As I talked about last issue, we have a plastic problem. Sure, we’re recycling an awesome 5% by most estimates. Less than 10% of plastic bottles are recycled, leaving some 40 million headed for the landfill. For the tiny percentage of plastic that is recycled, it all goes into non-recycleable products, like plastic decking. But the vast majority of the plastics we use, from packaging to toothbrushes, is not recycleable, and never will be. Which means every plastic doo-dad you use and discard will be with us for the next millenium, breaking into pieces, ready to accumulate in smaller and smaller organisms, working its way back up the food chain.
There is a solution. Stop using plastic. Or at least cut WAY back on your plastic consumption. There are a million tiny, easy steps you can take to eliminate this stupid, deadly, ugly stuff from your life. Over the next few issues I’ll be presenting solutions to your plastic problems, to help create a home, and life, that is nearly free of the P.
This week we’re going to start in the smallest room of the house — the bathroom, a haven for plastic of all sorts. Start with the products you use on your hair, skin and teeth — they’re probably all encased in plastic. Now, throwing out perfectly good shampoo is pointless, but once it’s time to replenish your supply, try a bar shampoo from Lush, Burt’s Bees or, my personal favorite, JR Liggett’s, which has four varieties and is made in New Hampshire. For conditioner, I urge you to try a half-tablespoon of cider vinegar (from a GLASS bottle) in a cup of warm water. Seriously.
Baking soda makes another great plastic-free shampoo, especially for those with curly hair. Once your hair is clean, baking soda can also be used to brush your teeth and/or scrub the toilet, or as an antacid (instead of plastic-wrapped Tums). Some brands of toothpaste come in aluminum tubes, but they still have plastic caps and necks… the paper box of baking soda is recycled and recycleable. I indulge myself with a fancy Ratanhia mouthwash by Weleda, which comes in a TINY glass bottle — it’s expensive (about $8), but a little goes a LONG way. Don’t forget the toothbrush: Squeakymonroe.com sells a wood-and-bristle number that’s 100% biodegradeable: as a bonus, bristle toothbrushes last longer and remove plaque far better than nylon ones.
Bar soap is basic, but spring for a biodegradeable brand made from vegetable oil instead of petroleum or animal fat. Dr. Bronner’s makes a righteous bar, with fair-trade and organic ingredients, wrapped in paper. Or hit Localharvest.com for soaps and much more, handmade by farmers and others across the country.
Local Harvest is where I found “Heal My Hands,” a powerful hand lotion bar packaged in a simple metal tin. Refills are available, though they come in a small plastic bag; request yours wrapped in paper and see if they’ll oblige. Other producers on Local Harvest make all manner of moisturizers in glass bottles — for the simplest solution try almond or olive oil in a bottle or can: it’s cheap and effective, and it also makes a great shaving-lotion substitute. Commodities, on First Avenue, sells several great brands.
For those of you who shave, an electric razor eliminates the need for shaving cream and plastic-handled razors, but if you’re addicted to the wet shave try Recycline’s razors, which are, like their toothbrushes, made from recycled yogurt tubs, and returnable. Die-hards can seek out an old-fashioned safety razor. They work well, look cool, and the metal blades will rust into nothingness.
For those of you partial to skin scrubs, for the face or body, PLEASE stop using brands like Olay, Dove, Aveeno, Nivea and others. Basically anything that contains “microbeads.” Those beads are — you guessed it — plastic. Polyethelene, to be precise, and they will end up in the digestive systems of organisms large and small (and human) when we wash them down the drain. Try natural formulation, or make your own by throwing some almonds and dried orange peel in a blender: mix with powdered milk and you’ll have the scrub of your life, sans polymers.
Don’t forget the impact you can have by passing on these tips, and maybe even the products themselves, to those you know and love. Ok, you’re not going to give your love a box of baking soda, but I’ve handed out a few bar shampoos, and made a few converts.
Don’t you feel better now?