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My Family Is Going Plastic-Free In January. At Least, We're Going To Try

We collected our plastic trash during December so that we can compare after a month of attempted plastic-free living. (Jill Replogle/LAist)
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My husband and I decided our family of four should try to quit single-use plastic for a month starting Jan. 1, 2019. It's our modest experiment in measuring our ability to opt out of what's become a massive, global pollution problem.

I've never made a New Year's resolution that required so much advanced planning. We made the decision a few months ago and we've been talking about and researching it ever since.

What will we use for trash bags? Where will we get tortillas? And tofu? Can we convince the deli counter worker at the supermarket to weigh and sell us cheese in tupperware we'll bring with us? How are we going to remember to keep all that tupperware in the car?

Plastic seems to cover, contain and cushion everything! And as diligent as we may think we are about recycling, only 9 percent of all plastic produced in the U.S. gets recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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A group of researchers estimated that in 2010, 8 million metric tons of plastic waste made its way to the ocean. That's equivalent to five grocery bags full of plastic dumped in the ocean along every foot of coastline in the world, University of Georgia scientist Jenna Jambeck told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

If our love affair with disposable plastic continues unabated, by 2050 the ocean could have more plastic than fish, pound-for-pound.

This is not an abstract reality for those of us who live by, and love, the coast. On a typical visit to Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach, I can fill a bag full of discarded straws, plastic cigar tips, single-use flossers, mylar balloons and fast food waste -- just on my path from the parking lot to the water!

So we wanted to see what we could do about curbing our own plastic consumption. We'll be keeping a diary that will be published here on LAist, and posting about our progress on Twitter.

We bought reusable flossers online. They came wrapped in plastic. (Jill Replogle/LAist)

Luckily, we're not the first ones to run such an experiment. The internet is full of blogs detailing people's plastic-free or zero-waste lives. We've found great resources on, for example, how to make your own toothpaste (We did, and it was easy. Effect on dental health TBD.)

But the lives of most of the people who write these blogs do not seem like mine. Sure, if you're single and can afford to shop exclusively at the farmer's market, or if you're a family with a yard to grow vegetables in, with a stay-at-home parent who has time to make granola bars and crackers, going plastic-free seems doable.

That's not us. My husband and I both work full-time at jobs that, ahem, aren't going to make us rich anytime soon. We have two snack-loving kids, ages 3 and 6. And we live in a small apartment with no yard. Our trash service doesn't even include recycling. (In theory, they separate out recyclable materials at the dump. I'll be looking into that.)

It seems so, SO easy to fail. I went to my local coffee shop to write this and ordered a cold brew. I know this shop has glasses, made of glass. And I did say it was "for here." Yet my drink showed up in a throw-away plastic cup. Fail. Good thing it's still December 31.

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At the same time, though, it feels like the plastic tide could be ebbing. California's new restrictions on plastic straws start Jan. 1. Los Angeles is considering banning them completely, while Malibu already did so and included plastic cutlery and drink stirrers in its ban.

In December, a Portuguese airline served its in-flight customers without using disposable plastic. !!!

Trash Inventoried, Grocery Receipts Documented

One of the things we want to know is whether it's cheaper or more expensive to go plastic-free. We kept our grocery receipts during the month of December so we can compare. On the one hand, loose fruits and vegetables are often more expensive than ones that come packaged in a plastic net. On the other hand, we often end up throwing some of that food away, so maybe we'll save money by buying only what we know we can eat.

We also inventoried our plastic during the month of December so we can see just how much less we're throwing away at the end of January.

Our plastic trash during the month included take-out containers, cereal bar wrappers, dental floss and the plastic container it came in, face cleanser, produce nets and .... so much more.

We inventoried everything we use that is transported in, wrapped in, or made of plastic. The list is long and we still haven't figured out good alternatives for some necessities. (Jill Replogle/LAist)

We also made a list of everything we use that comes in plastic, and whether we're going to go without it, find an alternative, or make it ourselves. Some items are still stumping us, like deodorant (googling now and, oh, here are some options!).

After an agonizing few hours browsing, trying to figure out what we needed to buy to prepare for our new plastic-free life, I made some orders, including silk dental floss in a little, glass jar. It came in a plastic-lined envelope.

I failed with the bamboo toothbrushes, too -- the bristles are made of nylon. I was on the verge of buying compostable garbage bags when I texted my husband and he wrote back that he'd heard they're not much better for the environment. (He's right, according to the online environmental magazine Grist.)

The point is, this isn't going to be easy. I'm not at all sure we're going to succeed. We may also find that plastic is the more environmentally sound option in some cases. But we're going to try to wean ourselves from unnecessary, landfill- and ocean-bound plastic, and along the way, hopefully, inspire others to give it a try.

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