We’re a little less than a week into our plastic-free month and I find myself waffling between two general states of mind: “Wait, do I really need this? Can I make it myself?” and “Screw this, this is ridiculous!” It turns out living without plastic is a lot more difficult than I realized. While I’m surrounded by plastic all day long, I never really noticed how much of my life comes packaged in it until I tried to do without it.
Once I recruited my family to attempt a plastic-free month, we needed to prepare. I started following zero-waste Instagrammers and Facebook pages where I found inspiring ideas, as well as some really beautiful feeds that gave me the same thrill as I get when flipping through a cooking or design magazine.
Full disclosure: I’m a teacher and on vacation for a few more weeks, so I have the time to dedicate to this kind of a project. But I wondered how sustainable this would be once I went back to work. Day one involved a trip to my local grocery store with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I normally do my weekly grocery shopping at Stop and Shop, however, Cronig’s Market, one of the locally owned stores, has a large bulk section that I was going to need. Luckily many others who shop at Cronig’s are way more advanced in this plastic-free endeavor, so the store is already set up with a weigh station at the front door. I brought my own Pyrex containers and at the deli, they cheerfully filled them up with my sliced turkey and cheese. I also purchased a set of 12-ounce mason jars and several muslin sacks for future use. I’m already in the habit of not using many plastic bags when filling my cart with produce, but I took it to a new level, and my fruits and veggies rolled around free. Yet even in a store that has many environmentally conscious shoppers, I was still shocked by how many items had at least some plastic in them. I spent a ridiculous amount on a small container of farmhouse mayonnaise and organic ketchup because they were the only options packaged in glass rather than plastic. I had to skip some items regularly on my shopping list like sandwich bread, yogurt, hummus, and crackers and instead tried out new brands and purchased ingredients to make some staples myself. While my shopping bill was lower than I expected and close to my typical weekly average, I also left unsure what exactly we were eating that week.
Luckily, I enjoy cooking, so part of this adventure was about trying out new recipes and shopping in different stores. Later in the week I bought milk at Morning Glory Farm in returnable glass bottles, something I didn’t even know was an option (though they have a plastic cap). I made my own yogurt (yum, and surprisingly easy), corn tortilla wraps and microwave potato chips (delicious), bread, hummus, and crackers (all good), and toothpaste (yes, toothpaste. Thumbs down from my family, so I broke down a bought a package of Colgate after my daughters begged me.) I used apple cider vinegar in place of conditioner, which worked surprisingly well and didn’t leave me smelling like a Greek salad, as I’d feared. A few lows from this week: battling August traffic in Martha’s Vineyard in order to hit multiple grocery stores, breaking down and buying feta and blue cheese in plastic in plastic, getting the apple cider vinegar in my eyes while conditioning my hair (ouch), using the toothpaste that no one wanted as a facial scrub instead then panicking that my skin would break out because of the peppermint oil.
This project started out as research for a novel, but it’s turned into something else. Everyone in my household is newly aware of all of the plastic in our lives, something I’ve never paid much attention to before. I’m learning about the health risks linked to plastic use, in addition to its impact on the environment. While I’m amazed by some of the people I’ve discovered who manage to fit their monthly or yearly waste into a single jar, I can’t imagine we’ll make it that far. I’ve had to remind myself multiple times that while eliminating plastic is the goal, it’s okay if I can’t do it 100%. Reduction is also a reasonable and worthy goal, better than burning out and scrapping the endeavor altogether. Once the month ends, I think we’ll come away with some long- term changes and new habits—though probably not a new toothpaste.
Next up, attempting plastic-free during the busiest week of the summer on Martha’s Vineyard and while having houseguests and hosting dinner parties.