The audio version of this post is below:
Lately friends have been apologizing for using plastic bags in front of me but I swear it’s okay. I’m not trying to coerce anyone. Plus if they end up at my house, I can recycle them. 🙂
Personally though I’ve been hatching a plan to get rid of them completely. We’ve been making a concerted effort not to use ziploc bags in favor of glass jars and I’m moving away from tupperware as well.
When I was reading Bea Johnson’s blog a few months ago, she said something that stuck with me. It was “How am I going to get rid of this when I’m done with it?” It’s a step up from “do I need this?” and even a step up from “can I live without this?”
When I think of recycling, I think of throwing whatever in the bin and that waste product being formed into a new product indefinitely. It turns out that’s not the case. Recycling has been described as a violent process, which some materials tolerate better than others.
To view recycling in action, check out this video:
So what materials are the easiest to “get rid of” when you’re done with them? Metals like steel, copper and aluminum can be recycled indefinitely, as can glass containers (but not glass cookware, windows and lightbulbs since they are manufactured using a different process). They can hold up to the rigorous recycling process without any loss in quality or purity. Steel, copper, aluminum and glass are also never toxic to the environment if they are not recycled.
Plastic, on the other hand, has different properties. Most plastics degrade during the recycling process and can only be recycled once. They also have harmful effects environmentally when they end up in nature. A recent study found that eight million tons of plastic is dumped in the oceans each year. Why is this bad? According to National Geographic, “Ocean plastic has turned up literally everywhere. It has been found in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice. It has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife.”
For kicks I did look into whether glass and metal containers caused any harm to the environment and wasn’t able to find much. I did find these images of a glass covered beach in North Carolina, which are a sharp contrast to these images of plastic in the environment.
Which is all to say that I’d like to vote with my wallet and move away from plastics in my life. As my tupperware dies, I don’t intend to replace it so I needed to start coming up with a different solution.
I was inspired to reconsider mason jars by my friend Tracy who cans hundreds of things every year, by Bea Johnson, and my Ball dissolvable labels (more on this later).
I’ve tried reusing glass jars from products we buy in the past but had two major hurdles to overcome (I’m a freak about this, sorry!).
First, the labels could not remain on the jar. I grew up never being able to tell what exactly was in my grandmother’s fridge because she stored everything in margarine tubs, so mislabeled items (e.g. flax seeds in salsa jars) was out of the question.
Secondly, I would need an easy way to label them again since I would be removing items from their original packaging (or hopefully eventually buying it in bulk without packaging).
My first experiment was with a Tostito’s Salsa jar. I boiled off the label and it left an incredibly sticky residue all over the jar. I didn’t take a picture of that one, but repeated it with Wegman’s Salsa.
This sticky stuff makes me lose my mind. The Chemical Engineer (my husband) said he thought acetone or isopropyl alcohol would remove it. I tried with no luck – even soaking didn’t help. And of course I tried dish soap, which we all know doesn’t work but I had to try again anyway. He had some other crazy ideas and said he could remove it at work with a fume hood, but I thought we’d wait a minute to pull out the big guns.
I turned to Google and found one measly article about using peanut butter to remove it, which may have been one of the stupider things I’ve ever read.
Or so I thought. I let it sit overnight and put it in the dishwasher. It turns out my skepticism came back to bite me.
That’s right. It worked. I went on to try olive oil and that worked even better – the glue came off immediately with no soaking or anything more than a quick rub. The chemical engineer said results may vary depending on the type of glue that was used and I haven’t tried every type of label, but I am feeling pretty optimistic.
I also discovered some snazzy dissolvable labels I’ve been ridiculously excited about for entirely too long. I thought for a minute I could tell the difference between basmati and jasmine rice by looking at it dry, but it turns out I can’t. Since I want to move away from my laminated tape labeler, I was over the moon about discovering dissolvable labels. I guess it’s the little things.
Of course, you can also get mason jars on Amazon and we’ve bought several cases from Walmart to jump start our new habit. I’ve been prepacking jars with leftovers and freezing them for the Chemical Engineer to take to work (if he runs out he resorts to prepared frozen Asian food from the freezer aisle), which I never did with tupperware since it didn’t freeze as well.
It’s interesting that I’ve hesitated to have too much tupperware because it gets so disorganized but I feel like I can’t own enough glass jars. They’re so useful! You can use them as cups, transport liquids without worrying about spillage, can, freeze, and recycle indefinitely. Glass also doesn’t stain.
Mason jars also keep things much fresher. The Chemical Engineer says this is physics – glass offers a better (thicker) barrier to air than ziplocs (and I’m guessing also tupperware, but that’s just speculation).
We also have large Anchor Hocking jars for the big stuff.
I’m not really sure why this never occurred to me before, but I feel like I just had a religious experience. On my horizon now is figuring out where I can source bulk items to avoid packaging in the first place! I just discovered this app on the Zero Waste Home blog that I’m hoping will have some information on Rochester.