Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting Ready for Plastic Free July

I can't believe it's July already.  Tomorrow, we start the Plastic Free July challenge.

Plastic Free July

If you haven't heard about it, Plastic Free July is all about eliminating disposable plastic (i.e. plastic that is meant to be used once, or very little, and then thrown away) from our lives for an entire month.

What makes single-use plastic so bad?  
It is destroying our oceans.
It is harmful to wildlife.
It is harmful to us.

The "convenience" is not worth it.

Ten Eleven things you can do:

1. Take reusable shopping bags.
2. Bring your own water bottle.
3. Say no to straws, or bring your own glass straw.
4. Bring your own travel mug for tea and coffee.
5. Don't use coffee pods.
6. Buy dry goods (beans, rice, etc.) from the bulk bins in your own container.
7. Use vinegar, baking soda and bar soap for cleaning.
8. Bring your own utensils.
9. Shave with a safety razor.
10. DIY personal care products.
11. Compost your food scraps.

Some posts to get you started:

How to Shop in the Bulk Bins
Deplastify Your Bathroom
Plastic-Free Shaving: Using a Safety Razor
DIY Deodorant
Less Toxic and Plastic-Free Laundry Routine

Plastic Free July's website has even more ideas.  So does Beth Terry's.

I am a U.S. blogger, but if you are in the U.K., check out Plastic is Rubbish, she has a whole list of wonderful bloggers over there who are also participating in Plastic Free July.

What will I be doing?
As I mentioned in the lead up to Zero Plastic Week, I sometimes fell victim to the convenience of tea bags.  Although the tea bags themselves were compostable (Not all of them are! Be careful, most are made with plastic in the bag itself!), the wrappers were not.  I have been buying tea in bulk since then, so this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Meat is the biggie.  Sometimes they will put it in a container for me, sometimes not.  And to be honest, I get sick of asking, so I settle for the plastic-wrapped variety.  I kind of just avoided it during Zero Plastic Week, but I won't for Plastic Free July.  The butcher paper they use is plastic lined, so that won't work, either.  Any tips?

Most metal jar lids are lined with a little bit of plastic, and while I can't say that I will be entirely giving up glass jar food items, I will make an attempt to make some homemade strawberry jam and tomato sauce this month.

I will also be more specific with WHY I am refusing items.  I have been at times handed straws (already in my drink), bags, etc. while eating out, even when I specifically ask for none.  I think if I say "No straw please, I try not to use any single-use plastic," it might be a little more effective.  Hopefully this will not come off as rude, as I know the waitstaff is just trying to do their job, and do not want to listen to me tell them about dying sea turtles.  What do you say when refusing a straw when eating out?  Is there a better way to get your request across?  Or do you just ask for no straw and hope for the best?

Sign up for Plastic Free July here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Plastic (and synthetic fragrance) free deodorant

Before I begin this post, let me say I am not a dirty hippie (not that there is anything wrong with that!).  I am a clean person, I take showers and I do not smell.

But while I did not smell dirty, I was sick of smelling like synthetic fragrance. (Read about some of the issues with synthetic fragrance here).

So last year, in the spirit of Plastic Free July, I tried out making my own deodorant.  And it worked better than any store bought deodorant that I had ever used.

Here's what I do:

1 part baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda for those of you not in the US:)
1 part organic corn starch or arrowroot powder
Optional: A few drops of essential oil (I like lavender)

The baking soda is what fights the odor, and the cornstarch is absorbent.  Some people find the baking soda slightly irritating (I haven't had a problem with it!), and if that's you, just up the ratio of cornstarch.  Alternatively, you can put a little coconut oil on before you apply the deodorant.

This is just one option, there are many others, but this is effective for me (and my husband).  What do you do for deodorant?  Have you tried this?  Let me know how it works!  Let's simplify our bathrooms!

Sign up for Plastic Free July here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to get clean without making the environment filthy: Plastic free shampoo and soap

How many plastic bottles do you have hanging around in the shower?  Right now, I have none, but the answer used to be pretty different, probably around seven or eight.  And I probably would have told you that they were all absolutely necessary.  They're not.

And when I started thinking more carefully about the ingredients in the personal care products I was using, I tried to find replacements for all of those bottles.  "Eco-friendly shampoo!" a bottle would exclaim.  But the ingredients were still harsh, and it was expensive.

When I committed to going plastic-free last July, I tried something else.  Soap.

Soap.  Imagine that.  Could it be so simple?  Yes, it was.  Soap with paper (or no) wrapping and no plastic waste.  Soap with simple, gentle ingredients.

What's in our shower now?  Two bars of soap.  A moisturizing lavender olive oil soap and a solid shampoo bar (a.k.a. soap) that uses a blend of oils and herbs that is good for hair.

Besides the fact I am no longer disposing of plastic bottle after plastic bottle, my bathroom is no longer cluttered and no longer feels like a giant advertisement.  Simplify.

There are tons of places that sell homemade soaps.  You may be able to find some at your farmers' market.  I get my shampoo bars from Aquarian Bath (I like the Lavender/Sesame/Aloe bar).  They give you the option to have your bars shipped without individual packaging, which is great! Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve also sells shampoo bars that come in paper packaging.  And Lush also sells solid shampoo, although with more ingredients.  I buy our regular bar soap from Dr. Dandelion, their soap is so moisturizing.  Making my own soap is on my list of things to try this summer, if that sounds like something you are interested in, The Nerdy Farm Wife has some great tutorials.  And as I mentioned in my last post, my husband gets his shave soap from Simmons, and they also sell bars of regular soap as well.

As for conditioner, I rinse my hair with apple cider vinegar about once every one to two weeks, and use just a touch (super small amount!) of coconut oil to control any frizz.

One more thing-you've probably been reading about micro beads in the news.  They are in a surprising amount of our personal care products, and before I made the switch to more natural products, I was absolutely guilty of using them, too.  Please find an alternative.  If that's the only thing you can commit to, do that.  Because they are ending up in our lakes and waterways.  And they are in a surprising number of products, from things you'd expect like face scrub, to things you wouldn't like hand soap and toothpaste.

(Just one more side note, I promise!:)  Recycling is an imperfect solution for these plastic bottles.  "Downcycling" is a big issue-your plastic bottle isn't turning into another plastic bottle, it's turning into a carpet or some other item that can't be recycled again.  Some great articles about recycling here, here, and hereREDUCE should be first on the list, not recycle.)

Do you have any great places to get soap?  Have any of you tried your hand at making your own?  Are you going to try bar shampoo for Plastic Free July?

Sign up for Plastic Free July here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Plastic-free shaving: using a Safety Razor

Before I began this plastic-free, environmentally conscious journey, I had no idea what a safety razor was.  I used one of those multi-bladed disposable cartridge razors that are on the TV commercials.  And kind of assumed that people always used some version of a disposable razor.

There is another (much better) option.

Your dad or grandfather might know what it is.

A safety razor.

Plastic free shaving: Using a Safety Razor

It works just about the same as the razor you already have.  Except with a whole lot less waste.  (Environmentally and financially).

You get a reusable, stainless steel handle, which you place a metal razor blade into.  The handle will last you forever.  And the blades usually come in boxes of 100.  We are not even 3/4 of the way through the box I bought last year.  (And that's with two people using it). You know how much that box of razor blades cost?  Thirteen dollars.  Do you know how much FOUR CARTRIDGES cost for one of those other disposable razors?  Sixteen dollars.  For four. 

I have found the safety razor to work just as well, if not better than the disposable razor/cartridge that I was using before.  Razor burn is no longer a problem.  My husband is also impressed with the shave he gets.

Safety razor FAQ's (or at least some questions I had last year):

1. The razor blades look scary.  And sharp.  Will I cut myself more often?  No.  I have not cut myself any more than with the multi-blade cartridge I was using before.  Make sure you use less pressure when shaving and you will be fine.

2. Is there any difference between using a safety razor versus the disposable I was using before?  No, I found it to be very similar.  Just use less pressure when shaving, and you'll be fine.

3. Can I use this to shave my legs, etc., etc.?  Yes.

4. What do I do with the used blades? I poked a slit on top of a can of broth and stick the used blades in there.  When it is full, I will take it to my recycling center.  Do not just dump used blades in your recycling bin, as they are obviously sharp, and could hurt someone.  There are also used "blade banks" that sell on ebay.

5. I am still using shaving cream with harsh ingredients.  Is there a better option?  Yes.  I use regular bar soap, but my husband uses shaving soap and a brush to get a good lather.  He likes the soap from Simmons and we got him a shaving brush here.  You put the shaving soap into a mug, wet the brush and work the soap into a lather.

6. You've convinced me.  Where can I buy a safety razor?  I bought mine on Life Without Plastic, link here.  They also sell them on Amazon, mine is a Merkur.  (Edit: A commenter pointed out that they also sell tons of used safety razors on ebay, make sure you click "used" if that's what you're looking for!  They have some nice ones on there, too!)  I got my razor blades on Amazon here (the brand is Persona, they are packaged without plastic, but unfortunately Amazon does ship with a little plastic.  If someone has a better source for them, please let me know!)

This has been one of the best changes we have made since going plastic free.  I am no longer forced into buying an expensive, wasteful product.  The razor was an initial investment, but has already paid for itself, and I can use it forever.

Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will do my best to answer them!

2016 Update: We are still on the first box of razor blades I bought in August of 2013!!!!  

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Life Without Plastic, a company whose mission and products I fully support.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Deplastify your bathroom

Leading up to Zero Plastic Week, I wrote a lot about how to reduce plastic and waste while shopping for food and avoiding disposables.  Since the event only lasted a week, I felt that was the best way to focus, as those are everyday activities.

Now, as Plastic Free July is swiftly approaching, I wanted to talk more about more sustainable personal care choices.  Before I made the commitment to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, I had TONS of different products in the bathroom.  Lotion (usually at least two or three different kinds), bodywash, shampoo, conditioner, hair smoother, etc., etc., etc.  Besides the concern about the enormous amount of plastic trash I was generating, it became tiring.  My morning routine was getting longer and longer.  And my bathroom felt cluttered.  So when Plastic Free July came around last year, I jumped on the chance to simplify, and I haven't looked back since.

(Side note: since we are using simpler products with less ingredients, my husband's eczema, which he has struggled with for years, disappeared completely.  Food for thought.)

Here are some things you can do to reduce your personal care plastic use:

1. Shave with a safety razor (This not only stops the disposable plastic waste, but it is SO MUCH CHEAPER. And works just as well.  I got my razor here and blades here.)

2. Use bar shampoo. (I buy mine from Aquarian Bath, but Chagrin Valley and Lush also have solid shampoo)

3. Use bar soap instead of body wash. (Dr. Dandelion has awesome olive oil soap.  Or you could make your own if you are super crafty.)

4. Make your own deodorant. (I promise this is not as crazy as it sounds :)

5.  Use a bamboo toothbrush.

6. Use toothpowder instead of toothpaste or make your own.  (Lush sells some here).

7. Coconut oil for lotion and hair de-frizzer.

8. Make your own olive oil and beeswax hand salve.

9. Choose makeup with better ingredients and recyclable packaging.

I will be covering a few of these topics this week in detail.  Are there any specifically that you would like to know more about?

What are some ways you have found to reduce packaging in your personal care routine?  Anything I missed?

Register for Plastic Free July here

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Un-plastiversary: Plastic Free July

Last July, I took up the Plastic Free July challenge.  I had been making small changes before that, choosing less harmful cleaning products and reusable cloth napkins and towels instead of their disposable counterparts, but last July was when I really made the decision to reduce the (large) amount of packaging I had been consuming.

It has been a great journey.  It has helped me simplify.  Not having a thousand different products in the bathroom, not having boxes and boxes of close to expiring (or expired!) processed food in the pantry.  Speaking as someone who is not always naturally organized, this has made a difference when not much else has in the past.  Being able to see all of our food clearly in glass jars.  Being able to reach the back of our bathroom cabinet.  Things are easier.

But most importantly, using less disposable plastic greatly lessens our environmental impact.  Plastic trash is a  big problem, and using a product that lasts so long for such an ephemeral purpose as single-serving food wrapping seems illogical.  There are uses for plastic.  Our modern technology depends on it.  My cello case is plastic, which makes it lighter to carry, yet still protects the instrument.  But things that get thrown away instantaneously?

Wherever we are in this journey, we can all be a little more mindful of what we are throwing away.  This July, I will again be participating in Plastic Free July.  I challenge you to come along on this journey with me!  There are two ways to participate:

1. Giving up ALL single-use plastic for the month of July (food packaging, shampoo bottles, personal care products, etc.).


2. Refusing the TOP 4 disposable plastic items: straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids.

I will be continuing along with what I did for Zero Plastic Week, and refusing all single-use plastic.  How will you be participating? :)  Are there any disposable plastic things you aren't sure you have an alternative for?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: The Results

So, as I am sure you have all been waiting for, here is all of the plastic I have collected during Zero Plastic Week:

  • 1 magazine bag
  • 1 piece of packing tape
  • 2 envelope windows
  • 3 produce stickers
  • 4 milk caps
  • 5 milk rings

Note: cat not included in plastic tally

I also have two stickers from Whole Foods (bread and cheese) that haven't gotten thrown out yet.  So they should probably be counted in the tally.

This was eye opening, because even though I have been pretty diligent about my plastic consumption, I still created waste.  More than I thought I would.

But it wasn't hard.  If you get into a routine, and plan just a little in advance, it is pretty easy.  If you didn't participate in Zero Plastic Week, don't worry, Plastic Free July is right around the corner! :)

How was your Zero Plastic Week?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: Day 5

Sorry this post was a little late getting up.  Last night I went to go see my husband play with his jazz trio (he's a bassist) at a nice restaurant.  I was happy to see that they had their olives and peanuts in a ceramic dish, rather that those disposable cups.  Hooray for plastic-free snacking!

I've accumulated two more milk caps and rings, but that's about it so far.  We are going out to eat with my husband's parents and my brother-in-law and his girlfriend tonight.  I've been to the restaurant before, and it doesn't use any plastic ware (utensils, straws, or otherwise), so I should be safe.

If you are going to a restaurant, and you're not sure if they use disposable plastic items, here are some things that you can bring with you to help you avoid creating a ton of waste:

1. Reusable utensils.  You can bring some metal utensils from home, or you can keep some bamboo ones in your car or bag so you're always prepared.

2. Water bottle. If you're going somewhere that just sells plastic bottled water, you can bring your own bottle and ask them to fill it.

3. Glass or stainless straw. Please always tell your servers when they take your drink order that you DO NOT want a straw. And if you like drinking out of a straw, bring your own reusable one.

4. Travel mug. If you're going to a coffee place, and want your drink to-go (or they only serve in disposable cups), bring your own stainless travel mug. Even paper cups are coated with plastic (which means they won't break down for a looonng time).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: Day 4

Yesterday, I went to the farmers' market.  We have one lovely organic farmer who sells veggies, and dutifully honors my request to put the spinach in my cloth bag instead of the plastic wrapping they usually use.  When I made my request, they smiled and said, "Oh! Your husband stopped by last week!" (I sent my poor husband last week, with said bag and instructions for spinach).

I am now the crazy bag lady.  (The Whole Foods people also know who I am).

But in all seriousness, they were happy to use my bag for the spinach, and it didn't hold up the line, and people didn't look at me funny.  If you go to the farmers' market, bring your own bag. :)

Last month I was wondering what to do about hydrogen peroxide, which I like to use in the laundry for whites.  My bottle ran out, and I was hesitant to buy another plastic bottle of it.  There are no glass bottles of peroxide in the U.S.  Annmieke of Plastic Free Tuesday suggested I try lemon, and that is what I've been using since!  I put on a load of white sheets today, and squeezed half a lemon in with the laundry.  It works just as well as the peroxide.  And Martha recommends it.

Although I have not accumulated any more plastic trash since yesterday (still at six items), I should probably mention that I have refused a receipt from filling up my car (one of those thermal paper ones), so I don't know if that should technically count in this tally or not...(And I have to go shopping tomorrow, so probably another receipt on the way...)

Three more days of Zero Plastic Week to go, hope everyone else is doing well!  Any unexpected challenges?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: Day 3

Last night I enjoyed some mint tea picked straight from the garden.  No tea bags for me!

Homemade mint tea!
And this morning, I made some coffee in our Chemex.  It was delicious.  If you haven't heard of them, the Chemex coffee maker is great!  We had a french press, which our cat broke, and we were gifted this by a friend.  We've been very happy with it.  (We use reusable filters, which you can find here).  

Unfortunately, I created my largest piece of plastic trash today:

Plastic from Day #3 of Zero Plastic Week
I subscribe to Taproot magazine, which I enjoy, but it unfortunately comes wrapped in a plastic bag.  The company actually addresses the issue in a post, but I'm not sure how I feel about it.  I only subscribe to two magazines, Taproot and Martha Stewart.  And I'm not a fan of e-readers.  And I enjoy reading the magazines.  Our library does not carry Taproot.  So, another conundrum.

Jar of shame :)

Here is all of the plastic I have accumulated over three days.  I know it's not a lot (6 pieces so far), but it still feels like a lot, especially since I am going out of my way to really avoid it.  

Anyway, after I finish posting this, I will be heading out to the farmers market to enjoy some plastic free produce :-)

What plastic has everybody else been struggling with this week?  Any awesome plastic-free solutions?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: Day 2

So far, I have accumulated three pieces of plastic over the past two days of Zero Plastic Week.

1. Plastic packing tape.
I ordered some foundation from RMS beauty, as I was running low on my regular stuff, and since their foundation is packaged in glass and aluminum I thought it would be a good choice.  They did ship it without plastic, which I was very happy about, but there was plastic packaging tape to seal the envelope.

2. Plastic milk ring from yesterday.
This one is unavoidable, as I mentioned in my last post.  I am lucky they carry milk in returnable bottles in my area at all.  One step at a time, I suppose. Someone suggested I check with local schools to see if they could use the caps for art projects.  And a commenter said that some Whole Foods or Aveda salons might take them???  Any more thoughts???

3. Produce sticker from a kiwi.
I try to buy a lot of local, in season produce, but the organic farmer at our farmers' market doesn't sell fruit, so I usually buy what's at Whole Foods.  And most of the fruit there has produce stickers.  Later in the season, they have locally grown berries that aren't in plastic, but they don't have anything now.

What single-use plastic have you struggled with this week?

P.S.--If you want to win the four reusable bulk bags from The High Fiber, the giveaway ends tonight!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Zero Plastic Week: Day 1

If you have been reading recently, then you know that this week is Zero Plastic Week.  The goal is to not use any new single-use plastic for the whole week (i.e. plastic wrap, shopping bags, coffee cups, etc.)  Since the challenge is only a week, they say that you can use plastic you already have (i.e. bottles of shampoo).  (Plastic Free July will certainly help you take care of those things :)

So I started out my morning with oatmeal and tea, both of which were bought in bulk with my own containers last week.  I'm always pretty good with grains and oats, but I have been a little lazy with the tea, as I have to make another stop because the Whole Foods near us does not carry it.  Which is not an excuse, so I made sure to pick some up.

We are very lucky to have returnable, glass-bottled milk (that is bottled on the farm!) available to us.  However, they do use plastic caps, which is how I ended up with this piece of plastic this morning:

Any thoughts on how to recycle the caps?  Our municipal recycling does not take them...

I will be updating everyday this week with our plastic-free solutions and any more plastic trash we manage to accumulate.  And that's what this is really about-garbage.  Garbage that is ending up in our oceans and polluting our natural resources.  There are uses for plastic (like the keyboard I'm typing on, for instance), but we need to re-think how we are using the material as a disposable commodity.  Here is a great piece from the BBC on plastic pollution in our oceans.

Also, if you haven't seen it yet, I am giving away four bulk bags from The High Fiber so you can shop plastic free, too!  The giveaway is over on Wednesday, so enter now! :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bulk Bag Giveaway! (So you can shop plastic free, too)

One of the biggest things I have been doing to combat my plastic use is buying all of my dry groceries in bulk (lentils, pasta, oats, coffee, etc.).  Food packaging, especially at the grocery store, really adds up to a lot of trash.  Think about all of those plastic produce bags, the plastic bags your organic quinoa or rice are wrapped in, the plastic packaging around your pasta...

If you missed my last post, it explains how to shop the bulk aisle of your grocery store.  You will need some kind of bag or jar to put your bulk items in (you don't want to use the plastic bags they provide, right? :)

Since I started on my journey to reducing my plastic and the amount of waste I create, I have been using these bulk bags I purchased off of Etsy.  They are light, have held up extremely well (I've had them for over a year), and hold a ton of food.

Unfortunately, the stores near me have not caught on with this plastic free thing, and do not sell ANY bulk bags, they just give you the free plastic disposable ones.  So, if you live somewhere like I do that does not sell them locally, you are in luck!  I have four bulk bags from The High Fiber to giveaway to a lucky, future plastic-free person!

You'll get two of each color :)

To enter, please let me know what disposable plastic item you are going to give up for Zero Plastic Week
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Note: I purchased these myself, and was in no way compensated for this post.  I found these bulk bags to be extremely useful and well made, and that's why I'm sharing them. :)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Zero Plastic Week is next week!

So, Zero Plastic Week is fast approaching (one week away!), and I need to get serious about things that I'm going to work on eliminating (i.e.-not being lazy). 

Things that sometimes sneak into our house:
Tea bags (although I try to buy a brand which does not use plastic for the teabag itself, the bags are still individually wrapped)
Cheese with plastic wrap
Meat wrapped in plastic
Packing material from things ordered online

Ninety-nine percent of this comes down to pure laziness on my part.  

Can I get cheese at the Whole Foods cheese counter? Yes, I can.
Can I use loose leaf tea ALL THE TIME, not just in the morning? Yes.
Can I ask stores/people that I order online from to ship without plastic packaging? Yes.

The meat counter is the trickiest.  Sometimes they are willing to use my container, and other times not.  I will just have to be persistent and find the right employees.  Perhaps I will try bringing in my own wax paper for them to wrap it in...

So why am I doing Zero Plastic Week?  Because plastic doesn't go away.  Because it doesn't biodegrade like other materials.  Because we have an ocean full of plastic refuse.  Because sea turtles eat it.  Because there are better alternatives most of the time.

Some food-related suggestions to get you started for Zero Plastic Week:

1. Bring your own shopping bags, produce bags, and shop in the bulk bins.
2. Say no to straws at restaurants.  Bring a glass or stainless steel one if you want.
3. Bring your own mug for coffee, or fill it up at home.
4. Use a French Press or Chemex for making your coffee at home. (No more horrible disposable coffee pods!)
5. Buy loose leaf tea.
6. Cook your own beans instead of buying canned.
7. Buy your bread from a bakery or make your own.
8. Make your own yogurt.
9. Use cloth napkins.
10. If you are eating out at a restaurant and likely to have leftovers, bring a container with you, instead of using their styrofoam one. 
11. Bring your own metal or bamboo utensils so you don't get stuck with plastic forks.

What disposable plastic do you struggle with??  I will be saving any plastic that I accumulate next week to keep myself accountable.