Month: February 2013

The Plastic Garbage Project

After watching an interesting documentary about plastic, I found this interesting exhitbition in Hamburg, which visualizes the mass of plastic in our oceans and shows what can be done against it. “The Plastic Garbage Project” is showing in the ”Hamburger Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe” until the 31st of March. After that the exhibition is going to move to Tampere, Finland and Kolding, Denmark. So if you happen to be in any of those cities, check it out!

Excuse me…

obstacles, dilemmas and choices

Ever since I ditched plastic I was confronted with obstacles. To name a few: plastic-free alternatives that didn’t exist, people offering me free plastic or accidentally buying something with ”hidden” plastic foil. Today I went to the biggest bakery chain in this area where a few days ago I still got my bread in nothing but a brown paper bag. Today I opened the bag and noticed that the girl behind the counter must have used some kind of plastic layered paper to take the bread out of the shelf and put it in my bag. I didn’t even notice her doing that, as I was busy counting my coins. There is another chain that does exactly the same thing (and they even have a big range of so-called ”eco-friendly” products), which is why I stopped buying my bread from them. So instead of using tongs or gloves (which I know are disposable in most cases, but at least they normally get worn for more than just one bread you take out of the shelf), the people behind the counter have to throw out a plastic layerd piece of paper everytime the put something in a bag. For some reason, there seemed to be no need for this, so why now? I decided I wanted to ask next time.

The corpus delicti

The corpus delicti

Despite of the numerous obstacles and dilemmas I am confronted with everyday, most things have become a little easier. As time is going by, I’m getting more inventive (Been using tissues instead of toilet paper now, made my own potato chips last night and tried out a whole bunch of ”cosmetics” out of my fridge…), more observant and more creative with polite excuses.

Yes, yes, yes… I know…

However, one of the biggest obstacles is that despite the ”You will not believe your eyes” clip about is going viral on social networks at the moment, some people repeatedly try to convince me my project is hopeless and ineffective. Their main argument is that there are things I cannot possibly avoid or influence – water coming through plastic pipes, the seats on the tram or the bus being made out of plastic, the veggies I buy from the market being presented in plastic boxes, the bread I buy being transported in plastic containers, my dentist using latex gloves, the medicine I hopefully won’t need during my quest being wrapped in plastic and so on – according to that I’m not only cheating by still using buses, trams etc., but my 40 days without plastic are also a big waste of time.

Someone also raised the matter of glass bottles and jars containing invisible plastic layers inside (Not only in the lids, but also inside the bottle), which is something I could not really find out about online, so I don’t even know if it’s true, and if so, if it actually goes for all jars and bottles. But even if it did, as I said, glass bottles are reusable and can be used lots of times before the actually have to be melted again (I’m referring to the German ”Pfandflasche” here that might lack an equivalent in other countries) and glass jars are at least reusable for personal use at home. Of course and unfortunately all the mentioned examples represent something I can’t do anything about unless I move to the woods, stop writing this blog and start growing my own food (But I bet someone could still come up with something made out of plastic I would or could use if I did so.). But I CAN reduce the amount of plastic waste I produce!

So once again, this blog is about raising awareness for reducing packaging. Plastic pipes don’t get thrown out right after setting them up, tram seats don’t get thrown out after the first ride, plastic boxes transport more than one portion of bread, medicine is something healthy people don’t take everyday and all those who have to take it everyday don’t have other choices. And this is what this blog is about: choice. Sometimes I don’t have one. If I do, I try to make the right one. Everyone has to find out which choice is the right one for them. But this is the right one for me. Sorry this had to be said again – Official end of my rant 🙂

What else?

By the way, to all my German or German speaking friends: There is a documentary about plastic packaging on ZDF at 22:45 tonight. It’s called ”Abgepackt und eingeschweißt”.

Lesson learned: I’m sticking with it!

The panda eyes issue

Cleaning up the beauty bag

I never wanted to look like a plastic barbie, but I like using a bit of eye make-up and cosmetics. And I definitely don’t want to walk around with stinky, greasy hair and smelly armpits. So what to do? My first visit at my favourite (and probably all German girls’ favourite) cosmetics and toiletry chain turned out to be a zero-money-spending activity. Apart from bath gels, hand soaps and massage oils, which I could use instead of bodylotion, I couldn’t find anything that would be of use to me at that moment – I was in desperate need of shampoo and tooth paste!

After a bit of thinking I found two solutions to my problems:

… the lazy one: Not washing my hair anymore and going all ”natural“. No, joking aside, I thought of going to a place that sells all kinds of soaps. I was amazed about the variety of things you can find there – shampoo soaps, bath soaps, bodylotion soaps, deodorant soaps, facial cleaner soaps and even toothpaste soaps. I saw that sort of stuff in organic supermarkets, big chains shops like Lush and also in eco-friendly online shops. As happy as I am about having more options than I thought, I do have to say it’s not exactly the cheapest solution to my problem. This makes me move on to…

Proudly presenting.... shampoo soap!

Proudly presenting…. shampoo soap!

… the more time consuming, but cheaper option: Making cosmetics myself (No, I don’t mean like Tyler Durden in Fight Club). I was thinking of ingredients that wouldn’t require me to go through the bins of plastic surgeons. So here’s what I learnt so far:

  • Olive oil and sugar make a great body scrub.
  •  Cucumber slices don’t only help the puffy eyes of TV beauties.
  •  Honey makes my lips all smooth. Yum!
  •  Listen, boys: Beer works as a conditioner, natron as a shampoo.
  •  Lemon juice helps brighten finger nails and yoghurt makes a great base for a facial.

I could go on and on about this, as there are so many beauty products I can replace with ingredients I’ve got at home anyway.

Feedback, anyone?

You probably wonder if my homemade army of cosmetics works just as well as the chemical stuff I used before or if I turned into a with. Well, yes and no. I’ve been using honey for a long time, so I already knew I would definitely like it. The olive oil scrub, a method one of my friends showed me when I was a teenager, is also an awesome alternative to using conventional scrubs. Yoghurt for facial treatments is great as well. And the old cucumber trick has already worked for my nan and all the still smooth-looking ladies in her generation. I’m just not happy with the hair solution yet. Believe it or not, I just don’t like the smell of beer in the morning. And I also find it hard to spread that natron-stuff in my hair. On top of that it seems like it leaves a weird layer on my hair. So I decided to go for shampoo soap, which works just as well as liquid shampoo.

What’s next?

I just don’t know how to solve the make-up matter yet. Or what to use instead of make-up remover or remover pads. Therefore: To be continued soon… And if you have any advice for me, let me know so that I don’t have to walk around with panda eyes.

How to

My list of advice

Sick of full bins?

Sick of full bins?

As I announced in one of my last posts, I put together a list of advice for you on how to reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce. If you’re interested in doing so, maybe this will help you. But please don’t forget: As my experiment started less than two weeks ago, there are still quite a few things I haven’t tried out/found out yet and most of my tips are rather simple so far. I’m still in the process of putting together more advice. Therefore this list will of course be updated continuously. And this is what I learned so far:

  • Put a cotton bag in every handbag, bagpack, on your bike’s luggage rack and (if you have one) in your car. That way you will never or hardly ever have to grab a plastic bag again.
  •  Shop in specialized shops – get fruits and veggies from the market or vegetable shops, bread and cookies from the bakery, cheese and meat from delis etc. That way you can just bring your cotton bags, your own containers etc. and avoid a lot of packaging. The fruit and veg is often tastier, cheaper and fresher.
  •  Avoid individually wrapped things. Instead of buying a box of individually wrapped chocolates for example, go for one bar of chocolate.
  •  And/Or: Buy cardboard tissue boxes instead of a plastic pack with lots of individual plastic packs of tissues.
  •  If you do buy things that come with several layers of packaging, bin them at the supermarket. Most of the big chains provide rubbish bins for excess packaging. That way you let them know you don’t need that much packaging and they are left with the problem of getting rid of it, which hopefully makes them overthink their packaging policy.
  •  Simple, but effective: Drink tap water instead of bottled water. You don’t have to carry loads of water anymore and you save quite a bit of money, too.
  •  Put a ”No junk mail” (”’Keine Werbung”) sticker on your mailbox. This leaves you with a lot less trash and of course also unwanted adds.
  •  Take your own plate or container to the deli counter or take-away.
  •  Why not use unpackaged soap bars instead of liquid soap in plastic bottles?
  •  Wash and re-use jars for homemade dressings, sauces etc. You can also re-use them and turn them into containers to get your favourite dip from the deli counter.
  •  When you order something online, let them know you don’t want the item to be wrapped in plastic. Just add this in a personal message or comment.
  •  Soap, vinegar essence, lemon acid and baking soda is all you really need to clean. This means no plastic packaging, no chemicals and less money you have to pay.

Got any advice, suggestions etc. for me? Then let me know and help me on my quest 🙂

Messy business

Cleaning-up day

Due to the lack of plastic-free cleaning products, my appartment is a total mess. At least this has been my excuse for not cleaning it properly since I ditched plastic. Joking aside, I was actually a bit afraid of the day where I would have to start using vinegar essence because – guess what? – it’s the only cleaning agent that comes in a glass bottle (And when I say this, I mean that I went to several shops including organic supermarkets, health stores, wholesalers and so on.). Unfortunatley I had to make a little compromise again: The lid is of course made out of plastic.

The idea of having my entire appartment smell like an ocean of vinegar put me off quite a bit at the beginning. Fortunately I told a friendly girl in the shop about my project and oddly enough working in a place that doesn’t exactly seem to specialize in eco-friendly cleaning stuff she got really excited about it and helped me a lot. She told me that I could just mix the vinegar essence with lemon and she was right – the smell does get a little bit better. Unfortunately it doesn’t disappear completely, but I guess I will get used to it, especially as I never liked the smell of chemical cleaning products either. And I only really need it for the bathroom and the kitchen. For my living room and the bedroom I just used a mix of water and soap, a brush and a broom. That’s all you need. Opening my windows for about ten minutes did the rest.

I also found lemon acid powder in a cardboard box, which works perfectly as a toilet cleaner and descaler for my coffee machine, sink and washing machine. In the end my appartment was just as clean as it would normally get with not so eco-friendly cleaning liquids that come in plastic bottles. I didn’t have to scrub the floor harder either. And the great thing about this is that I also save money (vinegar essence is pretty much the cheapest cleaning product you can buy).

By the way, I also heard of baking soda being a great alternative for many cleaning products. Next time I’m gonna give this a try.

Lesson learned: I don’t need ten different cleaning products.

BYO plate

The food issue

When I ditched plastic, I had to ditch a few other things as well: Convenience food, ready meals, nibbly stuff like chips, gummi bears, lollies and all kinds of cookies and chocolates. Thanks to that, my plastic-free life has neither turned out to be unhealthier nor more expensive than my life before, which makes it easier to stick to this sort of ”packaging diet”.

I don't really feel like I'm missing out on something here...

I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on something here…

What’s on the menu?

As I can still buy all veg and fruit (markets and turkish shops are the best options here) and staples like pasta (Barilla sells them in cardboard and there is not even a little plastic “window”), rice and bread relatively easily, but I can hardly consume things like ready made sauces, deep frozen pizzas, instant noodles, chips or cookies anymore, my diet has actually improved and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything vital. So I basically just cut out highly processed food and cook more from scratch. It does involve a bit of planning, as I have to go on a relatively big trip to get certain ingredients like cream, legumes or unpackaged herbs. But this hasn’t annoyed me too much so far, as I always try to combine it with something I have to do on the way.

BYO in the supermarket

What works really well is just bringing my own plates or containers to deli counters. That way I can still buy cheese (the one in the supermarkte shelves always comes in plastic packets, sometimes with several layers of plastic to divide the individual slices), antipasti stuff and yummy dips like hummus. Sometimes they just give me the price tag and I carry it in my hands, sometimes they put it on my container and have a bit of a friendly, but confused laugh. It has happened several times that I got into a really interesting conversation with shop assistants and they always seemed curious. Quite often they could even help me find a certain plastic-free product in another place. It might sound stupid and a bit too simple, but I found out I just have to ask for alternatives, for things without foil and additional packaging. Unfortunately that was something I just didn’t ever do before, but now I know it’s always worth a try. That way the supermarkets, shop or deli owners also get customer feedback and might think about their packaging methods.

Hungry yet? Bring your own plate and take it home :-)

Hungry yet? Bring your own plate and take it home 🙂

BYO when getting take-out

On Wednesday I went to one of my favourite Lebanese places with a friend and we just brought our own plates, as they normally use a lot of different plastic containers. My friend told the guy behind the counter about „the experiment“ and he didn’t even give us a weird look. I do recall the curious look from a young couple though that came in just when we wanted to carry the plates out and I started to feel a little giggly. So far I had quite a few good laughs about the ”I bring my own plates/containers” method. And the shop owners don’t mind it either – and why would they, they’re saving money!

Lesson learned: Bringing my own plates and containers solves a lot of problems. And avoiding plastic doesn’t mean no more good food. It often means less bad food!

By the way, I will put together a list of how to avoid unneccessary packaging soon! Will keep you updated!

Thoughts on this challenge

I actually wanted to write about something different today, but due to the many messages I got asking about my project I thought I would tell you a little bit more about my general intentions and things that might have seemed clearer in my mind than on paper, meaning this blog.

First of all: I am not a scientist, so although I read articles and watched interesting documentaries about plastic, I do not and will not ever claim to have the ultimate knowledge about this topic. Therefore I decided not to write about the latest research, controversies in science etc. In the future I do want to provide a collection of useful links though so that you can read more about it and make your own mind up.

As I already wrote in my first post, this experiment is not about ditching long-lasting plastic items. It is not about things we keep for the rest of our life or for at least for five, six or ten years. How else (or maybe with what other device) could I be writing this? Instead this experiment is about avoiding unneccessary packaging. I am aware that plastic is not the only source of danger to the environment or our health and that there are also quite a few bad things to be said about cardboard, paper or glass, but honestly, I hardly ever see lettuce wrapped in paper, ten little cardboard boxes tucked into one or a glass bottle „wrapped“ in another glass bottle. So the thing is that plastic is our main, if not to say the most dominant packaging material. With its dangers to the environment and the health of humans and animals it therefore serves as an example of our way of consuming.

Inglorious plastics is about raising awareness on packaging and also on consumption in general. In order to do so and also to make this blog interesting to read and follow, I chose an extreme way to make myself and those interested aware of how and what I (as the average person) consume everyday, to learn more about it and to reduce waste – going on an anti-plastic diet. By doing this, I also thought I could find out which things were easy to avoid (like plastic bags) and which weren’t (like toilet paper) and therefore avoiding them probably wouldn’t prove to be a practical, long-term solution. I could have as well set up a blog calling it „How to avoid unneccessary packaging“ or something similar giving you advice on how to cut down on waste, but I thought that this method would simply work better in encouraging a discussion.

Reading all positive and also negative messages and comments I can say: It definitely has. Thank you, I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!