Two Year Anniversary of Life Less Plastic!

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

It’s been two years since I started writing this blog and trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use. It’s been a crazy ride, filled with lots of ups and downs, including but not limited too…

The Ups

  • Successfully figuring out how to use less plastic.
  • Educating myself about plastic, waste, and other environmental issues that I never thought about before.
  • Experiencing endless support from family, friends, co-workers, and readers.
  • Watching the readership and comments on my blog grow and grow. It’s been great to know that people are interested in what I’m doing.
  • Being featured in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, Positively Green Magazine, and on NPR, the BBC website, and Forecast Earth, the Weather Channel’s environmental website (click the links for the stories).

The Downs

  • Trying to figure out how to reduce the plastic I use. The first few months were really tough because I had to completely rethink everything I buy.
  • Using plastic, even though I write this blog. I hate it, but it happens on occasion and I usually feel like I’m deceiving people. It’s just hard not to give into my weaknesses for coffee and fancy cheeses.
  • Being scared that people will think I’m a freak. Not conforming is hard, even if it’s with something like not using plastic. For a long time a didn’t even have the guts to tell my co-workers about what I’m doing.

Through all of these ups and downs, there have been many people who have supported me, which I have appreciated immensely.

The Thanks Yous

  • My family – Thanks to my Mom and Dad for always being interested in and supportive of what I’m doing, and thanks to my siblings for providing ideas, commentary, and general well wishes. Thanks also go out to my family for making the effort to create my first plastic-free Christmas and my second one.
  • My friends – Thanks to all of my friends who have put up with my plastic-free-ness. It’s always appreciated. Additional thanks to a certain someone who had to put up with me when I was first figuring out what I was doing. I know it was annoying, so thanks for being patient!
  • My co-workers, who are also my friends – Why was I so scared to tell you at first? Thanks so much for all your support and positive feedback (and for not being too mad that I waited to tell you about this project).
  • Life Less Plastic readers – Thank you for all of your interest, as well as for your thoughtful and supportive comments. Some of you have been with me on this ride since the beginning, and I dearly appreciate everything you have contributed.

The Blog Contest
To mark my two year anniversary, I’ll be hosting another blog contest in the near future. Check back soon for the details.

And thanks again to everyone!

Homemade Apple Butter

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

I made homemade apple butter for the first time! And I even canned it myself!

I made it in the crock pot using this recipe (but with half the sugar) and then used this page for instructions on how to can it.

The verdict? Apple butter is delicious and VERY easy to make—even for a newbie like me.

I just prepared an apple sauce the evening before, dumped it in the crock along with some cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and salt in the morning, and when I came home from work, my apple butter was almost finished. It just needed to simmer in the pot on high for one more hour.

The canning on the other hand was not so easy. I had never canned anything before, and I didn’t have the right supplies. I figured, eh, I’ll manage.

Bad idea. I definitely needed a wire rack for my pot to avoid upsetting the lids of the jars as I was lifting them out of the boiling water. I also needed some sort of funnel. I made a HUGE mess pouring the apple butter into the jars.

All said and done, though, I was successful and now have tons of delicious apple butter. And once it’s all gone, I can re-use my jars again and again (which will hopefully help me get better and more efficient at canning). Yay!

Note: If you want to skip the canning stage, you can always make your jam and freeze in in freezer-safe Ball jars. It can’t get any easier!

Eating Healthier

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

Hello All! It’s been a while since I posted, and I wanted to provide an update on what’s going with me.

I’m still living a mostly plastic-free life, except I’ve recently made a few important changes to my anti-plastic pledge.

First, in an effort to do some serious weight loss, I’ve decided to forgo my plastic pledge in the rare occasion that being plastic-free forces me eat food that isn’t the best for me.

For example, if I don’t have time to make a lunch before work and I have to go to a restaurant to grab something, I have decided to choose getting a salad (even if it comes in a plastic shell) over a less healthy sandwich.

Second, I have also started buying bagged lettuce on occasion. I’ve been doing this because I want to incorporate more salad greens into my diet and I’m getting pretty sick of spinach, one of the only plastic-free leafy vegetables I can find.

When all is said and done, these few changes will not amount to much plastic used. Maybe one plastic clamshell (or less) and a few plastic bags per month.

Still, I’m unhappy to start using more plastic, but it’s something I have to do for myself and my health.

Update: It’s several months later, and I’m no longer buying salads in plastic shells or bags. Maybe I’m saying this because it’s almost summer and the farmers markets are starting up, but who needs it!

Starting a Vintage Etsy Shop

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

From the very beginning, this whole Life Less Plastic experiment has involved buying things second-hand. I’ve often found myself in need of something made of plastic (e.g. once I needed a dish drainer, although I guess I actually found my current one on top of my neighbors garbage can), so I’ve just gone down to the thrift store or to a garage sale and found whatever I needed.

As you may expect, with all of this second-hand shopping, I’ve also found many great vintage and antique items.

Since I’ve really come to love discovering these unexpected treasures, I’ve decided to take the next logical step… Starting an Etsy Shop!

You can find my shop, Rainy Penguin Vintage, at

I actually started the shop in late January, and I’ve already made lots of sales. If you get the chance, please visit and take a look at all the beautiful, bold, and bright vintage items I’m selling.

Thanks so much!

News and Confessions

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

I’ve got something exciting to share! I’m going to interviewed by someone from a major news network on Tuesday. Yay!

But before I tell the whole world about my life not using plastic, I have to confess that I’ve had some moments of weakness over the past 7 or 8 months. I think it’s really important to be honest about this, so I want to share a list of the plastic I’ve used.

Here it is:

  • 1 silverware drawer organizer (mentioned in my last post)
  • 1 watch with synthetic band (it might be leather, though; mentioned in my last post)
  • 4 plastic produce bags (while in Romania)
  • 4 single-serve yogurts
  • 2 large containers of yogurt
  • 1 container of sour cream
  • 1 box of grape nuts
  • 1 bottle of ketchup
  • 1 container of cranberries
  • 1 container of almonds
  • 1 bag of coffee beans
  • 9 plastic clamshells of salad (due to my getting health vow as mentioned in a previous post)
  • 6 to-go coffees with plastic lids (why is coffee always the ruin of me?)
  • 4 bottles of shampoo (still trying to fend off the dandruff)
  • 1 bottle of spray gel
  • 1 container of foundation makeup
  • 1 blush
  • 1 plastic baggie

I feel pretty bad about using all of this stuff, but after doing the whole plastic-free thing for 2.5 years now, it has been hard to resist the temptation of buying plastic-packaged stuff on occasion.

I guess all I can do is move forward and keep trying.

Plastic-Free Hair Care: The Saga Continues

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

It’s been two and a half years since I went “less-plastic,” and I still can’t figure out how to wash my hair. It really annoys me.

Because I know you’re incredibly interested, here’s a timeline that explains a bit of what I’ve been going through.

Really Important Hair Care Timeline

  • After three months of being no ‘poo, it was suddenly not alright. I got horrible dandruff and had to start using Head and Shoulders so that my flaky scalp didn’t take over my life and turn me into a social recluse.
  • My dandruff disappeared.
  • After my bottle of Head and Shoulders was gone, I washed my hair with some seriously yummy-smelling mango bar soap from Abbey Brown, an artisan soap maker based in Chicago. It worked okay, but it left my hair feeling flat.
  • Then, the dreaded dandruff returned.
  • I started using Head and Shoulders, and the dandruff went away. But then Head and Shoulders started GIVING me dandruff! “How is this possible?,” I wanted to know.
  • I bought a bottle of Pantene out of desperation (please don’t judge me!).
  • My dandruff disappeared, again.

I’m finishing off this bottle of Pantene right now and my hair is dandruff-free, feels fantastic, and looks pretty good (I think). Alas, everything has a price. On top of coming in a plastic bottle, the shampoo I’m using is listed as a “moderate hazard” on the Skin Deep Database.

For me, this means that using Pantene isn’t a viable long-term solution to my hair care problem, so I’ve started looking for new options through the internetz and on, a fantastic online marketplace dedicated to handmade products.

Here’s what I’ve tried so far.

Conditioner Bar by Nourish Bath and Body
I used a Rosemary Mint Solid Conditioner Bar made by Nourish Bath and Body, which I actually received free from the producer. The conditioner left my hair smelling really nice and feeling good. It didn’t provide that deep condition that commercial conditioners give you, but it came close. All in all, I’d give this bar a grade of “B.” I would have given the product an “A”, but it does have a few ingredients listed in the Skin Deep database as moderate hazards. Note: the bar comes in a vellum wrapper that’s made of 10% plastic. Christine said she would be glad to send soap without the wrapper. You just have to mention that you don’t want the wrapper in the purchase notes.

Syndet Shampoo Bar from Arcadia Aromatics
I’ve also tried the Syndet Coconut Solid Shampoo Bar from Arcadia Aromatics, which I purchased on Etsy. This product works exactly like regular shampoo and smells absolutely fanstastic. If you’re a coconut person like me, you’ll love it. That said, I’m giving this shampoo a “B” because it also has ingredients listed as moderate hazards in the Skin Deep database. Note: I didn’t ask the seller about the packaging before I purchased this (you know what they say about assuming), and I was unhappy to discover that it comes in a plastic container. I haven’t checked with the seller yet, but I’m hoping they’d be willing to send the soap sans the plastic. I’ll provide an update once I know.

The Saga Continues
And that’s where I am now—I’m using up my Pantene and using my new shampoo and conditioners bars. The stuff I have now should last me a long time, but I’ll be sure to try new products and provide more reviews once I run out. As probably the only person ever featured in Time Magazine because of their hunt for a perfect shampoo, I guess it’s kind of my duty.

Heck, maybe at the end of all my these trials, I’ll actually figure out how to wash my hair. It’s doubtful, but I’ll never, never stop hoping.

In the News: Plastic Panic

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

There’s an interesting article by Jerome Groopman in the most recent New Yorker. It’s called Plastic Panic, and it focuses on the bisphenol A controversy, while also exploring why the effects of chemicals on the human body are so difficult difficult to determine.

In addition, it provides info on chemical legislation in the United States and demonstrates that the U.S. is in need of some serious reform.

Here are a few interesting bits from from the article on this subject:

  • “The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, does not require manufacturers to show that chemicals used in their products are safe before they go on the market; rather, the responsibility is placed on federal agencies, as well as on researchers in universities outside the government. The burden of proof is so onerous that bans on toxic chemicals can take years to achieve, and the government is often constrained from sharing information on specific products with the public, because manufacturers claim that such information is confidential.”
  • “According to the E.P.A., some eighty-two thousand chemicals are registered for use in commerce in the United States, with about seven hundred new chemicals introduced each year. In 1998, the E.P.A. found that, among chemicals produced in quantities of more than a million pounds per year, only seven per cent had undergone the full slate of basic toxicity studies.”

Not good. Very not good.

Dear readers, I ask you to take a gander at this article so that you can get informed about this issue (if you’re not already). It’s an important one.

Related blog post : Better Chemical Regulation

Toxic America: Life Less Plastic Makes a Visit to Your Living Room

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

On June 2 and 3, CNN will air Toxic America, a two-part special hosted by Sanjay Gupta that focuses on the unregulated and dangerous chemicals that we come in contact with on a daily basis.

I’m very excited about the special, first, because I think it addresses a topic people really need to hear about and, second, because it is supposed to include a segment about me! Craziness!

As far as I know, the segment about my experiences giving up plastic is supposed to air on Thursday, June 3rd as part of the Toxic Childhood portion of the show. Please tune in!

Storing Vegetables Without Plastic in the Refrigerator

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

When I store veggies in the fridge, I typically just toss them on the shelf or put them in a glass container. Recently, though, I was wondering if there are better ways that would keep my veggies fresher. Lucky for me, Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish recently did a post on this. And just in time for farmers’ market season.

The post links to an awesome little flyer done by the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. It’s called How To: Store Fruits and Vegetables: Tips and tricks to extend the life of your produce without plastic.


p.s. This isn’t in the brochure, but to store parsley or cilantro, I just put them in a glass of water (like flowers in a vase) and put them in the fridge. It’s a plastic-free solution and it helps them keep for a long time.

Worm Composting: I’ve Finally Gone and Done It

January 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Life Less Plastic

That’s right. I’ve finally gone out of my noodle and started vermicomposting!

What is vermicomposting, you ask? According to it is “a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

I know it sounds a little crazy, but indoor worm composting means producing less waste and using fewer plastic garbage bags–two things I really want to do to help the environment. For apartment dwellers, it may also be less likely to annoy your landlord than other composting methods, like the compost tumbler I tried to use, since he or she will probably never know about it.

To create my bin, I bought a few used, plastic bins off of Craigslist and used the following great instructional video by the Compost Guy.

After creating my bin, I started collecting my food scraps in a cut-off milk carton and storing them in the freezer. I also put in an online order for some red wiggler worms to the Compost Guy, the creator of the video.

The worms arrived to my office several days later (my apolgoies to our receptionist!).

When I opened the box, I was happy to see that they were still alive and wriggling around, despite spending a few extra days at the post office due to the rather strange workings of the Chicago postal service.

Once I got my worms home, I added my food scraps to my recently created bin, dumped in the worms, and closed up the bin (all according to the instructions, of course).

And that’s it. Now I’ve got an active vermicomposter that is turning my food waste into soil. It’s amazing.

And so far it doesn’t smell or have any fruit flies, although, on occasion, it probably will in the future. But that’s okay. There is tons of information on the internet on maintaining and troubleshooting worm bins, and working through the problems will be well worth it in the end.

For now though, everything is perfect, and I’m hoping it stays that way, at least for a little while!

(Note: For the small amount of garbage I produce, I use Seventh Generation bags made from 55% recycled plastic).

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