I’m sitting at my desk, typing on my keyboard, listening to my stereo, and eating cereal out of a bowl. Almost everything I’m touching is plastic—I’m surrounded by the stuff. But with the news that hard plastic bottles with BPA can be toxic, and given that most forms are virtually nonbiodegradable, I’m determined to live one week plastics-free. (There’s one little exception for safety’s sake: my glasses and contact lenses.) It’s been a difficult and complicated week, for sure—but the takeaway is that I’ve become more aware of what I buy in the first place. There are alternatives out there to paying for more plastics; you just have to take the time to look for them. 

Sad doggy

Everything is going smoothly — my leftovers are packed into glass dishes in the fridge; I awkwardly handcarry my purchases when I forget my canvas shopping bag; and I’ve set aside my ridiculous costume jewelry. But as I’m sitting in a chair reading a book (the TV has a you-know-what shell), my dog nudges me with one of her bouncy balls. I scoop up all her plastic toys, which leaves her with one, sad-looking hope. She is not pleased. After only one day, I relax my rules and drive my plastic-filled car to my local pet store and buy her a Bully stick (which is made of bull penis—yum!). She gobbles it up in two hours and then looks at me like, “What now, stupid?”

Give me some credit

In lieu of using credit and ATM cards, for this one week, I have to go to the teller. I was excited about the free lollipops at the counter, until I remembered they’re wrapped in plastic. Something I can bank on? Having to use actual bills, which makes me more aware of my spending habits in general. I cut down on the frivolous, spontaneous purchases I’ve been known to make — like, say, a flimsy plastic back scratcher at the dollar store. 

Bottled water blues

As I rush out the door one morning, late for a 5K charity event, I warily eye my Nalgene bottles, dinged up from years of abuse. They’ve been good soldiers, but I have to leave them behind. Terrible idea—and something I never want to repeat. Afterward, I get myself an aluminum bottle. Still, dumping my old Nalgenes is out of the question. I decide to order a Sol-Light, a solar-powered replacement cap that turns the suckers into lanterns. Of course, it’s still made of plastic, so you see what sort of vicious cycle I’m caught in.

Toy story

I arrive at my godson’s birthday party empty-handed because the hour and a half I spent in a big-box store proved that practically everything these days is made of plastic—even Tinkertoys. Next birthday, I’m looking to Melissa & Doug, a company that makes creative wooden toys, to save the day. I wish I’d found them earlier.

The hygiene issue

Have you ever seen a plastic-free toothbrush? That’s because they don’t exist. And while some of you out there can mix up a baking soda paste and slather it on, I can’t. So I break the rules again. When the bristles on my current toothbrush wear out, though, I’ll get one made by Preserve or Radius, which use recycled materials. What about the rest of the week? I’m not going to lie—I cheated a lot more. I would have to be put in a (glass) deprivation tank in order to completely avoid plastics. But even if the experiment was a failure in one sense, it succeeded in that it shaped my future shopping habits. I’m more conscious of nonplastic alternatives; plus, attempting to avoid plastics is a good way to exercise overall consumer restraint—and few things are as eco as buying fewer things.

Story by Annemarie Conte. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

A plastic-free week
Could you do it?