Need a New Year’s Resolution? Cut Down on Plastic!

Today I’m not writing about textiles or art, but rather about another topic that is important to me: trying to live a more sustainable life and cutting down on plastic. My ANY Texture adventure started because I wanted to give a new life to gorgeous, discarded designer textiles. As it evolved, I became increasingly aware of various environmental issues, and of the acute plastic-waste problem facing our planet.

From being an indifferent consumer like most of us (briefly even somewhat of a shopaholic), I am gradually becoming a more conscientious shopper and a bit of a sustainability freak. Because once you become aware of the problem, you can no longer unsee it. It’s everywhere you look. And it’s really important, for our own well being and very survival, as well as for that of our fellow creatures and the unique planet we live on.

I’m aware that my domestic plastic-reduction efforts are but a drop in the ocean. In fact, the pandemic made the waste problem much worse than it had been before. A short visit to a medical facility, where I saw great quantities of single-use gear of all sorts discarded without thought, made me wonder whether my tiny efforts were even worth the trouble. The problem is so vast and widespread that it really can be discouraging. However, what if a million households make the small changes we did? And then two million? The drops will eventually add up. And so I keep trying…

Today I want to share the modest, easy changes I implemented in my own household, including the good and not so good experiences. I hope this might inspire you to experiment with plastic-reducing efforts of your own.

After a few years of implementing little changes gradually, we’re still not plastic-free. That is a goal that is still beyond reach, mostly because so much food comes wrapped or packaged in plastic. But we’ve made some progress, at least. There were times over the last few years in which I drove my family crazy. At one point they had to take me aside for a “talk.” I relaxed a bit, but after a few years of gentle nagging I can now see changes in them, too 🙂

Cutting Down on Plastic in the Bathroom

I’ve found that that the easiest place to start cutting down on plastic is in bathroom products. There are now hundreds of companies producing eco-friendly products, with more coming on the market every day. Even Target just started selling some of these 🙂 

Toilet Paper

Shortly before the pandemic hit, I switched from regular plastic-wrapped toilet paper to a recycled, eco-friendly version. These rolls arrived individually wrapped in paper (unnecessary in my opinion, yet better than plastic), in a HUGE cardboard box. The size of it surprised even me, and led to weeks-long teasing from my family. But let me tell you–once March 2020 came around, I had the last laugh! When the toilet-paper shortages started, it turned out that I was ahead of my time, for my family still had a months-long supply!

Admittedly, my family was not too happy with this eco-friendly version. Although I bought the two-ply kind, it was still thinner and less soft than what they were accustomed to. People complained. Some complained a lot. There was even a small, short-lived mutiny. Now, however, we’re on our third box (I’ve been ordering whatever brand is available, and found no difference between them). There haven’t been any complaints in months. I think they got used to it. And the best part? We no longer have plumbing issues! No more clogged-up toilets, no nasty unclogging needed!

Liquid Hand Soap

Hand soap bars are already eco friendly, unless you buy them wrapped in plastic. I usually try to buy artisan soap wrapped in paper. Although this is more expensive than store-bought soap, it feels good to support small businesses, and is an affordable luxury.

My kids, though, like to use liquid soap for their hands. We wash our hands a lot now, in these times of Covid, so I thought I’ll try eco-friendly, water-soluble hand-soap concentrate. These are dissolvable pods you put in reusable bottles.

They arrived in a carton box, which was great. When I opened it, however, I discovered they were wrapped in … plastic! Disappointment no. 1.

The second disappointment was that once I added the stated amount of water, the soap felt like colored water. Very liquidy. The final disappointment was how they made my hands feel–completely dried out… Sadly, I still have 25 bottles-worth of this product. Needless to say, I will not buy more when it’s gone. I think I will try another brand, but if that, too, doesn’t work, my kids will have to switch to bars.

Shampoo and Conditioner

Most shampoos and conditioners come in big plastic bottles. Most of them contain mostly water. So I switched to shampoo bars and conditioner bars.

So far I tried only a couple of brands, mostly because these bars last forever–months on end! The result is mixed. The shampoo bars I tried worked great. They leathered and cleaned as well as bottled shampoos. The conditioners, however, were not quite as good. They didn’t leave my hair quite as soft as the conditioners I used before, and made it a bit more frazzled. HOWEVER: it took me years to find a bottled conditioner I liked, so I’m still hopeful I will find a more suitable conditioner bar. There are literally hundreds of brands to choose from! Besides, I think that having slightly-less soft hair is a small price to pay for leaving a cleaner planet for my children…

Cutting Down on Plastic in the Kitchen

Cutting down on plastic-wrapped food is not easy, especially during the pandemic. But replacing other kitchen products is more manageable.

Reusable Shopping Bags

Switching from single-use shopping bags to my own reusable Market Totes was one of the first things I did, even before my city issued a no-single-bag ordinance. We’ve been using the same three ANY Texture totes for over five years, and they are still as good as new.

During the first few months of the pandemic, stores no longer allowed customers to bring their own bags. In those few months we accumulated a ginormous pile of paper bags–which gave me a better idea of how many bags we actually saved in the years we did use my makes. Luckily, bringing your own bags to shops is now possible again, so we’re back to doing that 🙂

I still have a few Market Totes left in my shop, if you’d like to take a look. I will not be making any more, so the ones now listed are the last.

Leftover Storage

For years, we’ve used cling wrap to cover some leftovers (and reusable containers for others). I recently learned about flexible, multi-use silicone lids, and bought some of those. Since then, we hardly need cling wrap.

Dishwasher Soap

Until recently, we’ve been using dishwasher pods that came in a plastic container. I switched to an eco-friendly version that comes in a carton box.

The dishes turn out just as clean. There is no plastic container to “recycle” (plastic recycling, by the way, is a sham). The cardboard boxes are pretty and sturdy, and I’ve found use for several of them. In fact, I even shipped some of my products in those re-used boxes! And cardboard can be and is easily recyclable. 

Cutting Down on Plastic in the Laundry Room

Laundry Detergent

Just like dishwasher soap, our laundry detergent used to cames in big plastic bottles. I switched to dissolvable pods packed in cardboard from the same company as the above.

These, too, have been working just as well as what we previously used, while leaving less waste.

Buying Less Clothing

I used to love shopping for clothes. Once I became aware of the huge waste generated by the fast fashion industry, however, I stopped cold. I haven’t bought anything new in years. If I managed to stop, anyone can!

My girls still buy clothes every now and then, but a lot less than before. One of them now mostly shops second hand 🙂 When we had our big house cleanup and reorganizing over the summer, they helped me tidy my closet. As a reward, I let them “shop” from it. They each picked a few items, and everyone was happy: they were thrilled to have new things, and I was happy to see them wear my clothes–especially since everything looked way better on them than it ever did on me! A win win!

Future Plans

The most eco-friendly thing you can do is keep using what you already have for as long as possible. That said, I keep looking for more eco-friendly household products to try. We’re slowly switching to plastic-free deodorant, for example. Most of our family’s plastics, however, comes from food, and eliminating that is difficult, especially now. When the pandemic is over, and I once again dare browse stores and visit farmer’s markets, I will try to make wiser choices about which foods to buy.

Do you have any sustainable products to recommend? If so, please write them in the comments, so that I can try them, too!

Be a Conscientious Giver This Holiday Season

We’re a couple of days away from Black Friday, the biggest shopping frenzy of the year. Before you go stand in line in front of a big-box store in the middle of the night, stop a second to consider this:

Most of us already have enough stuff and then some more.

The flood of cheap imported goods in the last few decades turned our societies into cultures of consumerism and excessive materialism. We fill birthday goodie bags with cheap plastic trinkets that are tossed within hours. Many buy clothes and get rid of them after an average of three wears. We produce high-tech appliances that don’t last. We go shopping out of boredom or as a pastime; buy things just because they’re cheap; get rid of perfectly good items only to make room for the next trendy thing. Many (most!) of us have houses full of stuff we never use. We have turned into unaware hoarders.

And then we buy books or hire professionals to help us get rid of it all…

Our consumption habits have a HUGE impact on the planet we live in. Our short-term greed is destroying the prospects of our long-term survival.

And yet, giving is a huge part of the holiday season, and a long-established way to show people we care. So what should a conscientious consumer do?

I say, give responsibly.

Here are a few suggestions:

Give Experiences, Not Things

Experiences build memories that last forever. They enrich lives. Most importantly, they forge connections between people. There are endless possibilities that you can tailor to any budget. Some are entirely free. Others can cost a fortune. There’s a full range in-between.

Here are some ideas: Go hiking with your friends. Give tired parents a coupon for babysitting (and then babysit when they ask you). Take a loved one to the movies. Organize a family camping trip. Buy tickets to an exhibition, a museum, a concert, a play, an opera, a ballet, a Renaissance Fair or any other event. Last year my kids really wanted to see Hamilton. The entire extended family chipped in, and they got tickets as holiday gifts AND birthdays combined. They still talk about it… Take your family on a road trip, a cruise or an overseas trip.

Or, if you want to honor someone AND help those who really need it most, make a donation to a favorite charity in someone’s name.

Give Something that is Designed to Get Consumed or Used Up

This is a combination of traditional gifts and experiences. It involves giving a physical item, but one that will be consumed or used up, and which will therefore not add to the clutter in a recipient’s home. This category of gifts involves foods, drinks, and things like body care or living plants.

We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy it. There is something very basic and satisfying about eating together and sharing food. Like experiences, this is something that can be tailored to any budget.

Cook or bake something special for the people you care about. It’ll be great if you get to eat it together, but even just giving it will feel good. You can also buy some special foods, something that people don’t eat every day: a special bottle of wine; artisan-made chocolates; a local specialty from a place you visited. Or, you can take people out to a restaurant. You can choose how fancy you want it to be.

Things that get used up, like soaps, lotions, bath bombs and such, also provide a fun experience. They last for a while, giving ongoing pleasure, but don’t add to long-term stuff accumulation.

Living plants are a lasting gift. They don’t get used up, but they bring a piece of nature into homes, beautify gardens, and give back to the earth (not to mention help clean the air). When I was a pre-teen, a friend gave me a potted plant. Many decades later, it is still very much alive, in my parents’ home.

Make Your Own Gifts

When you make something yourself, you put a little part of your soul into it. Give it to the right people, and they will know to appreciate and cherish it. When I went to visit my family last year, for example, I got to bring a suitcase-full of my work with me. Giving my own art to the people I love was the best feeling in the world!

I know, not everyone likes to make things, and that’s OK. Many of us want to but don’t have the time. Especially not around the holidays, a busy season for us all. Even I don’t have time to make handmade holiday gifts. I make and give at other times of the year.

If you do chose to make your own gifts, be careful about WHO you give them to. Too many people don’t appreciate handmade, or the time and efforts you put into making your gift. Give such a precious thing only to someone you KNOW will appreciate it.

Buy Locally, From a Real Person

If you do want to buy physical gift items, consider buying from a real, local person.

It’s true that big-box Chinese imports are much cheaper. But they’re also made by people who aren’t paid well and who work in sub-optimal conditions. They’re made in factories that employ children and mistreat workers. They contribute to environmental pollution: to the poisoning of waterways and air. Shipping them thousands of miles is also costly in environmental terms. We should care about this even if this happens far away. We all share the same earth. Dirty air and water will eventually harm us, too. Micro plastics are already found in almost everyone’s guts. We ALL  feel the effects of climate change.

You will pay more if you buy from a real person in your community. BUT you will also make a difference in the life of a neighbor. You will be contributing to your local economy, something that will eventually benefit you in return. And you will probably get a better-quality item, something that will last longer and, in the long run, save you money.

You could buy a cheap mass-produced “reusable” shopping bag, for example. Just don’t be surprised if it fails you at the worst possible moment.

Or, you could spend more on a beautiful handcrafted bag that will last for years 🙂

  • Find a local artisan who uses upcycled materials and achieve a double goal.
  • Buy items directly from their makers.
  • Or, support a local mom-and-pop shop that sells manufactured goods. It’s in your interest to keep small shops open.

Buy Ethically

If you can’t find a local person who creates the things you want, make informed decisions about who else to buy from. Do some research about companies you consider. Learn which factories they produce their goods in, and how they treat their workers. Try to buy from ethical companies that treat workers well and care for the environment. Buy fair trade, recycled, socially-responsible.

 

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, and don’t let the burden of gift-giving stress you out. Holidays are all about spending time with the people you care about, after all. They’re about taking time off from the hurdles of life and about relaxing. Make sure you do all of that this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving!