At our home, one week is yard waste week and one week is recycling week. We have a very small trash bin and a very large recycling bin. I have always tried to recycle as much as possible and not throw away a lot. However, the other day I got an “oops” notice that I could not recycle takeout containers or frozen food boxes. It turns out there are several items that cannot be recycled in our area.
Then, about 2 weeks ago for some reason the truck forgot to take our recycling. Our bin was very full, so now we have an overflow of recycling in our garage. I have boxes I am filling with recycling until it is picked up again on Wednesday morning.
Given that I spend quite a bit of time on recycling and dealing with it, especially when there is a backlog, it really made me think about the packages of items that I was bringing home after grocery shopping. So many things come in plastic clam-shells, plastic bags or other types of plastic tubs and containers. Very few plastic containers (even if they have a recycling symbol/number on them) can be recycled in our area. So, even though it may make it to the recycling plant, it may get thrown away anyway. And, recycling takes quite a bit of energy.
In a way I am glad that we have had these experiences recently because it made me think- “Wow! Having too much recycling or bringing in too many packaging items when grocery shopping is a form of clutter as well.” I was cluttering up our garage with lots of extra packaging that may or may not be recyclable. This realization made me take lots of action. It will be a gradual, continual process of change which I will update you all on, but I feel that I have made headway already.
My goal is to get down to mostly recycling: glass, paper and metal. These materials are much easier to recycle and take less energy to do so. Recycling these items is a win-win because we save a lot of water and raw materials by recycling them.
Plastics on the other hand are very complicated to recycle and also just because it has a number on it doesn’t mean it will be recycled in your area, or at all. Those number just state the type of plastic that is used. Single-use plastics are the ones that we should be most concerned about. These are ones that are used for packaging or things like takeout containers or forks, spoons, knives used at food trucks, for camping or picnics.
Here is a quote from an article I found online by Viv who sells compostable food supplies:
“While a number of plastics are now recyclable, EcoCycle encourages you to avoid plastic and single-use packaging as much as possible—in the past 45 years, it’s increased more than 10,000%!”
Wow!! An increase of 10,000% in single use plastic use. I can believe it as I look around my kitchen cupboards and realize there are many products I will not be buying anymore unless I can find them in non-plastic packaging.
Here are some things that I have started doing to reduce plastic waste and reduce our recycling as well.
Reducing Plastic at the Grocery Store:
When you go grocery shopping you can reduce the single-use plastics that you bring home by paying close attention to what the products are packaged in. Also, I have stopped using plastic bags at the store for my fruits and vegetables. I can either use mesh bags, put them in re-usable bags I have brought from home, or just put them straight into the cart. I have started to make sure that as many bottled items come in a glass bottle and preferably with a metal lid. Yesterday when I went shopping I decided to buy broth base in a glass jar with a metal lid instead of buying broth in a carton with a plastic lid. All in all I only came home with 1 plastic jar of a condiment that I couldn’t find a current alternative for. I will continue to find ways to reduce and ultimately not bring home any plastic packaging as time goes on. Next will be to buy in bulk using my own bags or jars.
I am also going to make a real effort to shop more at the local farmer’s market because plastic packaging is not so prevalent there. I of course have a lot of reusable bags I can use and many of the products are packaged in paper or in glass jars. Also because the products are produced locally it doesn’t take as much fuel use to get them to shoppers. This is a great win-win situation where you are creating less waste, fewer items to recycle and you are supporting local farmers and makers.
Making Your Own:
Another way to reduce single-use plastic packaging is to make some of the items that you usually buy in the grocery store yourself. Three examples that I have tried or will try that usually come in plastic packaging are the following:
Bread: While you sometimes can get bread in a paper bag, many loaves come in plastic bags. Knowing that we buy at least 1 loaf a week, I decided to teach my son how to make bread. We made 2 loaves and then wrapped them in fabric bags to be stored on the counter for slicing for sandwiches and toast. My son was thrilled, had fun and noted that the bread tasted amazing!
Pasta: Many types of pasta come in plastic bags or in cardboard boxes with plastic windows in them. This week I am going to show my son how to make pasta since we have a pasta roller and cutter at home. We will make a batch of fresh pasta to use for dinner and it will save packaging!
Yogurt: Usually every week I buy Greek yogurt. I always buy the largest container that I can, but it is still a plastic container. For this reason I looked up how to make yogurt online and it is so easy! As soon as I am done with the yogurt I have in the refrigerator I will make my own.
As time goes on I am sure that we will make lots of other items that we usually buy in packages. We will continue to reduce our waste and recycling.
Take Out Containers:
Last night I tried an experiment and it worked great! We went to a local restaurant to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I know that we always take leftovers home with us and since these containers cannot be recycled in our area, I decided to bring two glass containers from home to the restaurant to put our leftovers in. This worked perfectly! Sure enough, we filled both containers with our leftovers and there was no food waste and no container waste either!
When you buy items locally (not just groceries) you reduce the amount of packaging because you can bring your own bags and you are not creating more recycling by having all of those cardboard boxes and packing materials to sort through. Also, it takes less fuel/transport to get the items to you. There are some wonderful zero waste products that you may need to order online, but those companies usually use very little packaging and it is easily recycled or even can be sent back to be re-used. I know that my local UPS store will take packing materials and re-use them which is a plus for those times when you need to order certain things online.
For my summer wardrobe(since I have de-cluttered old summer outfits) I have my eye on going to the local, beautiful vintage clothing store for a couple of special items. In this way I am reducing waste because this clothing is getting re-used and given a new life. Much of vintage clothing is also made from more natural fibers such as cotton and silk. It’s great to be excited about making old clothing new again by getting a “new-to-you” outfit.
I would love to hear your ideas on reducing plastic waste and other waste. Comment below or send an email to me:
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