Shoppy Shop Talk, Part II
Yesterday’s shopping adventures included the purchase of several personal care or cleaning items. I made the leap and purchased a wooden comb and a wooden-handled toothbrush, both by Bass, silk dental floss, tea tree oil toothpicks, and a box of baking soda. Why baking soda? Because, in addition to the many other uses of this amazing ingredient, from cleaning the sink, toilet and floor to washing your hair, brushing your teeth, washing clothes, and eliminating odors, the 1-pound box is about $1, and it’s cardboard. A pound of anything for $1 is a good deal, if you ask me, but this stuff is truly miraculous. And unfortunately, I found almost nothing else for household cleaning that wasn’t in plastic packaging. I also can’t find any toothpaste that’s not in a plastic tube. If I want to be truly plastic-free, I’m going to have to start brushing with plain baking soda.
I will add kudos for this Seventh Generation laundry soap package (see photo): It’s HE detergent so you use just a little; the shell is made of compostable cardboard; the plastic cap and inner bag are recyclable; and the company is a solid “green” company that has proven its stance on protecting the environment. This package was purchased at Alameda Natural Grocery ($19.79). The price, however, made me gag.
I will go back to making my own laundry detergent when this is gone (2 cups baking soda, 2 cups borax powder, with about half a cup to 1 cup of grated soap — any kind, leftover chips from the bathtub, shell- or flower-shaped gift soaps, Fels-Naptha or whatever you have leftover from hotels, etc.) I store this in a plastic ice cream tub (a great reuse opportunity) with instructions for 1/2 cup per load written in Sharpie, and the half-cup left in the tub, so anyone can use it. Our clothes come out very nicely with no residue and no fake scents. I add a half cup of white vinegar sometimes if it’s a Stinky Boy or sports load. That’s it, and my soap costs way less than $20, I’ll tell you! Costco sells a 10 -12 lb. package of Arm & Hammer baking soda in a plastic sack for about $6. (Here’s where I’d weigh the benefits of the outcome over the plastic packaging.)
I don’t mind cleaning; in fact, I like to clean and will clean anything — IF I have gloves. No gloves? No touchee. I’m super-squeamish about touching nasty stuff with bare hands, and wear gloves for many projects, inside and out. I even wear them on public transportation because ew, ick, germs. But most latex gloves, one-use gloves, etc? Bad, bad, bad. (Read up on latex and rubber if you want to know how the production of these ingredients has destroyed forests and led to international wrangling, downright hostilities and oppression of native peoples.) To cut to the chase, however, I found a pair of cotton-lined ethically sourced latex gloves that are biodegradable, plus recycled/recyclable packaging. The company is If You Care; check them out and see if they can help you help save the planet, too.
I mentioned the wooden comb and toothbrush only to show that a gal can get overexcited in the presence of non-plastics. I will eventually need a new toothbrush, so that’s OK, but the comb was an impulse buy. I already stated for the record that I wasn’t going to randomly throw away stuff that’s good and working, just because it’s plastic. Here’s where I spit the bit, as Mr. Husband would say. (I’d chalk up one for plastics here, but plastics didn’t earn any points. So ha ha.) I also bought silk dental floss — you may not be aware that all of these “glide”-type flosses have Teflon coatings and nylon filament instead of cotton or other organic materials. What is nylon? Plastic. What is Teflon? Plastic. It’s indestructible in nature, and birds have been known to eat it or get tangled. So consider seeking out a natural alternative, including a spool of cotton quilting thread (doesn’t break too easily, and you get about a mile of it in one spool). I bought the tea tree toothpicks to replace Flos-Piks, a take-along dental pick that is plastic, often wrapped in another plastic wrap, inside a plastic bag. Yeesh! Bad news, bears! Grab a toothpick if you need to, and try to avoid the ones in plastic wrap.Back in the day, long ago when Jane Austen walked the planet, a dandy could get a silver toothpick to carry in his pocket. Now wouldn’t that be dandy to have?
Other items of note from yesterday’s ventures: My family likes burritos, and I was pleased to see paper-wrapped fresh burritos to go at the Lucky deli counter (in the cheese display). Great for grab and go! Bagels are available fresh at Lucky and Safeway bakery departments, and you can take a paper bag to fill, or bring your own bread bag. Specialty bagel shops, including Noah’s, or Alameda’s House of Bagels and Boogie Woogie Bagel Boy (both on Park Street) sell fresh bagels by the piece or as many as you want — I haven’t asked, but surely they will let you bring your own bag instead of giving you another plastic bag. Ask for the cream cheese *on* the bagel instead of in a plastic cup, or ask for a paper cup, or go buy your own cream cheese, which, as I mentioned last week, still comes in foil and paper.
One of yesterday’s stops was at Farmstead Cheeses and Wines at the Marketplace in Alameda, and Jeff Diamond, the owner, couldn’t have been nicer. Although cheeses are displayed in plastic wrap, the chunks you take home are wrapped in paper. I got two artisinal California (locally made!) cheeses — California jack and Point Reyes blue — for about what I would have paid for similar at the grocery chains, and got to skip the plastic. I heartily recommend buying cheese from a cheesemonger if you have access to one.
I have to address the financial aspect of non-plastic shopping, and will return to this topic again, as well. Instead of my usual $150 a week, I spent more than $300 yesterday, and that is simply not sustainable in our checkbook. True, I bought wine, vodka and that flippin’ pricey bottle of laundry soap. The organics and specialty items are way pricier than the store brands and massed produced foodstuffs. However, there’s a learning curve at play. Since I’m still adjusting to how to live without buying plastics, I’m hoping to discover better prices, more shortcuts, a way to use coupons or bulk buys to save money, and so on. I’m doing the legwork to show y’all how it’s done, in your own town, and I hope, to inspire you to let go of the plastics in your life, too.
Tomorrow: The farmers’ market and CSA home delivered produce — how to avoid the stupid little plastic sticker on your fruit.
- I picked up our dry cleaning and they kept their promise about no plastic. I took the clothes home, no problem. In future, if I had a lot of white shirts, for example, I think I would take along a clean sheet and wrap the clothes lightly with the sheet if I was really worried about keeping them clean, if weather was bad, etc.
- Garbage tally for the week: 1 piece of chewed Nicoret (nicotine) gum. That’s it. We have the new 20-gallon can and the only thing in it is a piece of chewed yellow gum. Everything else, so far, has been diverted from landfill by composting or recycling. Julia, 6; plastics, 3 (I added a point to plastics when I had the blues on Monday).
- I made an exploratory trip to Berkeley Bowl en route to another destination and my Lawd, I think I found the Promised Land. Will discuss this type of store in more detail soon.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.