By Laurie Casey
This summer households in Oak Park & River Forest tried living plastic-free – or close to it – for 30 days or more as part of the Sally Stovall Plastic-Free/Low-Plastic Summer Challenge. Named in memory of Sally Stovall, who was co-founder of Green Community Connections, this contest helped our community develop new ideas and habits to put us on a path to a greener way of life.
Winner: Kindy Kruller and Her Family of Four
Plan shopping trips carefully and research/identify brands that use limited plastic or recycled plastic.
Plan family snacks by buying in bulk then packaging in reusable containers.
Get workplace to join the effort and ask colleagues to have their own plates, bowls and utensils for shared meals/snacks.
“Plastic-free living can be very hard especially with two young children, but I have to show them there are other options and that not every treat, toy or snack should be encased in plastic,” says Kindy. “While I do think consumer behavior can shape product design, more stringent policy is needed to restrict plastic and incentivize alternatives.”
Winner: Grace Files and Her Parents
Purchase small reusable bags for produce.
Carry a reusable fork/knife/spoon and straw in your purse.
Carry reusable bags in your purse.
Carry a water bottle. (Also, get a bigger purse or a backpack, if necessary.)
“Is it even possible to live plastic-free? It's mind-boggling to think about how much waste each person produces when multiplied by the population,” says Grace’s mom, Lisa Files. “We are swimming in an ocean of plastic, and the tide is moving toward us. How do we get it to turn around? Perhaps relying on inventors to create something as durable/adaptable as plastic but that also biodegrades?”
Winner: Julie Moller and Her Family of Four
My trash would look much different in other months, since produce is so plentiful and there are farmers’ markets during the summer.
We purchase personal care items in plastic containers, but most are not thrown out. We recycle them or return them to the retailer on a weekly basis.
When you slow things down you definitely use less plastic. I make most meals at home, but sometimes when the day goes upside down, I end up grabbing something on the go that usually comes in plastic. Making time to cook/bake items to put in the freezer was a huge help.
“My family and I easily live without single-use plastic,” says Julie. “Most of the plastic that I threw out was food packaging (chips and cheese). The second thing that we had a lot of was plastic from ordering items. We can definitely work on that. But regarding single-use, each of us carries our own drink container, straw, bamboo utensils and a bag so there is hardly ever a reason for single-use plastic or at least when the kids are with me.”
Other Lessons Learned from Contestants
1. Plastic-free living is catching on. We hear more people talking about it in our day-to-day lives. People are asking their grocery stores about packaging and making requests to local establishments. It’s heartening to see that it’s not just a few greenies who are interested.
2. By creating a grocery list, doing menu planning and shopping around a bit, you can generally avoid 90% of plastic packaging.
3. Bulk food bins and salad bars are excellent zero-waste food sources. Buy tofu at the salad bar at Whole Foods. Milk in a glass bottle. Purchase cheese at the deli.
4. Bread, especially sandwich bread, is difficult. One solution: baguettes that come in a paper sleeve. If you have the time, make homemade bread or use a bread maker. Affordable, plastic-free bagels are a challenge. Aside from Wasa brand, plastic-free crackers are difficult.
5. Oui brand yogurt comes in small glass pots that are perfect for planting air plants and seedlings. Reuse them as candle holders. Try making yogurt at home – many families do because it is not difficult.
6. Buy recycled, single-ply toilet paper rolls wrapped individually in paper by the case to save money and cut down on plastic. Field Day is one brand.
7. If you travel often, create a kit that includes a reusable water bottle, insulated coffee container, straw, fork, butter knife, and spoon in a small canvas pull string bag, as well as a small reusable shopping bag or backpack to hold groceries or items you have purchased.
8. The plastic-free pledge encourages us to pick up plastic and other recyclables when out and about and put them in the trash, if contaminated, or in recycle bins.
9. When taking clothes to the dry cleaner, ask them not to wrap your clean clothes in plastic.
10. When eating out, a lot of unanticipated plastic comes at you – such as straws in drinks. Young children often automatically get served a plastic kiddie cup with a lid at most restaurants. Learn to proactively tell the waitstaff: “No straws and no plastic tonight please.”
11. Locally, in Oak Park and River Forest, Whole Foods and Sugar Beet Food Co-op are the best sources of bulk food because they welcome the use of a customer’s own containers. Fresh Thyme has a good bulk section of bulk candy.
12. Businesses need to know what kind of communities they are in. They will only know that if consumers speak up. That’s how businesses understand who they are serving. Some businesses ignore requests by customers, but on the whole, the more customers they hear from, the more likely they will make changes.
Want to learn more about reducing waste? Check out Food Waste Week, presented by the Interfaith Green Network and Green Community Connections, from Nov. 3 to Nov. 10. It will include a free, Nov. 3 screening of “Just Eat It,” as well as a Food Waste Workshop on Nov. 7 at the Oak Park Public Library. You can also find more plastic-free and zero waste living ideas at the bottom of this page.