Why would one want to reduce plastic usage?

A friend asked why someone would want to reduce plastic usage. It’s an interesting question. Plastics are very useful (versatile, lightweight, long-lasting, relatively low carbon footprint), but there are people who want to avoid all plastics (see My Plastic-free Life, for example). In fact, a lot of people in the zero-waste community are anti-plastic to the extent that they replace functioning plastic reusables with items made of other materials (not the best thing to do, by the way!) .

Pros of plastic:

  • Doesn’t decompose in landfills, which makes plastic good for sequestering carbon. (FYI biodegradable and compostable materials are only worth using if you actually compost them. If you put them in the landfill, they will produce methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plastic, on the other hand, sequesters carbon basically indefinitely. It is ideal for landfills.)
  • “Natural” materials, such as paper and cotton, generally require more resources to produce than plastic (for example, although this apparently isn’t true for some types of synthetic fabrics, where the plastic has a small footprint, but processing is very resource-intensive), so plastic may be a better choice of material for single-use items (e.g. packaging, medical disposables).
  • Durable, in some ways. Unlike glass and ceramic, plastic doesn’t usually break when dropped. This can be good for storage containers. Plastic is also resistant to many caustic chemicals.
  • Plastics have amazing and varied characteristics. Transparent, yet flexible. Lightweight. Remoldable (sometimes). Cheap.
  • Plastic is lightweight, making it cheaper and less resource-intensive to ship.

Cons of plastic:

  • Leaches unknown and hazardous known chemicals at unknown concentrations into whatever it is containing or touching (e.g. BPA from receipts can be absorbed into your skin when you touch them), or off-gases into the air. See Plastic Free for detailed info + citations. I’m sure there are articles online as well.
  • Plastic additives are largely unregulated. Despite the recent hubbub over BPA and a lot of scary research, the FDA’s stance is that current levels of BPA in food are safe (despite the fact that endocrine disruptors may have stronger effects at lower doses (source). They even have inter-generational effects. For example, one study concluded that higher blood BPA concentrations in mouse mothers was correlated with “loss of sexual dimorphism in brain structure and behavior illustrated by animal studies, findings concordant with human epidemiological studies” (source, text). I can only wonder if BPA and other hormone-mimicking plasticizers are the cause of the apparent uptick in the number of transgender people.).
  • Made from a non-renewable resource (fossil fuels). Petroleum and plastic are incredibly valuable and irreplaceable resources that should be reserved for uses where they are not easily replaced (medical purposes, for example).
  • Supports the petroleum industry, which has a history of “downplay[ing] the significance of climate change [using approaches] copied from tobacco lobbyists” (source) and damaging the environment through extraction.
  • Difficult to reuse. For example, many plastics are porous and can’t be properly sanitized for reuse. Others leach additives faster as they degrade.
  • Can break down over time and via exposure to UV, causing brittleness, flaking, and leaching. Unfortunately, the tiny bits of plastic will still probably not degrade for several hundred years.
  • Difficult to repair (although this is definitely not unique to plastic).
  • Difficult to recycle. Only plastics 1 and 2 are commonly and easily recycled. Glass and metal, on the other hand, can be recycled indefinitely. Paper can generally by recycled 7 times until the fibers are too short and weak to be useful. (However, recycling in the US is not stellar for any material, largely because people want single-stream recycling for convenience. Unfortunately, this causes contamination due to materials being difficult to properly separate, so companies don’t want to use the recycled materials.)
  • Not biodegradable. Stick around a long time (100-1 million years, estimates vary and depend on type).
  • Cheap. Encourages thoughtless consumerism, fast fashion, unnecessary disposables, etc.
  • Have a propensity to become litter. Plastic in general is lightweight and easily blows out of trash bins. Film plastics are particularly aerodynamic.
  • Synthetic textiles are flammable. They also melt and release more-toxic-than-usual smoke when on fire, making them poor choices for high-heat uses (cooking and welding come to mind).

These problems can be largely ameliorated by refusing single-use plastics and by regulating plastics additives. Durable plastic goods are exempt from many of these issues.

And here’s a well-written post on reducing your carbon footprint. In summary: eat less meat (especially beef), insulate your home, and buy less stuff.

Not sure where this is from originally, I saw it on Reddit. Credit goes to Steinberg, I guess.

Did you know that you can stop getting the Yellow Pages?

A past tenant of the apartment really liked mail subscriptions. We got one of her Victoria’s Secret catalogues today, which then had to be dealt with (I sent Victoria’s Secret an email requesting to be removed from their mailing list).

While looking for an unsubscribe tool for Victoria’s Secret, I discovered that you can unsubscribe from the Yellow Pages phone book, which are huuuuuge. You first have to make an account at the linked website, then go to the “Select which directories you receive” page. Although the page has an “Opt out from all” button, it doesn’t do anything… You have to manually toggle the number next to each directory to 0, meaning 0 copies delivered. Let’s hope it works!

Zero-waste household goods delivery service

California has lots of interesting sustainability-focused companies. For food, there are farmers’ markets, Imperfect Produce (still using unreturnable cardboard boxes, unfortunately), and quite a few bulk stores, but it’s harder to find household bath/hygiene and cleaning products. Rainbow Grocery in SF has some items, but it’s far away.

So recently, I tried out Fillgood!! Fillgood is a zero-waste household goods delivery service. If you live in the SF Bay area, they deliver items to your door in a returnable bag and returnable containers (Ball jars). They even take the labels and tags back to reuse.

The only problem with this is how to return the bag. The expectation is that you’ll buy from them again, and they’ll pick up the bag and containers from the previous order. In my case, I’m not sure when or if I’ll every buy from them again. Does that mean I’m stuck with this bag forever???

I bought dishwasher powder and Dental Lace floss refills.

Fillgood carries a lot of useful products that normally can’t be found in bulk. For example, laundry detergent, dishwashing powder, hand soap, makeup remover, lotion, tooth powder.

If you’re not in the Bay Area, Refill Revolution is a similar company that sends bulk goods through the mail. They use returnable plastic pouches, which they then wash and reuse.

How Fillgood works

You purchase items online. Items that come in jars (liquids, powders, pastes) are called “refills” and come in their own containers. You don’t need to purchase containers from Fillgood to get your products (although you can if you want additional storage).

If you are in the Bay Area, when selecting shipping you have the option of door delivery ($5) or local pickup ($2). If you selected door delivery, on a given day your items will be delivered to your door in a black bag.

Next time you order something from Fillgood, leave the bag and containers from last time by your door. Fillgood also collects dental waste for recycling, so you can leave that out in a bag as well. The delivery person will collect the bag and the dental waste, and leave your next purchase.

Pretty easy!

Clothing repair

I regularly patch clothes – mostly the knees of J’s jeans, and recently some of J’s socks. I do boro-style patches (like this but less polished) and other forms of visible mending. They never look super awesome, but they are durable. (I’m going to look like a hobo one day, though.)

An earlier knee patch. More recent patches blend in better and have taken less time.
Maybe I should try other styles of patching. This one is particularly pretty 🙂
The height of my patching attempts! I used this pair of underwear to pad ceramics for shipping. Unfortunately, a dish broke and made lots of tiny holes and some medium-size holes all over the butt of the garment. I really like how these fit and they were in good shape besides the holes, so I decided to patch them! I turned them into an under-the-sea scene, with the small holes turned into bubbles and the larger holes turned into fish. I made two jellyfish, a sea urchin, a squid, some seaweed, and 5 other generic fish. The patches are holding up well!

If you aren’t sure how to repair an item, take a look at Make Do and Mend. It is a British WWII booklet on caring for and repairing clothing. It is super detailed! I’m sure everyone could learn a new technique from it.

Imperfect Produce delivery!

We get a produce delivery every other week from Imperfect Produce. You can choose among the available items, which include fresh fruit and veggies, and special items: mushrooms, defective pasta, mill-grade rice (high broken-grain content), dates, and more! They don’t carry dairy, eggs, or meat, but maybe in the future!

It’s rare that we get something truly imperfect. Most of the produce is surplus.

Overnight bus with beds!

Air travel is fast, but frustrating (I dislike the security checks + lack of leg room) and is particularly bad for the environment when traveling short distances. Because of this, I like to take alternative modes of transportation when possible. The train is nice 🙂 but can be slow and doesn’t offer a lot of different departure times; traditional long-distance buses (Megabus, Greyhound, BoltBus) can be just as cramped as planes.

However, there is an alternative! Cabin (previously SleepBus) is a bus service between LA and San Francisco that has beds on board, much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The trip is about 7 hours overnight, just about the perfect length for this kind of venture. One-way tickets are $85-$120, so 4-5 times more expensive than other buses and 2 times more expensive than Amtrak for the same trip. Flight costs vary a lot (I just saw $29-$200), but are comparable on average or at the last minute.

I’m eager to try out this service! Until Amtrak has an overnight trip between the Bay Area and LA, this sounds like a great option.