Posted by Johanna Rehbaum

As I have prepared for our upcoming Lenten focus on simplicity, I have been moved toward endeavoring a bit of an anti-plastic crusade. I have to say: trying to live without plastic (or

at least with less plastic, as I don’t intend to go off the deep end on this… Read: I’m not going to start brushing my teeth with baking soda. I have limits.) has actually been really fun and helpful, for at least three reasons:

1) I have to think creatively about different options. If I can’t get this item in the form I’m used to, what other form can I get it? Is there a more natural alternative? Is there another vessel I could put it in? Could I buy that food in bulk somewhere? If I need to go elsewhere to get it in bulk, what else can I get at that store to make the trip worth it? Just because I have always done something one way doesn’t mean it is the best way, and certainly doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it that way.

2) I have to constantly evaluate what is really important to me. If I can’t find other options, or am unwilling to use those other options, I think, “Okay then, how essential is this really to my life? Can I do without it?” Often the answer is yes, which then helps another aspect of the whole striving for simplicity thing I’m going for here. (But again: I’m not quitting brushing my teeth. I did buy natural toothpaste.)

3) It is a concrete activity that reminds me, on a regular basis, of the impact of my seemingly harmless actions. The women who wrote the book that got me going on this crusade (Plastic-Free: How I Kicked My Plastic Habit and You Can Too) was first moved toward this effort because she saw this picture (right) of an albatross who had eaten plastic, thinking it was food. When the bird died, the plastic remained in his stomach, completely intact – because nothing about plastic is biodegradable and certainly not digestible. So I think, “Oh, this lighter stopped working,” and I toss it out. No biggie, right? Except it is, because now it is inside this innocent bird’s belly. That is a problem – for my faith, and for my status as a human and citizen of this planet.

The other thing I have noticed is that pretty much all of the plastic-free alternatives are actually much, much better for my personal health, and often my wallet. They avoid processed food. They encourage homegrown things and whole foods, generally bought in bulk. They result in me knowing exactly what is in things I’m putting in or on my body, because I made it myself. They involve making things (not just food!) myself because the version you can buy is not only cased in plastic, but is also loaded with chemicals. So not only am I avoiding the plastic of the store-bought laundry detergent, I am also avoiding the chemicals, AND the cost of all those chemicals that at the end of the day work just the same as something homemade. All it took was about 10 minutes of my time. Is saving 10 minutes really worth it?

The bad news, of course, is that for many people, 10 minutes saved is really worth it. And perhaps they also make enough money to buy something already made (but loaded with chemicals and packaged in plastic), so just picking this up off the shelf and saving the few minutes of hand grating bar soap is, for them, totally worth it.

Turns out, living simply is not the same as living easily. You’d think that simplicity might go hand-in-hand with convenience, because convenience makes our lives easier. Not so. Living simply takes a little bit of work at first (maybe even a lot), as you figure out how to change habits that have been ingrained and try to find alternatives that work for you. But aren’t most things like that? When I started cooking, I had to check a recipe five times to make sure I was doing the right thing. I had to figure it out as I went along. Recipes that allegedly took 30 minutes to prepare took me an hour, or even longer if I had to throw it out and start over because I had ruined it. But now what took me an hour only takes me 45 minutes, and I trust that if I keep cooking, then maybe next year I will actually be able to make recipes in the amount of time the recipes says it will take.

Part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Yes, learning to live simply can be difficult at first. But even at this early point in my journey, the payoffs are so, so good. I feel good about myself as I fill a fabric bag with bulk food instead of a plastic one, smiling as I notice people see me do this with a face that says, “Huh, I hadn’t thought to do that.” Local and ethically raised food is a little more expensive, it’s true, but it turns out food isn’t cheap to raise and make, and knowing I am paying what it is worth (and what the workers are worth!) makes me happy. When I pour my homemade laundry detergent in the washer, I smile knowing that, over the course of my lifetime, I will be contributing dozens upon dozens of fewer empty plastic jugs to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To me, these joys that I find are absolutely worth the little bit of extra effort I have to make up front.

What I’ve done so far:
* I have always brought my own grocery bags, as well as bags into other stores. In addition, I have now acquired some mesh produce bags and organic cotton bulk food bags, which I dutifully bring with me to the grocery.

* I have located and gone to our local co-op, Abundance (great name, right??) and explored what they have to offer, which includes a great bulk food section where you can get pasta, nut butters, various grains and cereals, and even toiletries in bulk.

* I am trying the “No ‘Poo Method” of hair-care. Cosmetics are almost always in plastic bottles, and also almost always loaded with chemicals that are not tested or approved. (Watch this video for some horrifying truths about The Story of Cosmetics.) In fact, there are hardly anyregulations on hygiene products! So far, I am a week into either not washing my hair, or washing it with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and the result: my hair is falling into really nice curls and isn’t frizzy at all, which is exactly what they said would happen. So far it feels a little but heavy at the roots (my scalp is still adjusting to having to produce less oil), but it doesn’t look dirty.

* Also in the personal hygiene area, I’m going to switch to bar soap made of natural ingredients and wrapped in paper as soon as my current products are gone. Handmade soaps look, smell, and feel so
lovely anyway. (I’m stoked to go to the Lilac Festival and stock up this spring!)

* One more hygiene item: I have the ingredients to make my own deodorant. Especially as a breast cancer survivor, do I really need to be putting chemical grossness on my armpits – especially right after they have ben shaved, this seems like a terrible idea. (I had already switched to natural deodorant, but it is cased in, you guessed it, plastic.)

* I have started asking that when people ship things to me, they do is plastic free. So far, it is working! Yes, you can ask this! They may not do it, but you can always ask. The package pictured on right is from an etsy.com artist (got my love some custom-made cufflinks for Valentine’s Day!), and you’ll probably find most Etsy dealers will be happy to comply. (Plus, you’ll be supporting small business and hand crafts, and hardly anything on Etsy is plastic, so what else could you want?) In this case, the only plastic was the tape.

* I have been making my own laundry detergent for several months already with great success. I use this recipe.

* I have started refusing straws at restaurants. Someday, maybe I’ll get this straw.

As you can see, they are all pretty small steps, but I have more in mind: I’m going to try to be better about bringing empty containers to restaurants so I can put leftovers and take out in them. I will acquire a stainless steel water bottle soon, but I’m fairly attached right now to my plastic one, for some reason. I’m very interested in something like this to substitute for saran wrap and plastic baggies (which I do wash and reuse), and I’m considering buying a tiffin for my lunches.

Well, what do you think? Are you convinced to try? What small steps can you take? Come to our midweek Lenten gatherings and learn more!


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