Monday, May 11, 2009

How To Reduce Plastic Usage - My Top 10. OK, 15.

By request, here are my top tips for reducing plastic usage. Many of these are new habits, and habits must be acquired over time. So if you are trying to follow these tips, be kind to yourself!

1. Stop purchasing and drinking bottled water. Drink good old tap, filtered if you must. Use a regular glass or a re-usable bottle. I have two-- a knock-off Sigg and a Kleen Kanteen.

2. Stop purchasing and drinking other beverages that come in plastic, especially in single serving containers-- sodas, iced tea, juices, etc.

3. Use re-usable shopping bags. Also, carry small purchases in your knapsack or just carry it in the open.

4. Use fabric produce bags, like these from EcoBags. For larger produce items like whole fruits and veggies, you don't need a bag at all.

5. Take a look at the processed foods you buy- breads, chips, cereals, condiments...basically anything that came from an inside aisle at the store. Most of it comes with plastic, right? Try to find plastic free alternatives.

6. Purchase loose bulk food items, and use your fabric produce bags. Loose bulk includes things like oatmeal, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruits, popcorn, granola, flour, sugar...all kinds of things.

7. Buy used. Books, clothing, CDs, home items, whatever. If you need it, consider getting it used. Used means no plastic packaging, and it keeps stuff in circulation and out of the landfill.

8. Get to know your local recycling situation. What exactly goes in your city's curbside recycling? Are plastic bags recycled locally? What other programs are available in your area? These include Gimme 5 for #5 plastic items, Aveda's bottle cap program, Best Buy's electronics recycling program, other area electronics recycling events. Once familiar, recycle everything you possibly can. This doesn't mean go buy new stuff because you can recycle it-- recycle what you already have!

9. Acquire re-usable to-go ware. Coffee mug, utensils, foldable fabric bag. Carry them. Use them.

10. Stop eating take-out. Eat in, on real plates! Enjoy your food! Take-out involves a lot of plastic, so just stop. If you like taking leftovers home, some people take containers with them to the restaurant-- I haven't done that yet, but have at it.

10a. I confess to being lazy and not packing my lunch nearly as much as I should. So tip 10a is to learn which take out places offer food in paper-- like Subway, delis, etc.

11. Eat naked food! Basically, this means stop buying processed foods that come in plastic and buying whole foods that come in their own skins. Also, get to know your mongers, if you have them: fish mongers, meat mongers, cheese mongers-- they'll wrap your naked food in paper if you ask.

12. Discover your local bakeries. Bread isn't meant to come with preservatives, pre-sliced, and bagged in plastic. Really.

12. Get used to saying things like: "I dont' need a bag with that, thanks!", "No straw with that, please!", "Can you wrap this in paper, and skip the plastic? plastic! Ok, thanks!" "Do you have any real mugs back there behind the counter?" (This last one is when you are stranded on the Upper East Side, land of no good coffee houses, and go into Starbucks).

13. Learn to prep for shopping trips. In addition to making a list, pack your fabric produce and shopping bags.

14. Start looking at the other plastic in your life-- cosmetics, toiletries, home accessories, storage containers, etc. As they are consumed or wear out, can you recycle them? Can you replace them with something that can be re-used, lasts longer, and is more sustainable?

15. Using plastic containers in the kitchen? Me too. Someday I want to replace them with glass refrigerator containers. Until then (here's the tip), I'm keeping them out of the microwave. Heating plastic means risking that bad stuff from the plastic will transfer to the food.


Anonymous said...

Where do you find places that sell food in bulk in NYC?

Juli said...

My favorite bulk food section in NYC is at Fairway on 73rd Street, on the 2nd floor. It is well maintained and well used- so stuff doesn't stay there too long and go bad. Other than that, health food stores and little organic groceries have them-- unfortunately Whole Foods does not. Integral Yoga's grocery store (W. Village) also has a good bulk section.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! I've been trying to find a grocery store that has a decent bulk food section!

emiliano granado said...

amazing. thank you so much.

i feel like each one of these bullet points could be it's own blog post. your commitment to being plastic-less has made you an expert and a great resource! thank you for sharing all that info with us. i look forward to many more of these types of posts (links, resources, etc). it will make us all more knowledgeable. and if we follow your lead, it could be the single most important thing you've done to reduce plastic waste.

emiliano granado said...

oh, and how do you throw your garbage away? plastic bags from the grocery annoy the hell out of me, but i've been using them as garbage bags.

Juli said...

Emiliano- I have been using plastic bags that come my way for the kitchen trash. Unless I am cooking meat, the kitchen trash doesn't need taking out very often- almost everything else goes to recycling and compost. I don't use liners for bedroom and bathroom trash cans, but just take those right outside to the trash bin. I could do that with the kitchen can, but then would need to clean and sterilize it more often. This is an area where I'm still finding my way.

katecontinued said...

Juli, I showed some 2nd graders a trick with trash in a composting demo the other day. When I was a little girl vegetable trimmings and other food scraps were laid in an opened day old newspaper and then rolled into a bundle. This would keep the smells and moisture out of the can until we took it outside. One can't wait too long, but this is still a way to use the grocery circulars until I get it all to the compost bin.

Angela said...

Thanks so much for the information.

I've been tormented by the #5 yogurt tins I eat for ages! I know they're recyclable, but our bins only allow #1 and #2, and the recycling center practically sneered at me.

Juli said...

Kate- thanks for the comment! I recently discovered your blog from reading The NonConsumer Advocate and have been enjoying it; I'm so pleased you found mine.

If you use Brita filters, Gimme 5 also takes those, which are made from #5.