Monday, August 5, 2019

Plastics are forever...

HALLIE EPHRON: I am (still) haunted by the oceans of plastic waste that we humans are generating daily. I have given up plastic wrap and bring my own bags to the supermarket. When I do take a plastic bag for produce, I bring it back the next trip. I put out my recycling bin every week loaded with the plastic bottles and jars that seem unavoidable. Though what exactly does "recycling" mean happens to plastics? Because plastic virtually NEVER decays.
How long until it's gone
Zephyrschord [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Still, I hold my nose and buy Legoes and plastic dinosaurs for my grandchildren and a play house for the yard made out of... plastic. I try to buy at yard sales.

The sheer amount of plastic my tiny household consumes seems totally unnecessary.
Every container of hummus, every clamshell package of tomatoes, every gallon container of milk...

The one thing I do try to do is buy one squeeze bottle of, say, Dawn dishwashing liquid, and a much larger one to refill it from. I think in some small way I'm cutting down on plastic waste. But wouldn't it be better to use a dish brush and a block of something (you know, like SOAP).
But what truly enrages me is fancy plastic packaging that is deliberately designed NOT to be reuseable. My Award for Wasteful Packaging goes to SHOUT gel stain remover. It comes in a fist-sized plastic bottle with a rubber brush affixed to one end. Which works very nicely when you apply. HOWEVER. That rubber brush does not come off so you can't refill the container. That's a lot of plastic for 8 ounces of stain remover.

(Runner up prize goes to toothpaste manufacturers. Have you noticed that toothpaste comes in smaller and smaller tubes? NO ONE recycles toothpaste tubes. WHY CAN'T someone invent an effective tooth powder? It should be simple, right?)

What's your candidate for a Wasteful Packaging Award? And how about suggestions to the manufacturers on how to be better world citizens... if they can make Fake Meat then why not Fake (biodegradable) Plastic?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So--there's a bottle of something, aspirin or contact lens solution or whatever. It comes in a plastic twist off container. The container goes INTO a box, a box that's way bigger then the container, and then it has a paper pamphlet of instructions, and then the box with the container and instructions inside is sealed in shrink wrap plastic. Um. When the amount of
stuff that you throw away is more than what you keep, that's a sign.

Plus, batteries. In those sealed things that you can NEVER OPEN.

LUCY BURDETTE: I do hate the ones you can't open--they often come that way from BJ's or Costco. But I also hate the plastic and styrofoam packaging in Publix supermarkets. Really, we can
choose our own cucumbers, you don't have to double wrap them for us!

RHYS BOWEN: I am trying hard to eliminate plastics from my life. I live in California where you now have to pay for any bag at the store. We do take reusable bags. Electronics packaging drives
me mad. Impossible to open. And the amount of waste around face products and cosmetics. Ridiculous.

Unfortunately part of this is to prevent pilfering or tampering like the Tylenol tragedy.we all have to become good people!


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Youngest got out of Maine Medical Center about a week ago after a four day stay - she's fine now! - and I was horrified by the vast amounts of waste generated. Everything, everything is single use and disposable. Of course, I know that's smart for a hospital - better things tossed out than possibly increasing the (already higher than it used to be) risk of infection. But it made me more determined than ever to do what I can to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Living by myself, I produce one 13-gallon bag of trash every two weeks, which I think is good, but I'd like to get it down further. Like many people, the bulk of my trash is non-recyclable plastic. Why, oh why can't manufacturers offer more recyclable packaging? I'm not talking about stuff that's bolted into three layers of plastic so it can survive the ocean voyage from China; I mean all the food products that USED to be available in glass that are now on the shelves in single use plastic. I recently stocked up for summer cookouts and bought ketchup, mayonnaise and relish. Not a single brand in my local Hanneford came in a glass bottle or jar. I would have happily paid a little extra to purchase something recyclable, but I never had the chance. 


Oh, and my vote for most wasteful isn't for the packaging per se but its ubiquitous nature ; prescription bottles. Too small to make any other use of, you can't return them to the pharmacy, you can't recycle them, and even if you're not overloaded with medications, boy, do they pile up.

HALLIE: Here's a web site that purports to tell you how to recycle medicine bottles. But what about unused medications??


JENN McKINLAY: Everything should be wrapped like old fashioned lightbulbs. Simple recyclable cardboard container that barely keeps them from being smashed. I am trying so hard not to use plastic in my every day life, but it is EVERYWHERE.
I have great hope, however, as the BBC reported there is a female researcher in Mexico who has figured out how to make plastic like containers that are biodegradable from...wait for it...cactus. Wouldn't that be something? Non-toxic and biodegradable plastic like material from cactus? Here's the film link.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, there is a vendor at our farmer's market that sells blocks of handmade dishwashing SOAP. No packaging. I'm going to buy one next week. In the meantime, I buy in a big bottle and refill my small one.

And toothpaste, as Hank says--didn't people use to brush their teeth with baking soda? (I recently gave into a sonic toothbrush, having been encouraged by my dentist after just having a crown, ugh) and have discovered that you only need about a quarter of the toothpaste that you use on a regular brush. So surely that helps some...

I take reusable bags for groceries, and don't bag produce unless absolutely essential. I shop at the farmer's market and the local butcher. We use a Brita filter for our tap water. I just bought a S'well water bottle to carry with me in the car. Still, even though we try to be conscientious, we completely fill our recycle toter every week with the unavoidable plastic, cans, glass, and cardboard, and paper. (And I still take a couple of paper newspapers, ouch.)

And I also wonder just where exactly our recycling is going these days?


HALLIE: That's what I wonder. I wonder if any of our readers know: What happens to all that plastic we dutifully put in the recycle bin? Is it US that's dumping it in the ocean?

49 comments:

  1. No matter how hard we try . . . reusable bags, the big bottle/little bottle of dish soap, recycling, all the things already mentioned . . . it feels like a losing battle. I try to use as little as possible, but plastic is pervasive . . . I even carry straws so we can skip the plastic ones at the restaurant [unexpected bonus: the grandbabies love them!].

    I did see an advertisement recently for shoes made from recycled plastic. Unfortunately, there’s so much of the stuff it’s hard to imagine anything making a significant impact [although I’m certain any amount not making its way to the ocean is a good thing].

    Sunblock gets my vote for wasteful packaging . . . .

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    1. I was thinking this morning that there's a business opportunity for a store that sells only toys and cosmetics and toothpaste and shampoos and cleaning supplies that are PACKAGED without plastic or styrofoam. Or are refillable. Or... I'd pay more.

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  2. I think it is useful to remember that recycled plastic can be recycled into a multitude of items from plastic bags to plastic bags to plastic bottles made into insulation or clothing (t-shirts). Side bar: FL now offers loans to small businesses that offer to recycle materials into feed stock --hopefully not plastic feed stock.
    A lot of my household items are recycled. We try to be mindful and not contaminate our recycled stuff.. as much as I would wish, bubble wrap, cords, plastic bags and the dreaded pizza box must not go into the bin. Did you know that almost 25% of the recycled material is useless? Google and the State of FL webpage just told me.
    My vote for the most ubiquitous item that needs to be rethought = the plastic that holds soda cans together. Very hard on the marine environment. My vote on wasteful packaging? Things that come from overseas, especially from countries that are focused on germ prevention.

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    1. Good choice. I wonder if there's a name for that plastic that keeps six-packs together.

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    2. Coralee, after we heard about how six-paxk rings can catch and entangle marine life, my daughters and I started cutting the rings before throwing them away (not recyclable, of course.) You don't have to slice it into bits - you simply shear through each closed loop, leaving a long, irregular string of plastic. Still not something I want floating in the oceans, but at least it wont trap a seabird.

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    3. I cut up the rings too. We don't buy much though that comes "ringed". That's a good thing!

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  3. Coralee, a brewery in Florida now uses biodegradable can rings made out of wheat and barley.

    In Cincinnati, the police sponsor twice a year unused meds collection on a Saturday morning. My daughter told me in New Orleans, pharmacies now offer pill recycling, no questions asked. People are more inclined to use the pharmacy than the police station.

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    1. I tried to recycle pills at my local Walgreens - I couldn't.

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    2. Here you go Hallie, three CVS stores in Newton will take them.

      https://www.cvs.com/store-locator/cvs-pharmacy-locations/Massachusetts/Newton

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    3. I would also urge people to check with their local police department. My small town station has what's essentially a secured dumpster inside, you can dispose of unused medications - including veterinary medications! - at any time.

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  4. Hallie, I think I read that much of our recyclables went to China. But with the tariff situation, they aren't accepting that material now. So it's piling up HERE. We also have drop boxes for unused medications around here, located mostly in police stations. Although this is not, apparently, the best idea since a local sheriff (now behind bars) was taking the recycled meds and selling them.

    And every once in a while I see where some young scientist/entrepreneur has come up with a new, biodegradable product to either replace something wasteful or else a way to breakdown something like plastic. If I were to ever win one of those humongous lotteries, I'd seek out that kind of research and pour money into it.

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    1. And I wonder what China was doing with our recyclables... Has anyone figured out who's dumping plastic waste in the ocean? The only solution is to create less plastic stuff in the first place. And it all goes back to petroleum.

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    2. China, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Viet Nam are dumping more plastic in our oceans than the rest of the world combined.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahleung/2018/04/21/five-asian-countries-dump-more-plastic-than-anyone-else-combined-how-you-can-help/#227627601234

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    3. They were making those $10 white plastic chairs from milk jugs, and other white plastic items, like crates. Some of the plastic went into building materials, like Trex planks for decks, etc.

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    4. Interesting Karen. I had heard it's not just the tariff situation - as China and the rest of southeast Asia become more affluent and move into more mature economies, the extremely small margin of profit in recycling plastic is less and less appealing. My local recycling center manager said very low wages were the key, because the best sorting is hand sorting - there's a ton of other materials that show up in each dumpster load of plastics, and they all have to be separated out. According to him, it's quite difficult (and uneconomical) for machine to do.

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  5. Boston and Newton, where I work and live, have banned single use plastic bags. Problem is, one of the grocery stores has replaced them with fabulous multi use plastic bags—, however! They are not recyclable. So there is nothing to do with them. It is very bizarre. So they just stack up. It is truly ridiculous. I always put mail in them, and take it to the post office, and then leave the bag with them.
    But I have to say it has completely done away with those plastic bags that get caught in trees. You just don’t see that anymore! So that is a great thing.

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    1. You gotta bring your own bags. It's where all my canvas conference bags go... into the trunk of my car so taht when I get to the supermarket, there they are!

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  6. Almost everything is recyclable, up to and including dirty diapers. If we want to pay for it. Which we don't.

    I really try, and I know I should try harder. I think one of the greatest inventions is the reusable grocery bag, and do I ever find uses other than groceries for those, don't know how I lived without them.

    We have a huge wheelie bin for our recyclables, collected every two weeks, and we fill it up that often. It's the same size as our garbage bins. Our stuff is sorted at a central location, and all they ask is that we wash out the peanut butter jars and leave out the pliofilm, which, if mixed into the paper bales at too high a percentage, means the paper can't be recycled. Additionally, the sorting is down by humans, a nasty job, but a job.

    For unused meds, there are several options. One is to keep them for next time. That thing that says they expire in a year is mostly bunk. They may lose their effectiveness after several years, but that's all. If the aspiring starts to smell like vinegar or the antihistamine tablets turn to dust, they're done. You can take this stuff to most pharmacies for disposal. Other wise, save the Pepto Bismol for then next tummy upset.

    The plastic med containers can go into the recycle although there are NGOs that are delighted to have them to reuse in third world countries where plastic pill bottles are rarely available. They will clean them up, use in their local clinics, refill and relabel.

    Next I have to figure out how to refill Amazon boxes with donations and take to UPS or some such.

    Plastic in oceans is killing wildlife. China contributes 2.4 million tons per year. The US contributes 77,000, still way too much, but we are not the major problem. Most of the total comes from Asia. Glass would be far better. At least it would sink to the bottom, break up, and resurface as sea glass a few eons later.

    But the substitution of biodegradable or reusuable materials has to happen if there is to b a world for our grandchildren to live in.

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  7. I think it feels hopeless but we still must do what we can. For a while a few years ago I was buying those smallish pump bottles of hand soap. Then I would get annoyed because I ended up using way more soap than I needed and when it got towards the bottom there was no way to get the rest of the stuff out. And was that pump thing even recyclable? Then I got the bright idea of buying dish soap and also using that for my hands - a little dab works fine. Perhaps it's like bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon but I have to believe that every little change helps and that will in turn lead to other changes.
    I think I will go back to a bar of soap in the shower and forget about those bottles of body wash.
    Baking soda works fine as a toothpaste!

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    1. I've got a pump bottle soap in the half bath... and I refill it from a much larger bottle of the stuff that I keep under the sink.
      DOES baking soda work fine as a toothpaste?? Going to read up on it now...

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    2. We've used bar soap for years--Pears--which we buy by the case. But from Amazon, of course. But the cardboard shipping box is recyclable, as are the cardboard soap bar boxes...

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  8. Hear, hear, Hallie. We Americans have a super wasteful habit that is going to be very hard to break.

    Like Joan, I carry my own straws, but then waiters automatically plunk down plastic ones (wrapped in more plastic), without asking. Even if I say "no straw". And the person who clears the table is not going to carefully set aside my unused straw, to preserve it for someone else.

    I've carried my own shopping bags in my purse and car since 2001, when I bought the first foldup one in Paris. Where almost no one ever had plastic bags. If I don't have one with me for some reason I ask for a paper bag, because we use them for kitchen garbage. Since we compost, plastic bags are generally not necessary; all the wet stuff goes in the compost bin.

    Those impossible to open plastic packages are not just to prevent theft. They also protect the merchandise (from breakage, moisture, etc.) as it travels on container ships from China. Since almost none of that stuff is made in the US, voila.

    And it kills me to see plastic bottles, half finished, thrown away. Our house was a construction site for a year (the waste is astonishing with a new house), and it wouldn't surprise me to know there were a thousand drink bottles thrown into the Dumpsters over that amount of time. And almost none of them were recycled.

    Paper products, too, carry an inherent waste: how often have you ordered fast food, and in the bag is a fistful of paper napkins? 90% of them are simply thrown away, and if you leave them on a table they'll get cleared up like trash.

    Remember diaper services? I used one for all three of my children, even though there were disposables with my last two. They were both allergic to plastic diapers, and I stood firm against the state daycare rules that said they HAD to wear disposables, and even worse, the wet/dirty diapers had to be DOUBLE BAGGED in plastic before being disposed of. I was horrified then at the profligate waste, and that was 35 years ago! Just think how many diapers have gone into landfills since then. It's beyond nightmare territory.

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    1. On diapers: I washed my own. I love the feel of cloth diapers and it's really easy and surprisingly not smelly to wash your own. Bleach is, of course, the secret ingredient. Then we used those old diapers as dust rags until they quite literally disintegrated.

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    2. I still have some soft old diapers that I use as rags. They might have been bought specially for that job, though, because birdseye diapers used to be sold by the dozen. Wonder if you can still buy them that way?

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  9. By the way, this mess did not have to happen, but is absolutely the fault of the robber barons of the early 20th century. Hemp was being used to create all kinds of more sustainable raw materials: rubber substitute (plastic), steel, paper, and biofuel. The rubber, steel, paper and oil magnates did not want this cheap material to supplant their own products, and thus their massive fortunes, so they prevailed upon politicians to make hemp illegal. They conflated it with marijuana, which they demonized, and banned all cultivation and use of it, a law that is only recently being taken apart.

    If they had not done this, it's highly probable we wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place.

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    1. That is fascinating! And I am not at all surprised. How do you know about this, Karen... is there a book on the topic? I'd be interested...

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    2. Loads of information! Just for starters, these books:

      https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hemp-robert-deitch/1111932255?ean=9780875862262

      https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Schedule+J.+Flax%2C+hemp%2C+jute%2C+manufactures&i=stripbooks

      And there are a lot of essays, news articles, and blog posts about it. The recent loosening of regulations on pot have also clapped back to the history of the regs in the first place.

      https://monicaemerich.com/scribal-affair/industrial-hemp-its-not-pot/

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  10. In my town we have curbside recycling. We have two HUGE wheelie bins that are probably 96 gallons; one is for trash, one is for recycling and they take ANYTHING. Julia and Hallie, that include Rx bottles. I just peel the label off and toss them in the recycling bin.

    Hallie, your local drugstore might have a bin for old medications. If you can't find one, crush the meds, mix them with coffe grounds or cat litter, then put them in a bag in the trash. This keeps meds out of the water system. (BTW, It ticks me off that meds, esp cancer meds, can't be given to another patient. I wish there was a system in place to give them to patients who don't have insurance.)

    What I really want to know: since we don't sort our recyclables, who does? How do I know they're not going in a landfill somewhere? I plan to call the city's trash and recycling service to find out.

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  11. My milk is not in plastic, it's in a coated paper carton. Eggs in paper container too. Unfortunately shampoo, lotion detergent are in plastic and as much as I hate the plastic, it is less breakable in slippery places, like the shower. I know I appreciate the lightness of plastic but have multiple mason jars that I use for storage. And they are easier to clean too.

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  12. One of my daughters lives in Boulder, Colorado. The city of Boulder has an ambitious, and very well organized system of recycling, down to picking up compost on a bi-weekly schedule. They use the waste, too, which reduces their carbon footprint significantly, and aims for a zero-waste goal.

    I don't know why more American cities don't emulate this system. It does have an economic cost, but the long-range costs compared to the consequences of not using our resources wisely are far greater.



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    1. I would love it if our city would compost!! We have recycle toters the same size as our trash toters, and pick-up once a week. We fill ours every week, even as much as we try to reuse and cut down on packaging. Our city does mulch Christmas trees, which is great. I'm big on supporting Christmas tree farms and farmers, rather than using plastic trees.

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  13. I've switched to bamboo or biodegradable toothbrushes (Hello toothbrush from Target is one.) When I finally run out of toothpaste (my husband loves to stock up) I'm going to try a tooth powder. I also buy the Method refills for dish detergent--it's in a bag, not a bottle. And I've made the switch back to bar soap! All those liquid soap containers!! (Although I'm currently using a facial soap bar from Korea,so there's all that transportation waste:/) Here at our middle school I see most students carrying refillable water bottles. Our lost and found is full of them, too!

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    1. Oh, I bought a S'well bottle a few weeks ago, and I LOVE it!! I have a Yeti, too, but the S'well is great for taking in the car.

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  14. I find it encouraging that we all try, at least, to cut down the waste. We don't eat much fast food, but our weekly treat on Friday nights is Chinese, and we haven't found a restaurant that doesn't use plastic containers. Are there still Chinese/Asia places that use coated paper?

    Trying to cut down kitchen plastic use, I've bought a dozen wide-mouth quart jars, and they are amazing useful--although I have to admit I've also bought plastic lids for them. And I've bought a couple of really top quality Rubbermaid storage containers--yes, they're plastic, but they will be reusable for years and years. Has anyone had any luck with the coated beeswax stuff, you know, the little sheets you are supposed to use instead of plastic wrap? They haven't been a success for me, although I keep trying.

    And does anyone remember the little red glass containers with the clear lids that our mothers and grandmothers used to store things in the fridge? I wish someone would make something similar now, but with some kind of sealing gasket.

    It seems to me that there are a lot of things entrepreneurs could be doing.

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    1. I found these glass containers with bamboo lids on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Nummyware-Plastic-free-Container-Sustainable-Bamboo/dp/B07HFJLZMJ/ref=sr_1_4?crid=2GXSWVKBA31E7&keywords=glass+refrigerator+containers&qid=1565021758&s=gateway&sprefix=glass+refrigerator+contain%2Caps%2C229&sr=8-4

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    2. I bought the beeswax paper for wrapping leftovers - seems easier to demo leftovers into a bowl and stick a plate on top for a lid - zero waste

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  15. I don't have much to add. I am disgusted with all the waste. I know plastics was considered a great use of left over petrochemical stuff but we went way overboard with that. I'm all for banning those plastic bags all the stores use. They wind up blowing all over town. Walmart is one of the places you can take those bags to be recycled. I don't know what happens once they leave the premises but I have to hope it is something good. My husband makes fun of me for it but I buy the elasticized round plastic covers (he calls them showercaps) to use instead of Saran wrap. I get mine from the Vermont Country Store. I remember my grandma having a heavier version of those so it certainly isn't anything new. They last for years.

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  16. Statistically, plastic waste from the government and corporate America (meaning manufacturers) way outweighs consumer plastics. Not that means we shouldn't minimize our single-use plastics, but our plastic straws, or even bags, are not as culpable as the millions of tons of waste generated every year by companies. Besides, I need my plastic grocery bags for doggie poop pickup. :)

    But my award for Most Wasteful Packaging goes to my specialty pharmacy. Each month I get a reasonably-sized cardboard box of 12 syringes. That box is inside a plastic bag. Then I get 12 alcohol swabs, which are in ANOTHER plastic bag. Those two bags ARE INSIDE YET A BIGGER plastic bag. The medication must be refrigerated, so it is sandwiched in between three or four frozen packs (and yes, I've saved some, but I can't any more or I'd need a chest freezer for just the frozen packs - three or four a month since June 2008...you do the math).

    All of that is inside a non-biodegradable Styrofoam chest, which is then inside a giant cardboard box.

    Every month I said, "There must be a better way."

    Debs, we started replacing all our plastic storage containers with glass ones from Oxo (and Target, but same style). They have plastic lids, but they snap on and designed to be used over and over and over. Bonus, the glass containers can go in the microwave to reheat food.

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    1. OMG! That definitely takes the prize!

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    2. I've learned many things from my kids over the years and one of the best was my daughter's habit of taking a tiffin (glass or metal container for food) with her when she eats out. Rather than a 'doggy bag' she puts her leftovers in the tiffin. That let me to using glass containers for everything at home. I'm sure it's better for our health as well as for the environment.

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  17. I take 2 cloth bags to the grocery store but if I have more stuff, they use the plastic ones. I prefer them for meat or something that may be messy since I don't wash my bags very often. Giant recycles the plastic bags, and I use them to give things to my friends. I bought the shower cap covers in several sizes that work very well.

    I'm on Facebook with my brother's friend and guide from Africa. He constantly shares about the dangers of plastic.

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  18. I am recommitting to using my cloth shopping bags! Thanks for the excellent post, Hallie!!!

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  19. Really tough question. I think some plastics has been recycled into being used again?

    I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint by using reusable bags instead of disposable bags when I go grocery shopping.

    Only can imagine how difficult it is for young families with babies and having to use a lot of disposable diapers!

    Diana

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  20. Have you heard about Terracycle.com? It is a site that is trying to help citizens recycle hard-to-recycle waste. For example, they are working with Colgate and have information about how people can send in their Colgate toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and packaging to be recycled! They are also behind Loop (loopstore.com), in which items we already buy, from Haagen Dazs to Tide, are delivered in reusable bottles, which Loop comes back to pick up, much like the milk man used to. I don't work for Terracyle or Loop, but I like the sound of both of these services.

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  21. I am very late to the party but hopefully someone will read this. Here is a new take on toothpaste: https://bitetoothpastebits.com/products/mint-subscription?_ke=eyJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJ3YWtlZmllbGRwcm9AZ21haWwuY29tIiwgImtsX2NvbXBhbnlfaWQiOiAiSDNoWTNzIn0%3D
    Alternatively Google Bite Toothpaste Bits, small tablets which come in a refillable bottle and they send refills in a compostable bag!
    As for my most hated - I think I will go for plastic wrap on every piece of food in the world. I am now taking my washed plastic bags with me to the store, farmers market etc. I keep my shopping bags in the back of the car; we do not live near public transport in any form. Each shopping bag has a supply of plastic bags so even my beloved is now remembering to use them as I think he may not like the dirty looks he gets if he comes home with more new plastic. My composting is a work in progress, sometimes full on others not so much. When we lived in NY I didn't have a dryer so hung up and out my laundry for 29 years. In Maine we have a dryer but I also have a bar across my small laundry to hang things as well as a drying stand from the Container Store. I find that trying to live on the 3 R's can get depressing as I always feel I should be doing more.

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