plastic-free shopping

Bin it where you bought it!

Why we should all leave excess packaging at its origin

Too much to throw out?

In my most recent article on The bird’s new nest (text will be online tonight) I remembered the first time I tried to shop plastic-free. The most frustrating thing was that I often got fooled by eco-friendly looking packaging – for example plastic layers hidden in cardboard boxes. As annoying as this was, I figured out what to buy and what not to buy pretty quickly.

Sometimes it helps if you shake or squeeze the packaging carefully (you can hear the plastic inside), but this method doesn’t always prove to be successful. So even though I’ve got enough experience at buying things without plastic now, it still happens to me from time to time that I accidentally end up with a double-packaged product. So what to do? My advice is to dispose of the excess packaging as close to its origin as possible – in this case the shop where you bought the product. All supermarkets in Germany provide recycling bins (as far as I know this goes for most other European countries, too), so it’s not a difficult thing to do. Of course this doesn’t make the packaging disappear, but you can set a sign that you don’t want and need several layers of it.  On top of that the shop has to face the problem of higher costs for higher amounts of waste.

This is only a very small step, but in my opinion it’s the best thing you can do if you buy an overly packaged product – plus it doesn’t fill up your bins at home. I know that some of you might find it a bit controversial – of course it’s always better not to actually buy anything overly packaged – but I’m a pragmatic person. Small steps are better than nothing!

So what do you think about this? Am I being to pragmatic? Have you ever left excess packaging at the supermarket? Would love to hear what it’s like in your country.

A rice bag in his pocket

Finding a plastic-free wallet

I’ve been wanting to buy my husband a new wallet for a long time. As leather or fake leather (that’s basically plastic) weren’t an option I started to look for alternatives. I found cotton wallets, but they looked extremely hippie, something I was sure wouldn’t exactly match my man’s taste. Without knowing about my search I suddenly received an email from a fellow blogger. Almuth had spotted a really cool stall at a Christmas market that sold upcycled bags, hats, interior design and wallets. They are made of old rice, coffee bags and other packaging, flip-flops or car tires. I looked it up online and I knew: This is perfect.

upcycling deluxe wallet

So thanks to Upcycling Deluxe my husband’s got a stylish, cruelty-free wallet made from an old rice bag – which couldn’t be more perfect for him, as he’s a chef and he loves rice. Technically it’s not plastic-free, but made from old packaging – so even better actually. As I was so happy with their service and the design I decided to share this with you. Maybe someone else is looking for a new wallet, too?

New Year’s resolutions

How to say goodbye to unnecessary packaging in 2014

Broken resolutions, anyone?

Broken resolutions, anyone?

Happy New Year everyone! Losing weight, exercising, being healthier etc. – Have you broken made any resolutions for the New Year yet? How about including “avoiding single-use plastics” in your list?

As for my part I decided to be a bit stricter with my shopping routine again. I could see how at the end of the year – no matter how hard I tried – my rubbish bin would fill up quicker and quicker. This was mainly due to big dinners that required a lot of preparation (and too little time to always go to the right places). So if you want to follow my plan and cut down on your single-use plastic consumption, you can get started with this useful list. Find a more detailed list on my blog (I just updated it).

For those of you who are too lazy to read it all, here are my best tips on avoiding single-use plastics. Some of them might seem rather obvious, but the more we spread the idea the better!

ingloriousplastics New Year’s pledge

  • Ditch plastic bags once and for all. Bring your cotton bag and re-use old plastic bags for things like loose salad or vegetables.
  • Get yourself a re-usable bottle and ditch single-use plastic bottles and bottled water.
  • Choose loose fruits and vegetables over packaged ones.
  • Buy things in re-usable containers (juice and milk in glass bottles, yoghurt in glass jars etc.).
  • Re-use and upcycle things. On ingloriousplastics you can find a lot of ideas for that. Just click through “upcycling“.
  • No matter if it’s bread or candy – Make more things from scratch. Click through my plastic-free recipes and explore!

And last but not least: Spread the idea!

I know that some people get annoyed by it, but in my opinion it’s totally worth it. Haters are gonna hate, you won’t change that. Single-use plastics are one of the main sources of pollution in the world and if the fact that I’m annoying someone with this just makes them think about it for a second, I’m already happy. So I hope I could give you some inspiration to get started. Happy New Year!

Packaging vs. product

What would you base your decision on?

A typical situation in my life: I’m going shopping and I need, let’s say, pasta. I used to buy organic brown pasta. When I decided to say goodbye to plastic, this suddenly wasn’t an option anymore and I had to go for a non-organic pasta brand (Barilla pasta and some other brands come in cardboard boxes for example). Guess why.

It makes absolutely no sense, but most organic products come in plastic. This is a problem I’ve been dealing with since I started my challenge. I decided it was about time to write about it. When it comes to fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, the situation is particularly bad. In order to be able to distinguish the organic from the non-organic products most supermarket chains in Germany decided to wrap all the organic fruits and vegetables in plastic. I watched a documentary about this recently and a manager from a big chain explained that they were only wrapping the organic veggies rather than the other vegetables because it would be more eco-friendly than doing it the other way round.

What to buy?

What to buy?

Sounds confusing? It is! Fortunately the fruit and veggie problem is relatively easy to solve – I just buy organic fruit on markets and in organic-only supermarkets instead. But there are some other products like the above-mentioned organic pasta (pasta is only one example, the list is pretty much endless.) that forced me to ask myself: Am I gonna go for the better product OR the better packaging?

Where can I draw the line? Is non-organic pasta in more eco-friendly packaging better than organic pasta in plastic? Am I doing more damage by focussing too much on packaging? Why can’t the label “organic” and “fair-trade” include packaging? And why are so many organic supermarkets full of plastic?

Has anyone experienced the same? Let me know your thoughts on this!

No bag, please!

An update on avoiding plastic

Downsize?

Did you notice? I’ve been posting a lot of recipes, photos and DIY ideas lately. So although I’ve always been keeping the idea of reducing plastic (and packaging in general) in mind, I haven’t really given you an update on or a summary of my efforts. Half a year after I had completed my “plastic challenge” I thought it was about time to put my posts into perspective again. So what has changed?

Well, first of all: Things are still changing. I still try to keep my level of plastic consumption as low as possible, especially as more and more shocking news about the amount of damage plastic has already done to the environment and our health come up (For a short summary click here). But one thing is for sure: I’m still nowhere near the stage where I would say I’ve perfected the art of going plastic-free and turned my place into a zero waste household (like this family manages to), especially as there are some things I just can’t live without (toilet paper would be one of them…). However, I found more and more little tricks, I re-used a lot more things and I also started to reduce my amount of other packaging. On top of that I felt like I consumed less (and spent less money) in general and I discovered a lot of great secondhand markets and online share groups.

The keywords for me are “re-using”, “upcycling”, “sharing” and “making”. So here a few more tricks I learned. I wanted to share them with you because they really made my life so much easier. They will also give you a little summary of what has happened on ingloriousplastics since the end of my challenge.

Re-using

Whenever I buy something packaged I try to find some way to re-use the packaging (I found the Trash Backwards app extremely helpful for that.). This is also how I found a compromise for my toilet paper dilemma: I re-use the plastic packaging. If you cut off the top, you can use it like a normal plastic bag.

As I generally prefer glass, I ended up with a whole bunch of glass jars. Fortunately there are a million things you can do with them and I wouldn’t know how to survive without my little jar collection anymore. I keep on re-using them for all kinds of things: as an alternative to Tupperware containers, for homemade jams (for example my drunken plum jam), chutneys, smoothies, lemonade, dips, dried fruit, herbal oils, as pretty vases, cereal boxes, candy containers or even to serve salad in them. You can also put tea light candles in them. It’s funny cause this wasn’t my intention in the first place, but glass jars actually became some of the most important little helpers in my apartment. Just see for yourself:

red millet salad in a glass jar

red millet salad in a glass jar

apple dessert in a glass jar

apple dessert in a glass jar

Fruit in rum, dad style

Fruit in rum, dad style

tomato chutney in an old chickpea jar

tomato chutney in an old chickpea jar

homemade drunken plum jam

homemade drunken plum jam

Plum chutney

Plum chutney

I found just as many ideas for re-using glass bottles. Pretty bottles can be re-used as vases, for holding candles and of course as a vessel for all sorts of liquids or homemade cosmetics.

homemade herbal oil

homemade herbal oil

homemade green smoothie using a recycled passata bottle

homemade green smoothie using a recycled passata bottle

Old cans make pretty good vases, pen holders, toothbrush holders and plant pots.

I generally try to avoid packaged fruit, but sometimes I found it hard to find things like loose strawberries. So I turned the fruit containers into little greenhouses. That way I don’t have to buy any plastic plant pots. The great thing about that: The fruit containers already have holes at the bottom, which makes it a lot easier to water your plants.

before...

before…

... and after

… and after

Last but not least I tried to find a way to re-use envelopes, magazine pages and lotion containers: I cut old envelopes into little pieces and use them as little notes (for shopping lists etc.). I use pretty pages from old magazines as gift wrapping paper. And I also started using old lotion containers for my soaps.

Upcycling

Whenever I can’t find a way to re-use packaging, I try to make something with it and use at least a little part of it. That’s how I came up with making my own business cards from drink cartons, napkin rings from toilet paper rolls and old newspapers, envelopes from old magazine pages, bookmarks from old candy wrappers and cereal boxes, picture frames from scrap wood and old postcards and fridge magnets from old crown caps. I also found out that you can fuse plastic bags together and use them as a wax paper-like fabric. Then you can turn the old bags into little purses, book wrappers or even clothes. Here’s a little photo gallery of my different projects:

magazine page envelopes

magazine page envelopes

toilet paper roll napkin rings

toilet paper roll napkin rings

The perfect business card for ingloriousplastics - made from an old drink carton

The perfect business card for ingloriousplastics – made from an old drink carton

Reese's pieces bookmark

Reese’s pieces bookmark

melting plastic bags together

melting plastic bags together

... and turning them into unique bookcovers

… and turning them into unique bookcovers

... or postcards

… or postcards

another idea: a scrap wood postcard

another idea: a scrap wood postcard

There are also a lot of things I wanted to do with old clothes. Whenever a piece of clothing was in such a bad state that I couldn’t mend it or give it to someone else, I tried to use the fabric for something different – I turned an old t-shirt into cotton pads and re-usable tissues for example.

DIY cotton pads

DIY cotton pads

I’m also planning on making jeans napkins and pillowcases. And I like to use fabric scraps for decorating my homemade jams:

fabric decoration for my mixed berry jam

fabric decoration for my mixed berry jam

Telling you about all my little upcycling projects I almost forgot the biggest and most fun thing I did: turning an old beer crate into a unique seat for my friends.

beer crate seat

beer crate seat

Sharing & making

Avoiding plastic made me think about what I consumed. So for me it was only logical that I wouldn’t only pay attention to the packaging, but to my behaviour as a consumer in general. I want to downsize and simplify my life. A lot of interesting projects and initiatives like “Umsonstladen” or “Givebox” helped me with this.

Givebox in Düsseldorf

Givebox in Düsseldorf

A public book case is another great idea for sharing things.

A public book case is another great idea for sharing things.

I didn’t only find great secondhand markets in my area (the “Weiberkram” market in Neuss is great for girls’ clothes), but also initiatives that focus on swapping, sharing and giving things to others for free (get more information on this here).

clothes swaps

Even though I was just talking about flea markets, I do actually have to admit I hardly bought any clothes this year as I participated in so many clothes swaps. I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit me anymore and in return I got a completely new wardrobe. I know that this only works as long as people buy new clothes (If we all wore our clothes until they fell apart it wouldn’t work obviously), but I think it’s still a good idea for all those who end up with a piece of clothing that doesn’t fit anymore or which they got as a gift and didn’t like.

I generally try to make more stuff myself – that means cooking from scratch (therefore you can find so many recipes on ingloriousplastics), mixing my own cosmetics and cleaning products, sewing, mending and repairing things. I found a good shoemaker that fixes my shoes for as little as 7€ and I also plan on checking out a Repair Café soon. That way you automatically end up with a lot less packaging – and you save quite a bit of money, too.

So I hope this gives you an idea of what happened behind the scenes of ingloriousplastics and helps you understand the mix of topics in my blog a bit better. And I want to thank all of you for your support and the ideas you sent me. Next week I’m gonna give you a little update on plastic-free shopping, cooking (I love the plastic-free chef) and cosmetics. If you have any questions or suggestions, let me know. Would love to read your thoughts on that!

Of bacteria, pesticides and pre-packaged salads

New study found pre-packaged salads not so yummy

The other day I read about a new study by Stiftung Warentest that focussed on pre-packaged salads in German supermarkets. Scientists found too much bacteria and pesticides in them – even in the so-called organic salads that aren’t supposed to contain pesticides.

The reason for the high amount of bacteria results in the fact that salads just weren’t made for being pre-cut and put in plastic containers, as its natural protection from bacteria gets destroyed by this process. That leads to pre-packaged salads getting bad earlier and getting affected by bacteria more easily. The pesticides had nothing to do with that, they’re just an additional problem. Definitely not so yummy.

So there is a good reason why salads shouldn’t be pre-cut and put in plastic bags. What to do? Buying a head of lettuce instead of the pre-cut, pre-packaged version works as an easy peasy solution. And cutting the lettuce yourself shouldn’t take more time than a minute or two.

An alternative to pre-packed salads: I'm growing rocket on the balcony.

An alternative to pre-packed salads: I’m growing rocket on the balcony. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, but even it grows like crazy

And there are more reasons why ditching pre-cut, pre-packaged salads is a good idea:

  • It saves you money. A head of lettuce is normally less expensive than pre-packaged lettuce.
  • And you save money again as you’re less likely to throw out your salad cause it got bad. If you keep it refrigerated, a head of lettuce lasts for quite a long time.
  • You might also save waste, as (at least at markets, small veggie shops and organic stores) a head of lettuce often comes without packaging.
For a plastic-free salad. Buy a cucumber, loose tomatoes and add some parsley, olive oil and balsamic. Yum!

For a plastic-free salad. Buy a cucumber, loose tomatoes and add some parsley, olive oil and balsamic. Yum!

You can read about the study on Sueddeutsche.de. I found similar articles dealing with the topic on the websites of the British Daily Mail, The Telegraph and on the Canadian CTV news website. And I discovered an even more shocking story in the Sydney Morning Herald about a dead frog in a pre-packaged salad.

Bon Appetit!

The toothy issue

Toothpaste and scrubs – Products worth being ditched and green alternatives

I’ve been paying attention to plastic packaging for quite a while now. But what still bugs me is the fact that there are so many different kinds of toothpaste and body or face scrubs that actually contain plastic. Quite often this is even used in ads and commercial by advertising “micro crystals” or similar stuff. These little particles are normally coloured, so they are relatively easy to spot in white toothpaste. When you check the list of ingredients at the back of the product and you read polyethylene glycol (PEG), then you know for sure you’ve got plastic in it. Another hint: Cosmetics and toiletries containing PEG are usually those sort of products that promise even whiter teeth and smoother skin. What I found interesting was the fact that I found more PEG in expensive brand products than in no name products.

Can you see the little blue micro particles?

Can you see the little blue micro particles?

So you wonder why I get so upset by finding plastic in toothpaste and cosmetics? Not only does it go right into your body (I have to admit I do not know what it does to the human body. But the fact that I don’t know makes me a bit careful with stuff in general), you also flush it down right into the water as micro plastic is so tiny that purification plants can’t get it out of the dirty water. The effects of this are yet to be fully discovered, which only leads to one conclusion for me: Go for eco-friendly toothpaste and scrubs that work with natural scrubbing agents. And raise awareness for this issue.

bogobrush – An eco-friendly toothbrush

This was a depressing start of this week’s post – but I found something to cheer you up. And as dental hygiene found its way into my blog already, let’s continue with that: When I went to the States a few weeks ago I finally learned about alternatives to plastic toothbrushes. The one I like the best is called bogobrush. This toothbrush is made of bamboo, its handle is 100% biodegradable and for every toothbrush you buy they give one to a person in need – a great idea in my opinion. On top of that (not that I would care that much) the brush looks pretty stylish. I admit, it’s still not a 100% plastic-free as the bristles are made of plastic, but it’s probably the best solution I have spotted so far. You just remove the bristles and bury the handle in your backyard (or someone else’s 🙂 ). At the moment bogobrush is only available online, but they ship the brushes from the States to Europe. The brushes cost 10 Dollars (+5 Euros for shipping).

Your opinion? Would they be an alternative for you?