Monday, March 25, 2013


There are some things that we do without thinking because they've become a habit - at home, in the car, in schools, at our work places, even as part of our social life. They are so common that we don’t see them for what they are. We've even been made to believe that throwaway items are part of our "rights" to have an easier life and reduce unwelcome work. Well, think again. Those “disposable” products that you use almost daily have a rather small cost to you - or, at least, it appears at the time. But they have a huge cost for the environment and most will never be recycled, ending up at dumps where they take up space for years or centuries or getting incinerated where they poison the skies over our cities and farms. And some of them, especially the soft plastics, are a real danger to your health.

Say "no" to food-related plastics.*

Plastics are made from toxic substances that contaminate earth, air and water, both in their manufacturing and in their disposal as trash. Once created, plastics are non-biodegradable, and while they can be transformed, but they don’t go away. Only about 5% of plastics ever get recycled. Burning and putting them in landfills only removes them from our immediate vicinity, but their toxic waste will make it back into the environment. The presence of plastic trash around us, or anywhere they get to, continues to poison our air, water systems, rivers, and oceans. For everyone, plastics in the environment mean added risks of cancer and birth defects. For many species of animals and fish, it has already created much illness and is accelerating their extinction.

You'll want to have the least contact with soft plastics as possible. When people use plastic packages for foods, the chemicals tend to filter from the packaging to the foods they contain. It’s worse yet when plastic containers are heated in microwave ovens because that accelerates the migration of toxic substances.

The only way to reduce the damage that is done by plastics is to cut back on their use, and thereby, overtime, slowing their industrial production. You can do your part to overcome this problem by refusing to buy plastic products. That means trying to extend the lifetime of the useful existing plastic items that you already have and refusing to buy new ones, even if that creates some personal inconvenience. Start by saying "no" to throwaway products. You’ll save money, be healthier for it, and do good for the earth -- all at the same time.

- Tell the sales person that you want paper instead of plastic cups at the fast-food window. Stop going to places that only have plastic throwaway cups.

- Buy fresh food products, whenever possible, and carry your own paper or cloth bags to the markets. Ask the man behind the counter that you want your meat or cheese wrapped in paper instead of plastic.

- When you buy processed foods, search for those that come in glass bottles or metal cans. Buy larger-sized products so that the containers can be reused; recycle them when you're finished.

- Make sure your using as few cleaning products as possible. Look for large-size packages or containers for these products. That way you won’t have to buy so much plastic on a regular basis. Reuse or recycle all these containers.

- Don’t buy plastic bags or plastic wrap. Wax paper and butcher paper are excellent products for your temporary food storage and lunch bag needs. If you want neater packaging, you can use a bit of tape to hold the paper together.

- Whenever possible, use paper bags for the kitchen trash. Of course, someone in your family will occasionally come home with plastic bags. When that happens, reuse them for trash or as lunch bags. All extra plastic bags should be carried to the supermarket for recycling. None, except the dirtiest one, should go into the household trash. If you are required to use a large plastic bag for trash removal day, line your largest trash can with it, and make sure that is the only plastic bag you use during the week.

- Don’t buy plastic throwaway drinks. Always carry your own metal drinking container and water when you leave the house. When you have to buy or carry an occasional drink outside the house, look for the aluminum cans. Serve drinks from bulk containers or provide canned drinks at gatherings. Cans have a much better chance of being efficiently recycled than plastics.

- Don’t heat or store fatty or acid foods in plastic containers. You’ll heat and store just as well and avoid risks, using the glass containers that you've recycled

Say: "No." to excess paper use, too.*
Just a few years ago, almost nobody thought about the use of paper products in the home and office. We used a lot and wasted even more. Paper was cheap, and if anyone mentioned all that wood being used for paper, the easy answer was that trees were totally "renewable" resources. We know that that planned re-growth was mostly a fantasy and that our wasting of paper is inexcusable if we hope to save more of our forests. Clearly, it isn’t possible, or reasonable, to eliminate all paper usage in the home – we definitely need some toilet paper and paper for print outs from the computer. On the other hand, with a bit of effort, we can get “greener” on this issue and reduce our paper consumption a lot. Here are some of ways that you can cut back on or recycle paper products.

- At home, use dishes for food and not paper plates. Take your own dishes and utensils to picnics and other large-scale events. (You don't have to ask permission on this, just show up with your own and use them. If others don't understand, explain it to them.)

- Use rags and kitchen towels instead of paper towels. They're free or very cheap and completely re-usable. Kitchen towels don't need to be expensive or you can easily make them at home. Old newspaper is great for cleaning up spills and for cleaning windows glass and mirrors.

- Use cloth napkins and forget about paper napkins. Make your own napkins out of an easily washable fabric or buy small white terry-cloth towels – the kind that can be bought in bulk at the hardware store.

- For computer printing, be sure to print on both sides of your paper. Cut the paper in half if you needed only a small piece of it printed. Use the rest for printing or as note paper.

- Carry home and use scrap paper from work (or any other place where you can get it).

- Pay bills on-line (or by phone). Use email instead of writing letter and notes and get your news from the Internet rather than newspapers or magazines.

- Use washcloths instead of face wipes and cloth handkerchiefs instead of tissues. These last for many years. At home, use cloth diapers and plastic over-wraps. Paper diapers are justifiable only when the child is taken out of the house for several hours at a time. You can carry an extra paper diaper for quick changes.

- Carefully, unwrap gifts and save gift-wrap paper for future reuse. Also save cardboard boxes for storage or shipping containers. When possible, ship in paper envelopes instead of cardboard boxes and recycle crumpled paper as padding for shipping or storing fragile items.

- Save greeting cards and calendar art for craft use by cutting out shapes or pictures. And send e-cards instead of paper cards.

**These sections were adapted from earlier posts to Grandma Susan's Almanac Calendar, Dec. 2010.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how green I am... I'm just cheap. Paper products cost bundles if you figure a year of cost at a time. Besides that, my dish cloths (used for napkins) in a hanging basket are so much prettier. I use matching dish towels for everything else. A bundle of 24, 12 dish and 12 towels, all cotton, were bought at my local hardware store for $10. I also try to use local businesses instead of national chains.
One of our teachers uses cards, Christmas, birthday... whatever, for art projects at school for elementary children.
Pyrex and Corning make wonderful storage for food... and if you think of it... it saves time in the freezing or cooking process.
I still have my mother's. Believe me, it is durable. I'm old.