When I was a kid the supermarkets only had brown paper bags. Things like soda, ketchup, and mustard came in glass containers. In the span of a decade, I watched them switch over to plastic one at a time. It seemed that no sooner was this switch complete than you started hearing about the ill effects of plastic on our health and the environment.
Plastic takes decades to break down in the best cases. At worst, it can take a millennium. Some plastics don’t break down at all.
I decided to do a little experiment to see how many plastic items I can swap out for less toxic versions. It’s a work in progress. I don’t have the time or the money to switch over everything at once. Here are my first five swaps in order of how easy they were.
Wood comb in place of a plastic comb
I should probably point out that I’m not tossing plastic items in order to replace them – that would create needless waste. But when my plastic comb broke I decided to replace it with this wood version. I’ve had it for a couple of years. It does as good a job as its predecessors and has stood up to my hair (which has a tendency of snapping combs and brushes in half).
Bar soap in place of body wash
This has been one of the more enjoyable swaps. If you think that body wash smells good, you’re going to love the smell of natural soap. Some supermarkets, including Whole Foods and Wegmans, have displays of loose bars. You can also find them at craft shows, farmers markets, Amish markets, and the Reading Terminal Market if you happen to be in Philadelphia. If you are more comfortable with prepackaged bar soap, go for it. My favorite is Thayers.
Bar shampoo in place of bottled shampoo
I was leery of this one, but then I wandered into the new LUSH store at the mall and couldn’t say no to the saleswoman. She told me that one bar lasts as long as two bottles of shampoo. I thought that she was exaggerating, but the bar ended up lasting two months.
The bar shampoo does just as good of a job as any bottled brand that I’ve used. I’m hoping that the store sticks around because this is the only place that I’ve seen shampoo bars for sale. They have a website, but it’s fun to go in and test smell everything.
Tip: Using bar shampoo is not like waxing a surfboard. What you do is lather up your hands and then work the suds through the base of your hair. My hair is medium length so I keep a little clip in the shower that I use to clip it into a bottom and top section. (You don’t have to do this, but it makes the process easier.)
Coffee mug in place of a Styrofoam cup
About a decade ago, one of my coworkers told me that it was unhealthy to drink hot beverages from a Styrofoam cup. “See how that coffee looks soapy? Those are the chemicals from the Styrofoam leaching into your coffee.”
It turns out that he was right. Polystyrene is a type of plastic. The jury is still out on the long term effects of drinking chemicals that have leached into drinks from plastic containers and what levels are safe, buy why risk it? It’s believed to be a carcinogen and takes a long time (think centuries) to break down.
I resisted making the switch sooner because I hate doing dishes. I brought this guy into work about a month ago and I’m glad that I did. It’s nicer to drink from and cleaning it gives me an excuse to stretch my legs.
Stainless lunch box in place of a plastic bag
This swap has been the most difficult to implement. I love my little metal bento box, but I hadn’t anticipated how incompatible it would be with my eating habits. Before, I would toss an Uncrustable, a bag of chips, and a pear into a plastic bag and consider my lunch packed.
These things don’t fit neatly into the bento box. This has meant a change in eating habits that I hadn’t mentally prepared for. I’m working on it – the bento box comes to work with me at least a few days of the week. It means spending a little more time preparing my lunch, but it’s worth it.
Let me know in the comments which plastic items you have purged from your life. If you liked this post please subscribe and share.