Sunday, January 31, 2016

No More Disposable Plastic!

Unfortunately the future is plastic because plastic lives just about forever and will be the death of much of our environment, and maybe us. If you have not already, please see Wall-E for what our earth may eventually look like.

We must do as much as possible to greatly reduce the use of plastic!

Here is a seagoing bird that died from ingestion of plastic in the middle of the Pacific:

So my household is eliminating our need for plastic bags and other disposable plastic. No more hard copy newspaper with its plastic bag (see my separate post about my newspaper). No more disposable plastic grocery bags (thank you for the local plastic bag ban -- now we must make sure it becomes a reality for all of California!). No more produce bags. No more plastic bread bags. No more plastic garbage bags (see No more cereal boxes with their plastic bags. No more frozen foods in plastic bags. No more styrofoam meat trays. No more plastic wrap. No more ziploc bags (except for the quart size reusable one we need for airline travel).

I'm now using muslin cotton bags for our produce, bulk cereal, crackers, bread, chocolate, and more:

I transfer contents to more durable / air tight containers at home. I may start to bring some of the durable containers to stores and/or farmers market but the bags are convenient, compact, and easy to use.

For meat and fish I'm now bringing my washable and reusable containers to the butcher so they place the meat directly into these containers:

This even eliminates the need for butcher paper which is sometimes compostable (waxed) but sometimes not so much (plastic lined).

While my reusable containers are currently plastic (I'm using up my existing supply first), as these wear out I intend to replace them with glass ones that are freezer, oven, and microwave safe. My current top candidate is: Glasslock 18-Piece Assorted Oven Safe Container Set. I may also try mason jars and stainless steel containers, we'll see.

Waste reduction summary:
  1. Matter (material):
    1. Big win! Only using reusables, no more trash or very little plastic recycling (which is really downcycling and has lots of side effects). The plastic containers I use are sold as "disposables" but I've used them for many years. Eventually they wear out and need to be recycled but they are polypropylene (plastic #5) which is one of the safest plastics (doesn't leach and generally easy to recycle).
  2. Energy
    1. Big win. No more disposables to manufacture, transport to me, and transport to dump/recycling. Washing uses a bit of energy but is sustainable.
    2. Freezing takes a lot of energy, now we are eating more fresh foods instead.
    3. More local food that uses less energy to transport.
  3. Time
    1. Neutral once you change your habits. Just need to be prepared and have your reusables on hand. I visit the market more frequently but my shops are shorter. Plus gives me a chance to say hi to local neighbors too. I'm also now going to our local farmers market so I can even eliminate plastic twist ties often found on grocery produce.
  4. Space
    1. Big win. No more disposable plastics clogging landfills or filling recycling/trash trucks. We already had space for reusable containers that we now can just use more.
  5. Money
    1. Overall seems to net out. Sometime costs a bit more to get fresh food vs packaged. But no more buying plastic bags and plastic wrap. As more people switch to it, bulk foods will end up cheaper as less waste will result in less cost.
  6. Environment/Health/Life
    1. HUGE win. Eliminating the need for plastic is really, really huge. Plastic survives hundreds of years and is poisoning our ocean and land as well as people as it comes back around in our food chain.
    2. Fresh local food is better for you and tastes better as well.


Howard Baldwin - Columnist said...

I love the idea of taking plastic containers to the market! Have you run into any reluctance on the part of the stores viz. liability issues?

Tim Oey said...

I have not run into any reluctance at Zanotto's or Whole Foods to using my own clean reusable containers for picking up meat and fish. Sometimes the clerks have a bit of awkwardness weighing them properly as they have to account for the tare weight of the container, but so far so good. I have not yet tried using these at Safeway yet. Beth Terry in her book "Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too" noted some reluctance as she was an early pioneer of doing this, but she said if you go in with the attitude that you are just going to do it, shopkeepers just roll with it. Currently I know of no laws preventing reusables in these cases.

Interestingly, while I use local farmer's markets for fruits, vegetables and eggs (because bringing your own containers there works very well), I'm not going to get meat or fish at farmers markets anymore because those vendors generally prepackage those foods in plastic bags.

Sandi said...

Another glass container to include in your kit is old-fashioned mason jars. The pint-sized wide-mouth jars are really great for freezing soups or home-made stock They are can-shaped (straight-sided) so food slips out easily.

I do purchase the plastic lids ("Ball Wide-Mouth Plastic Storage Caps")because they work much better for storage & freezing than the two-part canning lid.

Unknown said...

Hi Tim,

A few other ideas... OSH and Target sell special bags for women to wash their lingerie in. They are mesh with a zipper. I use them for all the goods I buy at the Sunnyvale Farmer's Market. They are sturdy and of the dozen I purchased over a decade ago, only one got a zipper problem that I could not mend. I assume they weigh more than plastic and I am being charged for their weight, but I really don't care; it can't be that much. Sometimes I wait to put the produce back in the bag after buy it, but while that is practical for cabbage, it is not for 30 persimmons or 40 tomatos.

When we eat out, I bring tupperwares to bring home leftovers. I get odd looks, but no one actually screams or faints :)

We reuse the big rubberbands that come with asparagus at the farmer's market. I have kids, so they use them for all manner of things if I don't use them all up.

It's fun to watch your progress... keep posting!

Liz Steward

Unknown said...

Hi Tim,

I've used bags from OSH for produce at the market. They sold as laundry bags to protect lingerie, but they work great for produce. They are about 12x12 mesh and have a zipper. Mine have lasted over 10 years with only one having an unmendable zipper problem. They weigh a little and I pay for that when they weigh my produce, but it can't be much, maybe another 2 ounces?

I've also used tupperwares for take-home food at restaurants. I do get some odd looks, but no one has actually screamed or fainted!

Keep it up, you inspire the rest of us :)

Tim Oey said...

Thanks Elizabeth! We take our reusable containers to restaurants as well (and keep a supply in our car so we can do a quick trip out to fetch if needed).

Tedi said...

Interesting that you haven't had any trouble at Whole Foods. Our local Whole Foods have signs in the bulk section that specifically says you cannot bring your own containers due to health code regulations. I asked them why other stores like our co-op and some other local grocers will let you bring your own containers to fill, but they didn't have an answer.

Tim Oey said...

For the record we do use mason jars quite a bit to store food in our house. I tend not to shop with them very often (except to get my honey jar refilled) because glass jars break much more easily and are much heavier than my reusable plastic containers when I bike to the local grocery store.

Tim Oey said...

Tedi -- In what town/state do you live?

All -- Tedi's comment about Whole Foods not allowing customer containers is usually state specific. I live in California and the California Health Code specifically allows a consumer to bring their own container. See my later blog post at for more about this.

Tedi said...

I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I've read up a bit more on this topic and found out that, as you mention, California's Health Code specially allows consumers to bring their own container. It would be great if all states could change their health code to allow this. I think there would be support for this in Ann Arbor, but it could be difficult at the state level. Several years ago our county passed an ordinance imposing a 10 cent fee on paper and plastic bags dispensed in grocery stores. Right before it was supposed to go into effect the state legislature passed a new law in Michigan that prohibits local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. :(

Tim Oey said...

That is too bad that Michigan went the other way on bag bans. So many communities had bag bans that California decided to make it statewide. Bag bans have resulted in huge reductions in plastic pollution flying & flowing around. I hope Michigan will update its health code as well as implement a statewide bag ban.

Tim Oey said...

Also I totally agree that all states should change their health code to allow consumers to bring their own container. More people need to realize that unless we eliminate trash, we all will end up eating it in our food supply. Plastic, while an amazing material, is extremely difficult to recycle and most is made from fossil fuels. I'm bicycling across the US in 2019 from aquarium to aquarium to talk with people and communities about the serious threats our children face from plastic pollution as well as global warming. For more please see Thanks!