The Plasticity of Compromise

Welcome to the Earth Day Blog Carnival

This post is part of the Earth Day Blog Carnival hosted by Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt Junction. Each participant has shared their practices and insights of earth friendly, environmentally conscious, eco-living. This carnival is our way to share positive information and inspiration that can create healing for our planet. Please read to the end of this post to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. Happy Earth Day!

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Happy Earth Day!

When I first became a mom, I began with the best of intentions for my family. I wanted my children to have a plastic-free childhood with beautifully crafted wooden toys. For awhile, all we had were wooden toys. Now that we’ve hit the sword-fighting and Star Wars years, I find that we have accumulated a sea of plastic toys. I don’t think there’s a way for us to avoid them anymore.

Legos are a gateway drug into plastic toys.

I’m very lucky that where I live, I can recycle many types of plastics. Although, as I learn more about how the recycling system works, I’m disinclined to believe recycling is a long-term alternative.

There’s question about how much of them are actually recycled. They are sometimes transported back across the planet for recycling, which is incredibly wasteful. The processes to make the used plastics into new workable forms is polluting and wasteful as well.

Any piece of plastic that enters my home is something that I and the future generations in my family will have to caretake. It makes me think twice about impulsively buying that plastic toy for my kids when I realize that we’ll be yoked with it potentially forever. The trinkets don’t look as cute to me anymore.

Not only am I looking at the actual plastic item being purchased, I’m also concerned with packaging. I will choose one item over another if I can reduce plastic packaging. Any plastic containers we do take home, I will try to reuse before recycling or throwing away.

A few of my favorite reuses: Ziploc bags, Plastic cereal bags, plastic toilet paper bags, etc, can be washed and reused (many times.) Molded plastic around a toy can be used as paint cups or molds for playdough or clay. Mesh bags can be used to store bath toys or hung outside for birds to use in their nests (stuffed with human and pet hair collected from brushes, bits of fluff, string, etc) If I haven’t figured out what to do with a plastic item, I’ll toss it in a box in the garage for inspiration later.

I’ve accepted the idea that plastic toys will make up most of our toys. My main goal is looking for ways to reduce and reuse the plastic we do buy and to reuse the wrapping. And I still try to buy local, handmade, recycled and/or natural materials whenever possible.

My main focus is to cut out our plastic use is when it is in contact with our food.

By now, we’ve all heard that Bisphenol-A (BpA) is a bad thing. For awhile, I bought into the idea that if an item is BpA-free then it must be a safe alternative. But, that isn’t true. Here’s why:

BpA mimics estrogen in the body, disrupting our natural hormone levels and interactions (called Estrogenic Activity or EA.) The bad news is that BpA is not the only hormone disruptor in plastics. The really bad news is that a recent study found that some plastics touted as safer because they’re BpA-free actually leached higher levels of other Estrogen mimickers.  The plastics industry is allowed to call their products safe because they do not test them under “stressors” like normal wear and tear from sunlight, fluorescent lighting, microwaving, dishwashing, etc. The study goes on to state that for currently available plastics (including the plant-based ones):

Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled, independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source, leached chemicals having reliably-detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA-free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products…Many plastic products are mischaracterized as being EA-free if extracted with only one solvent and not exposed to common-use stresses…

You can look for plastics that are certified EA-free, but again, these have not been tested under the types of stressors that normal use would potentially cause them to leach EA’s. I’m avoiding plastic-even the “safe” kind. As long as the plastics industry is allowed to keep its formulations and production processed secret for proprietary purposes, we won’t really know what is in them.

So, of course, we don’t use our microwave to cook anything. We don’t use nonstick or aluminum to cook. We avoid canned foods and buy in glass, which I then clean out and reuse. And we try to eat more of an organic, locally grown, raw, plant-based diet. When we can’t get fruits and vegetables in season at the farmer’s market, we hit up the grocery stores. But, even there I’m careful. Another study showed that vegetables and fruits encased in shrink wrap have highly levels of plastic compounds in their flesh (that means it goes through the skin or rind.) Loose fruits and vegetables don’t need to be placed in plastic produce bags for the most part. But I do have some cloth mesh produce bags that I can reuse at the farmers market or grocery store, if I need to.

We buy much of our dry goods in the bulk section because we can bring in our own glass containers, have them pre-weighed, and fill them-another way to avoid bringing home plastic bags. I know the bulk bins are made of plastic and the bulk goods are probably transported in plastic. There really is no way to eliminate plastic exposure entirely, but this is about minimizing.

We’re nowhere near perfect avoiding plastic in our food. We do rely on Trader Joes prepared foods to supplement our snacks quite often during the week. It is a trade off on how much time I can split between plastic avoidance and compromising free time with my family.

The important thing to me is that I continue to educate myself and my family, make better choices whenever we can, reduce our purchases, reuse wherever we can, and finally, minimize our exposure-beginning with our food.

How do you avoid purchasing plastics for your family? Do you have any favorite ideas for reusing plastic “waste” items before tossing them? I’d love to hear from you.

Further Reading:

Earth Day Blog Carnival - Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt JunctionVisit Monkey Butt Junction and Child of the Nature Isle to read all about the Earth Day Blog Carnival

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated on April 22 with all the carnival links.)

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Going Green in 2011 – Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses the way she and her family are going “greener” in 2011.

Our Greatest Teacher – Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro shares her experiences with her children and nature, their greatest teacher.

Dreaming of Spring Gardening – Erin of the Waterloons talks about the ultimate in local food, her backyard garden.

Earth Conscious Minimalism – Nada at miniMOMist thinks minimalism can help you save the world — as long as you don’t just toss everything in the trash! Check out Her list of places to donate (bet you haven’t thought of them all!).

Blessings to the Earth – Amy at Anktangle believes that a simple act, such as being intentionally grateful for our food, is just the catalyst we need to bring about large-scale change.

Eight Movies to Inspire Change – Mrs Green at Little Green Blog shares her top 8 movies that have inspired her to take action to make the world a better place. She’d love to hear your suggestions to add to her viewing list! (27/4/11 link corrected)

Can I Have a Green Period Too? Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the environmental impact of switching to sustainable menstrual products, along with offering a great Mama Cloth giveaway for anyone interested in making the switch (and for those who already have and want to increase their stash!).

An Eden to Call Our Own – Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares how learning to care for the Earth starts in her own garden. (27/4/11 link corrected)

Elimination Communication – Melissa at the New Mommy Files discusses the environmental impact of diapering, and why elimination communication was the best choice for her family.

The Living Earth: A Meditation in Science and Reverence – Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante asks you to pause to wonder at the blessing of the fact that our living planet is here at all.

Earth Day Anthem – Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro created a poem in honor of Mother Earth, women and nurturers everywhere.

The Plasticity of Compromise – Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares how she is working to compromise on healthy family living and avoiding plastics whenever possible

Earth Day Resolutions – Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares why she has decided to make Earth Day resolutions, what those resolutions are, and how they are a step up from her current efforts at green living.(27/4/11 link corrected)

Is it time for you to say “Enough!”? Mrs Green at My Zero Waste asks you to rise up and say ‘Enough!’ on Earth Day.(27/4/11 link corrected)

Homeschooling with the Earth – Terri at Child of the Nature Isle shares her desires and dreams for Earth-based learning and the ways her two young children have already started a natural curriculum.

Beyond the Green Sheen – Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction offers some advice on how to avoid greenwashing and make purchasing choices that really have a positive impact. (27/4/11 link corrected)

26 thoughts on “The Plasticity of Compromise

  1. Pingback: 25 Ways I Am Going “More” Green in 2011 Hybrid Rasta Mama

  2. I’ve been steadily trying to remove the plastic items in my house and replace them with anything better, but reading this makes me want to dispose of all of them and eat off the table. The idea of all of these chemicals near my food makes me want to throw up.

    On another note, I’m very glad to have read this since I was just having a debate with myself over some new plastic toys that came in the mail today as a gift for my kids and whether or not I want to keep them. And of course the ‘no name’ plastic food trays that also came with that package….sigh.

    Thank you for this post. 🙂

    • Thank you, Amanda. It’s all a balancing act, isn’t it? I have been feeling sick looking around lately and noticing, really noticing how much plastic there is EVERYWHERE. And most of it is single-use, throw away, pollute forver. *blargh*

  3. This is a really hard one, Zoie. Plastics are really pervasive, and avoiding them can be prohibitively expensive. I buy a lot of bulk grocery items and try to avoid plastic bags as much as possible, but stocking my cabinets with all reusable glass containers is not practical for my family right now. I think it’s about the process: for me, that means slowly switching to glass and safer alternatives as my budget allows, and being mindful of how we use plastics in the meantime. Thanks so much for this post!

    • Thank you, Amy. I agree. It is prohibitively expensive, not to mention wasteful if we all just pitched the plastic and replaced it with glass or stainless steel. We do what we can mindfully and keep learning all the time.

  4. Wow, what a great, comprehensive post! I’m all in agreement with you, and especially appreciate the info about BPA-free plastics. I’m not surprised, of course, and am always suspicious of ANY plastic, but go figure, you know?

    We try to avoid almost ANYTHING that comes in plastic when it comes to food. We have almost completely moved away from eating cereal (my DH is finally with us), completely moved away from crackers, cookies, etc. We are working towards moving away from bread products in plastic, an often will buy what we can from Whole Foods fresh breads where I can use my own bag. I use reusable cloth bags I made from old tee shirts for bulk bins and produce. We make our own yogurt and kefir. And reuse jugs or jars for our raw milk. I’ve yet to work on cheese but we at least try to buy big blocks and then repackage it at home.

    • Thank you for commmenting, Acacia. Giving up prepackaged simple carbs are a tough one. My kids love their organic Joe O’s and Annie’s Bunny Crackers. I have a recipe that I love for the crackers, but have only made them twice. We’ll get those addressed some day soon.

      I love the idea of making bags out of old T’s. I’m totally doing that now! We also make kefir and yogurt. Although my kids turned their noses up at eating the homemade yogurt. So, we save the plastic cups from the store bought and I serve it in there until they get over it :/

      Raw milk and raw cheese. Ouch. That is a plastic fail for me (interesting that I excused myself on that one because I’m buying it local and hey, it’s raw!) I can recycle the jugs, but don’t like that option. We can craft and make things out of them like scoops, bird feeders, etc. I don’t have a good solution for the cheese, yet. I’ll have to think on alternatives more.

  5. This is a great post which others with “plastic guilt” need to read. I agree that it is impossible to go completely plastic free. Your approach and prioritizing is spot on! This post certainly will reassure those of us who try to eliminate plastic but find it sneaking back into our homes. Great suggestions and so well written! Thanks mama!

  6. “Legos are a gateway drug into plastic toys.” – hilarious! 😉

    The rest of it, of course, not so much.

    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the amount of products that need to be changed over – especially when it comes to plastic, especially that BPA free doesn’t mean safe…in part it makes me want to throw my hands up and just forget about it! 😦

    But in all honesty – it needs to be heard. Again and again and again. Until we get it through our heads – right? I can easily trick myself into proclaiming something is safe because it’s BPA free, but the reality needs to be recognized or nothing will change.

    We too are going through the process of eliminating the plastics. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how bad those little containers are…they look so innocuous!

    But having gotten rid of many major sources of BPA in our kitchen in the past few months, I’ve already noticed a difference in my body – I know now how much that stuff was affecting me.

    I agree that it’s harder with the toys – sometimes the best you can do is limit them. But I do think when it comes to foods it’s especially important (and we still have more changeover to do in that area).

    Now that I’ve written my own post in your comment section 😉 – just wanted to thank you also for the ideas on recycling – I never think of that kind of stuff! So sincerely appreciate it, and your post, and you Zoie!! 😀 Hope you’re enjoying your Screen Free days…

    • Thank you, Kelly. I love the long comments! If I didn’t, I’d write for a print publication 😉

      Again and again and again. I keep being surprised by two things: 1. the amount of stuff big corporations will try to put over on us for their bottom line and 2. That not everyone else is as freaked out over this stuff as I am. I received 2 emails from people (to those two people: if you are reading this, see you weren’t the only one) asking why they shouldn’t cook with a microwave and what is wrong with nonstick cookware. Future post!

  7. Yikes! I did not know that about the BPA free items. We have very few but it’s good to know.

    It sounds like you are taking some great steps to avoid the ubiquitous use of plastic. Like you I had ideals of only wooden toys when my kids were born…I’m still persisting in avoiding the plastic ones but I know they will creep in a little.

    In many of the shops in Dominica, there is someone to pack your bag and I sometimes have to almost fight for them to not use a plastic bag for every little thing and just fling them all in my cloth bags instead. We mostly shop at the market and after reading this post I realize I need to find some smaller cloth bags for fruits which often get put in plastic bags – I do wash them and re-use but best not to have them in the first place.

    I’m going to follow up on those great links for plastic free and reduced living. Thanks for such a great carnival post. Happy Earth Day.

    • Thank you, Terri. I was pretty unhappy over the whole BpA thing, too. It was nice to think I had safe plastic for my kids for awhile. But, I’m happier knowing in the long run. Thank you, again, for creating the carnival. Now that I’m back online, I am looking forward to reading and commenting on everyone’s posts!

  8. Pingback: Earth Day Blog Carnival: Beyond the Green Sheen | Monkey Butt Junction

  9. Pingback: Homeschooling with the Earth - Child of the Nature Isle

  10. Great post, Zoie. It can be overwhelming to think about how inescapable plastics, and the scary chemicals they’re made with, are. I love the balanced approach you take. As you say, we simply can’t eliminate these things altogether (yet!), but we can minimize.

    • Thank you, Melissa. Yup, it’s all about finding what you have to hold to and what you can compromise on. Minimizing waste is important to me, but only to the extent that I’m moderately inconvenienced. It can’t overwhelm me with stress or make it impossible to live or parent.

      But, I also think I can improve on thinking more creatively. I’m working on that.

  11. Over on my other site, http://myzerowaste.com we’re all about reducing the plastic. We don’t have particularly good recycling facilities here and like you, I wonder about it all….

    When we visit butchers, fishmongers or delis we take our own reusable containers (plastic at the moment, because we have a challenge finding stainless steel) but this means we have NO landfill waste for meat, fish, cheese and all those lovely deli products like sun dried tomatoes and hummous etc.

    Sounds like you are doing amazing things to reduce your consumption and I wish you well. I think your post will get lots of others to think in a similar vein, so well done for spreading the word!

    • Thank you, Mrs Green. I love the idea of taking your own containers so you create zero waste. And you hit exactly what I hope from this post: maybe someone will think twice about a plastic purchase and maybe someone will concentrate on the reduce and reuse portion of the green triangle. It really only takes a small pause to think about a creative reuse before pitching it.

  12. Here’s what struck me most in your post:

    “We do rely on Trader Joes prepared foods to supplement our snacks quite often during the week. It is a trade off on how much time I can split between plastic avoidance and compromising free time with my family.”

    This is very important. We so often strive to “do it all” but at what cost? I agree wholeheartedly that we ought to strive to do our best and protect our family from the many “legal” dangers that exist in this world. But spending all day grinding flour by hand with a mortar and pestle just so you can avoid purchasing something in plastic (and yes, I have heard of this taking place!) is not conductive to the health and well being of your family.

    In our home, we try to only purchase things that are #1 and #2 recyclable (our city doesn’t recycle the rest of the plastics) when we must purchase plastic. But we reuse plastic as much as we can consciously, and find ways to make do. We stopped buying one brand of salad dressing when they switched from glass to plastic bottles, and we wrote them to explain our reason for this.

    I applaud your choices and activity. You are making wise, responsible choices for your family and our planet. Congrats!

    • Thank you, mamasheppard. I have to admit that I have that crazy ideal of making everything from scratch mom in my head. Anything less than that feels like I fall short. I try to keep in perspective how big a b*tch I’d be if I did grind flour and grow-make-clean everything from scratch all day. The same thing with plastics. We fell off the plastic-free wagon pretty hard while I was in ppd-land & dh was doing all the shopping. It’s been a low recovery from their convenience, but we’ll balance it.

  13. Pingback: Earth Day Blog Carnival: My Earth Day Resolutions

  14. Pingback: Can I Have a Green Period, Too? (Giveaway ~ US & Canada)

  15. Pingback: The Living Earth « The Practical Dilettante

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