Summer’s here, and I know y’all are wondering the same thing: “How am I gonna kick plastic waste in the dick?” Here’s a hot tip: whether you’re drinking a Dunks iced coffee or Life Alive’s Smug-Yogi Bowel Drainer smoothie, say NO to plastic cups, and say NON to plastic straws (because they are French).
WHAT EVEN IS PLASTIC THO?
Plastic is a synthetic material made from a wide range of polymers. Some plastics are recyclable, some are not. Recyclable plastics – stamped with a number in a triangle – range from relatively easy to recycle to extremely difficult to recycle. Most plastics can only be recycled – or, more accurately, downcycled– once.
There’s a wide variety of plastics, so let’s focus on a single plastic product: straws. Because they’re so ubiquitous, and because you’re so high rn, the following may come as a shock: Bostonians have not always sucked gallons of iced coffee up through a straw just to get through the day. Plastic straws aren’t inevitable. Consuming them is a choice that results in 500 million plastic tubes being thrown out every day in America.
So WTF is a plastic straw? Once upon a hundreds of millions of years ago, organic material such as plankton fell to the bottom of a seabed. Over time, it was trapped in sediment in an anoxic environment (meaning, it lacked enough oxygen to break shit down). Then a bunch of other crap happened to turn the whole mess into ethane. Lots of time went by, humans were invented, some dude located the reserve, and extraction began.
Using synthetic processes, ethane is transformed into ethylene, which is polymerized into polyethylene, which is molded into a straw. There is transportation, labor, energy, and waste at every turn of the process. Some people make a lot of money; many people make a little money. It all happens so I may enjoy a Dunks Sugarzone Sub-Zero Coffee(ish) in a culturally established manner.
WHAT HAPPENS TO MY PLASTIC STRAW AFTER I FINISH SUCKING?
After enjoying my Dunks Sugarzone Sub-Zero Coffee(ish), I’ll do one of the following:
Adventure 1: Throw out the straw. It’s processed and transported to a landfill, where it will sit for infiniti seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race
Adventure 2: Throw out the straw. It escapes into a waterway, such as a sewer. Then, like the majority of America’s straws, it flows into the ocean. Waves, sunlight, and marine life break the plastic into small pieces, called microplastics; the microplastics degrade further into nanoplastics. The plastic will continue to grow smaller but will never biodegrade. In 10 years, pieces of my old straw will wash up on the beach I’m at. I’ll turn to my robot companion and say, “Some asshole littered.” The robot will take a huge slurp of Life Alive’s Enya Revival smoothie and reply, “DOES NOT COMPUTE.” Welp, that’s what I get for buying an Android!
Adventure 3: Recycle the straw. Nope. Plastic straws are not recyclable. Do not try. It’s not cute. And if you do, you will wake up with a straw up your nose. It was placed there by a Koch Brothers-esque demon who moonlights as a mixologist DJ. His name is DJ Schaek-en-stür, and you will know this because he also flyered your bedroom.
As of right now:
- We don’t know how much plastic is being made – but we know it’s exponentially increasing
- We don’t how long plastic takes to biodegrade
- Recyclable plastic can only be downcycled, one time
- The vast majority of recyclable plastic isn’t recycled
Humanity’s endgame for all plastic is: “Just put it somewhere else forever.” HMMMM! That kind of logic wouldn’t even fly at my former commie commune in Lower Allston, where Acid Trippers Weekly gathered each Thursday for a potluck involving pornographic amounts of nutritional yeast. No one needs that much nutritional yeast (I’m looking at you, Ted), and we don’t need to be using this much plastic.
5 SIMPLE STEPS TO KICK PLASTIC WASTE IN ITS OILY, KOCH BROTHERS-ESQUE DICK
1. Give a fuck. This will motivate you to change your habits. Consider whether our current path towards ruining the planet, for every living thing on it, for generations to come, is worth all the fuss of a cocktail straw. Can you give up some things in order to avoid near-certain environmental collapse? I’m serious – you don’t have to go whole hog ZW warrior to make a positive impact.
2. Look at the plastic trash you’re making. Understanding where the bulk of your disposables come from will help you cut back.
3. Find a suitable replacement. I made a list below: ZW Alternatives to Common Plastic-y Goods. Go with what’s accessible for you. The goal is for everyone to be more aware of their waste and do what they can to cut back.
One pleasant side effect of living ZW is owning fewer possessions. That means less to clean, less to organize, less to manage. What I keep in my home will last a long time, do multiple jobs, and biodegrade or recycle (not downcycle). For example: we use baking soda for cooking, cleaning, and toothpaste; castile soap for dishes, floors, hands; stainless steel containers for lunch, food storage, takeout containers, and as bowls.
4. “Just Say No” (To Plastic). Say no to condiment sachets, to-go containers, plastic utensils, straws… Because you’re reading the Hassle, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Nancy Reagan’s drugless Just Say No vision did not work out for you. But here I am, hoping against hope that you’ll consider Just Say No (To Plastics) because, unlike proponents of Just Say No (To Drugs and Alcohol):
- I am not a cop
- I am not a Reagan
- I know you’re high right now
- I, too, am high
- I just want you to say no to disposable plastic
- It’s a lot easier than you think
- Saving money – on disposables, wasted food, and abandoned products
- Saving time – on shopping, cleaning, and managing items in your home
- Eating better – with ingredients you can pronounce
- Living with less stuff
- Creating more and consuming less
ZERO WASTE ALTERNATIVES TO COMMON PLASTIC-Y GOODS
Or, less waste-y alternatives.
NOTE: If you’re new to Trash is Tragic, I use the phrase “bulk” often – as in, “buy it in bulk.” I don’t mean Costco – I mean buying unpackaged, by-the-pound products sold at certain health stores. See Trash is Tragic 1 for an introduction.
Bottled soda and juice
Make your own soda or juice. Zero Waste Chef has great recipes.
Drink water instead. Cross-dress it up with lemon, mint, cucumber, berries. . .
For all my kommie kombucha drinkers – fill up reusable bottles with bulk ‘buch at Harvest. . .
. . . or with free carbonated water at Clover. Shhhh.
If you have an unshakeable craving for Coke’s Zero (by the Smashing Pumpkins), buy it in a can. Recycle the can. Unlike plastic, metal can be recycled multiple times without degrading.
Q: You live in the United States. Do you also live in Flint, Michigan?
YES – buy bottled water
NO – fuck it
Use the tap and a reusable bottle. Find one you like (my fave) and bring it everywhere. Wallet, phone, keys, canteen. If you must filter, put tap water in a bottle with a couple sticks of naked charcoal. Chill it in the fridge!
It’s time to do away with the notion that a product is needed for every conceivable cleaning application. Vinegar is fantastic substitute for chemical “cleaning” products, and can also be used for laundry, pest control, and gardening. I haven’t found white vinegar in bulk (YET). Buy it in glass and reuse the bottle – or make your own from food scraps!
Basic Vinegar Cleaner via Zero Waste Home
- Fill a spray bottle with 1 cup water and ¼ cup white distilled vinegar
- For lemon scent, put two citrus peels into the vinegar for a few weeks, prior to diluting
- Spray on surfaces and wipe away
What’s a condom.
Make your own deodorant out of bulk ingredients and coconut oil. Buy coconut oil in a glass jar; once empty, add it to your jar collection.
Wash your pits with soap and a towel.
Shave your pits with a safety razor. I have hairy-ass Italiana pits most of the year, but will shave in hot weather to cut back on sweat and odore.
Fuck it. Let’s be honest, does deodorant even work? Wearing it makes me smell like BO plus whatever fragrance is in the deodorant. Wash your pits and wear breathable fabrics like cotton. Hang out with people who don’t mind BO – it’s probably for the best.
- I don’t have a dishwasher. I dilute Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (bulk at Harvest!) with water and hand wash with a compostable dish brush. It works great.
- If you use a dishwasher, here’s a recipe from the Zero Waste Home book:
In an airtight container, mix…
4 cups washing soda (aka soda ash) or baking soda
1 cup citric acid (maybe available in bulk at brewing supply stores?)
1 cup sea salt
For best results, add vinegar to the rinse dispenser.
- Buy in bulk from Harvest – fill your own container
- Castile soap – 1/4 cup per full load
- Baking soda – 3/4 cup per full load
- Make your own fancy mix; recipe again courtesy of the ZWH book:
In a tub, mix…
½ cup washing soda (aka soda ash or carbonate soda)
½ cup grated unpackaged blue soap (using blue substitutes for optical brighteners used in commercial detergents)
3 quarts warm water
For best results, add vinegar to the softener dispenser.
Make your own liquid soap using a bar of soap and water.
Bulk castile soap at Harvest, which biodegrades – fill your own container. Use for: hair, body, dishes, floors, your dog…
Switch to unpackaged bar soap made with biodegradable ingredients.
Bulk lotion from Harvest – fill your own container.
Look for moisturizer in compostable or reusable packaging. Straight up oil, or a mixture of oils, works very well: olive oil, jojoba + coconut, jojoba or argan + rosehip, etc.
Make your own using spices from the bulk section of Harvest or Cambridge Naturals. Directions: moisturize; look in the mirror; say, “I’m feeling spicy!”; apply.
- For cheeks: mix cocoa (or carob), cinnamon, and beetroot until you have the desired shade – or use on ’em solo.
- For eyes: Any color or combination of colors you desire; for example, turmeric (gold), french clay (powder green), carob (brown), cinnamon (orange), beetroot (red).
- Face powder: Straight up cornstarch to set your makeup or absorb oil.
Look for products in compostable or reusable packaging.
Email your favorite brand and ask if they will consider switching to compostable or reusable packaging.
Enjoy your naked face.
Makeup remover – aka chemical-soaked polyester pads in a plastic tub of insanity
Oil removes makeup. Apply oil or lotion to face and wipe away makeup with a damp cloth.
See Trash is Tragic 1: Grocery Shoppin’ and Trash is Tragic 2: Zero Waste Kitchen for detailed info.
Find a grocery store with bulk (as in, unpackaged, by-the-pound) food offerings. Buy unpackaged produce at a farmer’s market, or from a local grocer.
Do not use the plastic produce bags. Bring your own lil’ bags, or place produce in your shopping bag, raw dog.
Reduce your reliance on processed, packaged foods by cooking simple zero-waste meals.
Can’t find it unpackaged? Avoid plastic as much as possible; find it in glass and reuse the jar.
Having trouble finding anything unpackaged at Trader Joe’s Plastic Wrap Emporium? Try someplace new.
Stainless steel safety razor are similar to disposable razors. Peaches and I share one. The razor lasts a lifetime; blades must be purchased separately, and one will last up to 6 months if dried after use. When flying, do not put the blade in your carry-on.
Straight razor – the blade lasts a lifetime with upkeep. Don’t try to take it on a plane.
Maybe stop giving so much of a fuck about managing body hair? Let that beav grow wild. Flaunt a verdant bikini line up and down Walden Pond. Like a common tramp!
Make your own bags out of recycled cotton (like the ones you made for produce), or buy them. Bring your bagged sandwich to the dentist. Say, “This sandwich has cotton mouth!”
Stainless steel containers (here or here). Bring your sandwich to a job interview. Say, “This sandwich has a stainless reputation!”
Beeswax wraps (see saran wrap, below). Bring your swaddled sandwich to work. Say, “Whatever’s about to happen to this sandwich is none of your beeswax.”
Wrap your food in used newsprint. Bring to a news stand. Say, “Extra! Extra! Eat all about it!”
Saran wrap, aka Cling wrap, aka Plastic wrap
Store food in airtight, reusable containers such as jars or stainless steel containers. They are more effective at keeping food fresh. (Added bonus: your food will not come into contact with gross chemicals.) See Trash is Tragic 2: Zero Waste Kitchen for more info.
Cover your food with a cloth and a rubber band, or a plate.
Make or buy beeswax wraps:
- Beeswax can be repurposed from used candles, or bought unpackaged at Harvest, Cambridge Natch, or Artist & Craftsman Supply. Use second-hand cotton for the fabric.
- Cambridge Naturals carries beeswax cotton wraps; they’re sold in cardboard with a (satanic) little plastic window.
Use the tupperware you already have lying around.
Shampoo and conditioner
Bulk shampoo at Harvest – fill your own container. That’s what I use (I don’t buy conditioner).
The “No ‘Poo” method – I’ve read mixed reviews on this. Let me know how it goes.
Solid shampoo and conditioner bars – found at many health food stores.
Cornstarch or baking soda (found in bulk) work well as a dry shampoo. Enjoy added volume!
Some companies package shampoo and conditioner in re-fillable stainless steel containers. They’re expensive, but a good interim step if the options above don’t appeal to you.
Unpackaged soap with a good lather. Shave after a warm shower, when your skin is more pliable.
Any bag that can be reused. Go with one that’s easy to rinse and comfortable to carry.
Note: Plastic bags marked as recyclable can’t be put in with curbside recycling. They get caught in the recycling plant’s machinery and cause all kinds of shitty problems. Clean, dry bags can be taken to a recycling drop-off, such as:
- Whole Foods
- Cambridge Recycling Center
Sugar from the bulk section – fill your own container.
Do without. Say “no straw” whenever you place a drink order.
Ask to have the drink poured into your reusable bottle, and you won’t get a straw.
If you have a medical issue and require a straw to drink, or if you just like straws, carry your own made of stainless steel or bamboo. Find both at Cambridge Naturals.
Visualize the turtle with a plastic straw in his nose until you no longer wish to eat or drink.
If you’re a bartender – stop putting a straw in every drink! Customers can opt in if they prefer a straw. Most people will not notice or care. If you’re thinking, “My drinks require a straw. It’s part of the experience,” consult a doctor. It’s 99% certain that a Koch Brothers-esque demon-mixologist-DJ hybrid named DJ Schaek-en-stür has commandeered your brain. Don’t let the demon win; see if your bar can switch to paper or metal.
Find sunscreen sold in tin or glass, and re-use the container. I’ve found good options at Cambridge Natch.
Wear protective clothing in the sun: hats with wide brims, pants and long sleeved shirts in a lightweight material (such as linen or cotton). Light colors reflect light and keep you cooler.
Avoid lots of sun exposure mid-day, when the sun is high in the sky. Find some shade, and then throw some shade.
Synthetic sponges and dish aids
Compostable dish brushes – my personal fave. I’ve seen Redecker products online a bunch of places (Package Free Shop, Life Without Plastic), at Boston General Store in Coolidge Corner, and at Sur La Table in Copley.
Knit your own dish scrubber out of hemp yarn, which is durable, antimicrobial, resistant to mold and rot, compostable – and adorable!
Sea sponge. Found at Cambridge Naturals and in the sea.
Stainless steel pot scrubber.
Tampons and pads
Make your own pads using second-hand cotton flannel. The Net (by Sandra Bullock) is crawling with tutorials.
I sleep with a hand towel ‘tween me legs the first couple nights of my period, when shit is super real. Slurp! I’ve used a face towel, folded in twain, as a pad. I’ve used a single sock! PS, can I come to your party?
Reusable store-bought options include Glad Rags and the Diva Cup, available at many health food stores.
Still trashy, but less trashy, and better than plastic (for your pussy at least): Natracare, sold at Harvest.
- 100% cotton tampons without applicator (come in plastic wrapper in compostable box). They go in the trash.
- 100% disposable cotton pads (come in compostable wrapper in compostable box). These say they’re “compostable,” but probably only in industrial situations – and human waste is NOT accepted in curbside composting programs. They go in the trash.
To-go coffee cups and lids
Insulated, watertight stainless steel canteen. Most cafes will fill it for you.
Make your own coffee at home, because it’s fucking delightful and SO much cheaper. I get bulk beans at Harvest – you can Grindr them there if you don’t have a Grindr at home. I use a stainless steel french press, which doesn’t require a filter, and compost the grinds. The cost works out to 30 cents per cup of fair-trade, organic coffee.
Note: Most to-go cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic. It is difficult and expensive to separate the layers, and so most recycling centers do not accept them.
To-go food containers
Stainless steel containers or jars. See Trash is Tragic 2: Zero Waste Kitchen.
Choose take-out from restaurants that use paper compostable to-go containers (and then compost them).
Note: You know those containers, lids, and utensils that look like plastic but say “compostable”? These are designed to break down in industrial composting situations – not the average backyard composter. Lord knows I’ve tried. They can’t break down in the landfill – nothing does, because the proper conditions do not exist. Put them in with curbside composting (if your city offers it) or bring it to a compost drop-off (Clover, Whole Foods …).
Also Note: If you use plastic to-go containers, you must remove food waste before recycling. Otherwise they’re considered “contaminated” and sent to a landfill.
Baking soda (the OG toothpaste) from bulk – fill your own container. I take mine RAW DOG, just dip that toothbrush right in, girl. It tastes salty but I got used to it. Add stevia powder if desired – 1 teaspoon white stevia powder for 1 cup baking soda.
Carry your own silverware or get a compact to-go pack of bamboo utensils, available at many health food stores.
See my note re: “compostable” utensils in to-go food containers, above.
These things are foul and whatever you do, don’t flush them. Use a fucking rag instead!
Extra Credit Reading – Teacher’s Pet!
- Anything in the recent National Geographic release, Planet or Plastic?
- Go Plastic-Free in 2018 (or close to it!) via Zero Waste Chef
- 6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong via NY Times
- Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not via NY Times
What other ZW substitutions have you made? What would you like to see on this list? Let me know if the comments!