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…

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