I’ve tried to make choices this past year to make my family’s new home as non-toxic and safe as possible. I’ve learned a lot over the course of several months on just how much of an impact this can have on our budget as well. This post will serve as a recap for my experience with the Plastic-Free December Challenge.
We try to “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” What doesn’t meet the safe, non-toxic, natural standard we set and fit in our budget, we just don’t buy anymore. If it is a more durable good we either donate it or continue to use until we find a frugal and sustainable alternative.
To make things more complicated, in the early stages of switching to glass our son pulled down one such glass item and cut his hand in the process. We switched gears and started purchasing stainless steel wherever possible instead of glass.
This is expensive and takes time. While we have replaced a lot of the glass items in our kitchen (safety issue) with stainless steel, we just moved some glass items out of the kids’ reach. In the kids’ bathroom, they currently use a plastic soap bottle until I find a suitable replacement. It is filled with all-natural, non-toxic soap.
THE PLASTIC-FREE DECEMBER CHALLENGE
When Angela of Tread Lightly Retire Early asked on Instagram if anyone would be interested in doing a plastic-free challenge in December, specifically purchasing no new one-time-use plastics the first week of the month I was so excited to try. I figured we were already eliminating plastic around the house, how hard could it be? It was hard, very hard in fact.
One thing worth noting is that my family is blessed with our health, which I know isn’t the case for everyone. We don’t need one-time-use plastics for medical reasons, which made it possible to do the challenge in the first place. In no way do I want to appear to place blame or come off as ableist in this post if you need one-time-use plastics or just cannot afford alternatives. I sincerely hope no one is made to feel that way after reading this.
I do not know where to purchase affordable meat in my area that isn’t wrapped in plastic. There are local meat farms, but the prices have been a bit steep for me when I looked them up in the past. I’m also unsure of the packaging used. It’s not exactly the farmer’s market season either. I also walked into this challenge completely unprepared!
WHAT I DID WELL IN the CHALLENGE
This challenge definitely forced me to be more conscientious of my purchases. I delayed some until I figured out a better alternative, even forgoing a few. I cooked a new dish rather than stick with mashed potatoes for a church potluck rather than buy a plastic bag of potatoes to mash. We didn’t come home with leftovers, so I guess people liked my dish!
I avoided some processed sugar the first week of December due to the fact that I chose a carton of half and half rather than my usual flavored creamer. Initially, I thought I would get used to the taste and just add vanilla to my coffee. In reality, I lost my appetite for my daily coffee and mostly did without that week.
I also probably consumed less sodium as a family that week due to refraining from any ramen noodle purchase. Additionally, I made a few healthier choices by shopping at the local natural foods co-op for what I could (within budget).
The socks we ordered for our son’s stocking surprisingly arrived in a little box with no plastic. This was a pleasant surprise. It actually resembled a cell phone box. I also didn’t need to buy wrapping paper. I did use what I had and plan to continue to use it or otherwise donate it since I have almost a whole roll left from years prior. Now I buy paper gift bags and boxes that can be reused if possible or recycled once ripped.
I ran out of shampoo in the first week of December. Rather than reorder my usual, I purchased a bar of shampoo from the natural food store. I was excited to try it and am pleased for the most part with it. The paper wrapping stated it contained essential oils and was safe for color-treated hair. Once it runs out I think I will try to find a frugal, oily DIY recipe and try to make my own.
WHAT I DIDN’T DO SO WELL AT IN THE PLASTIC-FREE DECEMBER CHALLENGE
That half and half carton I was so proud of myself for purchasing isn’t recyclable locally. I forgot that when I was busy my own back for not buying my usual creamer in the recyclable plastic bottle.
Recycling in our area is mostly limited to glass bottles, cans, cardboard, paperboard, mixed paper, and plastics 1 and 2. But this does NOT include clamshells or waxed cartons. I did recently read online that it is okay to leave the caps on, which is great news. I hate throwing them away AND hate leaving the bottles open so I usually remove them at the recycling center. Now I don’t have to!
CHRISTMAS POSED A CHALLENGE WITH THIS CHALLENGE
The signs at drop off centers state that I can recycle shoes, glasses, and all sorts of other random stuff, to ask an employee. There typically isn’t one when I am there. I need to look into this further; we have a bag of non-rechargeable batteries at home waiting to be recycled.
I purchased a few items in plastic packaging the first week of December that I had already committed to purchasing; we adopted a “cardinal” from the school tree, which is the district’s equivalent of an angel tree.
We adopted a four-year-old girl because could afford her requests. The card listed clothing sizes, needs, and a few wants. We were instructed to purchase two needs and one want form the list. I ordered a baby doll in a plastic crib with accessories and a two-piece outfit from Amazon at the end of November.
I stopped at the local Dollar General and purchased socks and underwear as well. Both were wrapped in plastic. Our daughter’s socks and decorative ponytail holders also arrived in plastic. The wooden Thomas the Train we bought our son also had plastic attaching it to its cardboard backing.
We thought we did well purchasing our son the wood toy excavator set, but the excavator’s arm is plastic. We’ll see how long it holds up. There was also a lot of plastic packaging around the gifts our kids received from family, but I pulled all the cardboard off for recycling that I could. It’s not like we told anyone not to buy us anything wrapped in plastic for Christmas. We made a run to the recycling center and dropped off some stuff to goodwill two days after Christmas.
It wasn’t in the budget to buy produce “naked” at the natural food store and most of it at Aldi isn’t naked. I thought it was a win buying sweet potatoes in a net, but that’s probably plastic as well. I definitely can’t recycle it.
WHAT I TOOK FROM THE EXPERIENCE
I failed miserably at this challenge! Admittedly, I didn’t make it one week of the month without purchasing one-time-use plastic, even overlooking Christmas! I do not foresee accomplishing this in the future without making my own toothpaste as well. I’m not quite there yet, as I love my current toothpaste. But in my failure, I learned a lot.
I was forced to be more conscientious with every purchase I made. I hope to carry that lesson going forward. And while some items we regularly consume have plastic-free package alternatives I will continue to use the one-time-use plastic if it is the most easily recycled option.
I may not have achieved a plastic-free goal, but am definitely more thoughtful about an item is BEFORE I buy it as opposed to just deciding if goes it in the trash or recycling bin. That in itself was worth accepting the challenge.
I definitely plan to continue putting more budgetary and environmental considerations into my purchases in 2020. And Angela, if you plan a plastic-free week or month for this year I will definitely be more prepared!