Condo Blues: Show Us Your Trash! Plastic Challenge

Monday, June 15, 2009

Show Us Your Trash! Plastic Challenge

I don’t try to avoid plastic like my friend and fellow Green Carnival Mom Fake Plastic Fish, but I do try to limit the amount I use. I try to avoid sending plastic along with everything else that comes into The Condo to the landfill as much as possible. Recently Beth issued a challenge to collect all of my plastic waste for one week. I accepted.

It’s time to put up or shut up. Here are my results.

Personal description: My husband and I live in Central Ohio.

1. List of Recyclable Items:


  • 1 milk gallon jug, #2 plastic. My city recycles #1 – #7 plastics.
  • 1 medicine bottle, #1 plastic.
  • 3 plastic caps. From the milk, medicine, and a glass bottle of organic balsamic vinaigrette. The plastic caps are recycled through Aveda’s cap recycling program.

2. List of Non-recyclable Items
I split this category into two sub categories: 2b Reuse, because sometimes I buy things just so I can reuse the container and 2a Toss.

2a. Toss


  • 1 zip top bag of 4 flounder filets. (Too stiff for reusing to clean up after the dog. Too bad because it has zip top)
  • 2 plastic wrappers that held 1 frozen salmon fillet each.
  • 1 Plastic wrapper from a container of organic mushrooms.
  • 1 wrapper from ground turkey.
  • 3 silver wrappers from my dog’s seasonal allergy medication. He gets half a pill a day.
  • 8 silver wrappers from my seasonal allergy medication. Hey, look, the allergy pill wrappers make a happy face! That’s because I didn’t have enough trash to spell out “Hi Beth!”

2b. Reuse


  • 1 plastic container from the organic mushrooms. It’s #2 and can be recycled. I’m reusing it in my craft room to store blog business cards that I’m making from reclaimed materials.
  • 1 bag of frozen broccoli. Bag will be reused for pet waste pickup.
  • 1 bag of dried great northern beans. Bag will be reused for pet waste pickup.
  • 1 advertising bag. Bag will be reused to pick up pet waste. We get these weekly on our doorstep no matter what.

We have pooper scooper laws here. I have a dog. I have to have something to deal with this issue. This leads me to an extra category…

2c. Reuse 2 (Doggie Doo)


When we have an empty plastic bag, I put it away for doggie reuse. Here’s an example of the other types of bags we use/reuse to pickup Blitzkrieg’s daily payloads.

  • The black bag is a biodegradable pet waste bag I purchased.
  • A zip top bag from a gift of dried hot peppers.
  • A clear bag that was part of the packaging of something we purchased. (I can’t remember what) – Bio is printed on the bag because they say that the bag is a corn based plastic and biodegradable.
  • A blue plastic grocery bag. I use reusable shopping totes for groceries. In my mom’s city she has to put her recycling in a blue plastic bag. Many of the stores in her area switched to blue colored shopping bags so their customers can reuse them for recycling. My mom gives me some of her bag stash from time to time since I need bags for Blitzkrieg. Sometimes I use these bags for household trash since my city requires me to bag that too. It takes us about a month to fill a plastic grocery bag with trash.

3. Total number of items

  • Recycle – 5
  • Toss - 17
  • Reuse – 4
  • Reuse 2 (Doggie Doo) – 3

Grand total of plastic items - 30

4. Analysis. Answer the following questions as best as you can.

What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?

  • Organic mushrooms – During the summer we buy fresh vegetables at the farm market as much as we can. However we have snow that means that most of our winter vegetables are fresh nonlocal vegetables from the grocery store.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn't exist?

  • 2 plastic wrappers that held 1 frozen salmon fillet each – I should give up the salmon because it is the only type of fish we buy that comes in shrink wrapped plastic in another plastic bag. But I really, really, really like salmon. We don’t try to eat it very often though.

How many of these items are from "convenience" foods that could be made from scratch with less packaging but might take more time to prepare?

  • Organic balsamic vinaigrette. We bought this bottle for a dinner party and finished it this week by using it as a chicken marinade (NOM!)
  • Frozen broccoli. We keep a small stash of frozen vegetables in the freezer for quick meals or when we run out of fresh.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?

  • Milk. As a runner my husband drinks A LOT of milk. I need to buy it by the gallon which comes in plastic. No creative reuse for the jug in my tally, maybe it will come back to me someday as a free reusable shopping tote?
  • Allergy Medication. I switched both Blitzkrieg and I from prescription medication that comes in recyclable bottles to an over the counter medication that generates some waste (the box is recyclable) due to price, amount of medication, and to cut down on the number of follow visits to the doctor and vet to refill the prescriptions.
  • Pet Waste. I looked into a pet waste composting system but they won’t work with our clay soil. Paper bags didn’t work very well either. I asked Blitzkrieg if he’d stop pooing but he gave me a look that said, “I’ll stop when you stop.”
  • Frozen fish. The plastic free fresh fish are sometimes flown in, which tastes better and has less packaging but use many more resources and is insanely expensive. Frozen and economical win – there’s a recession on you know?
  • Meat. This is how my store sells ground turkey. At least this has less packaging than the plastic wrapped ground meat on a tray method, less expensive too. Our health department is very strict about not letting customers use their own containers for meat.
  • Beans. Dry beans come in plastic bags. When I buy them at Meier’s bulk bins, there’s usually drama when weighing the items at the cash register even when I use their plastic bags. I don’t dare use cloth bulk bin bags at Meijer.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?

  • Stop buying bulk items would cut down on plastic but would significantly increase the amount of our overall recycling/waste in my bin. Often the plastic bottle version is a large size that allows me to generate less household waste or is the only one available unless I want to zig zag all over the city buying one plastic free item here and there. That wastes time, energy, and gasoline (which are how we end up with the raw material to make all those plastics in the first place.) In essance I'm trading one type of recyclable item for another. Buying in bulk also helps us save money so we can easily afford more expensive items like Blitzkrieg’s kibble that’s made with USA sourced human grade ingredients.
  • Grow more food. We are working on raised beds in the front yard that can accommodate more herbs and maybe a few vegetables tucked in amongst the flowers in next year’s front garden. Fortunately my in-laws offered to grow extra vegetables for us in their garden including eggplant, which they don’t even like! Since they offered to grow extra fresh food for us, we opted not to buy half a CSA share this year.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?

  • Soda in plastic bottles. I’m looking for some creative and affordable alternatives to pop in plastic bottles. I’d serve my guests more Ohio made wine and beer in glass bottles but every parent I know and the law frowns upon serving such items to minors. Crazy, no?

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?

I’m pretty selective about what I buy and I think our experiment shows that because our plastic waste is the only trash our household generated for the week. The rest was composted or recycled. We are very lucky to be able to recycle #1 - #7 plastic. We take full advantage of this service especially in situations when the price of the plastic free version of something is significantly more expensive or is of a much smaller size, which would mean that more containers would go into our recycling bin more often. Since we have to take our recycling to a city dumpster instead of easily wheeling it the curb for pickup we are just as conscious about the number of items that go in our recycling bin whether they are plastic, glass, metal, or paper as we are our city trash bin.

Blitzkrieg offers us a way to get an extra reuse out of the plastic bags that we can’t recycle. It’s not perfect, or ideal, because we are still throwing the bags away after one reuse but we’re trying to make the best out of the situation we’re given.

Overall, I think the amount of plastic that we generated was small. Although there's always room for improvement. I was surprised how quickly those allergy pill wrappers add up!


Amber Lu said...

This is what your milk jugs come back as: ;) I love, love, love these toys! My DD got the tea set and dishes set for Christmas last year. Recycled milk jugs and made in California.

Lisa said...

I keep putting this off. *sigh*

For your soda problem have you looked at the Soda Stream?

You can get glass or plastic bottles. And even the plastic is better than buying soda because you reuse them over and over.

It's made with real sugar in place of HFCS as well.

Cheap Like Me said...

You *could* buy the made-in-Mexico Coke because it comes in glass bottles, but that might be a six-of-one-half-dozen-of-another kind of solution.

We're looking at soda stream too. Or there is always lemonade.

Katidids said...

I can't gert over how little trash you have! We have a huge bag a day! Part of it is cleaning stuff out. I free cycle & goodwill a lot but 20ys 4kids who were pack rats...wonder wher they got that! Meijer is testy when you use your own bags..the weight is off. Boy, you REALLY opened my eyes..I would hate to show all our trash...every time I start to feel like we are doing the right thing...pop that balloon, no no I mean dog poop bag

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Amber -I love the Green Toys! I really like them and want to buy them for some fo the some of the kids on my Christmas list this year. Oh noes! You don't think 4 year olds read blogs do you?

Katidids - You should try it and see what happens! The show us your plastic trash isn't about trying to make anyone feel guilty. It's about awareness, that's why Beth has a questionnaire about what you find in your weekly trash. I certainly didn't do tiny trash bag thing overnight. I've done the clean out thing as well. After some looking I found I had a small army of travel shampoos, etc. from hotels. I made a point of using those up first (and kept some of the bottles for reuse when I traveled) before buying more too.

One of the big ways I cut my household waste was to look at the type of things I was throwing away regularly like zip lock bags I used to hold open cheese and lunch meat in the refrigerator. After seeing how often I went though a box of zip lock bags even after washing and reusing the bags that didn't hold meat, I realized that I could use the army of plastic butter tubs and small containers I already had to keep those things fresh. I've had a lot of duh moments like that!

Almost Mrs Average said...

It's so wonderful to see the influence of Beth over at FPF. She's great and you've brilliantly. That's not much plastic waste when you compare to some bins :-D

Robj98168 said...

Dog Poop- What I do with romeo is take a pooper scooper- the one I have is a spring loaded bugger with teeth- and I scoop- since the thing holds enough poop for our Choco lab- it is good for romeo's entire walk- then use a bag and discard- I use a bag because- the doggy park requests it- other wise the poo would go into the dumpster unwrapped!

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