So this is it — 30 days without plastic. What’s the conclusion?
I conclude that it is extremely difficult to live without plastic in today’s consumer world. I conclude that avoiding plastic takes wits — paying attention — and the wisdom to know the difference between Good (usable, reusable and recyclable) and Bad (one-use Saran-wrap or Baggies, plastic film wrap for “hygiene,” or personal use items like tampons or plastic bottles for water, etc). Good and Bad plastic are always present; it’s how you choose.
I conclude that when I opened my eyes to items I use every day that are made from plastic, it wasn’t all that tough to find a non-plastic alternative, or live without it. I found myself stepping back a generation to use once-well known objects like a wooden comb, a wooden spoon and a cast iron pan, a cloth bag and a ceramic cheese dish with matching cover. I found that servers at the deli, the butcher, the cheese shop and the farmers market are all happy to let you bring your own bags or containers, or to wrap in paper if you ask nicely. I learned to just take the plastic bag sometimes because I knew I would recycle it, and that if I didn’t take it, the server would just throw it away because it was too much trouble to put back and reuse.
We ate well this month. I conclude that eating without plastic is healthier but a little costlier — and yet, I didn’t have an appreciable difference in my month end grocery bill. Why? Because of all the junk food I wasn’t able to buy. No chips, treats, crackers and cookies, junky cereals, fatty breads… everything is fresher, better for us, and more locally produced. This is good for our health, good for the planet, and NO PLASTIC. I was reading the Lucky, Safeway and Nob Hill sale papers a month ago with rabid interest, to see what was on sale, cheap and where I could use my coupons to get more for less. Today I read through all three sale papers and conclude that I can purchase vodka, fruit, corn on the cob and milk — and that’s about it. Almost everything on sale in three stores, in 20+ pages of sale papers –> all so badly packaged –> all so very bad for our health — > I can’t buy them anymore.
My friend Deanna asked me last night if I was going back to my old habits of just buying whatever. “The challenge is over, right?” I could go back to buying plastic stuff. There’s no law against it. But it’s like learning how hot dogs are made. I told her I used to eat hot dogs until I saw what was in them and how they are made. Now I can’t eat them. Same with the plastic issue. Can’t do it. Just can’t.
This has been good practice for us. If I had set a challenge of “Let’s all eat healthful food!” it would have made my family grumble (as they do). That wouldn’t have affected the planet in the same way, though — there is plenty of so-called healthful food that is grossly overpackaged. Soy products, from edamame, soy milk and tofu, are among the worst offenders. Meat substitutes (as well as highly processed meaty things like sausages and lunch meats) are all encased in layers of plastic. Coconut milk in the Tetra-pak, rice and almond milks in the Tetra-paks, even Paul Newman’s and Cascadian Farms products are heavily packaged. Granola bars, that love child of the health food industry, all extra packaged in individual Mylar-plastic packets.
Nuts, berries, lettuce, potatoes, fruit, onions, mushrooms — unless you’re buying in bulk, these also come in plastic clamshells or bags. And I already discussed in detail the personal care and bathroom items that are plasticized. Bottom line is that you have to bring your own bags or containers to avoid the packaging. But it is possible. It is very possible. Despite the ambient plastic that is around us, in most of our food and nearly all other goods — it is possible to live without, or at least with less plastic.
I should say something pithy here about how precious is the future for our children, and saving the butterflies and the whales, but you know all that. Plastic comes from fossil fuel, which is rapidly running out. So be smart, think ahead instead of living in the moment, and try to avoid it. The four Rs of the green movement are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Plastic doesn’t rot. Recycling is supposed to be the last choice for plastics — reduce your use, and reuse what you can.
I think that says it all.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.