Tag Archives: plastic

Easy Ways To Avoid Plastic

Easy ways to avoid plastic

Plastic is everywhere these days. Too often it’s treated as something completely disposable, something made for a single use. While there are good uses of plastic – your car and computer wouldn’t be the same without it, for example, many other uses are just wasteful. It’s a good idea to learn how to avoid plastic in those areas.

Skip The Bottled Water

As much as possible, don’t buy bottled water. Get a good size stainless steel or glass bottle, and refill it instead. I like ones that are insulated so that my drink stays cold all day. It’s an easy way to keep drinking water rather than less healthy alternatives, and it’s much cheaper than buying new bottles of water all the time.

I like stainless steel bottles for my kids’ school lunches. The drink bottles come in a wonderful range of styles. My kids have dented them, but never ruined one. They bring them to school every day, filled with water. It’s much better than bringing a disposable bottle of water everywhere.

Food Containers

There are many wonderful alternatives to plastic food containers now. Some may use a little plastic to provide a good seal, but many use a silicone gasket. You can choose from glass or stainless steel, depending on what you want to spend and how much you trust that they won’t be treated roughly.

A little paint can work to personalize glass or stainless steel containers that are brought to school or work. Kids are great at losing things, so it helps to make it easier to identify your things.

The glass jars you get from many products make great food storage container, and you already have them! They aren’t for long term use as a general rule, but for putting food in the fridge or storing dry goods in the pantry, they’re great. I keep a stash in my pantry of various sizes so I can usually find the one I need.

For those times when you would otherwise use plastic wrap to cover your food, check out beeswax wrap instead. You can wash food off of it with water and maybe some dish soap, and keep reusing it.

Straws

If you don’t eat out a lot, you probably don’t use all that many single use straws. Kids love them, of course, at home or out and about. It’s very easy to cut down on your use of single use straws.

You can bring your own reusable straws when you eat out, for example. The trick can be remembering to keep your straw. If you’re concerned about losing your straws, you can buy paper straws to use instead of plastic. Paper is a much better choice since it breaks down much more easily. Make sure your server knows to not bring you a straw.

Shopping Bags

Plastic shopping bags are very common, although some states are trying to get the problem under control. In California, for example, most stores must have reusable bags to sell to you at $0.10 each, to encourage people to reuse bags. These bags are simply extra heavy plastic bags, so I don’t know how much waste they’re preventing, but it’s a start.

Look into cloth alternatives for shopping bags, or make your own. You can even find reusable produce bags.

Don’t forget to skip the sandwich baggies. You can find reusable versions of these as well.

Buy Bulk

I was so happy to see a grocery store with bulk bins open in my area recently. The nearest one before that was too far to go to very much. I’ve always loved stores with bulk bins. You can minimize the packaging by buying in bulk, and some stores will let you use your own containers. You have to get them weighed first.

Buy Products In Boxes Rather Than Bottles

As much as you can, buy products in boxes rather than ones in plastic bottles. This goes for things such as bar soap and laundry detergent. Even if the boxes have a little plastic around them, it’s far less than what you get when the entire container is plastic.

Use Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are much less wasteful than disposable diapers, although they are a little more work. I used them on my youngest, and it went really well. It takes some extra laundry, but otherwise it isn’t that different. They can also be much cuter than disposable diapers.

Make Your Own Household Cleaners

I make most household cleaners myself. Mostly that means using baking soda and vinegar for a lot of purposes. This allows me to buy them in larger packages. This doesn’t allow me to completely avoid plastic, but the larger packages use less plastic per ounce of product.

Drink Less Juice And Soda

Juice and soda often come in plastic bottles. They aren’t necessary to your health, so the less you drink of them, the better.

If you do buy juice or soda, avoid the single serving sizes if you’re buying for multiple people. You can limit the plastic waste a little that way.

Recycle

When you can’t avoid plastic, recycle as much of it as possible. Plastics are generally downcycled – that is, made into a lower quality plastic – but that’s better than sending them straight to the landfill.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Is There Such a Thing As “Safe” Plastics? Are We Sure?

I think most parents these days know that there are issues with plastics containing bisphenol-A (BPA). There’s a reason why more and more plastic goods, especially those aimed at children, are being advertised as BPA-free. But is that really enough? Are other types of plastic safer?

The problem with BPA is that it’s estrogenic – that is, it mimics estrogen in the body. You don’t want that, and naturally parents are picky about such things going into the bodies of their children. That’s why there was such a fuss that manufacturers decided to use other plastics which don’t contain BPA.

Does that mean other plastics are safe? Unfortunately, that’s questionable, according to a new study.

It’s a long study, an interesting read if you like that sort of thing, but here’s the basic result: almost all plastics leach chemicals that have estrogenic activity (EA). Some BPA-free products released chemicals with more estrogenic activity than plastics with BPA.

So much for the much-vaunted BPA-free plastics.

Not all of the plastics released chemicals with EA at first, but common uses such as putting them in the microwave or dishwasher increased the release.

What Should Parents Do?

Now of course more study should be done, but heck, folks, you have options other than plastic. Not like we have to serve or save foods in plastic. There are options. Plastic, after all, isn’t that good a deal environmentally speaking anyhow.

You can use glass or stainless steel containers and dishes when possible, for example. You may not be able to avoid plastics in your dishes entirely, but there are options such as Klean Kanteen’s sippy bottle which at least minimizes the use of plastic. It uses some, but they say it’s supposed to be non-leaching and is BPA-free, for what that’s worth. It’s still less plastic than other sippy cups where the drink is held in a plastic cup rather than a stainless steel bottle.

Don’t put any plastic dishes or containers you have in the microwave or dishwasher. It’s the heat that increases the leaching. Use glass or other safe materials in the microwave.

It’s tough to serve young children with breakable dishes, but you do have alternatives. You can buy stainless steel dishes or look for tempered glass dishes, which are significantly stronger than regular glass dishes. Wood is another option, although it may be more difficult to care for.

I get a lot of my glass storage containers from bottles of spaghetti sauce. The shape is a bit awkward, and doesn’t work for everything, but it’s a place to start. There are glass storage containers you can buy if you want more practical shapes.

And on the plus side, if you just can’t give up your plastic yet, leaching does decrease over time. It’s not perfect, and the exposure still happens, but at least the numbers go down.

Plastic toys are good to avoid, but in terms of leaching, the best thing is to not let your kids put plastic toys in their mouth. That won’t stop all exposure, as little hands go in little mouths, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Don’t Panic

Estrogenic compounds may well be worth avoiding, but it’s not something to panic about. Take your time, think about it, and do what’s practical for you. I don’t know if it would work, but if you want to leach out some of the chemicals before exposing your family, you could always expose your plastics to known stressors several times before use. I have no idea how often is enough, so don’t ask. There are sources of BPA exposure beyond the plastics you can choose whether or not to use, so this is mostly a matter of limiting it where you can.

It may also help to remember that there are many risks in life that we can’t control. That’s just the way it is. It’s still a good idea to think about your exposure to chemicals leached from plastic, but it’s not panic-worthy.

Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

I’m not a big fan of the toys that come in children’s meals at fast food restaurants. Actually, I’m not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in general or rather, the really unhealthy food most of them serve. But I don’t think the ban of toys included with Happy Meals and other kids meals that Santa Clara county is enacting is the answer.

I just don’t think making them drop the toys is the answer to the obesity issue that they’re focusing on.

I understand that they will allow restaurants whose kids meals meet certain nutritional guideline to continue to offer the kids toys. Fine, whatever. I’d be much surprised if that changed the menus.

You see, I don’t think the toys are enough of the attraction. This is something I’ve discussed with my daughter, who is about to turn 8.

She tells me that the play areas are an even bigger part of the attraction for her. We talk pretty often about health, eating right and being active, so she knows that fast food isn’t good for her. But those play areas!

I can’t say I blame her for loving them. Many times I’ve wished I could fit in them comfortably. What kid doesn’t love climbing around?

Aside from my rather quiet son, that is.

Of course, no one is going to suggest that they can’t have play areas unless their food is healthy. No one wants to make things even worse by saying that if you want to eat unhealthy food then you can’t be active at the restaurant because play areas aren’t allowed there. That’s just silly.

I do understand that other kids do go just because they want the latest cool toy that is included with their Happy Meal. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are great for getting in toys that kids will want for at least 5 minutes after they actually receive them. But I think it’s important to remember that the toys aren’t the only draw.

Besides, fast food places aren’t the only ones serving junk to kids. I found this link to a Cupertino School District lunch menu for April. Looks rather problematic to me. Now who’s promoting unhealthy eating habits?

Parents Need to Step Up

But the simple truth of the matter is that kids can’t get fast food when they’re young without the help of parents. Parents who are often in a rush and just want something quick and easy for lunch or dinner when they take the kids for fast food.

The first thing to do is focus on healthy eating at home. Think about the snacks you provide. Think about what you cook and how often you eat out. These are things you have control over.

I don’t have a problem with eating unhealthy food some of the time. It’s when it’s a constant thing that it becomes a problem. You don’t have to go to a fast food restaurant just because the kids start begging for it.

Schools try to teach kids about healthy eating to a limited degree, but then they mess it up with menus like the one I linked to above. They’re stuck too, with tight budgets for food and the only cheap enough stuff isn’t that good for you.

That’s why parents need to take the time to learn these things themselves. The schools aren’t going to teach enough about healthy eating. You can.

You can start a garden with your kids. Have them help prepare meals. Take them grocery shopping and focus on the fresh foods, not the convenience foods. Find healthy recipes online.

Just work with them on really thinking about their food and what goes into making it healthy.

And don’t forget to send them outside to play every day possible. Food is not the only cause of weight problems.

Don’t Focus on Obesity

My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who is really aware of the social pressures to not be obese. I’m working hard on teaching her and my son that it’s not about your weight, it’s about healthy habits. I’ve talked to her about people we know who are probably considered obese, but who are probably in better shape than others who are thinner.

It’s hard to give kids a realistic view of weight, healthy eating and fitness when society focuses so much just on obesity. And while obesity is certainly a problem, you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they eat healthy foods and exercise, but happen to have a metabolism that is just at a particular weight.

You can’t tell by looking if someone who is skinny really eats well and exercises or just has one of those really fun metabolisms.

I’d rather teach good habits than teach my kids to obsess over numbers on a scale. It’s hard, when the rest of the world tells them otherwise, but I think that’s a better lesson.

But What About the Toys?

I said it at the start, I’m not so much a fan of the toys. How many kids play with them much at all the next day? I know mine don’t.

My mother decorated her Christmas tree last year with Happy Meal toys she got from her various grandchildren. Probably the best use I’ve seen for them.

But wow, all that plastic!

I don’t favor making laws getting rid of them, whether the reason is environmental or to discourage kids from wanting unhealthy kids meals. I cringe to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think legislating the problem away is a real fix.

Cheap plastic toys, no matter the source, are going to be with a for a while. And while they may attract kids to unhealthy food, it’s up to the parents to say no. I can handle that.

If you want to do your part, convince your kids to reject the toys even if they do get a Happy Meal. Difficult, but they might surprise you sometimes. This is something you can do on your own.

I know the commercials can make this difficult. Kids see the current toy offerings on television and sometimes that inspires them to beg for a trip to Mcdonalds for that toy.

Don’t just say no. Take a moment and discuss why you’re saying no. Point out the many other toys they have if that helps with your kids.

Or just say no, not today. You’re the parent and you can do that.

How to Use Less Plastic in Your Kitchen

There are many good reasons to use less plastic in your life. It comes from petroleum, a limited resource. Plastic itself is not good for the environment, and does not degrade well. Some types have BPA, which is a potential endocrine disruptor.

Yet it makes many appearances in most kitchens. How do you avoid it?

At the Grocery Store

When you’re buying food at the grocery store you’re likely to see quite a bit of plastic being used. Wouldn’t you like to avoid it?

In the meat department, rather than buying prepackaged meats you can go to the butcher counter and get the amount you want wrapped in butcher paper in many stores. Some will still use plastic bags to help prevent dripping with certain meats.

When selecting fresh produce, your best bet is to bring your own bags. You can buy inexpensive reusable bags made from lightweight materials very easily. Some even have their tare weight on a tag so the clerk can subtract that from your total.

Milk and juice often come in plastic bottles, but you have options. You can often find them in paper cartons, and sometimes even in glass bottles.

I’m not even going to get into bottled water here. There’s rarely a good reason to buy bottled water from the grocery store. Fill up a reusable bottle at home, using a filter if you really feel the need.

Food Storage

You don’t need to store your food in plastic containers either. Before plastic got so popular, glass containers were used. You can still buy them new or find them at thrift stores, garage sales and so forth.

The main risk with glass is of course that it will be dropped and broken. You do need to be a little careful. But it’s not at bad as you may think. Most glass storage containers are made with fairly thick, good quality glass. They’re not made to break all that easily.

If you’re preparing snacks or meals for on the go, have reusable supplies ready. A good quality lunch bag, small reusable cloth bags, drink bottles and stainless steel containers can all help you to avoid plastic use when you’re taking food with you.

Heating Food in the Microwave

It’s just a habit for many people to use plastic in the microwave. Plastic doesn’t get so darn hot as glass or other containers in the microwave.

The trouble is that heating plastic leads to leeching of BPA and such if present.

Once again, think about your glass containers. Check to be sure they’re microwave safe first, and use a hot pad to take your food out of the microwave.

You don’t need to cover food with plastic wrap to prevent splatters either. An appropriately sized plate on top will do the job quite nicely. You could also use a lid from a plastic container if you like, so long as it’s not touching the food.

Check Local Recycling Laws – Green Step By Step

One of the challenges of recycling is knowing exactly what you can and cannot recycle. It varies a good bit from place to place. So many places take only plastics #1 and #2 in bottle shape only, while others take just about the whole spectrum. If you don’t know you could be throwing out recyclable plastics or dropping in things that mess up the recycling routine.

In many regions the recycling company has a website you can check. It may be on your bill from the disposal company. If not, find them using your favorite search engine. Smart companies will list on their websites what they do and do not take.

Companies can be picky about the type of plastic. They can be picky about how clean your glass and plastic are before recycling. You may need to sort, although you probably know that one already by the kinds of bins you deal with. Some are more or less restrictive on the kinds of paper you can send in and if they accept shredded paper.