Plastic Monday: Say No to “Stupid Plastic”

We just sent our latest issue of the Green American to the printer, so in about three weeks, you’ll be getting “Take the Plastic Challenge” in your mailboxes—or e-mail inboxes, if you’ve signed up to get our publications in digital format. In honor of the editorial team hitting our latest deadline, I thought I’d offer a small sneak peek at our upcoming plastics-centered theme.

When my fellow editors and I started looking into the social and environmental impacts of plastic, we expected to find plenty of things to be concerned about. What we didn’t expect was to be freaking out as much as we are about plastic.

Because once you really start thinking about it, you notice that plastic is EVERYWHERE. As author Susan Freinkel points out in her book Plastic: A Love Story, you probably can’t go five minutes after waking up in the morning without touching something plastic (i.e. alarm clock, glasses, toothbrush, soap dispenser, towel rack, and oh-my-gosh … toilet seat).

There are two big reasons to flip out over how pervasive plastic has become worldwide since Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented Bakelite (the first commercially successful plastic) in 1907:

Reason number one to flip out over plastic: Tons and tons of it—especially single-use plastic like packaging, food wrappers, and plastic bags—are ending up on beaches and in the ocean, where the stuff is choking fish and albatrosses, wrapping itself around dolphins and sea lions, and burying baby sea turtles in their nests before they can even make their first trek to the ocean. Try doing a Google search for “plastic” and any one of those animals. Better yet, don’t. The images are awful.

Reason number two to flip out over plastic: A study published in the July 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives found that hundreds of types of plastics of every single resin code number (those numbers 1-7 in the recycling symbol on plastic products) leach hormone-disrupting chemicals. Hormone disrupters have been linked to obesity, neurodevelopmental impacts, and cancer in humans.

Every single resin code number.

Longtime Green America members might remember that several years ago, I asked you all to come up with a cute mnemonic to remember that plastics numbered 3, 6 , and 7 were the ones to really worry about when it comes to toxins, while 1, 2, 4, and 5 were fairly safe. (One person came up with, “1, 2, 4, and 5 help keep you alive. 3, 6, and 7 send you straight to heaven,” FYI.)

Well, throw that out the window, because all plastic might just be leaching toxins.

So now that I’m extra mindful of the plastic in my life, what am I going to do about it? It’s not realistic to aim to wipe plastic off the face of the Earth. There are a lot of great things that plastic has made possible, like artificial hearts, lightweight glasses, and Kevlar vests for police officers.

As I mention in my letter in the upcoming Green American, one activist who appeared in the 2010 documentary film Bag It brilliantly summed up what has now become Green America’s official position on plastic: “We’re not saying no to all plastic,” he said. “We’re saying no to stupid plastic.”

So Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist, online editor Andrew Korfhage, and I will be challenging ourselves to say no to stupid plastic. Every Monday from now through the end of November (at least), we’ll be blogging about how we’ve gotten stupid plastic out of our lives, and where we’re facing challenges.

So come join us every “Plastic Monday.” Tell us in the comments section how you’ve gotten stupid plastic out of your lives, ask us questions, or talk through your plastic challenges with the Green America community.

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Blogger Beth Terry ( says that the two biggest things people can do to get rid of stupid plastic are to give up bottled water and to bring your own reusable bags to the store. What are your top ways to purge plastic from your life?


  1. I am also trying to rid my life of “stupid plastic” and wow, it’s hard, because, yes, it’s everywhere! In addition to no bottled water and bringing cloth produce and bulk bags to the store, I try to buy anything in bulk that I can to avoid single-use plastic packaging. Some other things I’m doing are using glass tupper ware/ to go ware, using baskets to store things in instead of plastic bins, non-disposable toothbrushes and razors…and when I have to buy food in plastic packaging, I wash it afterward and dry it on my bag dryer for reuse. I’d love to hear what others do, especially when it comes to avoiding single use packaging for food…that’s really tough!

    • Ana, I agree–the food question IS tough! Cloth produce bags, which you mentioned using, are the best invention ever for avoiding some of the single-use plastic around food. I haven’t yet given up breakfast cereal, so I started recycling my cereal bags through And even though I have a black thumb, I’m determined to grow some of my own food. Right now, I have some herbs in containers, and I’ll keep expanding into other foods until the death toll becomes too overwhelming. I hope other people chime in with their ideas on purging plastics from your food!

  2. Refuse packaging at the retail shelf…..Contact the company and tell them that the “your plastic packaging is the one thing that stops me from buying your product…..

  3. I save mesh bags that produce like onions and lemons come in, and take them to the store to use instead of the plastic produce bags. Unlike cloth bags, the cashier can see the code on the produce stickers through the mesh.

  4. I’ve been using a wooden toothbrush for about six months now (just boil it after a couple of weeks and it is as good as new!) and I really recommend it! It is the best toothbrush that I’ve ever used, and I will never buy a plastic disposable one again. And I don’t use toothpaste in plastic tubes, either.

    And of course I use my reusable cloth bags instead of plastic bags at the grocery store.

  5. How do you avoid using toothpaste in plastic tubes? Unfortunately, both Tom’s and Nature’s Gate use them. Grrr! I complained to Tom’s in writing and on their Facebook page, but I’m doubtful they will change back.

    • Hilary, this was something we had wanted to include in the magazine but didn’t have space for. There are actually toothpaste pills! You chew them up, swish them around a little in your mouth, and rinse. Lush makes three different varieties. Visit and search for “Toothy Tabs.”

      You can also try tooth powder from Uncle Harry’s:

      Blogger Beth Terry, who is quoted in the upcoming Green American, says you can buy it in bulk and ask them to package 1/2 or 1 lb. in a paper bag. Otherwise, it comes in a plastic jar.

    • I have a box of Lush Toothy Tabs that I use sometimes, but for the most part I use a Portugese toothpaste in metal tube called Couto. I’m not so sure how environmentally friendly it is since I have to import it, though… I buy it at eBay for about $6, but I think that there are some US retailers that sell it for about the same price. There are a Swedish brand (I live in Sweden) called Weleda that come in a metal tube, I should try that sometime, but it’s expensive!

    • For what it’s worth, Hilary, here’s what the Tom’s FAQ says about the company’s recent switch from aluminum toothpaste tubes to plastic:

      >> Based on feedback from consumers like you, we’ve been searching for years for a better alternative to our aluminum tube, one that both improved consumer satisfaction and met our Stewardship Model Standards. We tested a plastic “laminate” tube with consumers, and they found it to be more appealing and easier to use than our previous tube. Tom’s laminate tube does not crack, which reduces the waste of toothpaste being left in the tube or leaking out of the tube; is easier to squeeze, allowing for you to dispense more of the toothpaste from the tube; and has a foil seal to protect against tampering. Manufacturing laminate tubes requires less energy than the manufacture of aluminum tubes. And finally, this tube weighs less than our previous aluminum tube, saving energy when the products are shipped. So – after many years of using an aluminum tube, Tom’s of Maine is moving to laminate. We welcome your feedback on the new tube, and thank you for being a loyal Tom’s of Maine consumer.

      Another entry in the FAQ says you can send the plastic tubes back to Tom’s for recycling:

      >> This tube is only recyclable in the few communities that have recycling programs for mixed plastics. Before you put the tube into your recycle bin, remember to separate the cap from the tube (the cap is #5 polypropylene).

      >> We are also working diligently with our supplier to develop a more complete recycle stream for this tube. This would allow you to send your tubes to us to be reused as other post-consumer recycled content, much like we have done with our deodorant cans in our partnership with the “Gimme 5” program, a recycling program available in specific retail environments. In the meantime, please save up a bunch of these tubes and return them to us for recycling here and we will thank you for your efforts by reimbursing you for your postage with product. Please be sure to make this process as energy efficient by saving up at least 5 tubes before you send them back. You can mail them to us at:

      >> Tom’s of Maine

      >> Attn: Recycling

      >> 302 Lafayette Center

      >> Kennebunk, ME 04043

      My take on this is that it’s unfortunate they’ve switched to plastic, but at least we can send the tubes back to them instead of sending them to our local landfills. Personally, I disagree with their claim that the new tubes are easier to use. They’re kind of floppy, so I either have to use both hands or squeeze from the middle instead of the bottom. And I’ve never had a Tom’s aluminum tube leak or crack. Some of their other arguments make sense, though. I just wish there were a way for them to accomplish the energy savings in manufacturing and shipping without resorting to plastic.

      • Deborah, thanks so much for this information. I am becoming slightly addicted to blogging here, because it’s fun and informative to interact with everyone.

        I think I need to do a toothpaste/toothbrush update on a future Plastic Monday, to make sure people see this….

  6. Look in your plastics recycling bin and see which products are the cause of the most plastic. Milk jugs and yogurt containers were common in mine so I make my own yogurt now. I also found a brand of milk in returnable glass bottles. For more ideas check my blog on reducing plastic:

    • I just found the recipe on your blog–I’ll have to try this! (For the curious, Linda shares her recipe here: ). I’ve been buying the bigger Stonyfield Yogurts and sending the containers to Preserve for recycling through the Gimme 5 program, but making your own and avoiding the plastic is a much better solution. And your blog is great! (Although meditating on how much “Stupid Plastic Crap” there is in the world is rather depressing, isn’t it? Sigh.)

      • I make my own yogurt and not only is it cheaper it is made from vitamin A & D fortified milk which yogurts often aren’t. I have a yogurt culture that my mom obtained from a friend that originally came from, I believe Georgia in the former Soviet Union. It works to make yogurt within 10 hours at 70 degrees room temperature, no heating required. An internet search shows that a number of traditional yogurt cultures exist that work at room temperature. The one I have is very robust, has managed to survive some neglect and abuse, and is so easy–just put a little in a container and add milk and stir.

  7. I try to do all my shopping to include groceries and retail with reusable shopping bags, or no bags at all. Plastic is killing our sea life, and toxins are ending up in our dinner plates!

  8. I love your blog ! We have a sustainable Clairemont in our but I think we could work on the city baning plastic bags like San Francisco and Los Angeles county! It would be good for the groceries
    as well asour city.

  9. I love this blog!!! We need to get rid of plastic in our every day lives, for sure. I have trouble with my husband not taking reusable bags to the grocery store. I put one in his car, but he never uses it.

    I wish I had time to make my own yogurt, and bread. Some of the best bread at our health food store is wrapped in plastic.

    • Thanks, Nancy! My husband often forgets his bags and comes home with plastic ones, which now makes my head explode after all the research we’ve done. I started showing him pictures of seals and turtles being harmed by plastic–I think it’s working. I hear you about having time to make yogurt. Bread is easier if you have a bread machine. A friend also said that the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” makes it really fast, too. Another option I’ve used is to ask when the bakers will have fresh bread, arrive at that time, and have them take it off the rack and pop it into your own reusable cloth bag! (I have one I use just for bread.) Of course, this only works on weekends if they make bread while you’re at the office….

    • our city recently implemented phase 1 of a plastic bag ban, and the city staff printed up door hangers to remind people not to leave the house without a reusable bags, and stickers to put on the car to remind people not to leave their bags in the car.

  10. My mom lives in the suburbs and I live in the city. We both hate plastic bags but find ourselves using them for garbage. Here in the City I have tried freezing stuff to take for composting but freezer space is ltd & a worm bin scares me because I travel a lot. I can’t leave messy stuff around (mice & roaches would go crazy)and I’m required to bag garbage before putting it in the trash chute. My elderly mom just isn’t able to compost all her messy stuff and also needs to contain it before putting it in a trash bin. Can we buy some kind of waxed paper bags that would contain damp messy stuff at least briefly?

  11. Hi .
    i use my spudraincoat from equilicua instead a petrol plastic raincoat.
    This plastic comes from potatoes REALLY!!
    and has a seed inside to close the loop. COOL!!

  12. I have been gradually eliminating plastics also. I now use a shampoo bar and bars of soap! They last longer & I have wooden soap dishes; more like small racks. I also buy laundry detergent in a cardboard box that I recycle. The toothpaste tablets sound great & I will order some. Thorney problems: the killer hormone-free greek yogurt from Cabot Creameries is in a #5. I have bunches to recycle saved up. My community only reclycles 1 & 2. I buy as much as I can from the bulk bins @ the healthfood store. I reuse those plastic bags several times @ the store and then use as garbage bags. I am 66 and have been using cloth grocery bags since my hippe days in my early twenties. Back then, we were worried about saving trees & not using paper bags! This is a great blog; I’m learning lots! Thanks!

  13. I put all of my bulk produce in cloth mesh bags and attach the weight price stickers to a recyclable page of paper. The checkout people in my grocery store find it nice to scan my page all at once. They can look inside the mesh bag to see lemons, onions, carrots, etc. — none of which needs to be placed in a plastic bag just to weigh and label.

  14. Barbara, thanks for all you do! We still need to worry about killing trees, too–the only good answer to the paper vs. plastic question is “neither!” (As I’m sure you’re aware, but just in case anyone else is wondering.) As for your #5 plastics, you can send them to Preserve’s “Gimme 5” program for recycling into Preserve toothbrushes and other personal care and kitchen products. There are Gimme 5 bins at select food co-ops and Whole Foods stores, or you can mail them in. You can find a bin or get the mail-in address at

    I am learning tons from everyone’s comments, too. A spud raincoat–who knew?

    • Tracy: Thank you so much. I will use the “Gimme 5” program! I have learned so much from this blog. Thanks for doing it. Barbara Schwartz

  15. The problem i have run into lately is trying to buy cheese. It is wrapped in plastic everywhere. Even the deli places it in zip close bags now instead of wax paper or butcher paper. For “hygiene reasons” stores will not let you use your own bags here for deli items. Even the organic cheeses in blocks are in plastics. Any suggestions?

  16. Tamalyn, do you have any independent cheese stores in your area? Some of them may sell you unwrapped or wax wrapped cheese wheels (though then you’d have to buy a giant wheel!). Ordering these online, with all the packaging materials and shipping costs, probably makes it a wash to buying cheese wrapped in plastic, so this is probably a case of “do the best you can!”

  17. There’s a very disturbing trend in our bathrooms, and that is those little plastic bottles used to pump out soap. How they got so popular, I’ll never no. Nothing is simpler than bar soap. Also, I save every jar I get from shopping and use those for storing herbs and food in the refrig. It’s better than plastic because you can see the food, and therefore (hopefully) there will be less waste of leftovers. I use jars for tea and coffee. You can cover it so it doesn’t spill

    The health food store should be our first targeted corporate agent of change. Most of the people who work there are environmentally conscious. I got them to sell shampoo in bulk after trying three different shampoo bars on my long hair, but I’m vain enough to long for my old shine. Dawn

  18. Dawn, I agree about the little plastic bottles. I’m rediscovering the joys of bar soap, too. I have an organic herb farm near me, and the owner teaches soap-making classes! I took one, and it’s actually really fun to make your own soap. (Guess what everyone in my life is getting for the holidays!) Love your other ideas. ANd yes, we should definitely be encouraging health food stores to pressure their wholesalers to use less packaging! Good for you for getting yours to get bulk shampoo!

    • I use mason jars for everything. I take them to my local co-op to fill with bulk items and they deduct the weight of the jar at check-out.
      I also created a pour cap for mason jars since i couldn’t find anything available on the market. I use it as a replacement for water bottles and to store dressing and honey. I have the caps for pre-sale at
      I hope to produce these locally and although they will be made of plastic I would like information on the best materials to use (recyclable, bpa-free). Do you have any suggestions for resources?

      • Karen, what about silicone instead of plastic? I’m not a chemist, but my understanding is that silicone is inorganic (that is, not carbon-based, so not made from fossil oil) and inert, so it’s safe for use with food. I don’t know anything about the environmental side effects of its manufacture, though. But you might want to check into it and see if it’s a feasible alternative to plastic.

  19. Great blog! I use shell parts – especially the smoothed upper round parts of conch shells I’ve picked up- as soap dishes. They fit my aesthetic longing much better than plastic ever did!

  20. I just called the Brother Electronics Company. We bought a lebeler they manufactured. I congratulated them on using #1 recyclable pastic for their packaging & suggested they consider further reducing the petroleum/plastic tsunami bu using cardboard made from recycled paper. They were most kind! When buying produce, I use the evertfresh bags. I know they are plastic, but I reuse them for @ least a year. They keep produce incredibly fresh for 5-7 days. shake off all the water, trim any bad spots and the very bottoms stems, and remove any bands or twist ties. Squeeze out all the air & twist tie snugly. Amazing results will occur! After use rinse, shake & hang to dry Reuse!

  21. Karen, I LOVE your idea! Mason jars are beautiful and make great all-purpose containers. (I just bought a candle holder at a local craft show that slips onto the lip of a mason jar–used it on one of my Grandma’s antique pickle jars!) The lid idea is amazing. I would go with recycled plastic for sure, and if you can, find a way to take back and recycle the lids again once their useful life is over. Please keep us posted!

    I know Preserve, the company that makes recycled toothbrushes, kitchen products, and other personal care items, uses #5 plastic that they test very carefully. Here’s a link to their page on why they’ve chosen to go with recycled #5 plastic, instead of another type, which may be useful as you think about the recycled materials you’d like to use:

    Or, is there any way to make a natural rubber version?

  22. Barbara, I love that you called Brother. Thanks for letting us know how they responded! And I think using the everfresh bags isn’t a bad thing, especially if they keep your food fresher longer so you don’t end up throwing it away. (Better to eat it than compost it, I think, especially for your pocketbook.) I know you’re not supposed to keep plastic bags that have held meat and cheese, but I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with reusing bags that have held produce.

  23. Everyone, please remember to check the new blog entries! We’re blogging just about every day, and our online editor, Andrew Korfhage, left a new Plastic Monday blog today! Click on the “HOME” button at the top of the page, or just save to your “Favorites” and visit often! We’d love to keep the conversation going!

  24. We need to make an effort with retailers at their highest level of management – that they should charge extra for bags, sell reusable bags at a cheap price to encourage their purchase and use and re-use. They should train their cashiers not to just automatically start bagging in their plastic bags, but instead, to first ask the customer if they are using reusable bags, and if the customer says no, they should be required to suggest the option of buying a reusable bag. We should push for a bag tax of at least 5 cents per bag.

    • That is a wonderful idea, David. I’ll have to send your comment on to our campaigns director. In the meantime, we can all start filling out comment cards and writing letters to the stores from which we shop. It seems like a drop in the bucket, but sometimes you can make a difference when you present the idea to a sympathetic store manager. And there’s always the citywide bag ban campaigns we discuss in the latest Green American.

  25. What is particularly annoying is when I checkout at the grocery with my reusable bags, even produce bags, and find they have snuck in a plastic bag somewhere. This generally happens with non-food items, as if my bottle of primrose oil will somehow infect a box of oatmeal if not wrapped in plastic first.

    • Tamalyn, I KNOW! And my head nearly exploded the other day when I bought one item and said I would carry it out of the store without a bag, and the cashier kept insisting on giving me the bag, even after I confessed that I really hate plastic bags. “Well, this will protect it. … Well, I’ll just give you one anyway.”

      To avoid being unpleasant, I just took the bag and then tucked it back into a vacant cashier line. Sigh.

  26. i usually say (not always but about 98% of the time) to the cashier, ” no thanks, they just end up in the ocean wrapped around some poor animal’s body”. then i carry a bunch of items in my arms if it is a small amount because i am not always carrying a reuseable bag. this usually gets a comment from the clerk, or sometimes just a weird look. but i know i have done a small part to not just refuse to use but to educate as well.

  27. Hi anti-plastic warriors! Last week I called Kraft to complain about the change in their packaging practices. I have buying dry roasted peanuts in a glass jar; no ther weird ingrediants either. Now it is in a plastic jar proudly labeled “less packaging”. It is not recyclable! Booo! Now trying to find a source for my fave snack that’s not in plastic! Ideas anyone?

    • Barbara, standing O from DC and Wisconsin for calling Kraft! I’m appalled that their packaging solution was to switch from glass to plastic. I’m shooting them an email right now. When I lived in Florida, there were a lot of peanut vendors with roadside stands, but I’m guessing that’s not the case where you live. Do you have a natural foods store that sells bulk peanuts, where you could bring your own container?

      • Thanks for adding your voice! I checked @ my Earth Origins store for bulk peanuts. Bulk is my preferred mode! No peanuts! Switching to dry-roasted, no-salt bulk almonds! Sob!

      • Barbara, picture me patting your shoulder in sympathy. Try asking the store manager to carry peanuts, and explain that you’re trying to reduce the plastic packaging in your life. Store managers can be quite accommodating to requests, I’ve found!

  28. My 8 year old wrote a journal on getting rid of stupid plastic bags and how he could make the environment better by using his own bags! I’m so proud of him!

  29. You can brush your teeth with baking soda. Many people get fewer cavities using baking soda, it’s cheap, it comes in recyclable cardboard boxes, and it is much better for your digestion than toothpaste. It tastes fine, maybe a little salty. For travel, you can put it in a pill bottle that you can’t figure out how to recycle (some of them have no number on them), or a small metal tin such as some lip balm comes in. Remember to dissolve the soda in a little water before brushing, in case it’s abrasive.

  30. At my food co-op the other day, I found dental floss in an all-paper container. It’s called Eco-dent GentleFloss. I bought some and will try it as soon as I use up what’s left in my plastic dental floss container. Not only is there no plastic involved, but it’s much cheaper than the flosses in plastic packaging. Here’s their website:

    • I have actually tried the eco dent and it is a pretty good product. There is a small bit of plastic that wraps the floss inside of the floss box just for hygiene I guess. Otherwise no plastic! The one drawback for me is that it is not a good glide type floss. It does shred occasionally and sometimes gets stuck between my close teeth. These are problems I am willing to accept for the plastic savings.

  31. I use chip bags, bread bags, cereal bags, the packaging the toilet paper came in, etc. as the garbage bag. That way I do not have to buy plastic garbage bags or use plastic bags from the supermarket. You just have to be careful how you open up products and use small garbage cans.

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