buying in plastic, and it was mostly food, so I decided that it was time to start tackling that. We found a bulk foods store not too far away and also took a trip to the Lincoln Park Whole Foods downtown, which is one of the biggest WF in the country. I made some upcycled drawstring cotton bags for buying from the bulk bins and also brought some of my jars. It seems that bags are usually a better container for the bulk bins because they're lighter/easier to bring and also easier to fill. The jars are sometimes too narrow to fill easily. A funnel would help, especially since you basically have to transfer the food to jars once you get home for better storage, but this is all part of the learning process. My funnel was a bit too narrow for some things, but I found that using my frosting bag (like for frosting cakes) was a perfect transfer tool at home since the opening at the bottom is wider than a funnel.
We were able to find a huge selection of things from the bulk bins. Whole Foods even had liquid things like olive oil, vinegar, and agave. The one thing that is pretty frustrating about buying in bulk is that the prices are higher than buying packaged, even from the same store. I find that really strange and am going to do some more investigation. Why would bulk bin flour/rice/nuts/etc cost more than their packaged counterparts? I can't understand that. Because of cost, there will probably be a few things we still need to buy in plastic at Costco, but at least we are reducing our plastic-to-product ratio by buying in a large container. I also brought some glasslocks for veggie burgers from the prepared foods counter and meat from the meat counter. We didn't buy cheese, but I talked to the lady at the cheese counter who said that she would gladly put it in my own container for me.
I also learned to make a few things that I had been buying before. I started making my own bread (got a bread maker on CL for $10!), pizza dough, yogurt (easiest thing ever), and almond milk (OMG it is so delicious homemade–more details soon). We plan to try making mozzarella soon too.
We also got creative with a few things. For example, I called a local small-biz Mexican restaurant that makes their own tortillas and chips and arranged to buy a stack of tortillas and some chips from them in my own bags. It was great to buy from a small local business and avoid plastic in the process. Same with hummus at our favorite falafel place. I just brought a glasslock, and the guy filled it for a decent price. It is a total bonus that the house-made hummus tastes 9,000 times better than the packaged stuff. Some of this is just changing mindset a bit. Like, if we want bagels, we make an effort to stop in the bagel place and buy a dozen fresh ones that we can then freeze or whatever. When we're walking through Trader Joe's or Costco, if we see bagels, we don't buy them there–we make a conscious effort to decide to wait and buy them elsewhere. Having a list and sticking to it helps.
Another way we've been avoiding plastic is by reusing plastic zip-top bags. I have several that are leftover from Costco frozen veggies or tortillas, etc. I rinse them out and then use them to freeze bagels, tortillas, bread, etc. With two kids, it is unrealistic for me to keep these things fresh in the house whenever we need them. Instead, I buy a bunch at a time in my own container and then transfer and freeze them. This isn't a perfectly plastic-free solution, but I feel okay about reusing these bags many times rather than getting rid of them once they're empty of their original contents.
I've also reviewed my town's recycling guidelines (we have moved so many times, I tend to get confused with what is accepted) and have been more vigilant about properly sorting my recycling. I learned that if recycling is contaminated more than 15%, it gets thrown away and that too many non-recyclable items mixed in actually causes fewer total things to be recycled. We weren't putting our recycling in plastic bags, but FYI, if you do this, the whole thing gets thrown away. The recycling plants don't have the resources to open plastic bags of recycling, so putting your recycling in plastic garbage bags would negate any efforts at recycling. More details are in Beth Terry's book. Some things like bottle caps, corks, and plastic bags aren't collected curbside, but they can be turned in at other places, so I'm sorting that kind of thing too and following up. Terracycle and the take 5 program (dropoff at Whole Foods) are other things to look into as far as local resources go. Recycling is not all that it's made out to be, so I use it as a last resort (after considering avoiding packaging in the first place and reusing/repurposing).
Finally, we have stopped using trash bags altogether. We have curbside commercial composting, so we separate all of our food scraps, which is basically all the wet trash. Those go in compostable bags in a little container in our kitchen. Then we have a trash can for recycling and one for trash. The items go right into the trash cans, and then we carry them out to dump into the curbside bins when they get full. Our recycling and trash bins are taking longer and longer to fill, which is great!
It's been a productive month for us on the green front I'd say. But there is always more work to be done...