So Many Failures…

Usually the start of a new year brings me such inspiration. I feel renewed possibility in my ability to meet my goals, I feel more alert and aware of what I want to change in my life, and I feel the strong motivation to actually make those changes.

This new year, I didn’t feel that way. I felt a heaviness, a sluggishness, a sense of distinct failure.

Before moving in late November, I had a sort of comical feeling about my choice to keep all of my plastic for one year. I’d look at my growing pile of bottle caps and straws and plastic baggies and feel slightly intrigued, even amused, by how much I had accumulated after trying so hard not to. But once we carted our lives and belongings over to our new apartment, plastic and all, I stopped feeling that amusement.

All over my apartment, on top of dressers, tucked behind the bathroom soap dispenser, sitting on the kitchen counter, are bits of plastic that I’ve promised to keep. After an exhausting move, after weeks of living in disorder and surrounded by plastic trash, I’m getting really tired of this endeavor and, honestly, a little depressed by it.

At the end of December, I thought seriously about quitting, telling myself it was incredibly stupid to begin this project in the first place. It’s so tiresome to still be tucking straws into my purse after being given them in restaurants. It’s draining to go to the grocery store—to any store, really—and attempt to avoid buying what I really want because it is sealed in plastic. Then, it’s extra discouraging when I later have to keep the plastic I didn’t have the will to resist.

My days of feeling like a champion as I proudly carted around my red reusable bag are over. I’m tired. I want to throw all this plastic away. I’m overwhelmed by what I’ve already accrued.

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My overflowing plastic…there’s a depressingly large amount of it now.

But I think, beyond the exhaustion, what’s really difficult for me is this feeling that I’ve failed—on a gargantuan scale. A few friends shared with me this video about a woman who has found a way to live without trash. For the past two years, she’s kept what she couldn’t compost, donate, or recycle, and it all, every piece of it, fits into a modest mason jar. She’s done what I’m trying to do, but she’s actually succeeding.

Her trash pile would be greater if she were holding onto all of her recyclable plastic like I am—I know this—but still, I can see that her efforts are more fierce and dedicated than my own. For example, she makes her own toothpaste. I haven’t taken a single day out of my averagely busy life to make my own soap or toothpaste or deodorant. I have no excuse other than I have trouble finding the time.

This leads me, I guess, to a deeper truth about trying to live a life without plastic: it takes Herculean devotion, extreme creativity, and lots and lots of time to do something as amazing as what this woman has done. It’s possible, but for the average person like me, it seems a superhuman effort. I don’t want it to be this hard to reduce or eliminate plastic because that means that most of us won’t be able to that drastically change our lives, thus, we won’t drastically alter our planet.

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My experiment has taught me that consumers really want to see pasta before buying it. Why is it so hard to find pasta sans the plastic window?

On my days off, I want to work on my novel, I want to take long walks with my husband, I want to make lasagna. These diversions seem to mean that I won’t ever totally overhaul my life and truly fight my war on plastic because I just won’t have the time. If I wanted to make lasagna, for example, and use no plastic, it might take me several days: I’d have to make my own noodles, I’d have to make my own ricotta, and I’d have to forgo the sausage (or slaughter my own pigs—uh—nope). All of these items come in plastic—I’ve not been able to purchase them without. Try to find noodles that don’t have a plastic “window” in the box. If you do, please tell me where to buy them.

I know that I still need to seek out stores that that offer plastic-free alternatives. I know those alternatives must be out there. And I know that I need to try making my own products or otherwise step up my plastic-fighting game. But again, my energy is waning. My devotion is slipping.

Yet. In spite of this blueness, in spite of my self-pity about the ways I’ve failed this year to truly and completely give up plastic, I have to admit that this video filled me with a quiet spark of re-dedication. It made me feel a sequin of hope about our planet’s future, knowing that there are people in our world like this woman. People who have this amount of commitment and positivity and force of will and time to make substantial changes. This video reminded me that I can do better, and that there are always people out there who can give me the inspiration.

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I’m cheating on my deodorant

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The T’eo deodorant bar I was religiously using (and liking) for several months. Little did I know there was trouble ahead for us.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my joyful success of finding a plastic-free deodorant. I had visited a Lush store and purchased a powdered deodorant called the T’eo bar that came packaged only in a wax seal, no plastic included. For a few months, I was loving this deodorant.

However, this past September, during a trip to New York for my cousin’s wedding, I was forced to reevaluate my choice. While in the Big Apple, my husband and I stayed in a tiny shoebox of a hotel with a bathroom the size of a toilet stall. The miniature size of the bathroom meant that Evan and I had to do all of our post-shower lotioning and deodorizing in the not-so-much-larger bedroom, and during this bedroom hygiene session, my husband saw something he hadn’t before: he watched me cringe as I scraped the T’eo deodorant bar against my left armpit. When I lifted my right arm, he saw the more-or-less constant rash of bumps and red dry patches that had formed in both of my pits. My skin stung terribly.

“You have to stop using that deodorant,” he told me, concerned. “Seriously, Mer, that looks really bad.” I didn’t want to agree with him. After all, I love the smell of the T’eo deodorant, and I love the idea of it. It seemed, at first, to be the perfect replacement deodorant. Buying it meant no plastic, and it had worked successfully for me for a few months. Still, I couldn’t ignore the rash, and I couldn’t help but remember the words of the Lush sales woman when she first saw me considering the T’eo bar: Do you have sensitive skin? You might want to go with the Patchouli instead. 

I should have listened to her, and I should have stopped using the bar after a week of red bumps. But I stubbornly persisted. In New York, Evan’s worried face made me realize there was real trouble, but I wasn’t ready to relent. I used his Old Spice deodorant on our trip, thinking it would just be a two or three-day diversion from my normal deodorizing, and oh my goodness, it was seriously weird how good it felt to smooth the cool blue bar against my armpits. I think I might have let out an audible “Ah!” as I applied it.

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My love affair begins with Evan’s Old Spice deodorant.

When we returned to Chicago, things just weren’t the same. After showering, I began to stare at the two deodorant options on our bathroom shelf: the porous T’eo bar and the red, plastic Old Spice containing that soothing cerulean gel. I wasn’t ready to admit the feelings of love that had developed for the Old Spice. Quickly, I started swiping the soothing bar under my arms, shoving it back on the shelf to hide this behavior from both Evan and from myself.

After a few weeks of sneakily stealing swipes of Old Spice, Evan caught me. “Mer! Why don’t you just buy some new deodorant?” he asked me. “You have to get something else.”

“No!” I cried back. I didn’t have any other defense. I knew the T’eo bar wasn’t working, I just really didn’t want to admit it.

Finally, three weeks ago, defeated and in desperation, I went back to the Lush store. I bought the patchouli deodorant bar.  I’ve been using it ever since, but the results have been lukewarm. I resisted this deodorant originally because of the smell. It’s so potent, so recognizable. When I paid for it at the store, a honey-colored cube wrapped only in paper, I already detected its familiar fragrance. The smell reminds me of college—summers in Boulder, Colorado, parks filled with guitar music and billows of then-still-illegal smoke, street-fairs featuring stacks of hemp-pressed chapstick. The patchouli smell is distracting to me not just because of its actual smell, but because of what the smell means to me.

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Lush’s Patchouli bar that I’m trying really hard to love.

I thought, after days and days of applying it, that I’d get used to the fragrance. I’m still not there, though it is becoming more familiar. The more difficult aspect for me is that the patchouli still doesn’t spread as easily as typical gel deodorants. The bar is a lot like a dry bar of soap. I have to wet it or hold it in my hands to warm it before rubbing it under my arms, and still, it’s slightly irritating to my skin. The red bumps have slightly returned with the patchouli.

One of plastic’s great benefits is that it can harness and transport matter in different states—gels, liquids, soft powders—so effectively. In my struggle to find a plastic-free deodorant, I’ve come to even more powerfully appreciate what plastic does. It is a material that has no perfect replacement.

For now, as keep trying to use the patchouli, I find myself staring longingly at the Old Spice container each day after I shower. Some mornings, I cheat.  I love what is contained within that plastic—that incredibly refreshing and cooling deodorant stick. Is there any hope that I’ll find something, anything similar to the pleasing Old Spice bar that isn’t housed in plastic? With my armpits raw and my skin smelling strangely unfamiliar, I desperately hope so.

Hey readers!

If you have any suggestions or tips for me about plastic-free deodorants, I’d love to hear them! Seriously—I need your ideas!

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How do we responsibly give stuff away?

As expected, moving has been hard. We are still in the midst of unpacking our new apartment, and while this move hasn’t been quite the nightmare I originally feared it would be, it’s still been a massive undertaking—hours and hours of retrieving and boxing the artifacts of our life collected over these past five, almost six, years.

Also, it snowed on November 21st—our scheduled moving day. All month long, Chicagoans were remarking on the unseasonably warm (and surprisingly precipitation-free) weather, and then, on the eve of our move, it came raining and then billowing down. We are cursed with bad weather when we move.

But most of all, as I mentioned in my last post, this move has been complicated because of my decision to keep all of my plastic this year. I actually transported my bins of plastic—and kept all of the bits I acquired throughout—to our new apartment.  I’m dreading (and avoiding) the impending decision of where to set up my hoard in our new place.

In some ways, though, this weird plastic experiment made the move easier, rather than harder. I think this is because I started the process earlier. Knowing that I would have the added burden of carting my plastic to our new apartment, I actually packed boxes in increments, dedicating a few hours each day to moving rather than waiting until the very last second to stuff things in boxes in a fever of anxiety (as I typically do).

Also, this move was easier because I factored in donation runs. I gave almost equal consideration to what I wanted to keep (and pack up) as I did to what I wanted to give away. Evan and I made three trips to Goodwill and one to Open Books prior to our move, and we will make at least one more run after uncovering more unwanted items in our unpacking process.

I’m a bonafide pack rat, and I’ve actually never made donating a part of my moving agenda before. Typically, I pack up everything I own, literally everything, including dried flower arrangements and decades old theater programs, and take it all with me. I’ll digress for a moment to give a plug for an awesome book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” This book has been amazing in its ability to help me overcome my hoarder tendencies, and it motivated me further to do lots of donating.

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Wowza-plastic! We saved all this from our wedding deliveries to reuse for our move.

My give-away trips not only helped reduce my volume of stuff, they also reduced the amount of packing material we needed. We took clothes and books and trinkets to Goodwill in boxes, and then we reused those boxes. And we managed to use only the boxes and bubble wrap we’d saved from our wedding gift deliveries (we had saved it ALL…for over a year).

Giving things to Goodwill helped me feel like I wasn’t thoughtlessly chucking tons of plastic into the garbage. Instead of throwing away cups and cords and random chotchkies, we donated them. At first, this made me feel environmentally responsible. I was not only avoiding sending plastic to landfills and waterways, but also (in theory) giving someone else joy—aka my “trash” would become their “treasure.”

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Sorry dudes! Off to Goodwill with you. Hope you like your new home!

But I’ve thought a lot more about this. This move really has forced me to think. In retrospect, I’ve realized a couple of depressing things. One: some of my “trash” is just going to become trash. Some of the things I gave away are not treasures. In a way, I cheated a little. I don’t know which of these plastic items will go to a new home. Perhaps the majority of them will end up in the garbage, which I had hoped so much to avoid.

In researching where to donate my stuff, I made an unsettling discovery. I learned that much of what we donate, even to places like Goodwill and Salvation Army, either gets dumped because it’s not resellable, or it gets shipped in enormous crates to poorer continents. Even donating caused me to unwittingly contribute to environmental harm.

I feel better that I tried to give stuff away rather than immediately dumping it. Yet there’s still a conundrum of how to avoid dumping plastic altogether, and donating doesn’t exactly solve that.

There’s also the conundrum of hiring movers. While I absolutely adored having a team of people at the ready to move my heavy furniture, because it was a wet, soggy mess outside, they had to wrap most of our belongings in a giant sheet of plastic wrap. Their industrial-sized plastic roll could have saran-wrapped a house. We’ve never had movers before, so I didn’t realize how much plastic would be involved, but I didn’t say a thing to stop them. The plastic protected our stuff from getting demolished during the move. But there was a heck of a lot of plastic remaining.

Ultimately, although moving was and is a giant stressor, this move really has made me consider disposal more critically. I realized that my hoarding of plastic has made me feel “safe” because, if I save all my plastic, I know it won’t end up in the ocean or in the belly of a turtle. This has lessened my guilt. But I can’t hoard all of the world’s plastic. I can’t even, long-term, hoard all of the stash I’ve accumulated—I’m itching already to get rid of it, get it out of my new, still pristine home, yet I still have five months of this challenge left to go.

So how do we give stuff away…really? How do we do it without causing harm to our world?

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The headaches of moving plastic

Unexpectedly, last weekend, my husband and I found a new apartment. The lease on our current place isn’t up until April of 2016, but on a walk through our neighborhood last Sunday morning, we saw a “For Rent” sign on a building a few blocks away. On a whim, because the sign said the apartment was two-bedroom and dog-friendly, with a garage parking spot and shared backyard, we called the landlord.

Two days later, we signed the lease. We’ll move into this new place on November 21st.

This happened so quickly and so surprisingly that I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety about it: What if we can’t find a subletter for our current place? What if this new apartment doesn’t feel as comfortable as where we now live? What if it snows the day we move?

It's going to be hard to leave our apartment of five years, especially with all the plastic tucked away in it.

It will be hard to leave our apartment of five years, especially with all the plastic tucked away in it.

And—what do I do with all of my plastic? First, I’ll have to deal with the hoard I’ve chosen to collect this year, both the moving and new storage set up of that hoard. But second, I also know I’m going to find plastic hidden in the backs of cupboards and tucked into hard-to-reach parts of our refrigerator that I’ll now have to decide what to do with. Do I keep all of it? Add it all to my collection? Transport that, too, to our new home?

Moving, in my experience, comes with lots of dumping. It’s a time both of stress, trying to carefully box precious items while fearing their total destruction, yet also liberty, letting go of unwanted belongings to start fresh in a new space. There is a wonderful lightness in getting to escape the clutter of a previous home.

I love this promise of a clean start in a new apartment, but when I started my plastic challenge, I didn’t anticipate that I’d have to move in the midst of it. I thought, at the end of April 2016, I could take an inventory of all of my used plastic, figure out how to estimate its weight, find some “results” of how much I’d accumulated in a year, and then set it free—all before May and the end of our lease.

Now that isn’t going to happen. I’m going to have to cart my plastic garbage across my neighborhood to my new, yet-unspoiled apartment. And my collection still creeps higher. It has now outgrown its green bin. I’ve used a large paper grocery bag for collecting plastic food containers, and that is now full. What kind of lunatic am I to actually move this crap?

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My plastic collection grows. Reorganizing my green bin to fill every crevice.

This move is really going to test my commitment to this experiment.

With this move, I’m not going to have the typical dumping luxury. I’m going to have to decide what plastic containers get added to my collection, items like nearly empty lotion bottles, unwanted chapsticks, or half-consumed salad dressings that I wouldn’t otherwise have tossed.

I’ve decided that whatever items I originally purchased, or ones that I exclusively used, I’m going to keep and add to my green bin. Otherwise, if I dump them, it feels like cheating. This move will force me to assess and deal with the junk that’s been sitting undisturbed in my overstuffed apartment, which, I guess, I should deal with even if I wasn’t moving.

This is a normal part of an American life—having to throw out the old to make room for the new, and having to deal with the constant reality of too much stuff. Yet, though we can move to new homes, purge what has become unwanted, the world cannot. My moving dilemma has made me reflect more on the state of our oceans, our landfills. There is really no such thing as “getting rid of” plastic. There is actually only moving it.

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Exciting Advancements in the Fight Against Plastic

Human ingenuity is really a remarkable thing. Lately I’ve been watching episodes of the new “Cosmos” series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I’ve marveled at the human discoveries described on the show that have led us to where we are today.

Discoveries of sound waves and planetary movements and radioactivity—it makes me feel a quiet murmuring of pride. Humans are equipped with such magnificent curiosity, and we’re hard-wired towards progress. We love to build, to advance, to design and then to redesign. An example—my wallet can’t keep up with the evolutions of the iPhone.

Our strong will is a juggernaut that has shaped this world so profoundly that our presence is seen everywhere—from space, our cities glitter with beads of light; in the ocean, our unwanted plastics swirl in the wake of fish. As long as we are on this planet, as long as this planet can sustain us, we will keep studying it and we will keep altering it.

Right now, our footprint on Earth is mainly a negative one. But we have just as much power and imagination to wipe our own footprint clean. We have just as much determination and intelligence to positively impact this planet as to do it harm.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve come across several exciting articles that are talking about advancements in fighting plastic. In particular, my husband shared two with me that have really given me hope about our environment’s future.

One, an article from AOL.com, takes a look at a new kind of water bottle. Instead of the typical cylinder with a screw-off plastic top, this portable pouch of water comes in a plastic-free bag. It’s a sort of water “pod” that looks a little like an amniotic sac of drinkable H20. Not only does this pod eliminate the necessity of bottle caps (which are proliferating at disturbing rates in the bellies of sea birds), but this bag is edible.

The product is called Ooho!, and it is advertised as fully biodegradable (so it will leave no trace in the earth or in your gut). The bag surrounding the water is made of a combination of organic materials, a “seaweed and calcium chloride-based membrane.” Say the reviewers, “It’s essentially an edible water balloon. All you have to do is pierce the membrane and gulp it down.”

How cool (and weird) is that?

The scientists who developed this water pod say that nature was their inspiration. They observed the way membranes naturally form to harness liquids, and they mimicked that in creating this design.

See—amazing human ingenuity.

My husband shared with me another exciting article from the Inquisitr. The article talks about scientists who are hard at work trying to clean up the plastic already clogging our planet. Specifically, these researchers found that mealworms, those icky, Beetlejuice-like worms of nightmares, can eat certain types of plastic and actually thrive.

When given a helping of Styrofoam to eat, not only do the mealworms happily devour it, they also produce biodegradable waste. Something in the mealworm’s gut transforms plastic particles into organic material, and follow up studies show that this waste is safe enough to be used in soil for growing crops.

One of plastic’s greatest evils is its inability to biodegrade. But if mealworms can serve as a filter to transform those stubborn polymers into organic materials, it seems we have a chance to turn our plastic disaster around.

The downside is that mealworms are tiny. Even if we employed every mealworm on the planet to chow down night and day in our landfills, they could only consume an infinitesimal portion of the world’s plastic. So, my initial vision of mealworms taking a journey to the Pacific Garbage Patch to feast it out of existence was a little unrealistic. Yet, just knowing that there’s a kind of bacteria inside of the mealworm that can produce this transformation is inspiring. Certainly some brilliant scientist will find a way to replicate that bacteria’s effect. We have the brainpower and enthusiasm to do so.

In the meantime, though, we need to keep thinking and dreaming up creative ways to attack the mess we’ve made. And I truly believe that we can.

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Plastic Clothing Tags

One of the most interesting discoveries I’ve made this year as I’ve pursued ridding my life of plastic is this: I’m paying more attention.

When I make a purchase, when I walk down a city block, when I see an ad pop up on my Yahoo sidebar, I look a little more narrowly at the places where plastic might exist.

This has been both eye-opening for me (sorry, bad pun), yet also depressing. I’ve realized that plastic is a foundation of our society. As I type this, my fingers pulse against plastic keys, my coffee sits at my side in its purple plastic container. From where I sit in a coffee shop, I can see four plastic knobs fitted to the bottom of the legs of a wooden chair, keeping it from scuffing the plastic linoleum floor underneath.

In this detective mode, I’ve started to focus almost obsessively on the small pieces of plastic that surround us, and one item I’ve started to notice repeatedly is the plastic clothing tag.

Nearly every time I purchase a piece of clothing, I have to snip or pull off a tag, releasing the plastic stem from where it has threaded through the cloth. A bundle of these little beheaded tags have started to fill my giant plastic-collection bin at home.

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Plastic tags from just two pieces of clothing

What surprises me about this accumulation is that I actually don’t shop much for clothes (some might say not enough since I sometimes wear shirts from high school), yet I’ve still collected several of these plastic clothing tags over the course of five months.

I can understand how these tags are handy. They reduce confusion for shoppers by immediately giving information on size and price. And they make for a very quick and easy checkout at the register. On the weekends, I work at a small shop in my neighborhood, and when a customer tries to buy an item that’s missing its price tag, there can be a mini catastrophe. If we can’t find the price on a matching item in the store, the manager has to run to the back and search our files for the original order. When the store is in a busy swell, this can be stressful.

Beyond making it easy to know information about an item and creating buying efficiency, plastic tags are also used as security devices in clothing, reducing theft. In mega-stores like Macy’s or H&M, I see how these plastic devices are essential.

String ties seem to make clothing appear more artistic

String ties seem to make clothing appear more artistic

But what I’ve started to wonder is why we can’t at least replace the plastic tags with something biodegradable. On some high-end lines that we carry at my neighborhood store, the retailers use string or a colored piece of twine to attach a paper label. Avoiding plastic in the tags seems to make these clothes more “hand-made” or artistic somehow. They seem more desirable, and seem to me to subtly communicate that they weren’t mass-produced.

A high-end clothing line using a string tie (albeit with a plastic clasp)

A high-end clothing line using a string tie (albeit with a plastic clasp)

String tags don’t seem much more expensive to make to me, but perhaps they take a lot more time to tie onto a piece of clothing. Perhaps this is why we so constantly see the plastic tag fixing prices to clothes. With the plastic tags, there’s a handy gun (also made of plastic) that swiftly pierces the cloth, fixing a tag to it. Likely, in the giant production factory, there’s a machine that can do it. It’s speedy, and I imagine that a bundle of those plastic tags are less expensive than a role of twine. Also, the plastic tags are just common practice. It’s hard to make global changes to a system that’s making big money, one that appears to be running flawlessly.

I tried to research the amount of these plastic tags that are produced annually, and I couldn’t find any reliable figures, but I’m sure it’s massive. Frequently, I’ll find more than one of these tags in a single shirt or pair of pants, and after being in H&M last weekend, standing in a flood of people buying heaps of clothes, I’m sure the number would shock me. It bums me out to think of how many of these tags are floating in our oceans, becoming unintentional food for the life out there.

Of course, there are many other things to worry about when it comes to the fashion industry, more problems than just the small plastic tags attached to pieces of clothing. This Vogue article shares interesting points about the environmental impacts of the garment-production machine—the making of clothes, deforesting the rainforests and dying rivers electric blue, the chemical treatment of fabric, releasing toxins into our atmosphere and lungs, and the environmental harm of shipping, using plastic bags to package items and airplanes to transport clothes from places like India and Bangladesh to the United States.

This all without going into the human rights violations.

So perhaps my small focus on the plastic tags isn’t the most pressing point to consider here. But I do feel like the small details reveal the larger realities. Seeing these plastic tags in clothes more potently symbolizes for me the giant system that turned its wheels to churn out my one pair of jeans or one new affordable cardigan. These small details are actually helping me conceptualize just how big our problems are when it comes to environmental care and human justice. So many clues reveal these truths.

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Trying to Replace Dish Soap

When it comes to washing the dishes, I’m a bit of a fiend. I can say with genuine sincerity that I actually feel a swell of happiness when I perfectly clean a dish—I feel deeply satisfied by the way it gleams, by the smooth reflective surface after it’s rinsed and dried.

I wish my same enthusiasm for cleaning dishes extended to cleaning up other areas of the house (namely the bathroom and living room, or especially my loads of excess papers everywhere—sorry Evan), but at least I find joy in cleaning something.

My eccentric love for cleaning a sink full of dishes caused me to develop a strong partiality to the kind of dish soap that I use. For several years now, I’ve used Dawn. I started using it religiously after I bought it to clean an oil stain from a favorite dress. Putting a drop of Dawn in a bowl of water absolutely did the trick to erase the oil stain and save me from a trip to the drycleaners.

Beyond its power to clean dishes and clothes, Dawn has also legitimately been used to help clean up after oil spills (NPR can back me up here: Why Dawn Is The Bird Cleanser Of Choice For Oil Spills), and there’s a really cute and sympathetic picture of a baby seal on its label.

Joking aside, I think there’s actually a lot to love about Dawn. Like most products on the drug store shelf, though, it only comes in a plastic container.

Goodnight, sweet Dawn. There's literally no replacing you.

Goodnight, sweet Dawn. There’s literally no replacing you.

Back in April, when I started this adventure, I actually felt panic considering what I would do when my then-still-half-full Dawn container finally ran out. As I neared the end of the bottle, I rationed each drop, carefully squeezing just two or three beads onto a sponge to clean a sink full of dishes. But after three weeks of this rationing, as the blue soap decreased further and further, I couldn’t pretend that there was anything actually left. I unscrewed the lid and dug my finger inside to pull out the remaining sudsy film, and then I admitted it was empty. It was time to buy dish soap.

I looked first for Dawn made in a powdered form, thinking that might be in a cardboard container. I was easily able to switch to boxed and powdered dishwashing detergent that’s sans plastic—I have been using the pictured Cascade brand with no complaints—so I hoped there might be a similar alternative for Dawn. But I struck out: Dawn only comes in the liquid form in a plastic container.

Cascade Dishwasher Detergent - it's plastic free!

Cascade Dishwasher Detergent – it’s plastic free!

Next, I went to the Internet. Google searches led me to dish soaps such as Mrs. Meyer’s, which are environmentally conscious and come in plastic that is 25% post-consumer recycled, but I couldn’t find any dish soap in glass or metal containers. I also kept coming up with references to Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. Dr. Bronner’s sells various kinds of bar castile soap, from eucalyptus to almond-scented varieties, but the company recommends using these for cleaning the hair or body. None of the bars soaps mention cleaning dishes or home surfaces, and I want to make sure the soap I use actually disinfects.

A friend recommended that I check out some other earth-friendly brands, such as the Honest Company. They are a company with a thoughtful commitment to all things environmental, and I love their mission statement, which includes mention of their packaging. They say that “One day (in the not-so-distant future) we strive to be 100% plant-based and sustainably-sourced, inside and out.”

This statement is hopeful and self-aware, but the company doesn’t discuss the plastic containers they currently use. And even this company, selling many great, good-for-the-earth products, doesn’t have any plastic-free dish soaps.

I continued scouring high and low to unearth alternatives, and I realized that maybe what I needed to do was make my own dish soap. I found a blog called Mommypotamus (that’s a hard name to forget) with do-it-yourself dish-soap-cooking instructions, and this seemed promising at first. But when I searched for the ingredients, I discovered that a few of them, such as the liquid castile soap and glycerin, come in plastic containers. Thus, I would have to buy plastic to avoid plastic.

My last-ditch effort was to go to Merz Apothecary store on Lincoln. I crossed my fingers that they might have what I was looking for. I entered the store and was immediately welcomed by a friendly staff person. She showed me to the section of dish soaps, and she sighed when I told her my dilemma. “I wish we sold what you’re looking for,” she told me. “I would buy it, too.” For a moment, we stared at the shelves. I willed a plastic-free dish soap to appear that could end my searching. “I’m sorry,” she told me, and shook her head.

On my walk back to my apartment, I bought a bottle of the “ology” brand dish soap from Walgreens succumbing to the need to just get something. Like most of the dish soaps at Merz, this is sold in a recyclable plastic container—the plastic with the number two symbol inside of the triangle—and I like to believe that it is better for the planet because it’s purportedly made with natural ingredients. photo-6

There’s certainly more I could try and more searching I need to do. I found another recipe online from Kirk’s Natural for making dish soap, and the ingredients all appear to come in non-plastic packaging. I should try making this. But even though I care deeply for the environment, I still enjoy convenience. I think most people feel the same. I selfishly don’t feel like cooking up my own dish soap whenever I’m in need. I wish I could just buy some ready-made. Yet even I wonder what that alternative dish soap could be easily and cheaply packaged in, if not plastic.

Hey, Readers!

After my epic failure, I’m reaching out to you all. Any ideas on what I should try? Have you ever made your own dish soap with great results? I’d love to know some recipes, especially easy ones!

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