Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A thought on packaging...

Yesterday I decided to think about what I am throwing away. I always save anything I need to get rid of if it is in usable condition, and I have a yard sale and donate the rest. Thanks to mom, this is not a problem. Sometimes, where clothes are concerned, I try to remake them into new clothes or purses, or cut them up and use the fabric for other purposes, ever since I read stories about how our old clothes get shipped to poor countries who throw them away anyhow because they hinder their ability to have a clothing industry of their own. So unless I know it is going directly onto the floor of a local thrift store, I tend to reuse as much clothing as possible. Add to that the fact that I run a no-waste sewing operation by using scraps to stuff stuffed animals instead of buying fiberfill, and it's looking pretty good.

I recycle as much as I can, but I know I could do more research on exactly what my local recycling program takes besides the standard paper, plastic, glass, metal, etc. Also, though I started a compost bin last spring for the garden, it quickly filled up and now I find myself throwing away biodegradable waste. While it is by far the least worrisome thing to put into a landfill, but it could still be put to better use. I recently read up on the green waste program in my area, and I found that San Jose and San Francisco have an amazing program to turn food and yard waste into methane and other gases that will be captured and used to power the city. My apartment building does not have a green waste bin, but I am going to ask my landlord to get one for us.

My roommate and I re-use all the plastic containers we get that come with resealable lids as tupperware, which means we don't buy new tupperware and we use way less cling wrap and tin foil because the containers are usually good for small things. And we have done away with plastic baggies entirely, switching instead to unbleached waxed paper baggies which biodegrade quickly. And when I buy milk and yogurt, I buy the ones in glass containers that we return to the store for a deposit because they are simply sterilized and reused which uses much less energy that melting down old glass to make it new again.
We save all our junk mail and waste paper to be made into new paper, but truth be told our little bin is overflowing and we are due for a paper-making night. We also buy products from the Seventh Generation brand including dish soap, laundry detergent, recycled toilet paper and paper towels, and most recently biodegradable plastic trash bags.

So, it seems like I am doing as much as I can to reduce what I throw away, but indeed there is still more. Recently I have been very intrigued by the new eco-trend of a packaging-free lifestyle. There is a new grocery store in the UK called Unpackaged, where, you guessed it, nothing comes packaged and you bring your own reusable containers to carry food home with you. Now, I shop at Whole Foods and the local farmer's markets, and even though I bring reusable tote bags, I still end up coming home with plastic produce bags, thin plastic containers that we usually do not end up keeping because they are not microwave-safe, and a plethora of extra plastic and Styrofoam hidden inside cardboard boxes. I buy grains in bulk, which does reduce the cost because of reduced packaging, but I still have to fill a plastic bag to get the stuff to the checkout (and it is not a compostable plastic bag either).

This frustrates me to no end, and even though I re-use as much of these plastic bits as I can, I know that some of them may end up going into landfills, and I really don't want that to happen, so I have devised a plan. Last night I spent my time cutting out pieces to sew reusable shopping bags from organic cottons and lovely prints. Now, I know you can get bags for free or about a dollar from most major retailers today, but I find that I really do not like the design of those strange square-with-long-handles bags made out of some kind of creepy synthetic material. I had some of them for a while and I found I did not like using them. Then one day I got a free tote bag made of sturdy canvas in nice colors with short, comfortable handles and bang, there it was, I was using it all the time to carry all my groceries. Since then I have acquired a few other lovely reusable bags, and I find that the prettier they are the more likely I am to remember and enjoy using them. I find even if I bring the 3 bags I have, I usually end up taking home another paper bag or two, so I am sewing a couple more bags for myself.

Here is a fantastic list of free patterns for sewing, knitting, and crocheting your own reusable grocery bags, and I am sure that there are hundreds more out there on the net, so choose the one you like the best and go for it! Making your own bags makes you want to use them as often as possible to show off your handywork and be able to respond to compliments on your cute eco-friendly bag with, "Thanks, I made it!"

To add to these tote bags, I am going to sew some longish organic cotton drawstring bags which I will bring to the store and use to buy my bulk grains and such. They will not weigh too much more than the plastic ones provided, and they will be easily washable and reusable for a lifetime. Plus I will add cute prints at the top to encase the drawstings so they are lovely to use. I also plan to crochet from organic cotton some smaller-size mesh produce bags to use in lieu of the plastic ones. So there's the grand plan to phase out my dependence on plastic packaging altogether. Wish me luck!

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