Join me at the following fall events on Aquidneck Island. Enjoy the crisp New England fall weather, sip some cider, and stock up on eco-friendly hand-sewn alternatives to plastic! Early holiday shopping, anyone??
From-scratch tortillas are so delicious! I'm not going to lie--it was a bit time consuming, but much easier than you would think. I used this tortilla recipe. You have to plan ahead a bit, but it only takes 5 minutes to mix the dough, let it rest half an hour, then I had 12 fresh tortillas rolled out and cooked in about 20 minutes.
Not only did I eliminate a plastic bag and twist tie, but about 2 dozen unpronounceable ingredients too. I won't do this every day, but it's definitely worth the effort.
Kids' dishware is made from plastic to be safe. While it will not break when dropped, I wanted to switch over to glass and pottery for everyday, giving our food something safer to sit in/on.
Mason jars are a great option! They are super sturdy, kids think they are more like the grown ups, and the quilted jelly jars are the perfect size and easy to hold. They do not easily break when dropped.
In fact, I've been using mason jars at children's parties for years. This works great with guests even as young as 2 with a little supervision.
Mason jars are all the rage now with companies selling all kinds if adapters for drinking hot coffee with a lid, making it more if a soppy cup for kids, etc. I prefer ours as is. Being an avid food preserver, this was a no-cost swap since I had plenty of jars already.
Give it a try at dinner. Or breakfast. Or at your next party. You'll be the cool Mom who lets the kids use glass!!!
A local soap artisan and I were assigned to be booth neighbors at the farmers market earlier this year. It was a lovely day-long aromatherapy session! That inspired me to try one of her handmade soaps, which has converted me for good.
Most soap artisans package their product in a paper wrapper or nothing at all. If you take care of the bar as intended (keep it dry in between uses, don't let it languish in your shower), you end up saving money. One bar of another soap I tried from Newport's Shore Soap Co. lasted more than 6 weeks of daily use. For anywhere between $3-7/bar, I will be stocking these as gifts for the holidays!
We all know by now that when we're at the grocery store and they ask "paper or plastic?" we reply with an enthusiastic, "I've brought my own Dancing Threads RI bags!" Just kidding. By looking around at fellow shoppers, it seems that people are getting the hang of bringing reusable totes to the grocery store.
Today I wanted to share my thoughts on why not all reusable bags are created equally.
Here are some of the bags I still use regularly, even though I'm in the process of switching to all Dancing Threads RI bags. I'm not about to get rid of something that still works perfectly well.
Some are made from plastic. While you're not using a store's disposable bag once and then recycling it (or throwing it out! Some statistics show that only a small percentage of plastic bags get recycled or reused), the plastic reusable bag has a relatively short life span. Look what happens after a few heavy duty grocery store trips.
They also do not wash well. Please tell me you wash your reusable bags! I toss all of mine into a cold cycle about once a month. Mine go everywhere, not just to the grocery store, and they can get funky. I've even had a cashier refuse to put my items in my bag claiming that people's reusable bags are "too germy." I guess not everyone washes them as frequently as I do.
The above type of bag is reusable, adorable, a handy size, but still made of plastic. What happens when it has started falling apart? Some places will recycle them, but I'm going to take a wild guess that most people throw them out.
This is a bag I thought would last a really long time when I bought it. It has a canvas exterior and handles, but the inside is coated with plastic.
Look what happened after a few too many washes...Those bits of plastic were flaking onto my groceries when I noticed the breakdown. This bag never went into the dryer, this is purely from cold cycle washing and line drying.
Here is a Chico Bag I bought several years ago. It has served me well, but it has its own issues. All the Chico Bags are currently made in China, and the nylon fabric is technically another form of plastic.
This happened after a few too many washes. Chico will take back old bags for recycling, which I think is great! But I also think there could be sturdier construction that allows the bag to last more than a couple of years.
Here's a bag I've had since I was a kid. It was one of those mail-in coupon deals where you save so many UPC codes and they mail you a free gift. Free personalization--how early 80's. The personalization is a bit weird in a sore as a grown adult, but it works so I keep it. It has held more items than I can count in its 30+ year lifespan. Why has it lasted so long? Because it's made from cotton. Not recycled plastic. Not plastic-coated canvas. It has been machine-washed countless times. And it's still going strong. Which brings me to why I make and sell the types of bags you find at Dancing Threads RI.
My grocery bag is a lot like the Chico bag. But, it's lined, reversible, and the handles have two layers. Here is a post about how much it will easily carry. Each seam is doubly reinforced, so it's so very much stronger than the Chico. I licensed a pattern from a talented designer, Michelle Patterns, because this bag has everything I was looking for in a reusable shopping bag. So far I have only been using my bag for a year, but it looks as new as the day I made it.
And I use it every. single. day. Grocery store. CVS. Library books. Supplies from Michaels. Fabric from Joann. Play date supplies. Knitting projects. Thrift store finds. Souvenirs. Soap from Lush. Washers and screws at Home Depot. Labels at Staples. Takeout food. 30 packs of on-sale crayons for making crayon rolls. Small furniture from Ikea. Garden seeds. The list really is endless.
Which brings me to this tote. This one technically uses plastic in the PUL waterproof lining, but it's a far sturdier version of plastic. This will last a long time. Mine has been in use as a farmer's market/CSA/grocery/beach bag at least twice a week for over a year. I fill it to the gills each time. It is regularly filled not with paper towels, but canned goods, half gallons of milk, and whole watermelons. At the same time! Despite some staining from beets on a CSA pickup or two, it looks great for all the abuse I give it.
Old reliable. I'm working on a way to take back old bags for recycling. Since my bags are all still quite new, having been in business less than 2 years, I don't think it will be an issue for a while. Know that I'm not ok with my bags ending up in a landfill, and will have some sort of working solution over the next year.
Any reusable bag is better than a disposable bag from a store, but take a minute to think about your reusable bags. What are they made from? What can you do with them after they have outlived their usefulness?
I'm one of those people who can't go without my morning coffee. I've cut back caffeine over time so that now I blend regular and decaf. All of it comes in non-recyclable plastic bags. Even the grind-your-own paper bags at the grocery store are lined in plastic.
Enter my local health food store, the Green Grocer. I have not frequented this store purely for budget reasons, but now I'm finding things that actually cost less there when purchased in bulk. Coffee is one of those things. They even carry a variety that is locally roasted (Coastal Roasters in Tiverton, RI) and is a half-caffeine blend. Perfect!
Using my own bag (which the cashier complimented) makes this a very successful swap! At $10.50/lb., its comparable to the $7/12oz I pay for my Dunks. And fresher coffee tastes better any day of the week.
I think I'll go have an extra cup.
A shampoo bar from Lush (the green disk on the right). This product lives up to its claims and smells terrific! It works like a bar of soap; lather it up and shampoo your hair. Not only is it not wrapped in plastic wrap, it's not in a plastic bottle that may or may not be recyclable, but it also has zero packaging! There are several fragrances available, all handmade with natural ingredients.
They still put it into a paper bag, but next time I'll just say no thank you and put it directly into my shopping bag. Lush claims 90 washes from one bar (expensive at $12, but not if it really does last through 90 washes). So far so good!
I thought this one was a no-brainer. Not only is the dishwasher detergent the same brand I usually use, but it washes more loads for less money. The plastic bottle contains detergent, but it's mostly flavored water. Using powdered detergent in a cardboard box is an easy swap.
Look at the price difference!
Seventh Generation is one of my favorite brands. I thought I had made the ultimate swap.
I saw the fine print when I got home.
Not only is it plastic-coated cardboard, but it says right on the box that it probably can't be recycled anywhere. What? I am so disappointed. This doesn't exactly support the Seventh Generation company motto, does it?
I'll keep looking for an all cardboard box. In the meantime, I just purchased some products from Lush that I will test out soon. Most of their body, skin and hair are products are not only non-toxic, and not packaged in plastic, many products have zero packaging at all! I have high hopes.
Evolution of a drink container.
Plastic water bottles, we all know, are a no-no. The one shown above comes from my emergency stash in the basement for hurricanes, blizzards, etc. Eventually I will find a reusable option.
For now, I've been using the green reusable, BPA-free, yet plastic water bottle. I can do better. Enter the Kleen Kanteen stainless steel bottle. This one is so much nicer than Sigg bottles we have used in the past! No BPA in the plastic top, it has a silicone spout, is technically dishwasher safe, though I just hand wash mine. Here is where I purchased it. Eventually I might try a couple of their stainless containers to replace my Rubbermaid and Tupperware.
What will I do with the green plastic bottle? I'm pretty sure it is not recyclable in my area, so I will find an alternate use around the house as a squirt bottle.
This tag was attached to the Kleen Kanteen when I received it. Sobering statistic.
Reading the book "Plastic Free" by Beth Terry has been an eye-opening experience. I already have a business making alternatives to plastic, but there is so much more that I would like to change on a personal level.
To hold myself accountable and to maybe share some practical, inexpensive and maybe even fun ways to substitute for plastic in our everyday lives, I'm going to periodically post plastic swaps I find that work for me.
I'm not talking about anything radical like washing my hair with baking soda--I'm looking for normal, nontoxic products without plastic packaging. Or with less plastic packaging. Or with recycled content. Products that may contain plastic but were purchased second hand, or contain some plastic but are reusable alternatives to disposables (like my waterproof snack baggies.) Manageable changes.
I'm a firm believer in taking small steps toward big changes. Am I going to change the world? Of course not. But doing *something* is a whole heck of a lot better than doing nothing.
Maybe some of these suggestions will work for you too and we can start putting a dent in the massive amount of plastic that ends up in our landfills every day.
Would you like to join me on this journey? Share any changes that you've made or suggestions in the comments! Let me get started with a change I made just this week.
Mints took the place of gum. Plastic packaging, I knew about. The tin of mints, though shrink-wrapped in some plastic, is something I can reuse organizing small items in my studio, or recycle. What I did not know was that most all gum is plastic. As in what I was chewing WAS PLASTIC. Ewww, gross. No thank you. I'll use these peppermints for a mid-day freshening instead.
Small steps to being a more responsible citizen of our planet. I promise not to be preachy about it, just spreading some good plastic-free karma in the blogosphere!
I wish I knew who to credit with the quotation, but my favorite line these days goes something like this: "A year from now you'll be glad you started today."
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.