Getting By

So far nobody has asked us why we’re taking a plastic fast. Seems to me that we’re not alone in wanting to clean up our act. What we get asked about is exactly how it is we plan to get by without the substance that seems to be literally engulfing the planet.*

Good question. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t have begun to answer it. I was busy filling my cart with what looked good, had a USDA organic label on it, and was cheap. Yep, that included a lot of plastic wrap, bottles, tubs, and bags. No doubt about it: food is at the crux of our plastic habit. Maybe that’s why it seems so difficult to “live” without it. I’ve done some thinking since then. And started making changes, some of them so simple I’m embarrassed it took a vow of abstinence to implement them. From easiest to most challenging, here’s the general program:

:: If we can find an alternative to plastic, we get it. This means simply choosing the product packaged in paper or glass (metal lids a bonus), or sold in bulk. It does occasionally take an additional twenty seconds of scanning the shelves before finding the plastic-free item in question.

:: Lots of things we’re learning to make from scratch. Mostly for the fun of it. But also because we can’t live without yogurt, tortillas, ricotta, and cookies.

:: A few things we’ll have to compromise on, like toothpaste caps.

:: Some things (like tortilla chips) we’ll have to go way out of our way to get (from the burrito stands that make them fresh).

:: And some things we’ll do without altogether.

So far we seem to be getting by just fine, with the unexpected side effect of eating healthier than we have in years. Our food is fresh, whole, and, more than ever before, local. Got suggestions or questions? Holler, please.

*In the movie Addicted to Plastic it is estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean, and that the ratio of plastic to plankton is 10:1.

The Unexpected Abundance of Going Without

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Here’s the deal: we’re quitting plastic.

Not forever. For four months. Starting January first, we will buy no new plastic. Nothing wrapped in plastic, nothing made of plastic. No new plastic.

At its core this semester-long experiment is a way for us to step outside our comfort zone, so rife with cop-outs like filling our eco totes with heavily packaged food. It’s a symbolic action, but one that feels necessary to take. We can’t realistically throw away the keys to our cars or turn out the lights. We can’t move to the country and live off the grid. But we can get by without plastic.

I think.

At first, I looked at the countdown to New Years Day as a doomsday march. However would we get by? I considered sneaking extra toothbrushes and packages of baby wipes into the shopping cart each week to build up a supply for desperate times.

But a funny thing happened. Once I started looking, I saw all around me how easy it was to not use plastic. The abundance was startling and intoxicating. I mean, have you ever really looked at what is available in the bulk food section of your local co-op? I hadn’t. Those hippies figured it out forty years ago. Where have I been? Trader Joe’s, apparently.

Transitioning to a plastic free life is a bit like preparing for a trip to a foreign country you’ve always wanted to visit. In my case that foreign country is The Olden Days. A land where I get to bake my family’s bread, milk goats, and churn butter. (Just kidding on that last one. If butter came wrapped in plastic I wouldn’t have agreed to this experiment.)

Of course, you don’t need to quit plastic to do any of these things. But it all fits together, this letting go of one thing and welcoming in of another. Our desire to reduce plastic to help the planet, or at least to do less harm to it in our daily lives, was the inspiration for this experiment. The potential it offers us to achieve long dormant dreams, to grow in unexpected ways, to claim our power as agents of change—these are the things that will carry it forward.

It’s still two months from our experiment’s start date, but we’ve already reduced our plastic consumption by more than half. Simply opening ourselves to the idea of making such a big change has changed us in big ways.