One place where we get completed inundated with plastic is when we go shopping. This is also the time, even right thinking anti plastic crusaders can and do get overwhelmed. There is almost nothing that you can touch at the store that does not have plastic in it. We are living in such a sterilised and sanitised world that we expect even fresh vegetables and fruits to be wrapped up nicely in plastic, probably with a statement proudly stating, "Untouched by human hand." What we need to realise is that the moment we encounter "fresh" fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic, they are anything but fresh.
Difficult though it may seem, there are ways and means through which you can reduce, if not eliminate the use of plastic. Here are some suggestions.
1. Shop at the local thrift stores instead of at the mall
Shopping at the mall is chic. The staff is well dressed, polite, speak well, are helpful and the environment is classy. We walk down the aisle and fill up the shopping cart with all the goodies we require, and then some. Here is an alternative. Shop at the friendly neighbourhood thrift store. Or what in India is called the kirana store. Buy your vegetables from the guy who sells fruits and vegetables rolling his cart through your residential colony ... come summer, winter or rain. But be careful ... refuse to accept the plastic bag will put everything in for you to carry the items the ten feet from the cart to your kitchen.
2. Carry reusable shopping bags
These days it so much easier for us to forget to carry a shopping bag. We have excuses. We will get a (plastic) shopping bag. How many bags do I carry? How big should they be? What if they get dirty? How do I carry the bags? There are enough and more excuses for not carrying a bag and just a single excuse for actually carrying them ... plastic screws up the environment. There are beautiful alternative-to-plastic shopping bags available. From cloth to jute to bioplastic. Take your pick. Do good for the environment while looking good carrying an alternative-to-plastic shopping bag.
3. Bring your own container for meat and prepared foods
Almost all neighbourhood colonies will have a butcher ... buy your meat and chicken and fish from them. And get the stuff packed in newspaper and not plastic. And then put this in the bag you carried from home knowing you are going to buy meat/chicken. Do not buy beautifully dressed meat/chicken at the Mall, nicely wrapped in a plastic package.
4. Buy milk on tap
Even as little as a couple of decades ago, people in India bought milk from the friendly neighbourhood milkman who went door to door selling milk that was procured from the cow pasturing at his home. Alternatively, we bought in glass bottles. How things have changed when we do not think twice about buying milk in plastic pouches or plastic-lined cardboard cartons. Rural and suburban India still buys "raw" milk and not packaged. In fact, even in the cities, we can still buy milk on tap by pushing a coin into a slot and have the milk pour into a container. But because of the easy availability of packaged milk, we do not carry a container to the store. It is time we started doing so all over again.
5. Let go of frozen convenience foods
Apart from the fact that frozen foods are packed in vacuum sealed plastic pouches, they are not fresh. There is probably a reason there are seasonal fruits and vegetables and by buying frozen foods, we are trying to negate the natural scheme of things. Fresh is always fresh and will always be healthier. Frozen food is for emergencies, stocked up for the time when a civil war breaks out in the city and the stores are shut for days. Buy fresh and eat fresh, it is good for you and it is good for the environment.
6. Choose plastic-free chewing gum
When you chew gum, you are actually chewing bits of synthetic rubbery material called polyisobutylene that's also used in the manufacture of inner tubes. Polyisobutylene is mixed with plasticisers and materials to make the gum mixture chewable. Some of the stuff that goes into a chewing gum are butadiene-styrene rubber, isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber), paraffin, petroleum wax, polyethylene, polyisobutylene polyvinyl acetate, etc. You really want to be chewing these?
7. Buy from bulk bins as often as possible
Even if you are at the cool and comfortable Mall buying your household groceries, look around. You might well find bulk bins with fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, lentils, beans, pretty much everything you need. Maybe not the oil or the chocolate or the cookies. Wherever possible, buy from bulk bins. They might actually be cheaper than the fancy packaged ones.
8. Say “no” to plastic produce bags
This is another reality of shopping at a Mall. Even if you are buying your fruits and vegetables from a bulk bin, you need to pack it in a produce bag. Often the guy at the counter will ask you to put the amount you want to buy in a produce bag so he can weigh and price it. Bad, bad idea. Insist on not having to use the plastic produce bag. There are a few eco-friendly produce bags available in the market that not only get your food home, but also store it in a manner that keeps them fresh longer.
9. Shop your local farmers market
We all need a holiday every once in a while, even if it is a day out with the kids and family. A drive to the countryside is often a choice people make. While you are at it, stop by at a village store and buy your fruits and vegetables there. They will be far fresher than you will find in the city and they will probably be a lot cheaper too.
10. Avoid anything with polyethylene listed as an ingredient
Just as you are about to drop that item in your cart, take a look at the label. If it lists polyethylene as an ingredient, put it back on the shelf and scout some more. Polyethylene is a polymer used in makeup products such as eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, eyebrow pencils, lipstick, blushers, face powders, foundations, skin cleansers, skin care products, etc. It dries to form a thin coating on skin, hair or nails. Used in oral care products, it polishes the teeth, reduces oral odour, or otherwise cleans or deodorises the teeth and mouth. You might be better off not buying most cosmetics, since most contain polyethylene.
11. Choose lotions and lip balms in plastic-free containers
Personal care is a problem for anyone wanting to live a plastic-free life. Most cosmetics contain plastic, while almost all come in plastic packaging. There is a case for using organic products, make-at-products, or deciding to reduce the use of artificial cosmetics altogether.
12. Choose toilet paper that’s not wrapped in plastic
Believe it or not, there are toilet paper rolls available that are wrapped in paper and not plastic. Becoming rarer by the day, so when you do come across a store selling paper wrapped toilet rolls, buy more than your immediate needs.
13. Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products
Try burning a conventional sanitary pad. It will burn with black smoke and leave behind a dark soot indicating the presence of petroleum. In fact, conventional sanitary pads can contain the equivalent of about four plastic bags! An adult healthy woman might end up using close to 20,000 sanitary pads and/or napkins in a lifetime.These hygiene products are worn next to skin and are easily absorbed through the skin into the blood stream, slowly but surely poisoning us.
14. Choose plastic-free hair accessories & tools
Need a comb? A hair brush? The only ones available are made of plastic? Look again. Try another store. Look through the many internet stores. Make the one you currently have and want to replace last just a little bit longer.
15. Look for plastic-free shoes
One item that we do not consider to be made of plastic are shoes. There are shoes and there are shoes, many of them contain plastic, at least in the soles. Buy leather shoes with rubber soles.