Like many Seattleites, I’m figuring out how to use fewer — or even no — single-use plastics.
When the ban on plastic grocery bags was announced, I was ready — with cloth totes in hand — to accept a new way forward. Generally, I stick to eco-friendly practices. I’m the kind of person who composts, hauling my bucket of food scraps four floors down to the bin outside my apartment building. I even berate loved ones who slip recyclable items into the trash.
However, plastic is hard to quit, even for me. I admit it: I forget to ask the bartender to hold the straws in my gin and tonic, and I love a night of watching TV while eating out of plastic to-go containers.
But I also know there’s a better, more sustainable version of myself ready to come out. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it, and kitchen items, personal care products and to-go essentials are some of my biggest plastic problem areas. Since I know I’m not alone in this struggle — and with Earth Day on Monday — I decided to take a deeper dive into the world of plastic alternatives. Here’s what I found.
In the kitchen
Our kitchens cook up plenty of opportunities for plastic waste, from our food-storage containers to the bottles that hold our cleaning products. But some companies are catching on, and are starting to create more earth-friendly containers. I decided to give a few a try.
I’m already on the cloth-tote bandwagon when it comes to grocery shopping, but plastic bags still lurk in the produce and bulk-food sections. In an attempt to put more distance between myself and plastic, I tried out Simple Ecology’s Muslin Reusable Produce Bags ($16 for six at simpleecology.com). The three sizes worked for my list, which included apples, spinach bunches and tomatoes. Bonus: The bags list their tare weight on the tags for easy subtraction at check-out.
Meanwhile, in bulk foods, I opted for a classic set of Golden Spoon Mason Jars ($17 for six 16-ounce jars at amazon.com) to fill up on my weakness in life: walnuts. Just make sure to get those tare weights before ringing up (whoops). The jars made for cute storage on my counter, plus both the muslin and glass materials helped extend my food’s shelf life.
Speaking of storage, I’m a frequent grabber of plastic baggies, whether it’s for storing onion halves or throwing small snacks in my bag. To replace them, I tried Stasher’s Reusable Silicone Sandwich Bags ($12 at stasherbag.com; watch for Earth Day discounts), which have a strong seal and held up against my freezer, microwave and dishwasher. The bags are pricey, underlining the reality that making a home eco-friendly can take an up-front investment. My reality is that I can’t afford to make every change at once, but rather need to add pieces over time.
I also used the philosophy of starting small when it came to kitchen cleaners. Cleaning products are notorious for their effects on the environment but, luckily for me, eco-conscious refill shop Public Goods and Services is located in my West Seattle neighborhood.
From the large array of refillable cleaning options (bring your own container or purchase one at the shop), I opted for Nellie’s Dishwasher Powder ($19 at apublicshop.com), which not only comes in a fun, retro tin that can be refilled, but is also biodegradable and cleaned my dishes so well that I’m officially a convert.
I also opted for the Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaning Concentrate which, along with a glass bottle for storage, plus separate spray bottle for diluting, came to about $18. The plant-based concentrate, which I can refill for around $4, only requires 1.5 teaspoons per 16 ounces of water, so you get quite a bit of cleaning bang for your buck.
When it comes to taking care of ourselves, plastic packaging is everywhere, even as the ingredients inside are becoming more eco-friendly. Steering away from the plastic tide, I gave these brands a try.
Often, environmentally friendly makeup doesn’t perform as well as standard formulas, but that’s not the case with organic brand RMS Beauty. Marrying high standards with a lighter footprint, many of the line’s products come in recyclable glass and stainless steel jars, including its “Un” Cover-Up foundation ($36) and Lip2Cheek multitasking stains ($36, both at rmsbeauty.com). Though those jars seem awfully small, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that they last quite a while.
Along with makeup, shampoo bottles are another major source of plastic in my life. My mom told me horror stories of dropping glass shampoo bottles in the shower when she was growing up — so thank goodness there’s a much less alarming alternative: shampoo bars.
I came across vegetarian brand Lush’s Shampoo Bars ($11–$16 at lushusa.com) while shopping downtown. They’re sold free of packaging (though I recommend grabbing one of the company’s reusable Round Tins, $4, for the shower and travel). Having oily hair, I went for the Jumping Juniper bar, massaging it right into my scalp. The bar works up a good lather and is said to last up to 80 washes. I’ll be honest, it took a few shampoos before my hair decided to get on board. But now that the two are starting to get along better, I’m game to try more bar options.
In addition to discovering an alternative to plastic shampoo bottles, I was also on the hunt for less plastic in my tooth care. One of the easiest switches I made was to a bamboo toothbrush I purchased from Ballard shop Eco Collective. The store carries Brush with Bamboo’s Bamboo Toothbrush ($5 at ecocollectiveseattle.com), made from 100% organic bamboo and bio-based nylon bristles that, so far, have stayed firm. The packaging and handle are both compostable. The box suggests plucking out the bristles and recycling them after use, but I question who has that kind of patience.
I also decided to try Washington-based Uncle Harry’s Toothpaste ($6 at uncleharrys.com), sold in glass jars. Made without artificial sweeteners, the taste took a little getting used to, as did scooping out the right amount (a little goes a long way, with ingredients such as eucalyptus and mustard seed. Sensitive mouths take note). Unfortunately, the plastic lids are not recyclable, but I was happy to hear the brand plans to switch to metal lids in the near future.
On the go
The busier we are, the easier it can be to fall back on disposable plastic packaging and implements, especially when we’re on the go. I tested out some sustainable options to help get through my busiest days out and about.
With the push to eliminate plastic straws, many businesses are switching to paper straws which, quite frankly, can suck. They can taste like, well, paper and the texture often doesn’t hold up to liquids. Enter my new favorite alternative: glass straws! Washington-based and family run, DrinkingStraws.Glass offers several sizes of glass straws, and the sippers themselves are surprisingly hearty given their material.
I’m an iced coffee and pressed juice gal, so I purchased the Elegant Curves standard-length straw (on sale for $7.64 through April 22 at drinkingstraws.glass), which is 8 inches long, 9.5 millimeters wide and comes with a cleaning brush. The site also sells a range of fabric sleeves to safely transport your straw in a bag or purse.
Plastic utensils are also a common byproduct of dining on the go. To avoid them, stash a more eco-friendly option, such as Bamboodlers Disposable Wooden Cutlery ($14.50 for a 200-piece set at amazon.com), in your bag or drawer at the office. (Note that the set does come in plastic packaging.) Made from sturdy, FSC-certified birch wood, the biodegradable utensils stood up to my leftovers, including chicken noodle soup and crunchy salads, and I was able to toss them straight into the compost bin when I was done.
Food packaging was one of my trickiest plastic dilemmas. Eating only unpackaged food is not realistic for me, and most pick-up and delivery restaurants serve a plastic package right along with your meal. I do tend to rinse and recycle, but I welcomed an alternative that was light and easy to wash.
My new to-go go-to has become SunCraft’s Stainless Steel Lunch Boxes + Silverware Set with Pouch ($30 at suncraftproducts.com). The air-tight seals kept things leakproof, so transporting one in my work bag is worry-free.
Be prepared for some questioning looks if you ask for your to-go grilled cheese to be placed in a container you provided. Some places may even turn you down. But it’s worth the effort, knowing you’re helping the planet.
Have all my plastic problems been solved? Not exactly. Plastic is too ubiquitous to avoid entirely. Trash bags, for example, remain a conundrum (though composting, recycling and reducing my plastic usage overall helps keep trash output down).
But, in general, the switches I made weren’t terribly cumbersome, and the overall experience was pretty seamless. I’m certainly better off than where I started and, most importantly, I’m a lot more open to trying new solutions that will help make my breakup with single-use plastics stick.
Yes, it’s going to take extra investment, thought and planning — but, after all, that’s what being a conscious consumer is all about.