Sunday, July 19, 2009

Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge

From June 8 until June 14, I participated in a modified version of the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge, and recorded all the plastic trash I threw out. I couldn't comply with the requirement to take a photograph of my plastic trash at the end of the week, because there was no way I was going to ask the long-suffering people I live with to put up with Yet Another Pile of Trash. They already deal with two categories of trash that would go straight in the trash can in any normal household. In the living room, there's a mountain of Tetra Pak cartons that get saved until I visit a friend whose municipality accepts them for recycling, and in the bathroom, there are three large containers filled with plastic caps that are being saved indefinitely until they can be recycled. Aveda stores in certain other cities accept plastic caps for recycling, so I've been saving all the caps I've come across to take to Aveda when either the store in my city starts participating in the recycling program or someone I know visits a city where the recycling program is already active. Anyway, the point is that I didn't think it appropriate to announce that in addition to Tetra Pak cartons and bottle caps I would also be saving chocolate wrappers and other plastic trash.

Here's what I threw out:

Definitely not recyclable:

  • 2 paper sleeves with plastic lining from Weetabix breakfast cereal
  • 1 plastic bag from a different brand of cereal
  • 3 plastic wrappers from Fair Trade, organic chocolate
  • 1 bag of vegetarian burgers
  • 1 plastic clamshell containing blueberries (#6)
  • 3 bags of dried fruit
  • 1 plastic/cardboard container of dried fruit
  • 6 energy bar wrappers

Plastic portion probably not recyclable:

  • 2 aluminum cans
  • 4 Tetra Pak cartons


  • none

Total: 24

The instructions for the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge said to include the recycling number at the bottom of each item, but only the blueberry container had a number. It's frustrating not having more information on what type of plastic is used. Each and every piece of plastic trash I threw out during the challenge week was packaging for food or beverages, and I'm astonished that there isn't a requirement that plastic in contact with food be labeled as to its type.

I wish I could say that recording my plastic trash for a week led to thoughts on how to reduce my consumption of plastic, but it didn't. There's no longer any store in the area that allows shoppers to bring their own containers for bulk foods, and I've got to eat something other than the potatoes, carrots and apples I buy at the farmer's market. I keep hoping that one of the local stores with bulk bins will abandon the ridiculous requirement that shoppers place bulk foods in plastic bags. I find it so ironic that Whole Foods, which brags about not offering plastic carrier bags at its check outs, still has rolls of plastic bags next to the bulk bins.


Danielle said...

Hey - sorry I've been absent for a while.

I totally feel the same frustration about Whole Foods. They brag just to brag; they haven't put enough effort into figuring out how to make "good for the environment" align with health standards. I get the general theory behind not being able to use our own containers, but plenty of stores have made it okay to do so, so why the lag?

Do you save your plastic bags to reuse the next time? I mean, they wouldn't know, right - they would still be Whole Foods bags.

Cousin Yellowstone said...

Danielle, it's great to see you back again!

In theory, Whole Foods does allow customers to bring their own containers and have the tare weight deducted, but the staff at my local store seem unaware of that policy. The store's PR people go on and on about how eco-friendly Whole Foods is, but as you said, it's bragging just to brag. The problem doesn't seem to be health standards, which I could sort of understand. Instead, it's that no one in the entire store seems to know how to deduct the tare weight of any container heavier than a plastic bag. I got fed up dealing with Whole Foods, and now buy almost all my food at an independent grocery store that doesn't have bulk bins and doesn't even pretend to be eco-friendly.

I know I should go back to Whole Foods for bulk items, reusing plastic bags until they rip. My biggest aversion is that much of what I buy is sticky, which means having to wash the bags, and I find it tedious to wash bags. It's so much easier to wash a rigid container. Perhaps it's time I had another talk with the store management. I can't be the only person wanting to bring my own containers, can I?