When you never use a bathroom, it’s remarkably easy to rid it of plastic.
Or so I thought.
This month’s Plastic Project: our guest bathroom. Easy peasy, right? We don’t use it, so there’s no personal products shrouded in plastic that will, I’m increasingly convinced, find its way to at least Boca Ciega Bay, if not the Gulf of Mexico.
We just returned from a trip to the Florida Keys, where the amount of plastic along the waterfront simultaneously reaffirmed my decision to rid our lives of single-use plastics (as well as multi-use plastic, if I’m being honest) and disheartened me because there is SO MUCH plastic.
Nevertheless, there’s a problem I’d hoped to kick down the road until I tackled our bathroom: Toilet paper.
Guests like to use toilet paper, it seems. I can’t fault them for that. So our choices here are to never invite anyone inside our home again, which seems drastic and also a dick move when we’re having a pool party (plus it will encourage people to pee in our pool), so I need to find another option.
Right now, our Amazon Subscribe-and-Save has us well-stocked, but as of today, I’ve canceled that subscription, because my beloved Angel Soft comes wrapped in plastic, so that’s a no-go.
No, we’re not giving up toilet paper. We’re just giving up the plastic. When our current supply runs low, I’ll choose one of these brands, because they’re wrapped in paper, not plastic.
Also, I didn’t realize it was Plastic-Free July, but it is. Never too late to take the challenge!
I’ve started de-plasticizing my kitchen, because it’s becoming clear it’s going to take more than a month to do it. I’ve had some small victories; for example, I can bring my reusable container to the local produce market, Spiros Pasadena Produce & Deli, to get feta and brine (also mozzarella and brine), so that’s nice – they don’t mind at all and, in fact seemed pleased to do it.
Other things take a little more time, like hand soap. Bar soap gets gross, especially on a kitchen sink, plus I really like liquid soap. Once upon a time, I was a Bath & Body Works junkie, but the price, the plastic, and the ongoing discussions about whether or not their products could contain harmful ingredients (I’m not endorsing this site, but linking to it to make the point that it’s one of many speculating and suggesting that yes, the stuff at Bath & Body Works may not be the best choice for your health) has led me to find alternatives.
Instead, I’ve started making my own hand soap. I make large batches – it isn’t hard – and save it in an old container so I can refill my countertop soap dispenser as needed.
A quick – and then, a more protracted – search for “how do I make liquid hand soap” gave pretty basic results: equal parts water and Castile soap, then almond oil and, if desired, vitamin E oil. Add essential oils, mix, and – supposedly – voila: handmade liquid soap.
The liquid soap was runny. It worked, sure, but I didn’t like the consistency. The answer, it turns out, is glycerin. Another Google search assured me I could use as much glycerin as I wanted in my liquid soap, and it would give it a better texture.
That did the trick.
It’s still runnier than I’d like, so I went on the hunt for thickeners. Apparently the answer is salt. Specifically, a salt solution. My first two attempts at a basic salt solution were… not good. Apparently you can’t use kosher salt and also the website that suggested a 2:1 ration of water to salt was generous with the salt.
I tried adding some olive oil but that didn’t work as well as I hoped.
Runny or not, it does seem to clean my hands, which is really the point.
There is, of course, one more problem: Glycerin, Castile soap, almond oil, and Vitamin E oil all come in – you guessed it – plastic bottles. So now, of course, I’m on the hunt for places that allow you to refill these, and I’m not finding any. I’m choosing to focus on the positive: Even the smallest of these plastic bottles (the Vitamin E oil) will help replace at least 10 single-use plastic liquid soap bottles.
I’ve never thought so much about ink. That was, not until January and my resolution to rid my life of single-use plastic. Then, I thought about ink a lot. I thought about ink so much, in fact, that I didn’t get this post written and posted until, well, now.
The 2022 plastic-free experiment started in my home office, where I have little plastic. Actually, almost none – save two things: Printer ink and my fountain pen. Let’s start with the easy one: Find a replacement for fountain pen cartridges.
I’ve used a fountain pen for most of my writing – some 20 years – and I love the way it feels to write with one. I’ve always used the disposable plastic ink cartridges for ink, and my first task for the Plastic Project involved finding a non-single-use replacement. In the recesses of my dusty mind, I remembered seeing something in the new pen box called (I’ve since learned) a converter.
While trying to find a converter that fit my pen, I learned a bit about the history of fountain pens, something I was not expecting from this project. But what I didn’t learn was what size I would need, because when I bought my pen roughly 10 years ago – at one of Gulfport’s annual street festivals, GeckoFest – I either didn’t get one or threw out the converter because I didn’t see myself using it.
Thankfully, although the company who sold me the pen, WriteTurnz, hasn’t returned to GeckoFest in quite some time, the company still has a website. I emailed Jason asking what size I needed and if he could suggest a company, and he calls me almost immediately and offers to send me one that fits. He also offers to repair my much-loved, much-used, much-abused pen.
(This pen, incidentally, has wood that came from a cabbage palm that fell during Hurricane Charley in 2004, cost me $75, and has been worth every damn penny. I use it for everything and it’s on my person almost every time I leave the house. I highly recommend this company if you want to move away from disposable pens.)
As for printer ink… We have plenty of cartridges right now, but when we re-order, I’ll order refillable cartridges, and this has caused much consternation and stress, because one, I suspect refiling the cartridges won’t exactly be a tidy process, and two, I have remarkably little faith in how they’ll work. If anyone has any guidance on refillable inkjet cartridges for a Canon TR8500, I’d love to hear it!)
Next up: The guest bathroom (I keep looking at all the plastic in our main bathroom and it overwhelms me… I’m going to have to work up to that one.)
Can I rid my life – and my home – of single-use plastics by New Year’s Eve 2022?
The first draft of this post started with “It started with my pandemic walks” but that’s not true; my issues with single-use plastics started long before that, when I would take my kayak out and see plastic bottles floating in the water, or when I’d walk along Fort De Soto and plastic grocery bags caught on the sea oats.
My obsession with single-use plastics did intensify during the early stages of the pandemic, when I started taking lengthy walks, often through the Gulfport alleys. Our alleys fascinate me; I love the hidden art and Easter eggs you can find on the backsides of our architecturally diverse homes.
As I walked, I noticed more and more trash on the ground – on the streets and in the alleys. I started walking with hand sanitizer and gloves so I could pick up the trash, and I never took a walk without finding plastic trash.
As boaters, El Cap and I see no small amount of floating plastic jetsam, and as kayakers, it’s even worse. When we traveled the state this past September, camping our way across the northern and central parts of the state, I find plastic at every campground. Early one September morning, at the final campsite of our Florida road trip, I walked along Flagler Beach. Every morning just before sunrise I’d walk the beach. It’s the best time of day, because there’s usually no one on the beach and it’s just me and the sand and the rising sun. And, of course, the plastic.
On this particular morning, I saw a flash of color where the sand met the sea grass. I moved closer, toward a marked turtle nest. I saw a trio of deflated balloons, nestled in the sand. The hatchling turtles would literally have to crawl over these balloons to get to sea. The horror of this – sea turtles often mistake plastics for food and eat them, which can be a death sentence – left me angry and sad.
In October, we spent a week camping at Bahia Honda State Park, home to arguably one of the most pristine beaches in the United States. We couldn’t walk more than 20 feet without stooping to pick up plastic trash and, when we happened upon a large plastic container (think: larger than a five gallon gas container but not as big as a 55-gallon drum) we couldn’t lift, I flagged down a park ranger and he and two others came to remove it. He told me they saw this sort of trash all the time, and that it washed in from the boats out in the Atlantic.
No matter where I looked, it felt as if plastic had conquered the planet. It was like a B-movie horror film, only more along the lines of Creature from the Bag Lagoon. My walks along the beach meant picking up plastic bottle caps, bottles, bits of broken sand pails and shovels, and whatever else had washed up onshore or been abandoned by the beachgoers the day before.
As I wander along Florida’s beaches, I keep flashing back to a 2016 video with Jeff Bridges, where he talks about plastics and the futility of recycling. Bridges suggests humanity has to find a better solution.
Since returning from the Florida Keys, the idea of eliminating single-use plastics from my life has danced through may brain. We already do some things: We have reusable bags for shopping; we use silicon or glass leftover containers and baggies; we don’t keep paper or disposable plastic plates, flatware, or drink ware in the house; we try to buy vegetables loose (rather than shrink-wrapped); and we look for foodstuffs like peanut butter, jelly and other staples in glass, rather than plastic, bottles.
That’s not even close to enough, though. I realize that. Over the past two months, I’ve found myself looking at my bottle of conditioner, my face wash, my dish soap… you name it, it’s in plastic and it’s probably in my home.
Which is why I’m committing – publicly – to get single-use plastic out of my life over the next 12 months. I’ll spend a month on each room, looking for ways to replace plastic with something more sustainable. I’ll look at what’s in our camper, on our boat, in our yard, and at the newspaper office, too. For one month, I’ll focus on swaps that our lifestyle – and our wallet – can sustain. I don’t have mountains of time, so I’m not about to do anything as severe as buy my own cow so I can milk it into a tin pail instead of buying milk in a plastic carton. I’ll have to find another solution.
I’ve thought about how to do this, and I have some ideas, and I have a loose set of rules:
• No throwing out something just because it’s plastic, or contained in such. When it breaks/ runs out, replace it with something not made with plastic.
• Don’t be an asshole. When a friend brings over a veggie platter for a party and it’s arranged on a disposable plastic tray, I’m not going to proselytize. I’m going to smile, dip a carrot stick in the ranch dressing, and remember that the goal is progress, not perfection.
• This does not extend to medical care. I’ve been fortunate to make it out of my thirties alive and will, in fact, would love to escape my forties alive by the end of 2022. This means that I have prescriptions. Those prescriptions come in little plastic vials. I’m not going to go blind because I won’t use the glaucoma drops that come in single-use plastic bottles.
• If I cannot find a sustainable material to replace the plastic item, I’ll find a way to reuse the plastic item. This does not mean bird feeders made of shampoo bottles; it means I’ll find a use for those pill bottles (Will CVS let me bring them in for a refill?)
• I’ll remember that not everyone in my home (read: El Cap) may be as committed to this as I am. The man loves English muffins, and they come in a plastic bag. Oh, wait… those are fantastic doggie poop bags. Nevermind!
Follow along over the next year. Every month I’ll post my successes (and failures) in ridding my life of single-use plastics. Happy New Year!
Do you have a suggestion about eliminating single-use plastics? Email me!