Thursday, June 10, 2010

naked lunch

A facebook friend invited me to join a challenge this month to reduce or eliminate the plastic that I discard. It has been an interesting challenge. I have achieved a couple of plastic-dump-free days, I have found it to be very difficult to totally swear off throwing plastic into the trash.

Dump-free-days makes me think of Dumfries Street, which some teenagers (who will remain nameless) think is the funniest street name they have every heard of. They pronounce it "Dum Fries" street (like french fries) and have declared that when they grow up, they must own a house on Dum Fries Street. It's a pretty nice neighbourhood, near the cemetery, so I wouldn't mind visiting them there. I would probably help them pack their lunches to take to work, while they sat out in the yard in Adirondack chairs, drinking ginger beer and chortling about the name of their street. "heh heh heh! We live on Dum Fries Street, heh heh."

I have focused my plastic waste reduction in a couple of areas, the first being the lunches that I pack to work. Check out the photo of my lunch from a few days ago. If you go back to my previous post, entitled "lunch bag," you will note that this week's lunch uses less disposable plastic, which is good. It's relatively easy to use re-usable containers in place of plastic bags and plastic wrap. They keep the food fresh and contained, although they make my lunch bag a bit more bulky. In preparation for plastic waste reduction month, I re-organized the kitchen cabinet that holds the plastic containers. It's amazing how many lids we have that do not match to any containers, and vice versa. My theory is that the missing pieces are in the same place as the socks, the pens and the scotch tape.

My friend Linda talked to me about packing wraps for lunch, and how it's difficult to put a wrap in a plastic box and have it hold together. We discussed a few options for dealing with this problem:

- toothpicks
- lots of cream cheese, used as glue
-a kilt pin (remember to remove the kilt pin before eating the wrap, which I guess should also be said for the toothpicks, and the cream cheese, if you do not like cream cheese, but use it to hold your wrap together). If we eat lunch together, I will offer to remove any offending cream cheese before you eat your wrap. This reminds me of a long car trip, during which my kids (not yet teens at the time) obliged grandpa by sucking the chocolate off of the almonds, then feeding the almonds to him.

Ooops, I think I just went off on a tangent. Back to plastic waste reduction.

Another solution for the problem of the unraveling wrap is to bring the ingredients (in a re-usable container) and assemble them at lunchtime. This is especially good if you want to combine reheated fillings with cool crispy ones in your wrap.

Aside from this, packing lunch without disposable plastic is a piece of cake (just not choke cake, please).

The next area of waste reduction on which I have focused is shopping. Lots of stuff at the store comes wrapped in plastic. I feel fortunate that our children are young adults, and we don't buy toys for them any more, because by far the worst offenders in this regard are toys. I remember spending 10 minutes releasing a Barbie doll from bondage one Christmas, while our daughter practically died from anticipation. The poor plastic doll was tethered in her display box with about a dozen tiny zap strap type plastic ties, AND her hair was taped to her head with a cellophane head band. What did the manufacturers think? That she was going to hatch an escape plot and crawl out of the box while it sat under the Christmas tree? I just don't understand. One solution for this is to buy (or get for free from friends and family) used toys. Kids like them as well as brand new, and they can have them as soon as they see them.

I shop for food almost every day, and I've observed that the closer to the source a food product is, the less likely it is to be over-wrapped. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent example. They sit naked in the produce store until we load them into clear plastic bags before they go into the shopping basket, then maybe we put all of those plastic bags into larger bags for the ride home. Starting this month, I have been re-using the clear plastic bags from fruits and vegetables that I have finished up. I just stick them into the bag bin where I keep my cloth grocery bags, then pack them with me when I go out. Nobody at the produce store has complained that I am not using their clear bags, so I'm at least getting a few repeat uses of the clear bags before I have to chuck them. Linda tells me she brings a lot of her fruit and veggies home without a clear bag at all. She gets them weighed together, then puts them into her shopping bag. It must be nice for the bell peppers to mingle with the limes and zucchinis. Kind of like fruit and veggies going commando.

The clear bag re-use plan will also work for bulk food shopping, and possibly at the fish store or butcher, however I have not visited either of the latter this month. What it can't help is all of the foods that come pre-packaged, which sometimes even includes fruits and veg. And I can't help thinking about how they were wrapped while they traveled to the store, and sat in the cooler at the back of the store. Even if I don't see the plastic when they're on display, it may have been part of their journey. At least with plastic you take home, you can decide to re-use or recycle it. We're very good with milk jugs, yogurt containers, etc. taking them to the recycle bins. Sometimes I wonder if they are actually recycled, or if we're just paying someone to pick them up and make us feel virtuous.

The final area of focus is general trash disposal. We live in a townhouse complex. We have recycle bins and a green waste trailer, to divert all but "real" trash from the waste stream. We're planning to install a composter this summer in our back yard, to help our new box garden in the future. That will take care of our food scraps, egg shells etc. The "real trash" goes into a dumpster, and we have to bag it before it goes there. Loose "real trash" falls out of the dumpster when the truck flips it. Bagged "real trash" tumbles into the truck like good little trash. This is particularly critical for "real trash" categories such as used cat litter. Nobody likes that stuff to rain on their parade. I re-use whatever store bags we have for the trash from bathroom and bedroom wastebaskets, but I put a brand new, store bought plastic trash bag into my kitchen waste container every 2 or 3 days, and I use the same thing (only double bagged) for the aforementioned weekly used kitty litter disposal. I haven't figured out a way to get around this, and welcome any suggestions. Reusing store bags just doesn't work. They break, leak and scrunch down inside the kitchen wastebasket, all resulting in horrible yukkiness.

If I have not been successful in totally eliminating my plastic waste, I do feel good about changing my habits a bit, and improving my awareness. I'll try to keep this up even when June is over.

question: are you taking the no-plastic challenge? How is it going for you?

mompoet - look out for kilt pins and call me if you need help with surplus cream cheese.

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