Week-2: Breaking Up With Plastic Part II
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Well hello again! Welcome to the second week of 11 Weeks To A Green Home: The Sustainability Series. Last week we started the series with looking at how plastic affects our health and planet, as well as what to replace it with around our food, how to go about doing it and featured organizations and companies that are leading the charge in reducing plastic waste. This week, let’s turn our attention to other areas in our homes and lives that could benefit from eliminating single/short-term use plastic.
Plastic On Your Body
The next phase of plastic elimination, the plastic that we slather on our bodies and wear! This includes things like our clothing, shower items, and personal care products. Our skin is our largest organ, and in a luxuriously hot shower or bath, our pores are wide open to absorb any endocrine disruptors leached into our favorite shampoos, conditioners, and body washes! Plus, unless you keep refilling the same bottles for years to come, they count as short-term, single-use bottles. Opt for glass or metal bottles/jars instead of plastic and refill them! You can even get silicone sleeves for your mason jars like these:
Avoid Anything With Microbeads
Microbeads are a big deal in the plastic pollution world. All those “exfoliating” microbeads so popular in body washes? Yeah… they go STRAIGHT into our waste stream. Avoid them and use a sugar scrub or dry brush your skin instead.
Refill Bottles at the Store
It would be lovely if EVERY store had this option. A lot of natural food stores that cater to no-packaging requests do. If your store doesn’t, ask them about it! Starting a conversation helps to make them aware of the need! Here in San Diego, Ocean Beach People’s Co-Op has a good bulk refill option for personal care products. There are also bulk refill stations like Common Good, and check out companies like Plaine Products! Their bottles are aluminum, and they send you a return label for the empties! It’s not a perfect solution with the added shipping but compared to recycling or tossing shower products every time they’re empty; it’s definitely a win! If you happen to be in the Bay area of California, there’s a LOCAL company that will deliver refills right to your door!
Make a single-use bottle last longer with concentrated products like Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap, and Cal Ben Five Star Shampoo Concentrate. They even have options to purchase large quantities which also reduces the amount of overall packaging and waste.
Make Your Own
This is a little bit next level, lol! I’m working on this one myself right now. Hair feel and appearance is a very delicate subject for a lot of people, lol! Back in the day, “toilet soap” (castile soap as opposed to the lye “washing soap” used for clothes) and diluted vinegar was what people used to wash their hair! Occasionally an egg yolk was tossed into the mix for gentle cleansing. It apparently makes hair very soft and shiny! There are recipes abound online for DIY shampoos, conditioners, soaps, etc. I have made my own sugar scrubs for years, and in an upcoming series, I’ll be doing a DIY lotion, soap and lip balm tutorial based on experience. If you have experience in making your own personal care products, please let us know what’s worked for you in the comment section!
Okay, I know I promised in my announcement that the sustainability series wasn’t gonna tell you to ditch your razor and bulk order patchouli. Well, I was half-right! I am gonna recommend you ditch your razor, but only to replace it with a MUCH better one that uses less waste and gives your legs the closest shave you (or your special someone) have ever experienced. It’s a safety razor marketed toward men, but the trend is catching on for women as well. This lovely gal who wrote an article for the telegraph in the UK will show you how to use one. The recommended Merkur brand has a very nice weight in hand, and I’m finding it’s not too difficult to use! There is ZERO plastic involved, and one razor is built to last a lifetime. You only need to change out the recyclable stainless steel blades.
In week one we talked about microfiber pollution and how we’re eating microplastics in our seafood and sea salt by washing synthetic materials. If you didn’t get a chance to read the research on that, basically the higher quality clothing, the fewer microfibers wash away. So for those of us that need (hey, the need is valid!) our fave stretchy comfy yoga gear, let’s make sure they’re high quality.
For all other clothing, consider switching to renewable, high-quality organic cotton, bamboo or hemp. Yes, they can be crazy expensive but they last a lot longer, and if you start with just a couple pieces you’ll become a believer. I received a 100% organic bamboo robe a few years ago for Christmas. I had to buy some bamboo pants & t-shirts so that I didn’t live in my robe! It’s SOOOOOO soft and amazingly comfortable! This directory keeps a pretty updated list of natural and eco-friendly clothing manufacturers.
All of the same principles apply to cleaning supplies as personal care products: Refill from Bulk, use concentrates or make your own. We’ll be diving into the details of making your own cleaning supplies in a few weeks. I’ve got a recipe that I’ll share with you that I use for pretty much every surface in my house. It’s easy to make and works like a charm! If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the blog, and I’ll send it right to your inbox. For laundry, my mom swears by Soap Nuts! I’ve just got a bulk order and will be trying them out so stay tuned for an update on that!
Some of these are totally unavoidable, like your car, or the computer/mobile phone you’re reading this on. Consider plastic appliances that are easier to swap out for non-plastic materials. Do your pots and pans have a Teflon coating? How about your slow cooker? Is your blender carafe glass? These are prime areas to swap for stainless steel or ceramic! I bought a vintage VitaMixer on eBay several years ago that was the last year they made them with stainless steel carafes. 40 years later and it’s still running like a CHAMP! I use it to grind grain into meal for the chickens a LOT, lol! Check out this small food processor with a glass bowl!
Consider donating any appliance that you’re swapping out if it still works well! Someone will buy plastic regardless of whether it’s second-hand store or retail. It will save it from a landfill and prolong the use of a plastic item without impacting your home prepared food. Plus the less new plastic that is sold, the stronger the consumer message that is sent.
In the Garden
This area is a big one for me because I’m an avid organic gardener! Growing my own incredibly nutritious fruits and vegetables is a passion of mine. I even filter the water that goes into my garden beds and planters and test my fruit with a Brix refractometer, so… healthy gardening is essential to me.
Opt for Wood and Clay/Ceramic
I use both wooden and terra cotta pots outside to hold my trees and berry bushes. They work GREAT! If you’re in an area that freezes, I would recommend using wooden containers. Terra Cotta can crack in frozen conditions. I get my large wooden plant pots at my local nursery for reasonable costs and then spruce them up. I’ve also used fabric pots… until I realized that they are synthetic (aka plastic) so they’re out, lol! I’ll be experimenting with burlap grow bags this spring and will post a DIY project so, stay tuned!
The next big hurdle for me is the hose and my irrigation system. I installed a drip irrigation system on an automatic wifi timer that I love! Unfortunately, the polyvinyl tubing must go! I’m looking into copper piping, bamboo, stainless steel hoses and other alternatives and I’ll update this post as I have experience with changing those over.
Ollas are the original automatic irrigation system, and I use them in some of my planters to get water to the root system as the roots need it. They do take up quite a bit of space though, so for very small spaces (like my garden beds) they might not work.
Hugelkultur beds are another water solution that is working great at my parents’ house! You literally bury logs, grass, straw, twigs, etc… under your garden bed and they act like rain sponges that during the growing season your plants sip on. They also feed all the microbes in your soil, provide air pockets for plant roots and are basically amazing. I’ll be incorporating hugelkultur into my raised beds this year and will post about it.
There’s always, of course, the option of hand watering, with a watering can. Lol!
Plastic bagged specialized soil??? Yup, I’ve done it! I have 4 bags in my storage shed right now of special no-manure potting soil and “Palm & Citrus” mix. That’s gonna have to change. When I filled my raised beds, I did it with bulk organic soil from my favorite local nursery. It was pricey at $52/cubic yard, but I didn’t need a whole lot and they’re a locally owned family business so I prefer to support them. Most nurseries and garden centers have bulk soil options and some of them deliver it right to you! A really easy way to skip the plastic bag is to bring metal trash cans and fill them up! This is what I’ll be doing in the future for potting soil. You can get a bulk order of Pearlite or amend the soil with other things to get the proper composition for your needs. I’ll be posting some recipes for different soil uses in the gardening section soon! A word of caution: If you’re planning on getting chickens, importing soil is not always the best solution, especially if it’s been around chickens or amended with chicken manure. It’s probably how I got Marek’s Disease Virus on my property and lost my first flock of chickens. Be extra selective about the soil you import and make sure you know absolutely everything about what has gone into it and what’s been around it before adding it to your property.
Have you ever used plastic buckets, plastic trowels or spades? They don’t hold a candle to metal tools with wood handles! Invest in some good quality iron and wood garden tools and take care of them. You don’t even have to invest a lot of money! Check on Craigslist or FB Marketplace for used garden tools! Someone’s always getting rid of them! I have spades and tools passed to me by my landlord that are 40+ years old and going strong! eBay has also been a great source for steel buckets, metal egg baskets and such! The thing about good quality tools is that they last a REALLY long time.
I have a plastic rain barrel. It’s irked me since I bought it, but it was a step up from the flimsy PVC “portable rain barrel” I had before. I’m replacing it with food grade 55-gallon steel drums I bought second hand for $15 each. Steel drums aren’t your only option! Oak whiskey barrels are another! Just make sure that whatever container you buy is food grade and it comes from a trustworthy source. There are plenty of reputable retailers on Craigslist that collect whiskey/ wine barrels and food grade steel drums from manufacturers to sell second hand.
One of the things that I have always felt uneasy about was all the PVC tubing used in greywater systems, and rainwater harvesting/diverting systems. Okay, let’s just acknowledge that a lot of our municipal piping is PVC and we’re probably not going to get away from tainted plasticized water at the tap. What we do with it from there though is up to us! There are natural filtering solutions that could be a big help on a larger scale. It’s an issue that I’ll be delving into this year and finding solutions for so if you’re interested in that too, make sure to subscribe to our blog and I’ll keep you updated as I get new information!
Plastic and Our Pets
Aren’t our pets totally amazing?!? As I’m writing this, I have ten precious beings that have been entrusted to my care. Seven Chickens, two cats and my partner in crime: Valentino, my Border Aussie. There is a LOT of plastic in the pet world. Leashes, collars food storage, toys, beds, dishes, etc… Here are some solutions I use now, and some I’ve found to use in the very near future.
I have looked high and low for non-plastic pet food packaging. As far as commercial food goes, it seems that recycling the bags is the best option currently. Many local handcrafted pet food suppliers are popping up in cities like this one in Orange County, CA. It’s possible to ask them if they’d use stainless steel or something other than plastic. Luckily, one of my favorite pet food companies, the Honest Kitchen is right here in San Diego. I intend on asking them if I can bring my own container and fill up in bulk. I’ll keep ya posted on what they say. Either way, if there’s no great option for plastic-free commercial pet food, buying in larger quantities, storing in galvanized steel, and recycling the plastic bag will reduce plastic bag waste.
Buy in Bulk:
Another option to reduce bag waste is, of course, to buy your pet food in the bulk section of your grocery store. Many stores are adding pet food to their bulk bins. It limits your choice of ingredients which for some may not be an option.
Cook for Your Pet
There is always the option of cooking for your pet. It’s important to consult with a certified pet nutritionist to make sure that the food you prepare is nutritionally complete. There are helpful guidelines here. Even if you only cook a few meals a week for your pets, you’re reducing plastic waste. If you’re a heavy treat doler-outer, making your own dog or cat treats is a lot easier, cost-effective and a great way to dip your toes into homemade pet food.
Storage and Serving
All my animals are fed and watered in ceramic dishes. With my chickens somehow this was just a no-brainer. I went 99% plastic free with them from the beginning and just found non-plastic alternatives at every pass. I reasoned that not only was it better for them, but I would be eating the eggs they provided me, which I didn’t want to be laced with any hormone disruptors, or toxic chemicals. So they have gotten primo treatment from the get-go. Real, whole bio-appropriate food, plenty of organic homegrown greens and I even breed mealworms and black soldier fly grubs for them. I’ve always stored the chicken feed in galvanized steel containers. They drink the same filtered water I drink (we can talk about how spoiled they are later, lol) and their water container is actually my old ceramic water crock re-purposed once I got my Berkey. I added a BriteTap chicken nipple waterer which is plastic but covered by a UV cover. In the future, I may choose a different option.
Bedding and Toys
This area is one I’m about to change in my house. I’ve long known the amazing natural antibacterial and insulating properties of sustainable wool and have heard rave reviews about organic wool pet beds and toys. I found these and these that I’ll be checking out for the kitties. If you are buying toys, choose natural, renewable fibers like hemp, wool, organically processed bamboo. Don’t be afraid of making your own either! I made one of my cats’ favorite scratching post by taking organic sisal rope and wrapping it around a scrap piece of 4×4 wood. It’s totally compostable, has lasted two years so far and is still going strong! I’ve also collected chicken feathers to make “birdies” for the cats to chase. When they’re bedraggled and done for, I pop them in the compost! No waste!
Changing To Non-Plastic In Your Life
Remember to do what is realistic for you now. Bookmark this page and come back to it when you’re ready to expand your non-plastic horizons! Between Week 1: It’s Time To Break Up With Plastic and this week’s installment, there are a lot of ways to say goodbye to plastic in your life. Next week in the 11 Weeks To A Green-Home- Sustainability Series, we’ll be going step-by-step through eliminating junk mail from your mailbox and reducing paper waste in your house! If you’d like the article to arrive directly in your email, SUBSCRIBE to the blog, and I’ll send it over to you Thursday morning.