My Zero-Waste Week: What I Learned from Cutting Down on Food Packaging
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  1. #1
    Registered User Contrary Housewife's Avatar
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    Default My Zero-Waste Week: What I Learned from Cutting Down on Food Packaging

    "After a week of making a concerted effort to reduce the food packaging that came into — and went out of — my home, I realized there was plenty of low-hanging fruit to pluck"

    https://www.thekitchn.com/my-zero-wa...ckaging-230257
    Stop trying to organize all of your family’s crap. If organization worked for you, you’d have rocked it by now. It’s time to ditch stuff and de-crapify your world.

    If you're not using the stuff in your home, get rid of it. You're not going to start using it more by shoving it into a closet.

    Use it up, Wear it out,
    Make it do, Or do without. ~unknown

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  2. #2
    Registered User Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    I don't know about all that. Personally, I don't want to use someone else's used bag for anything I'm going to eat, because who knows what someone else did with it?

    I used to not use plastic produce bags for stuff like a single lemon or a cluster of tomatoes, but I can't get past the idea of all the carrier monkeys who sat in the seat of the cart where I put my veggies so they don't get squished with the bigger stuff in the main part of the cart, and who spread their germs and maybe had a diaper leak or whatever all over that same seat where I then parked my defenseless, nekkid food. Ew. The belts and counters on the check-outs aren't germ-free either, in spite of how often they tend to get washed down.

    We can't have a compost pile here due to critters, so I use the produce bags when I clean the items and put the scraps into those before trashing it. We do throw out a lot of the fruit and veggie scraps in winter for the deer to eat.

    I like the option of buying bulk foods, especially herbs and spices and other baking needs, but some of the stuff I've seen from other customers has turned my stomach, so I find myself buying less stuff in bulk. With the options we have, most bulk stuff is also organic, meaning the prices are jacked up to three or four times the cost of non-organic.

    We use our own shopping bags in most stores and have a large collection of assorted sizes. I know what's been in them, unlike using other people's used bags. I like Aldi's insistence that people bring their own bags or containers when they shop and wish more stores would adopt that policy, or charge a few cents for any plastic or paper bags people use to encourage people to bring their own bags. A big part of my canvas business in the nineties was making canvas bags, and I'm still using some of the ones I made and started using back then. Good canvas wears forever. I'm opposed to those non-woven bags so many businesses sell or give away because they're way too flimsy and tend to break or tear, so they don't last much longer than a regular plastic bag. Give me canvas any day! My canvas bags can easily carry two 12-packs of pop with no danger of breaking.

    I've become more aware of the packaging issue though, and I do keep looking for ways I can drag less packaging home, and still do what works for us. Some days it's frustrating though, when the checkers at WM get snotty about using our bags instead of theirs.

  3. #3
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    Cutting down on waste is kind of tough. I don't have a whole lot of actual trash, but my recycle bin is full every two weeks, which is still technically trash in the views of the article. Juice and milk have their plastic containers, berries typically come in plastic containers, eggs in cardboard, butter in boxes, various tomato products in cans, pasta in boxes, so on and so forth. My family doesn't eat a whole lot of pre-packaged meals, a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, but so many things come in packaging.

    What trips me out are the individual items in plastic, like I've seen with some squash or zucchini. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why that's needed. Canning items at home produces waste in the lids, as well as the box the lids came in. Not too much, but it's still there. This time of year, seeing big bags of Starburst candies. Those big bags hold smaller packages that hold two or three individually wrapped candies.

    I'm not concerned about the carts or baskets for produce. The amount of things that produce has come into contact with from source to destination will have more of an impact than, and that's what washing is for. I do put things like lettuce or herbs in bags, but that's mostly to contain the dripping water that will get everywhere without a bag.

    The not-canvas "cloth" bags, whatever they're made out of, have lasted me 10+ years. Some have torn, but 3 minutes with a needle and thread have returned them to use. I load them to the hilt, wash every few weeks unless they held meat, then they are washed immediately.

    I used to have issues with compost, until I finally broke down and built/bought some tumblers. I'm sure the tradeoff in the amount of plastic used to make those things isn't worth what I'm accomplishing in the compost/waste itself, as far as a whole-world view, but the only other option was to throw more stuff away.

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  5. #4
    Registered User Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    Stuff like zucchini and green onions or bell peppers wrapped in plastic keep longer. One of our stores wraps a lot of their produce, one doesn't, and there's a difference once I get it home and in the fridge here in how long it keeps. I'm sure it keeps things fresher on the store shelves, too.

    I think using my own cloth bags for produce will encourage me to process it soon after getting it home, because stuff won't keep in cloth bags as well as in plastic bags, so I'll want to transfer it to reusable plastic containers or Ziplocs I often reuse instead of just leaving it in the store plastic bags. This in turn will help me use up fresh stuff in a more timely manner, thus reducing waste in the food itself. It's a theory anyway.

    I recently put four half-gallon jars of olives in one of my canvas bags. There's no non-woven store bag I've seen I'd ever trust to do that with. Some of our bags will hold three gallon jugs of milk, too heavy for flimsy bags. I use canvas bags when we shop at stores like Menards, too, for heavy things and pointy things and also for that major packaging irritant, those plastic clamshells that rip the heck out of other bags.

    Our neighborhood bears would find plastic compost tumblers to be interesting playthings, right before they used their built-in can openers to rip them open and scarf down the goodies inside. I wish we could have one or more. I've always liked the concept. My guess is they're made from recycled plastic, which might make them more eco-friendly than you think. It beats having that plastic thrown in a landfill or into the ocean.

    I've been thinking some about how we can change our habits, after I saw a news report about the floating pile of junk in the Pacific Ocean last week. The report said it's more than twice the size of Texas. That should be enough to make anyone want to do a little better.

    I bought a set of thirteen stainless steel water bottles to use when we travel, years ago. We use them on every trip and refill them as needed at campground potable water sources. I think I spent around $60 for the SS bottles, and I already owned a small cloth cooler eleven of them fit into. It was worthless as a cooler but works great as a carry bag. We also use Bubba Kegs with our choice of beverages on the road, lemon ice water. I have no idea how many times we've refilled the Bubbas and the SS bottles over the years, but it has to be thousands.

    I think most people do what works best for them when it comes to recycling and reducing waste, etc. Not everything works for everyone. We all need to do what fits our own lifestyles. Nobody I know, and there are a lot of eco-warriors I know in this town who are positively rabid on the subject, does everything that can be done to reduce, reuse, recycle, etc. Like most everyone else, they pick and choose what fits into their life and value system. Some things are trade-offs where it's hard to know what the right answer is. But I still think I can do a little bit better, so I'll try it with the reusable produce bags. It might work, it might not. I won't know till I try.

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    Registered User Contrary Housewife's Avatar
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    I think it would be difficult to get rid of much of our food packaging. We, as a country, produce and transport so much food that would not be possible to move in a timely fashion if it were not wrapped in layers of plastic and foam. We can advocate for "eating local" but for millions in our largest cities there is no "local" source. Food is grown a hundred miles away, takes days to process and transport into stores in the city.

    FWIW, I'm fine with the non-woven bags. I couldn't lift more than a gallon of milk, no matter what it was sacked in, so the relative lack of sturdiness isn't an issue for me.
    Stop trying to organize all of your family’s crap. If organization worked for you, you’d have rocked it by now. It’s time to ditch stuff and de-crapify your world.

    If you're not using the stuff in your home, get rid of it. You're not going to start using it more by shoving it into a closet.

    Use it up, Wear it out,
    Make it do, Or do without. ~unknown

    A clean house is a sign of a wasted life. ~unknown

  7. #6
    Registered User Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    Whatever works.

    There's no local food source here for most foods much of the year. Nothing grows for at least six months out of the year, and there's no farmland to speak of. I do try to buy honey and wild rice from nearby sources.

    I got my fabric produce bags done, so I'll try those out and see how I like them. I'm sure I'll still use plastic sometimes, if stuff is drippy. And for drippy meat, too. I really hate getting meat juice all over everything.

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    Well done on the fabric produce bags, Spirit Deer! We are planning to clean a beach for Easter. It is not much in the big picture, but if everyone does a little bit maybe it will help.
    Total paid/saved: $214 900
    Total goal: $304 900
    To do: $90 000

  9. #8
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    I didn't use my fabric produce bags today. All the produce I bought was already packaged. It seems like stores are doing that more and more.

    I was thinking about how hard it is to eliminate packaging for so many products. I think it's here to stay, and maybe the best consumers can do is try to demand more eco-friendly packaging from the manufacturers, although I doubt that would have much impact coming from individuals.

  10. #9
    Registered User earlybird's Avatar
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    This is an interesting thread. I am going back into a more frugal mode starting in April and this would be another
    good think to be thinking about. I do bring home way too many store bags so my first task is to start bringing my
    reusable bags to the store with me. I do think that canvas bags would probably be the best since you can wash them.

    Whenever I hear of someone cleaning up a stretch of road or a beach I remember Lady Bird Johnson and her
    Beautify America movement.

  11. #10
    Registered User Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    I didn't start out using canvas bags to be environmentally friendly or anything like that. I selfishly did it for myself. I hate it when bags break, and I hate having to think about whether or not they will. With good sturdy bags, I don't have to think about that anymore. And I don't have to watch people put one item in a plastic bag instead of filling it up, because they worry about the bags breaking, too. Using so many plastic bags because they're not really suitable for carrying heavy items just irks the anti-waste genes my mother and grandmother gave me.

    I heard somewhere a typical Walmart bag is supposed to be able to hold sixteen pounds. I can't say I know that's accurate, but assuming it is, I'd love to see whoever determined that put two gallons of milk in one of those bags and then hang it over his head for a while and say he felt safe the bag wouldn't break. I routinely put two gallons of milk in one of my canvas bags, plus more, and know that not only is the bag not going to break, but the handles won't cut into my hands either. I usually bag my own groceries too, because the people who are paid to do it are so used to putting very little in plastic bags, they do the same with canvas even though it doesn't make sense.

  12. #11
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    That's the same reason I started using cloth bags. I could get my entire shopping trip into my house in one go, using the longer straps and larger capacity, than if I used the ten thousand plastic bags containing 3 items each. Since I started using them, I've never lost any goods to a broken bag, transporting the larger bags with a flat base is easier in the trunk, and there's less clean up as I start emptying the bags. I also use the cloth bags for a number of other transporting needs, while I could only really use the plastic ones to line wastebins. Which I've stopped doing anyway, and just wash the bins every once in a while.

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    Most of my bags have flat bottoms, too. The ones I made per the pattern I used when I was selling them wholesale to a variety of stores, are the same size and shape as a brown paper grocery bag, very handy. Two gallons of milk or two twelve packs of pop fit into those nicely. Mine have wide web handles and a side pocket, and most of the side pockets have other bags in them that I've made. Those are mostly the same size and shape as the plastic shopping bags, which I used as a pattern. A couple are made from plastic feed bags we bought wild bird food in. I've picked up a few others secondhand over the years when I saw ones that had designs that appealed to me. Most of those have flat bottoms too.

    We use our canvas bags for other purposes, too. Right now I have one sitting on the work table full of my air nailer and air stapler in their cases, plus several boxes of brads and staples for each. If you're familiar with boxes of ammo for those air tools, you know how heavy those are. It's the easiest way to transport them back to the cabin where they're normally stored. We used to take the canvas grocery bags camping sometimes but now use another set of cloth bags made by GSI Outdoors. We do find plenty of uses for our canvas grocery bags though, besides groceries.

    We do accept plastic bags when we're shopping on a trip though. We go through a lot of those because we tend to throw out trash daily and use them to hold dirty clothes and other uses.

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    We seem to have a lot of waste too and I don't understand why. I garden and can using the Tattler reusable lids, compost, and try to reuse any container we get at the store. For example: DH likes pickled orka I talked him onto buying the largest jar so I can reuse it for canning. DH buys and uses a lot of those damn ziplock bags and I can't get him to use containers or to reuse the bags. He's better than he used to be but there is still room for improvement. I use the non shiny paper and cardboard in the garden to help prevent weeds. We like to have bon-fires and gather the wood (free) and use the shiny paper/cardboard for fire starter. Toiler paper rolls are put around young plants to keep the slugs off of them. I do what I do to be frugal and not from the standpoint of being green.

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    I've been more aware of how much packaging I throw away since this thread started, and have concluded there's not much I can do about most of it. I can't do things like stop buying veggies that come in packages because I wouldn't be able to buy much of anything at all for fresh produce if I did. Obviously we're not going to buy stuff like meat unpackaged, even if we could get it. Same thing with non-food items. They come in packages and my choice for most things is to either buy it in packaging or do without. Doing without is usually not an option. I've concluded about the only thing we can do is what we've done for years, cut back on bags where we can and recycle and/or reuse packaging where we can.

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