Dom and I have always believed in trying to reduce our use of plastic and things that end up in a landfill. But belief and actions aren’t mutually exclusive. After not really paying attention to how much waste we personally produce, I started looking for ideas of how to transition to a life with less plastic. I knew for sure what I was going to do for my coffee company which took a few weeks to figure out the steps I needed to take to transition. It happened towards the end of the holiday season when we had over 50 orders a day going out. Every time I opened a new tin tie coffee bag that is lined in plastic, or put a label on the front and back of the coffee bag, and then throwing out the label backing, I thought about it.
I thought about how I was missing out on building soil for our farm. None of those label backs can be used. They’re all plastic bound to paper.
I devised a plan for transitioning, and the shipments of new plastic free, compostable packaging have already arrived.
I’ve even started reorganizing and making changes in how I set up my workflow, the materials I’ll be using while working and how I’ll use any leftover materials.
That was fairly easy.
Then I discovered a lifestyle movement called Zero Waste.
I think it broke my brain. I agree with a lot that this lifestyle is hoping to achieve, but I’m unsure if we’ll ever be a zero waste farm and family.
Our biggest concern is Simmi. She has severe life-threatening food allergies to peanuts, most tree nuts, dairy (cow, sheep, and goat), eggs (duck and chicken), soy, and wheat. Simmi was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies when she was only nine months old. We cannot shop for bulk items from a bin…ever. Everything we purchase for her must be sealed.
Here’s the scenario:
We’re at Sprouts or Whole Foods in the bulk food section. About an hour before we get to the store, someone who was casually walking around the store eating nuts (you’ll see them if you look) decides to get foods from the bulk section. Without first washing their hands which have nut oils and salts from eating, they get a bag and start putting basmati rice into the bag. Then the scooper slips out of their hands, and they pick it up NOT from the handle but from the scoop end and put it back into the bin. We use it next, and the tiny particles and oil residue still on the scooper contaminates rice we cook for her. We thought everything was okay until she goes into anaphylaxis and we need to administer epinephrine.
The bins are being refilled by the clerk who first decides to fill the soy flour, peanut bin, nuts, granola bins, and then without changing his/her gloves, opens the rice and pours it into the bin. With contaminated gloves, they put their hands into the rice to help it along into the bin. The air is still filled with particulates from the other products that went in, and he just contaminated the rice as well.
These are things that happen every day.
When we lived in Vermont, our favorite place to go was the co-op in the town we lived in. One day Simmi started sneezing and couldn’t stop. We were walking past the backroom where they happened to be filling smaller bags with something she was allergic to. It was in the air and she was breathing it in. We had to leave the store immediately. Then it happened in another store we went to. This time she broke out in hives, had a hard time breathing and we needed to leave. We were at an indoor farmer’s market and they were making fresh pies from scratch.
So we cannot under any circumstances use bulk bins for Simmi. I’m a Celiac, so bulk bins are out of the question for me too.
I’ve started to pick apart what we purchase each week. The first item up is Simmi’s pasta. Because her diet is already restricted, I’m not up for removing pasta just because it is packaged in plastic. However, I have found a recipe for making her pasta and a manual pasta machine to cut it into strips.
We can make her pasta and forego the cost of ready-made pasta. This would be a good solution for us, and it would be something she can learn to make for herself.
The cost of bulk flours for her is way cheaper than buying one or two pounds at a time. Bulk flour can be put into a large container and save on garbage.
We can do the same with bulk rice.
I don’t think there will ever be a time when we could consider ourselves a zero waste household, but we can greatly reduce how we purchase products and be mindful of the garbage being produced while making sensible choices.
I also see that people in zero waste are carting their glass jars and cotton bags to the stores in order to not use plastic bags or plastic containers. While this is admirable, I think it is a little bit too much with all the separate cotton bags for produce. Tomatoes won’t mind being intermingled with the other softer veggies, and I don’t think celery and carrots would have a problem being lumped together either. After all, they are often mates when put into a hardy stew.
These are just a few of the things that feel unnecessarily cumbersome. I understand putting bread into a cotton bag, but most things won’t mind being next to each other for a few hours between shopping and home.
The next thing I have a hard time wrapping my head around is all the justifications. We live in this weird world of absolute extremes. I’ve seen it with homesteaders, where one will bicker with another if they choose to work outside the home. Everyone seems to have rules about the proper way of living a lifestyle.
Zero Waste seems to have the same issues. One person will tell someone else they’re doing it wrong. If you’re into eating a keto diet, one will tell you that you can’t eat this or that and be truly keto.
I’ve seen it with those who live off-off grid too. That’s where you choose to live without generating any electricity or regular propane and fuels and basically live in a pre-industrial lifestyle. Then someone will come along and point a finger at the off-off grid person and claim they can’t use a computer.
It’s really sad.
I don’t want that for our family. We don’t fit the mold of an environmental family. I don’t do things to “save the planet.” I do things because I care about the planet, especially how it impacts my family and my community. My desire to be plastic free has to do with the love I have for my community as well as my land. I’m not trying to change other people or how they choose to live.
My desire to farm organically doesn’t lead me to condemn or shame those who don’t.
My need to have compostable coffee packaging is very selfish. It is if we want to call a spade a spade! I want to be able to create soil for our farm. I can’t do it with what I’m using now. If it doesn’t have a past life purpose, I don’t want it, nor do I want others to be burdened with not knowing what to do with the packaging either. I want to put empowering tools into my consumer’s hands that allow them to recycle the packaging or even compost it. If they don’t, it’s okay, but at least I empowered them to make a new choice.
Some people will try and reuse plastic in order to save it from a landfill. I can’t do that either. I HATE seeing plastic containers around. I even despise plastic 5-gallon buckets, but I’ll use them until something better comes along for storing things. I don’t find it attractive to use old Folgers plastic containers to store things either.
But that’s me. Not you. And just because I feel that way about plastic doesn’t mean I would condemn or shame you for using it the way you want.
We’re going to do our best moving forward to be accountable for the waste we produce. That’s about where it ends. I’m not planning on making others accountable for their waste products. We all need to follow our own convictions.
Guess what is going into the landfill that we can’t avoid? The rig we are living in right now. At some point, we will be taking it apart, and it will be put into a dumpster and hauled off along with all the things that couldn’t be recycled.
However, by 2022, our hope is that we no longer will need to bring anything to the dump. At least, that’s the plan.
Are you living a zero waste lifestyle or looking to move in that direction? What are some of the changes you made to keep yourself accountable?
Plastic has become the foundation of our modern life. From simple things like straws and food containers to life-saving devices and commercial packaging, it is here to stay. You would be hardpressed today to find real clothing. Most clothes today are made from plastic or a combination of a poly-cotton blend. People cook with it, store things in it, and find it difficult to live without.
We are no different from everyone else. Sometimes I think we’re worse because we know better! By ‘we’ I mean Dom and me. Back in 2011, we started the process of getting rid of plastic products from our home. Toys, storage and food containers, even clothes. We purchased glass jars and bowls for storing food and made the effort to shop for only cotton, wool, silk and natural fibers for our clothes.
Then we sold our house and moved 10 times over the course of 4 years. When our lives were constantly in flux, it made it difficult to make being plastic-free a priority.
Always in the back of my mind is that gnawing feeling of guilt that we have not kept our commitment to being plastic-free.
Dom and I recommitted to phasing out plastic as much as possible starting in 2020. I was very grieved by the lack of reusable materials I was creating for our coffee company, especially during the holiday rush. Everything from packing peanuts from companies shipping me supplies to my own use of lots of plastic products that are cheap and readily available has made me pause and decide to be accountable for my part in our plastic problem.
This year we’ll be transitioning our coffee company to more sustainable and compostable materials used in the creation and distribution of our products. From coffee bags with tin ties to glassine inner bags and paper bag outer packaging that is still tied with twine. I was embossing every bag I put coffee in which created a very unique packaging with texture and layers. I will be keeping the texture, just not with my own embossing. You see, the embossing powders I use are plastic, which gets melted onto each bag I emboss. I’ve embossed a few thousand bags in the last year and not a single one of them could be taken from the kitchen and put into a compost pile and turned into soil.
I know that not everyone composts. But we do. I don’t want to burden the garbage dump with our garbage because I couldn’t figure out a more clever way to have sustainable packaging. While not everyone composts and farms or gardens, many use recycling. Unfortunately in our rural county, we don’t have a recycling program. Garbage is either sent to the dump or it’s burned. We’ve done both. We’ve also separated plastic, glass, metal and brought it to Silver City where it could be recycled, however, Silver City no longer recycles glass (from what I was told) and we would need to drive our glass recyclables all the way to Las Cruces to dispose of them. I’m sorry, but there is nothing sustainable about spending over $50 in gas to take our glass containers to a place three hours away from us just to get rid of glass.
Sometimes things feel insane to my brain.
I’ve been looking at alternatives for our coffee company, as well as future farm products and things for our personal use. We don’t see how we can be 100% plastic free and maybe its because I’ve been in plastic for so long that I see no way out completely.
As an example, write now as I write this sentence, I’m sitting on a chair that has a plastic foam cushion. My old raggedy gray sweater is acrylic (plastic) and not wool, the keyboard I tap my fingers on…plastic. The modem, plastic. The paint that coats my desk holding my computer? Plastic. The little area rug under me? Plastic. My printers, mostly plastic.
There are so many things that we have that are made from this ubiquitous material. Cutting down and replacing where possible is the only solution we see as being responsible.
So what do we do with the things we are phasing out? If it’s a product that still has years of use, we’ll give it to those who need/want it. If its something that can no longer be used, we’ll recycle it. And that’s where it ends. I don’t want to a part of this problem any longer.
Animals are dying, people are dying. They don’t realize how many chemicals are in the plastic and they’re cooking or warming up food in it. And let’s not get started with the fact that all these products are petroleum-based and polluting our planet while they are being manufactured. Polluting the earth while the petroleum is being extracted.
Here are some of the things we’re looking to incorporate into our lives from now on. We’re not buying everything all at once, but instead, budget it in over the course of a few years. Slow and simple works best for us.
We regularly use Ball jars for storing foods, and we also have flip-top jars for storage, but we’ll be migrating over to jars with a wood top. Mostly because I love the way they look. We would put gluten-free pasta, rice, dried and other non-perishables in them.
We’ll be transitioning away from Ball jars for canning to Weck jars. One of the problems with regular mason or ball jars is that you need new jar lids each time you can something and the lining of the jar has a plastic coating on it. While I’m not condemning those who can using Ball, Kerr, or Mason jars, I’m just saying that we don’t want to use them for our family, or for future farm products that we will be offering. The lids on Weck jars are glass and do not contain any type of poly coating. This summer I canned up peach preserves and thought of giving them as gifts this Christmas to our family, but I changed my mind and decided to wait until after we own Weck jars to give food as gifts for the holiday season.
Plus, I love the way they look. 🙂
Another step we’ll be making to reduce waste is to purchase in bulk or to take our containers to the co-op to fill our jars with what we need. I wouldn’t be bringing jars, but instead cotton or linen sacks so that the clerk can tare the sack before weighing. This can be done with most dried goods. We can also utilize the store’s meat department to have our meat wrapped with paper instead of plastic-lined butcher paper.
For clothing and shoes, I think this is the most difficult for us. Real clothing is expensive. And that’s the rub for us. Organic cotton, 100% wool, real silk, flax linen…all very costly. Especially when you have a man that can wear out a pair of pants in a matter of just a few weeks. He uses everything to its bitter end! Holes in the knees in just under a month, worn thin because he works harder than any man I know.
A daughter who is growing faster than I care to admit! She’s on the fast track to being as tall as Dom in the next few years. She’s tall with these supermodel legs that just won’t stop growing! Her feet? She’s already wearing my size shoes and she hasn’t turned 13 yet. It’s difficult finding clothes that she will wear because she only likes POLYESTER clothing. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. This kid loves all the fuzzy poly clothes. I’ve purchased her merino wool sweaters in the past, and she even thinks those are itchy. I gulp on the thought of buying her leather $75 shoes that she will outgrow in a matter of two months. And that’s just shoes! Boots and play shoes she’s pretty rough on as well.
Simmi sleeps with about 10 blankets. That is not an exaggeration. From greatest to least, every time she gets a new blanket, she adds it to her collection. She even sleeps with all of them in the summer. There is only one fully cotton blanket in the bunch, and that is the quilt I made for her back in 2013.
She’s also not fond of my quilt, although she’s begging for me to make her a new one. When I do, it will be of organic cotton with a real wool batting. I have enough raw wool to last a few years. A friend of ours calls us to pick up the wool when she has her sheep sheared each year. So far I’ve collected about 5 large bags full of wool, just waiting to be processed.
I’m not sure how to get Simmi onboard with our transition. I’ll be purchasing new merino wool blankets next month, and my hope is that she’ll see how much better it is than the acrylic blankets she’s hoarding right now. My goal is to have her (and us) outfitted for the fall and winter of 2020 with organic cotton sheets, merino wool blanket, and a goose down blanket. I’ll also be making pillows for us to sleep on with the wool we have.
I’m taking it slow with Simmi. She’s been through a lot in the last four years and only now has started to understand that we are finally home. No more moving! No more needing to worry about if I am going to get sick again, or watching me suffer losing my hair and not being able to breathe. It’s a lot for a little kid to go through. My older children went through it too.
Personal products such as toothbrushes can easily be replaced with a bamboo toothbrush with natural bristles.
There are so many personal care products we can get relatively inexpensive instead of using plastic products. We’ll get there, and my hope is that by this time next year our family will be a little more plastic-free. It’s a great goal for our lives.
Almost 6 pounds of grapes. They are tiny little things this year, but sweet as can be. This is the first year of harvesting grapes and peaches. I never really mentioned our nectarines because there were only a few on the tree. But let me tell you, they were possibly the sweetest nectarines I have ever eaten. None of our family has ever tasted a nectarine off the tree, ripe and soft. The nectarines at the store are large and almost tasteless. Not these!
I’m looking forward to next year’s harvest!
The last of our peaches. Almost 4 pounds. Unfortunately there weren’t enough to can. Okay, so we ate them all before we had a chance to can them, but isn’t that the way is should be? Hopefully next year we’ll have so many peaches that we can give some away, keep some to eat fresh AND finally can some up for the winter. 😉
Plastic Purge #3
A very lovely family bought our living room Retro Chairs. They will be reupholstering them and getting rid of the fake plastic leather. I hope they’ll stay in touch and send along pictures of the newly finished chairs.