R. Ann Parris on Reduce-Reuse: Plastics


Reduce-Reuse: Plastics by R. Ann Parris

Fear not: I’m not about to try to sway anyone to the “green” side of the force. There are two very viable reasons for preppers to ease consumption and use of disposable and short-lived plastics.

One: Any we’re buying are costing us money. That money could be applied elsewhere.

Rich or poor, a little more disposable income gives us financial security and the ability to prep a little extra, whether it’s training, treating ourselves to a break from the many things that can go wrong in this world, moving to somewhere more hospitable, getting better equipment, or covering more people or more time.

Two: Disposable and short-lived plastics generate waste. We have to deal with that waste during many types of disasters, one way or another.

Some are already going to dumps, official or otherwise. Some bag wastes cart the bag to the curb or a chute. If our disaster involves services going belly-up, it will not take long for curb cans, chutes, and dumpsters to fill and overflow.

We can’t control what others are going to do in long-term and short-term disasters. But we can limit our exposure by reducing how often we have to make contributions to garbage pits.

Plastic Shopping Bags
Some of us actually use and reuse plastic grocery store bags (although, there’s a trend that’s growing that may encompass all of us within a generation or so on that front). If we don’t, we don’t actually have to buy “permanent” bags.

Chances are, somewhere near that market, there’s a liquor store. Almost universally, several times a week this store is removing bottles from very sturdy cardboard cartons, which pile up until — at best — the merchandiser or deliveryman or recycling truck comes through. They are almost universally willing to give these nice, sturdy boxes away.

If we’re crafty, we can also turn wrecked clothing and Salvation Army/Goodwill reject blankets and curtains into shopping bags very easily, tailoring them to exactly the sizes that match us best.

If we’re driving to grocers, we can also wheel our buggy to our vehicles and deposit items into coolers or laundry basics, easy peasy.

Breaking the Habit: Baggies
As cheap as my father is, you’d think he’d be offended by the number of plastic baggies that get used. Worse, this man has taken leftovers for work and arranged breakfast meals and lunches for work for fifty years using these neat things called “Tupperware”. (Except, generic.)

You’d think he’d be conditioned to reach for that Tupperware, no matter what.

He’s not. If he’s not packing a lunch or breakfast, he defaults to seeing if it’s reasonable for a baggy (hotdogs, cookies, pizza slices, sliced meats, baked potato halves, salad lettuce).

We actually rearrange the kitchens once he gets comfortable with where the baggies live (and the foil and Seran Wrap), because it makes his daughters and wife crazy.

For some, that’s what it takes. Removing something from sightline so they’re no longer able to default to it. It’s a tried and true method for breaking all kinds of habits, from “casual” and “boredom” smoking, to decreasing use of our electronics.

Psst … Canning jars also make excellent fridge-pantry-countertop containers, since we need a heaping ton anyway.

Disposable Dishes
Hey, periodically I go for them, too. I do not have a dishwasher, and big family gatherings … every once in a while, it’s a nice break. How often are we indulging in that break, though?

Disposable plastic plates, bowls and cups can, at the very least, be swapped for paper that will break down relatively quickly in compost heaps and burn somewhat “cleaner” if we use a burn barrel for trash at some point.

If we’re taking disposable bowls and plates to work, it’s easy to swap them for a Tupperware type with a lid.

Especially for forks, knives, and spoons, washing metal or reusable plastic versions is not going to add significantly to the load, even for a household of 4-8.

Plastic Containers
Like canning jar lids, I don’t know anybody who actually manages to reuse all the plastic containers we buy things in at stores. Some things, though, we can find second lives for.

Lunchmeat tubs and takeout soup tubs can become our Tupperware and baggy alternatives. They can also become go-to’s for things like seeds, packages of rice and noodles once we open them, markers/pencils, or any other small item we want to protect from moisture, over and over again.

I use OxyClean tubs for holding coffee and tea grounds for the garden, collecting animal-feed scraps, and holding heavier things that are more vulnerable to moisture (they’re sturdy and seal well).

Many containers are viable for helping us organize small bits, expanding water storage, and various garden/growing uses.

Other times, we can buy a concentrate that lets us reuse a container we acquired previously, with one bottle or tub replacing 5-50 “regular” versions. The same is sometimes also true of buying in bulk — there’s less total waste in packaging.

We have all kinds of options for reducing our disposable and short-lived plastic use, giving us less waste to deal with and a little savings in our pockets.