November Update

We worked on a lot of things in the month of November.  Some went well, some…not so well.  Let’s do a monthly round-up!

#1: Throw away less, recycle more

This month I made a concerted effort to be good about recycling whenever possible.  I found myself checking the bottom of plastic containers more than ever before.  I also walked things over to the recycling bins upstairs and downstairs to make sure we were recycling instead of tossing.  I found more recyclable items than I thought I would.  Hooray!  It seemed that our recycling bin was overflowing almost every week.  I’d love to take credit for that but honestly, a lot of the recycling was boxes from stuff we purchased.  I’ll still take it as a win!  We get a smiley!

# 2 – Reduce the number of one-time plastic bags we use

The goal with this one for November was to get less than 15 plastic bags.  I thought FOR SURE we’d be a winner on this one.  And would have been, had I not forgotten my reusable produce bags when I went to the market two weeks ago.  DOH!  Of course, this was the market where I buy all my produce and I was buying groceries because we were having company over.  Darn it!  Other than that one big loser trip, I only picked up four bags – one from Albertsons (I had bags with me but even then, these folks insist on putting only one item in a bag and putting it in my cart!), one from the tools at Radio Shack, a produce bag for some ground turkey, and a taco bell bag.  Sucks but we didn’t make it this time.  I used 17 bags.

#3 – Stop using SLS/SLES shampoos

I started using shampoo again but with no Sodium Laurel Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate.  So I get a smiley.  I’m working on finishing up the bottles of soap and other items I have with SLS in it and then we’re going all natural when possible!  I bought a natural face wash from Alba that I’m looking forward to trying.  Just need to get through some of what I have already.


#5 – Eat Homemade meals at least four times a week

We aren’t the kind of people who sit around at home.  Between travel, family and friends, we stay pretty busy.  Also, hurting my back threw a wrench in our eating at home plans.  In general, though, I’m pretty pleased with how this is going.  I find that we opt to eat out waaaay less frequently than we used to.  In November especially, I ate lunch at home almost every weekday.  I’m not running out to go get food anymore.  I think my habits are changing.  I’m also finding that rather than saying “hey, can you pick something up on your way home from work,” I’m taking a quick look in the cupboard and the refrigerator to see what we can do that’s quick and filling.  With this goal, my intent was to change my habits and I feel that’s taking place.  So I’m kind of torn on this.  Technically, I think we met the goal only 2-3 times out of the four weeks but on the other, I do think we’re changing habits.  I’ll give it a straight face.

#10 – Limit Fast Food to Once a Month

The goal for November was to get my fast food eating down to two times or once every other week.  I only intentionally got fast food once.  So that was good.  A few days later, though, my husband asked me if I wanted anything from McDonald’s for breakfast and without even thinking about it, I said sure.  So we had McDonald’s for breakfast and it didn’t even occur to me that I had had fast food until the next day.  Sneaky sneaky.  So I refrained from getting fast food the rest of the month.  Technically I didn’t have it every other week, I had it twice in one week, but I still met the goal of having it twice in one month.  Yay!

#11 – Limit Soda to Once a Month

Starting on November 1st, hubby and I decided to give up refined sugar with the intent to start kicking our sugar habit.  In my mind, I’d go cold turkey for at least 21 days (supposedly it takes 21 days to form a habit) and then I would allow myself sweet stuff every so often.  Again, the intent here was to break a bad habit and change my behaviors.  We were successful until Thanksgiving, when I had pecan pie, pumpkin holes,a cookie and a sliver of pumpkin pie, all over the long weekend.  Oh ya and I also got a Dr. Pepper, and shared a couple iced teas with hubby.  Sigh.  BUT the good news is that I think I kicked my soda habit!  Only one soda this month even though according to my plan, I could have had two!

All in all, I think we’re headed in the right direction.  Might be time to pursue some more items on the the list!

Using fewer plastic bags

Now that we’ve been trying for a month, I thought it would be a good time to do an update on #2 on the LIST – Reduce the number of one-time use plastic bags we use.  This one has been going surprisingly well.  In October, my goal was to use 15 bags or less.  I believe we used only SEVEN bags:

  • One from Target for some books I bought for my daughter
  • One from The LEGO store – I was chatting with the cashier and didn’t even realize that he handed me a bag.  This one really chapped my hide because I didn’t even need it!  It was just one little box that I could have put in the stroller basket!  Argh.
  • Bags that came with our take-out meals – probably about 5 times.  Eep.

After about a week of this, I realized I needed to have some more rules around this goal.  I decided that it’s ok if my husband brings bags in if I’m not with him – I’m not trying to shove my stuff down his throat but the good news is that I know he’s giving it an earnest try to avoid bags – I know he said “I don’t need a bag” a couple times this month.  I encourage him to take bags with him to the grocery store and he does.  Yay him!

The first week, I actually didn’t have my reusable produce bags so I took plastic bags that I had from before back to the market and reused them.  I felt a little funny but it was no big deal; the cashier didn’t even seem to notice that some weren’t their bags. I had bought 10 of them and that seems to be enough for us so far.  If I need more, I might try to make some with my mom with some tulle.

I’ve also been keeping and using the reusable bags I bought in my purse/diaper bag.  They’ve really come in handy and I like the way they look – so that encourages me to use them!  Score!  I think it was a good buy.

It’s funny – Even though I say “I don’t need a bag for that” to cashiers, I’m surprised at how often they start stuffing my items into a bag anyway.  It’s just habit, I guess.  So sometimes I have to interrupt them and remind them.  It’s working!


#2 on the LIST – Reduce the number of one-time use bags we use

Like everyone else, we’ve been embracing the trend to bring your own bags to the grocery store.  I used to bring paper bags back to Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s because they were just piling up like crazy and I hated just throwing them out.  Trader Joe’s would enter you into a raffle for a gift card (I must have entered 75 times and nuthin’. Nada. Zip. Zilch) and Ralph’s gives you a 5 cent discount for each bag you resuse.  Not bad, but then TJ’s started selling the canvas and plastic reusable bags so I bought a couple of those.  Then I would promptly forget to take them with me and now would have reusable bags plus the paper bags.  So I’ve been working on that.  We pretty much always take the reusable bags to the farmers market and I probably take the reusable bags in with me to the market 75% of the time.

Where I fail usually is when I go to retailers other than grocery stores.  I never have a bag with me at Target or Macy’s.  If it’s something small, I try to carry it in my hand or in the stroller but I’ll admit it makes a bit of a mess because often it ends up strewn all over my car.  Anyhoo, I want to do better.  I want to really cut down on the number of bags we bring into the house because they clutter up my home and end up making more waste than we need.

I do often re-use the bags to line our garbage cans throughout the house and sometimes I keep a couple bags in my diaper bag for when I don’t have my wetbag to store wet diapers in but other than that, I find myself throwing them away or recycling them.  So why not do something about it?

Define the Problem

I started looking for some shocking facts about how evil these things are because I’m feeling a bit like a drama queen tonight.  Baby woke up FOUR (count ’em FOUR) times last night.  I’m tired and have been eating some serious sugar to get me through the day.  I’m feeling a little sick at this point but wait.  I may be wandering off topic now.  Regroup.

Here’s what I found on (keep in mind they make plastic bags for a living, so take it with a grain of salt):

  • Approx. 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year.
  • Approx. 100 billion of the 380 billion are plastic shopping bags.
  • An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.
  • Only 1 to 2% of plastic bags in the USA end up getting recycled.
  • Thousands of marine animals and more than 1 million birds die each year as a result of plastic pollution.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean.
  • Plastic bags are often mistakenly ingested by animals, clogging their intestines which results in death by starvation. Other animals or birds become entangled in plastic bags and drown or can’t fly as a result.
  • Even when they photo-degrade in landfill, the plastic from single-use bags never goes away, and toxic particles can enter the food chain when they are ingested by unsuspecting animals.
  • Greenpeace says that at least 267 marine species are known to have suffered from getting entangled in or ingesting marine debris. Nearly 90% of that debris is plastic.
  • Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags per year. Approximately 14 million trees are cut down every year for paper bag production.
  • Most of the pulp used for paper shopping bags is virgin pulp, as it is considered stronger.
  • Paper production requires hundreds of thousands of gallons of water as well as toxic chemicals like sulphurous acid, which can lead to acid rain and water pollution.

So some of these seem hard to believe but no matter how you slice it, we can do better.  The good news is that towns across the nation are starting to ban them.  Now my little family of three doesn’t consume thousands of bags a year but we too can do better.  I don’t have a baseline of our usage so I’m going to set a goal around keeping our usage small.  So let’s try.

The Goal

Reduce the number of one-time use bags that I bring into the house to just 15 bags a month.  That might sound like a lot but keep in mind that this will include produce bags (which I’m using more of – yay!? or boo?  I dunno.), shopping bags from the mall/target/grocery stores, bags from when we pick up food, etc.  I’ve easily brought home 15 bags of just produce and groceries in one mere week.  And the holidays are a-comin’ so there will be more shopping going on.  If this goal is too lofty or too easy, I’ll readjust in a few months.  We’ll start in October.

How I’m going to get there

Well, I have bags that I use at the market.  Because I’m always forgetting them when I need them, I need some strategies.  Here are some things that I think will help:

  • I usually have a stroller with me these days and the stroller has a convenient basket underneath that I can use to store stuff.
  • My car has a cargo net that I can put stuff in loosely without a bag
  • I hang the shopping bags on a closet that’s next to the garage door, which I always leave through.  That way, even if I forget on my way to the car, I can quickly run inside and get the bags without having to look for them.
  • Use my gTote as a diaper bag more often – it’s a good sized, sturdy bag and there’s usually extra room in it after putting baby’s stuff in there.  It’s made out of recycled sails from sail boats.  Cool, huh?  It looks like this:

  • I just spent $16 on reusable bags.  Sounds silly, I know.  In general, I’m cheap and it seems strange to buy bags that I’ve always gotten for free.  I bought these for produce to cut back on all those bags.  I considered making them myself for a few seconds but let’s get real here.  I’d like to be crafty.  But I’m not.  And I would hate myself even more if I bought the materials and then they just sat there taking up more space.  I want to move on this, not lag.  If you are crafty, here’s a great tutorial.
  • I will look through the house and see what other bags/boxes I can keep in the cars for easy access.
  • I also purchased these to keep in my purse/diaper bag so that I always have something with me.  They’re cute too, right?

What do you do to limit the number of bags you use?