The End of the Fast

And then suddenly, it’s Wednesday of Holy Week. Lent, this season of my plastic fast, is over.

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The house smells, tonight, like dish soap. We bought a manual pump at Home Depot this weekend, and tonight, Mark pried off the cap on the tub of dish detergent, hooked up the pump and filled two repurposed shampoo bottles with Palmolive.

I will use the leftover home-mixed dish cleaning concoction, a mild and gentle blend, to water plants. My mother taught me that; she would scoop out the dishwater and use it on her garden in the summertime. The soapy water didn’t bother the flowers, but it definitely deterred the bugs.

We’ll use the Palmolive to scrub the pots and pans. It will cut the grease, which my home brew couldn’t do. Since most of the dishes get cleaned in the dishwasher, the five-gallon tub of Palmolive, used only for hand-cleaned dirty dishes, will last us a long, long time. I won’t be putting one empty dish detergent bottle in the recycling every week, not knowing where it will end up.

I am not living a zero-waste life, but I am contributing a whole lot less than I once did to landfills and trash heaps.

Lent is over, but my plastic-free lifestyle quest is not. I am just starting to understand how to live mindfully, and how not to contribute to rampant plastic waste.

I see now that letting go of single use plastic is a journey, not an event.

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Trying to shop without using plastic has been frustrating at times. Once, a deli clerk angrily packed my cheese in a plastic bag and practically whipped it across the counter at me; she acted as though there was something wrong, something nasty or shameful, in my request for paper packaging.

Or maybe it was just a bad day for her. As a result, though, I looked further for places to shop, and I found two sources for fresh meats and cheeses, wrapped cheerfully in paper.

An older bagger resented my request to use my own bags one afternoon; he growled and slammed things and pounded my groceries into my cart. Maybe he was having a bad day, too.

Mostly, though, people in stores have been accommodating, and some have been downright sympathetic and supportive.

And this plastic-fast has changed the way I shop. I don’t do a huge shopping all in one store any longer. I know where I can go to buy certain things. These days, I’ll travel to get what I need, and have it packaged in a way I can countenance.

Sometimes, I shop by mail: for my giant tubs of cleaning liquids, for the coffee that comes from the roaster in a town an hour away. I know the first name of the guy who roasts my dark, rich decaf beans.

The rich aroma of those beans introduced me to our mail-carrier; after we talked, he decided to order the tub-o’-detergent, too. Now instead of friendly, distant nods, we exchange ideas about mindful shopping, about buying in bulk, about how we can maybe save a little money by shopping a whole new way.

Those savings can offset the extra I spend on butcher shop meats, which are fresher and more local and less infused with added chemical mysteries.

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So I shop differently.

I cook differently.

The way I clean my house has changed.

I got a notification today that the cosmetics I ordered from Lush, a company committed to sustainable packaging, are on their way. The shampoo bar I ordered from them has NO wrapper; they call it ‘naked’ packaging.

My niece Meg sent me a link about Lush. She got it from Michelle, a woman she’d gone to grammar school with. Michelle is committed to living a responsible, sustainable life, and she often posts about it on her Facebook page.

Michelle is one of my former sixth graders; I taught her almost thirty years ago. After getting Meg’s message, I sent Michelle a Facebook friend request. I learned that she is now a sixth-grade teacher, too, although her subject is science, not English.

We promised that we would send each other ideas or breakthroughs or connections to new products.

I also connected with some bloggers who have been pursuing a plastic-free lifestyle, and followed new folks on Twitter, and some of them followed me back.

Because of the plastic-fast, I have connected and reconnected and made new connections. That is a wonderful benefit I couldn’t foresee.

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Mark wanders over as I type this. “I wonder,” he muses, pondering the dish detergent and the laundry soap, “what else we could buy in large quantities.”

If we buy big, if we buy bulk, we cut way back on packaging waste. We don’t shop as much. We save money.

We decide we’ll take a trip to a wholesale store a little closer to the city and see what we can find.

The boyos were tolerant and sometimes unamused when I started the whole plastic-free thing. But now I think they’ve come around, at least in certain areas.

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Lent is over; the time of fasting is almost at a close. On Sunday we could, if we liked, go back to the old habits.

But unlike swearing off chocolate bars, or beer, or soda pop, this Lenten experience has been a game-changer. This foray into a different kind of living was a skim on the surface, an exploration, and it’s leading to a deeper, more permanent plunge into the process of really making changes.

So this is my last Wednesdays-without-plastic post, but it won’t, of course, be the last time I mention, in this blog, my hope to live more mindfully and less wastefully. It’s not a special program anymore; it’s woven into everyday life. I’ve learned a lot this Lent. And one of the things I’ve learned is this: when I undertake to make one true change, unexpected others will ensue. This makes me wonder what else might shift, what other surprises are waiting to be discovered.

It seems like an appropriate discovery, even at my advancing age, to make as Easter approaches, as Spring surrounds us. New life is there, relentless sometimes, even when we don’t want to acknowledge it. And as long as I am here to do it, I might as well learn.

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Thinking Outside the Bag: Wednesdays Without Plastic

Sometimes we have to look for creative solutions.

I like to call it ‘thinking outside the plastic bag.’

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Mark came sidling into the kitchen with a confession as I washed some baking dishes.

“I don’t LIKE that homemade dish detergent,” he said. “Nothing feels CLEAN.”

I was scrubbing a pan in which I’d cooked pork chops. The glass pan, no matter how hard I scrubbed, felt greasy. I attacked it with a Brillo pad—probably not the best thing for the glass—and it got some better.

I got Mark’s point.

How do we balance plastic-freedom and cleanliness?

So I researched other homemade cleaners, unsuccessfully. I searched and searched for companies that offer non-plastic packaging. (I found only one, after hours of looking. And that one required that I sign up to receive a whole array of cleaning supplies every month. That is a commitment I don’t want to make. I just want my dish detergent.)

I did, however, find the mop I wanted on Amazon: it comes with a yarn-y kind of moppy part, but once that’s being laundered, I can replace it with anything I like. Soft clean strips of old t-shirts will do nicely, I think. (Old t-shirts are rapidly becoming my very good friends.)

When the yarn stuff is dirty, I can make my own refill…

I thought about a bucket for the mop, and then suddenly I discovered that I can order dish detergent in five-gallon buckets.

(“No!” many Internet zero-waste folks cried. “Don’t get plastic buckets!”)

We ordered the bucket. We got ourselves a funnel. We’ll load our own dish detergent into spare bottles, and when it’s finally done, we’ll have a new mop bucket. I think the five gallons of suds will last us for several months.

It is not a perfect solution. But it will buy us some time…time in which to further research the dish detergent issue.

And in that time, I won’t be recycling dish detergent containers.

I went ahead and ordered five gallons of laundry detergent, too.

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Jim came home from work and said, “Guess what? Janelle says the Campbell’s in Duncan Falls wraps everything in paper!”

I was surprised that James takes our plastic-free quest to work with him…surprised and gratified. I think. (I hope he’s not bemoaning the lack of cheese wrapped in plastic or the dearth of bony chicken… I hope he’s saying to his bosses, “Isn’t this cool, what we’re doing?” But I am not quite sure.)

So we took a ride yesterday.

I thought it was auspicious that the little market and gas station complex were called ‘The Redhead.’  We went in and found semi-sweet baking chocolate, in card paper sleeves, on sale. That made it worth the 17-minute drive, already.

Still red. Ish.

And then we met a tiny, sweet-natured, meat counter clerk. She processed my paper only request, nodded, and packed me up two packages of ground chuck (on sale! 2.79 a pound! And it looks so good…) and six lean pork chops.

When I asked for sliced American and a chunk of super sharp cheese, though, she reached for the plastic.

“May I have the cheese in paper, too?” I asked.

“You want your CHEESE in paper?” she blurted. Then she re-arranged her face.

“Of course,” she said. “Of course!”

She rallied quickly, though…

When we got to the checkout, the cashier picked up the cheese and scoffed.

“Who wrapped THIS?” she asked. When I told her I asked for it that way, she rolled her eyes and shrugged.

She snorted when, having forgotten to bring my canvas bags, I asked to have the groceries put in paper.

But we can brave a little skepticism for plastic-free meat and cheese.

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And then, one night, I thought, “College town.”

There is a little town, Granville, the site of Dennison University, not far from here. It has a library and a couple of chocolatiers that we love, and it has, too, a little IGA. There are gentle, fun, funky folks in this town…the kind that talk about recycling issues at town council meetings.

Surely, in a town like that, the plastic-free request would not seem weird.

I dragged Jim on a road trip to Granville. We hit the library and spent a happy 45 minutes browsing there, and then we went to the IGA.

The butcher there, a tall, spare, youngish man, didn’t flinch.

The answer from the butcher in a little college town…

“Of course,” he said. “I can put whatever you want in paper. I can’t guarantee you we didn’t receive it in a big plastic container, but I can package it for you in paper.”

Again, not perfect. But we’re getting there.

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So the mop and the dishes and the laundry and the cheeses…sorted for the time being. Tomorrow I’ll try baking with my new gluten-free flour mix. Compromises and creative thinking, I hope.

Still looking for a make-up solution, though…