My Non-Plastic Journey – Unconclusion

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 24-08-2009

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Day 5 was supposed to be my conclusion but I felt it was getting a bit lengthy hence this post.

So after a week of my non-plastic journey I have to admit that I don’t necessarily have one final conclusion (I suppose the scientist in me desires that) but I can say I’ve learned a few things:

  • I learned that the rise in our use of plastic coincided with World War’s I and II1.
  • I was also reminded that plastic is a by-product of petroleum and that without petroleum, we wouldn’t need to find a use for this by-product.
  • I learned that plastic fuels our convenience and throwaway culture.
  • I agree with Katherine Sharpe and her hierarchy of plastic. There are items that have single uses and are extremely wasteful. Then there are items like credit cards, computers and microwaves that seem like a decent use of plastic.
  • I learned there are areas of my life where I can make non-plastic choices.
  • I was reminded of the various types of plastic.
  • I asked a lot of questions.

I suppose this whole experiment was about the journey – what I learned and how it will affect my future choices.

1Fellow blogger’s plastic history entry and American’ Chemistry’s History of Plastic

My Non-Plastic Journey – Day 5

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 24-08-2009

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So it’s been over a week since My Non-Plastic Journey ended and I have yet to post the conclusion. I have to admit, I’ve had a hard time concluding. The thing is, day 5 (official end of my non-plastic week, hey she did it?) was pretty aggravating. Let me recap:

  • 7pm on Day 4 I’m starting Day 5 with a non-plastic shower. I wash up using a bar of soap that is carefully wrapped in wax paper. I then condition my hair using apple-cider vinegar.1 Needless to say I and the upstairs stink like vinegar. Dave and the cats are offended by the smell.

    Cranky level: Low.

  • 6am I wake up the next morning and still smell like vinegar albeit not as strong. Maybe my fruity hair product will cover it up? I then fry my egg in butter. Not necessarily a bad thing but I wasn’t able to use my plastic-bottled ketchup. For those of you who don’t know, it’s my favorite condiment.
  • OK so it’s 6:30am and I’m doing alright. That is until I pack my lunch. Since I work for a food company I’m not allowed to have glass in my lunch bag.2 That means I’m forced to use paper bags to pack my sandwich, blueberries and other food items. I’m annoyed to have two constraints on my lunch.
  • 7:00am All my hair product comes in plastic containers. So not only can I not cover up the vinegar smell with Fructis, I’m also left feeling a bit insecure about my flat and not-put-together hair.

    Cranky level: Moderate.

  • 7:15am I made coffee and thought I had stainless steel travel mugs. Oh I do have stainless steel containers but they have plastic inside – ARGH! I’m left with bringing my coffee to work in our at-home ceramic mugs.
  • 8:00am Can you imagine what happened next? Yup the coffee splashed all over my center console while I was driving to work.

    Cranky level: High.

  • 8:30am While everyone is asking me about my weekend I can only think of the stinky shower I took the night before. Mondays suck already. Why did I have to make this one worse by doing this non-plastic thing?
  • 12pm I need some salt for my lunch so I go for the paper salt packets instead of the plastic salt shaker. Is that really better?
  • 12:15pm My co-worker points out that the binder clip3 I am using has plastic on it. Argh! Can’t I get away from this stuff?

    Cranky level: High.

  • 3pm Time for the afternoon snack and it’s crushed blueberries. Apparently the paper bag doesn’t offer protection for the blueberries. O well, it’s still edible.

    Cranky level: Low.

  • 5pm Absolute elation as I drive home and realize I’m going to shower this smell away with all of my plastic bottles!

    Cranky level: Non-existent.

As I re-read the events of the day I don’t know that I can capture the emotion of how I was feeling. I can only describe it as a day when all the little things don’t go exactly right and annoy you little by little.

It’s really hard to escape plastic.  I suppose that’s where my trouble forming a conclusion occurs. Is plastic so bad?

To Emily’s point, is it really better to throw away all of our current plastic items in exchange for non-plastic, doesn’t that just add to our current problem?

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, when it comes to the environment it doesn’t seem to be black and white.

1 I know you think I’m crazy but I got the idea from another blogger who was also doing a week without plastic. She was my inspiration for this whole thing.She was also the motivation to count a week as five days.
2For a thorough discussion on the topic, see Day 1.
3I later learn that the clip is made of spring steel.  Score!

Non-Plastic Journey – Is my Retainer Plastic?

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 12-08-2009

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The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: On this site I found out that my retainer is made of acrylic. More specifically, an acrylic resin. An acrylic resin is a polymer derived from the monomer acrylic acid. Acrylic is clear plastic that resembles glass with superior physical properties (it doesn’t shatter as easily).

This question also answered another question – Is a resin a polymer? Yup.

References:
- Wise Geek
- Wikipedia – Acrylic Resin
- Wikipedia – Thermoplastic

Non-Plastic Journey – What Is Styrofoam?

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental | Posted on 11-08-2009

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On my Non-Plastic Journey I came up with quite a few questions. This next few posts will address those questions. The first: What is Styrofoam?

STYROFOAM is a trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. It differs from the generic term styrofoam. Dow’s  STYROFOAM is a closed cell, extruded polystyrene that resists moisture. It is most often used in insulating, building products. So when we  Americans refer to our coffee cups as styrofoam we’re actually referring to the non-trademarked version of expanded polystyrene.

That leads to my next question: what is polystyrene? Polystyrene is a polymer. A polymer is similar to a brick wall in that a it is made up of individual bricks. These individual bricks are called monomers. So polystyrene is many “bricks” of styrene. According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the most widely use plastics and is a by-product of petroleum. You may know it as #6. The #6 refers to the recycling symbol on the bottom of objects made with this type of plastic.

So, basically, the styrofoam cooler that Dave & I brought to the beach this Saturday was indeed a form of plastic. Interesting.

My Non-Plastic Journey – Day 4

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 10-08-2009

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Today I woke up and began to make a list of all the plastic things I touched while being on this non-plastic journey. Why am I using plastic? Well, oftentimes I use the item and then realize it’s plastic. Hindsight is 20-20.

  • Alarm clock
  • Hand soap – After realizing I was using this plastic item, I’ve switched to bar soap.
  • Pen – I have an all metal pen. I’ll make the switch.
  • Laptop
  • Retainer & case – The case is definitely a form of plastic but is the retainer?
  • Toothbrush – I could use my finger.
  • Toothpaste
  • Eye gel
  • Medicine bottle – Sorry folks. I need to take my meds.
  • Cap on aluminum water bottle – Even non-plastic items have plastic?! My glass Tupperware-esque dishes have plastic lids?! My metal water bottle has a plastic lid?! I can’t win!
  • Vitamin bottle – Does it count if I take the vitamins from the plastic bottle and put them in a paper bag? No? I didn’t think so.
  • Deodorant – I have an aluminum can but it has a plastic lid. Once again a non-plastic object with a plastic accessory!
  • Eyeliner lid – Wood pencil with plastic cap.  See Deodorant.
  • Palm Pre
  • Pizza tray – In NJ you usually get yelled at when your pizza is ready. When you hear “slice!” you go back to the counter and retrieve your pizza on a paper plate. Yesterday the pizza guy brought our slices to us…on a plastic tray.
  • Straw – I caved and sipped Dave’s soda. I could have taken the lid and straw off but was too lazy.
  • Ziploc bags – Contained current food.
  • Cutting board – Sorry peeps. I could have went out and purchased another cutting board (which I plan to do in the near future) but for now it’s what I have.
  • Knife & pot handles – See cutting board.
  • Scrubby brush to do dishes – I could have used a dish rag but sorta zoned out at the sink.
  • Salt shaker top – Again with the plastic accessory.
  • Bags – At the farmer’s market I picked out some fruit in nice carboard-y containers…which the farmer promptly poured in to a plastic bag. I didn’t have paper bag alternatives with me so I didn’t say anything.

This list made me realize a few things: (1) It’s hard to find a completely non-plastic item. (2) Living a non-plastic life is a matter of preparation. All of the items on the list above could be substituted with non-plastic devices after a bit of investigation on the Internet. (3) If I want to make non-plastic a reality, I need to make an investment to substitute my current items. (4) This is turning out to be harder than I thought.

My Non-Plastic Journey – Day 3

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 09-08-2009

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On Day 3 I found myself sleeping at a friend’s house, hitting the beach and then going to a BBQ before heading home.

Pitfalls
- Ice in the cooler. I offered to put the ice directly in the cooler. Dave & the friend said to use a Ziploc bag. Dave wound up loading the Ziploc full of ice. It felt like cheating but I rationalized it to myself: I did offer to put the ice directly in the cooler and that was totally a viable option.
- I drank from a Dave’s plastic Gatorade bottle when I was thirsty on the beach.
- When buying our sandwiches and goodies for the beach, Dave requested the plastic bag. I sat by and watched (I still had the no-lidded coffee cup in my hands).

Triumphs
- Coffee without lid – cool. Coffee without stirrer – not so cool. The end of the cup tasted like creamer. It was promptly ditched.
- Sandwiches in wax paper, score!
- Snack for the beach – Goldfish, paper bag with aluminum insert, woohoo!
- Paper plates at the BBQ! And who needed utensils for guacamole & chips?
- Beer in a glass bottle, score!

So there are my pitfalls and triumphs.

As a result of this impulsive journey, I’m asking myself (& Dave) a lot of questions. Is Styrofoam a type of plastic? How is a composite different than a polymer? I hope to answer a few of these questions in the days ahead. For now, I’m off to figure out how to make hair shampoo from household ingredients.

My Non-Plastic Journey – Day 2

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 09-08-2009

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On Day 2 I found myself thinking I might need some rules for this thing. I mean, is it OK for me to drink coffee made with a plastic coffeemaker? What about the groceries I already have that are lovingly wrapped with plastic?

With those questions fluttering through my head, I decided to make some rules. Here’s what I got. Feel free to give your opinion on the rules:

  • Do not purchase any additional items containing plastic.
  • Current food items are grandfathered in to the system. I’m sorry I just can’t let good food go to waste.
  • Try to avoid all semi-permanent devices made of plastic. By semi-permanent device I’m thinking of a coffeemaker, hair dryer, Tupperware, etc. I say try because I do plan to be a good employee and go to work which means I need to use my plastic computer.

As for Day 2, I was at a fancy wedding so plastic wasn’t that difficult to avoid. The two times where I chose not to use plastic were:
(1) At McDonald’s between the wedding and the reception when I chose a vanilla cone to eat instead of a plastic-wrapped goodie and
(2) During desert when I had to manhandle the strawberries instead of using the plastic toothpicks. Don’t worry. I went for easy targets and didn’t touch any other strawberries that I wasn’t eating :)

My Non-Plastic Journey – Day 1

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 07-08-2009

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Yesterday I posted about an excellent idea I found on another blog site – to go one week without plastic and to document the ups and downs associated with such a journey. As I approach the end of Day 1, I’m still excited to try and be plastic-less, but hesitant about what difficulty I will find as I attend a wedding this afternoon. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Here’s my record of Day 1’s triumphs and failures:

I work in the Research & Development (R&D) department of a food company. My company is super safety-minded and so I’m not allowed to have or use any sort of glass objects near the food we make for you. Why? Because we can’t detect glass in food. So if, by chance, a glass container breaks near the food I’m making for you and a piece happens to get in there, there’s no way for us to know. You’ll eat it and then scratch your throat up . We care about you and so I cannot have glass lunch containers. That’s right, lunch containers. Do I eat lunch near the food I’m making for you? Nope. This way I don’t spit on your food or, more importantly, contaminate the candy I’m making with fish, peanuts, etc. (lumped in to a group we dub allergens). I’m all about keeping you guys safe from my germs or allergens but even if I eat at my desk, it’s in a completely separate area from the food I’m making for you.

Not the point.

Basically, prior to committing to a plastic-less week, I brought in all plastic as a result of me wanting my lunch bag (aka feed bag) at my desk. So let’s just say lunch was a BIG failure in terms of plastic-free. The good news – I can change the situation and store my feed bag in the designated refrigerators in the cafeteria (about 90 miles* away from the food we make for you). Or I can make an investment in a stainless steel lunch container (yup, they exist). I’ll let you know how that works out.

Another result of me not being allowed to have glass in R&D is I didn’t bring in my dressing from home. Since we have a full-service lunch in our cafeteria I had planned on using the cafeteria’s dressing. So I was forced, or at least saw it as the only option at the time, to portion out the dressing I wanted in to a small #1 plastic tub. I thought I could re-use the tub several times thus nullifying the “badness” of it being plastic. Thought being the key word. At the end of the work day, as I walked the 90 miles* to the exit, I had a sneaking suspicion all was not well in my lunch bag. I was right. I looked down and the tub’s plastic lid had come off and dressing was all over my lunch bag. Terrific.I suppose the lid was getting back at me for even thinking I could go a day without plastic. Well plastic lid you just confirmed why I shouldn’t use you – so there!

The triumphs of Day 1? Well I wouldn’t call it a triumph but I would say that the impulsive decision to go without plastic mid-day made me realize how much I have to cut out. I don’t think this will be a convenient journey but it’s certainly do-able. With that, I’ll end this post. Stay tuned for Day 2.

* I hope everyone realizes this is an exaggeration.

Excellent Idea!

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Environmental, Me | Posted on 06-08-2009

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I just read this article and decided to give it a go myself – a week without ANY plastic. The blogger over at Ready Made is going to chronicle her efforts – progress and “slip-ups” – to go without plastic for one week. I’m totally with her. Stay tuned for my chronicle of Wendy’s Week Without Plastic!

E-Waste

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Posted by Wendy | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-07-2009

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“It is vital that we prevent India from becoming the e-waste dustbin for the West”
Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India

Discarded circuit boards

From Sophie Gerrard’s Photography on-line exhibit: E-wasteland – The growing problem of e-waste in India.