“I’ll give up using plastic for a week.” The idea sounded pretty innocuous when I pitched it. I love the Earth (I live there), and I can do anything for a week. But in practice, man, it was a lot of work. I underestimated nearly every aspect of my challenge. But despite my ill-preparedness, I feel good about my plastic-free week and would recommend that everyone try one! Start right now. And then never stop. The earth is dying, and it’s all our fault. Do anything and everything you can. Recycle! Stop showering! Go vegetarian!
Whoa, sorry. I get a bit excited about helping the planet sometimes. Anyway, at first, I drew a hard line in the sand and decided that I wouldn’t buy or use anything plastic for the week. Immediately, I realized that rule was a tad ambitious: My car, computer, and pants all have plastic in them, and I need all three of those to not get fired from work. So I softened my hard no plastics rule to a no new or single-use plastics rule.
I’ve read many an article listing ways to use less plastic: reusable water bottles, metal straws, cloth grocery bags, glass food containers, bar soap instead of body wash, etc. But in practice, I ran into a few hiccups that they don’t usually warn you about.
Challenge number 1: Buying groceries
In 2016, California started charging ten cents each for plastic bags at grocery stores. So I’d already shifted to keeping like 15 reusable totes in my car. I thought I was in the clear when I went to get some groceries on Wednesday. What I wasn’t thinking about was food packaging. Packaging! So much of it is plastic! I walked into the grocery store with a list and spent most of the trip googling “Does X have plastic in it?” and then pivoting and finding workarounds.
The whole trip was filled with swaps, skips, and surprises. I swapped in half-gallon paper cartons of milk for gallons in plastic, paper-wrapped meat from the deli for the plastic-wrapped kind in the refrigerators, and single-serving oatmeal packets for the big tubs (they have plastic tops). I had to skip buying Cinnamon Life cereal, quinoa, and pretzels altogether. And the fact that it took me forever to find a spaghetti noodle box that didn’t have a little plastic noodle window, and that the only nonplastic popcorn option was those campfire JiffyPop tins were some of the more “fun” surprises.
That grocery trip was work. To me, eschewing plastic on every single grocery item doesn’t feel sustainable for the long haul, but that one trip made me a lot more aware of other possible plastic-free options for my food needs. I try to make those decisions when I can and feel good about the times I make the more earth-friendly choice.
Challenge number 2: Getting takeout
Ugly Roll Sushi is my girlfriend’s and my favorite sushi place in LA because it’s half as expensive as any surrounding sushi place but doesn’t taste like it’s half as expensive. Besides the occasional hassle of it being “cash-only,” it’s perfect, which is probably why I ended up a bit panicked in line.
On Sunday night, I headed out to go pick up our usual order. After I ordered, I realized all the to-go containers are plastic. The realization was followed by light panic and forehead creasing. “Tupperware!” I said to myself much louder than I intended. “Can you pause my order for a bit?” I asked the kind woman behind the register. Before she finished the first syllable of “okay,” I was backing up in my car, heading home.
I returned with a sack full of glass containers. “Hi, I’m back,” I said. “You made good time,” she replied. I would have wondered more about how she knew the length of my commute, but I had convincing to do. But thankfully, the delightful human who works the register was all, “Okay.” “Really, just like that?” I asked her. “You are not the first,” she replied. Turns out this is a pretty normal thing.
I did have to pass on the soy sauce because I had no nonplastic ramekin. But we’ve got soy sauce at home, so that was fine. And now I bring our own containers every time. It saves Ugly Roll Sushi money on to-go boxes and makes us feel good about reducing our plastic waste. A win for everyone.
Challenge number 3: Walking the dog
My dog’s potty spot of choice is a patch of grass about a block up from my apartment. It’s a slow walk due to her being blind, deaf, ten thousand years old, and so cute everyone must stop to pet her. If you already guessed where this is going, you’ve put more thought into my plastic-free week than I did. Because the first time she toileted at her spot, I realized the bags stored in the bone attached to her leash are definitely plastic! Insert Patrick panic here.
I looked around and saw no other dog/human combo who I could tell my tale as a way of suckering them into picking up my dog’s poop. I debated just picking it up barehanded. But then I got this… bright is too strong of a word… I got this idea to kick off my flip-flops and use one to shovel it onto the other. I spent the next 3 minutes trying to think up a plan that wouldn’t have me barefoot on LA sidewalks. Nothing better came to me. (Sure, I could have just left it. I could also not come to full stops at stop signs. But I’M NOT A SELFISH MONSTER PERSON!) So a minute later, there I was, walking shoeless back to my apartment, a perfect angel scooped under one arm, the other arm balancing a poo or two on a flipflop.
After thoroughly washing my feet and flipflops, I fished a spade from the bottom of my toolbag and have been using it ever since, scooping up the poop and dropping it right in the trash. I feel really good about my new shovel situation. My girlfriend and I have saved tens of dollars a month on doggy rubbish bags, and while the pup makes the same amount of waste, I’ve made less of it.
Challenge number 4: Keeping the happy going
I’m really glad I did this. It made me way more aware of all the plastic that’s in everything and made me feel better than I thought it would, too. It was a lot of work but all that work is probably why I ended up feeling so good about my week and have been trying to keep it going. I’m actually trying to better the world around me, and that feels great. Now while me cutting my plastic use isn’t going to solve climate change, if everyone tried to use less plastic, at least we’d all feel like we’re doing something. Now I don’t want my satisfaction to force you to try going plastic-free for a week. That’s your own choice. But a recent climate report did say we had only 12 years before the effects of climate change become irreversible and devastating to Earth. So, your move.