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Show Your Plastic Challenge: Week 1

This week, I took Beth Terry (of's Show Your Plastic Challenge. I met Beth last Sunday at a lecture she gave for Science Sundays at the Seymour Center at Long Marine lab, and I was inspired to be more conscious of plastic in my life and begin the process of living without it. You can read a little about Beth and the lecture that I attended here.
I purchased a copy of Beth's book at the lecture last Sunday, and I am LOVING it. She has not only great resources and facts about plastic, but she also includes practical solutions. I will be writing more about her book in future posts.

The challenge is to "Collect all of your own plastic waste, both recyclable and non, for a minimum of one week." I tried my best to do the challenge this past week, but I went home for the weekend (I spend most of the year on campus at UC Santa Cruz) and lost track of a few of the plastic items that I used while out to lunch with family. I also didn't prepare all of my own meals at home, so there were likely a few plastic items that escaped my collection for the week. This upcoming week, I pledge to do better at collecting all plastic that I use.

I posted my challenge results to the Challenge page at My Plastic Free Life (awaiting moderation at the present time), and here's what Week 1 of the Challenge looked like in terms of plastic for Green Gal:

What suggestions would you like from the group to reduce your plastic waste?
  • Specific suggestions for brands for things like reusable glass straws, best types of water bottles and reusable storage containers, and creative ideas for reusing things we have to avoid purchasing new plastic products would be really helpful! Some of these answers might be in Beth's book, which I'm still reading, but if anyone has had experiences with particular brands, please give me your recommendations! Thanks!
List of plastic items you REFUSED this week.
  • plastic lid on fountain soda at various restaurants (who needs 'em?)
  • plastic straw for soda at various restaurants - plastic Starbucks cup for iced latte (used my own mug)
  • plastic knife to open my burrito (unfortunately, did use a plastic fork...)
  • plastic cup for salsa at restaurant (put the salsa from the salsa bar right on my burrito!)
  • a gumball at a restaurant last Sunday
Total number of plastic items in your stash: 17

List of recyclable items
  • Brisk lemonade bottle, PETE #1 - I know this type of plastic can be recycled through the campus recycling facilities, which means I place it with my other recyclables in one of the bins outside my dorm. On looking this up to make sure I was right, I found this: "Plastic containers #1-7 are accepted for recycling. This includes plastic bottles, jars, and tubs. Please rinse, and remove caps or lids before placing in recycling bins. Step on plastic containers to flatten." I had heard that removing caps was a good habit, but it's good to know that the University requests it. (Source: UCSC Environmental Health & Safety website page on Plastic Containers)
  • bell pepper bag - If I ball this up and place it with other bags in one bag, I can recycle it. I know my office has a bag of bags for recycling, so I will add it to that one since I don't have enough of my own bags to recycle it. I double checked online: "Bags must be contained within a plastic bag, no single plastic bags! Bags must be clean, dry and bagged together for recycling. You can place the bags in the mixed recycling bins throughout campus." -- UCSC Environmental Health & Safety page on Plastic Bags )
  • Colgate toothpaste lid - It's the same material as the lid for the lemonade, so I'm gonna go for it and put it with my recycling.
List of non-recyclable items or those you are unsure of
  • Doritos chips bag
  • feminine hygiene waste materials - Truly, it's 17+ items of plastic because obviously I did not collect all of my feminine hygiene-related waste materials this week.
  • plastic coated receipts - I need to start requesting no receipt!
  • Colgate toothpaste container
  • Almond cheese wrapper
  • Miscellaneous pieces of plastic that were in my dorm
  • plastic cling wrap from the bagels I got at the University Center cafe - I have been trying to reuse them when I need to wrap something up.
  • plastic spoon & plastic knife - I will reuse them, at least :/
  • Gum! I just realized that I had a piece of gum yesterday. Totally didn't even think about it! (Find out more about gum and how it is made of plastic here.)
I found out last Sunday that gum is made of plastic. It makes sense, but I was kinda bummed to learn that. I saw this gumball machine at the restaurant where I ate lunch last Sunday, and decided against getting one. But then yesterday, I had a piece of gum with my sister and totally didn't think about it!

What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?

Definitely do-able:
  • Next time I want non-water, I can fill up my water bottle in the dining hall with juice or soda. - Purchase vegetables that are not in plastic wrap.
  • Give reusable feminine hygiene products a try - I saw a post about it on My Plastic Free Life (click here) and reposted it on my Facebook page earlier this week. I guess I should seriously take a good look at it again.
  • Ask that cashiers not print a receipt for me, particularly when they ask (they usually ask at Starbucks, I've noticed).
  • Avoid purchasing items wrapped in cling wrap, and simply don't purchase it for my kitchen. Get reusable containers instead.
  • Actually carry around reusable utensils like I say I will. Maybe get lighter-weight ones or make some kind of carrying case for them so I can easily remember them.
Ideas for the future:
  • Make my own chips using tortillas or potatoes
  • Make my own toothpaste? (I guess I better read this article.)
What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
  • Cling wrap
  • Foods that come wrapped in plastic (I can at least reduce the amount of these I purchase regularly)
What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
  • Toothpaste
  • Dairy-free cheeses (I'm allergic to milk--I suppose I don't NEED dairy free cheese, but on occasion, it is so delicious! Note: This almond cheese pictured below, while delicious, does contain casein, but it's not usually enough dairy to bother me. For vegan cheese options, I highly recommend Daiya brand cheese. Unfortunately, both brands come in plastic containers.)

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
  • Simply not purchase things that are unnecessary when they come wrapped in plastic and wait until I find a non-plastic version of the same item
  • Be willing to give reusable feminine hygiene products a try! (This is definitely going to be a challenge, I think.)
  • Stick to remembering my utensils when I go out.
What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
  • I will look into and purchase some reusable feminine hygiene products this week.
What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
  • It's all about being a conscious consumer and thinking before you order at a restaurant or grab something in the grocery store. I think I might start writing down all of my encounters with plastic in case I forget to hang onto them. That will also force me to consider whether I need that plastic item each time I encounter it!

So are you guys in? You should try the Plastic Challenge, even if you only do it for a week. It really opens your eyes to how often we use and rely on plastic in our lives. If you're wondering what the big deal about plastic is, please take a look at My Plastic Free Life at watch this video of Beth Terry speaking at a TEDx event:

Check back next week for my second week of the plastic challenge! For daily postings, thoughts, and updates, please Like Green Gal on Facebook:

Thanks for reading! Stay green, and enjoy your last week of August!


  1. Wow ... that was quite a study ... you really took an honest look at your plastic use and then came up with practical solutions. Very impressive! A few comments: 1) If you're looking for a really good water bottle, my favorite is the Eco-Vessel ... they are insulated stainless steel so no "sweating" on the outside and no plastic. 2) Casein may not bother your dairy sensitivity but it has been linked with some serious diseases. Have you ever tried making vegan cheese? There are some good versions on the Internet. 3) Here's a feminine hygiene alternative: and here's another: 4) Here's a simple alternative to toothpaste in those tubes: As always ... you are an inspiration! Thank you!

  2. Funny, I happen to have read Beth's book last week; I'd love to hear her speak in person! I'm psyched about reducing plastic in my life, but I can tell it's going to be a long, long slog. (E.g. I can't get gluten-free pasta out of a bulk bin). Good luck to you - good luck to all of us, really. Looking forward to the follow-up post(s).


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