The Plastic-Free Bag Lady
By: Jessica Deseo
This past month, a few of us at The Dieline decided to take the pledge for #PlasticFreeJuly. This is the second of three articles in the series. You can view the first one here. Check back tomorrow for more!
No matter what social and economic background you come from, living plastic-free is hard.
Like, really fucking hard.
Convenience and time is everyone’s priority, whether you’re single, a parent, or on a budget. But as a former package designer, I’ve begun to realize the effects of plastic. Just being so close to the industry, you truly start to get the idea that the materials you use to package products are having a detrimental impact on the environment.
While I later retired as a hands-on packaging designer, I remained within the industry through The Dieline. We write an awful lot about plastic waste and sustainability, and learning about some of the statistics is alarming. 91% of plastic isn’t recycled and reading that the discovery of the plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is bigger than Mexico was eye-opening.
This past July 1st, I took a pledge with many others through plasticfreejuly to try and live plastic-free for the entire month. It wasn’t exactly a hard sell—try not to purchase single-use plastic for an entire month while taking care of Mother Earth? Sign me up.
We put a few rules in place as we didn’t want to entirely upend our lives by including our significant others. In my case, it was my husband, my beautiful 18-month-old daughter, and our beloved pet dog. We’d also grandfather in some of the existing items we already have as we didn’t want to create added waste.
One of the significant takeaways I got from going plastic-free was that adapting your beauty and health regimen is tough. My make-up, toothbrush, all the things I use to cover my puffy eyes, and my daily contacts are all in packaged in plastic. There’s nothing easily accessible in this category in some type of reusable or fillable glass container. I wish I could live my life a-la Alicia Keys and go makeup free, but sadly, I cannot.
Food was another huge one. We all need to eat right?
This suburban Mom from Orange County has a few familiar go-to’s, and Trader Joe’s is definitely not your friend when you’re going plastic-free. Discovering that I couldn’t buy my usual suspects was heartbreaking, and I had to limit my weekly purchases by buying things strictly for my daughter. Almost everything was packaged in plastic.
The farmers market is a great place, but again, there’s the convenience factor. I have a small window on Saturday to head over to the market and get my weekly necessities. If I missed the boat, I would have to go to the grocery store. Luckily, I discovered Sprouts, a grocery store that offers countless dry goods in bulk. You can even bypass the usual meat section and head straight for the butcher who will wrap all your meats and fish in paper.
Even though taking the pledge was difficult, there were a few positives, and there are definitely some parts of my life where I will remain plastic-free. I purchased produce bags, so I no longer place my vegetables and fruit in plastic bags. Certainly, California has made great strides, and everyone must bring their own grocery bags or be forced to purchase their own. Still, the produce bags are very much alive and well, and they haven’t stopped being just as wasteful. A simple purchase on Amazon eliminated the need for plastic produce bags at the grocery store, and now I just bring them with my grocery bags. When it comes to wrapping produce or food, I now use beeswax, a great alternative to plastic wrap.
I’ve also completely eliminated coffee cups and water bottles from my life. On average, I get a to-go coffee 3-4 times a week. I commute via train to North East LA from Orange County a few times a week, and takeaway coffee is convenient.
That said, carrying two types of cups and my lunch turn me into a bag lady—which brings me to the packing I had to do for my daily commute. I carry a refillable water bottle, a reusable coffee cup, my lunch, and a backpack with my laptop and purse. I even carry wooden utensils in my purse. Needless to say, I learned how to pack as efficiently as a traveling salesperson.
I also discovered that my bathroom is riddled with plastic, and I made a few adjustments. I now use shampoo, conditioner and body wash all made in bar-form that's sold in paper packaging. Lush was an especially great resource for plastic-free products. For body lotion, I used coconut oil that comes in a glass jar, but there are countless DIY recipes available to consumers who’d like a little less plastic in their medicine cabinet. I even purchased an electric razor—this one, in particular, has almost zero plastic packaging.
At times I would also find myself wishing places would let you at least bring your own cup to refill, or that hey had alternatives to packaging things in plastic. I was cup-rejected at a concert for trying to reuse my beer cup, and the venue mentioned that they count their beer sales by how many cups they sold which is rigoddamndiculous. Can’t you add up your beer sales at the end of the night? I also wish restaurants would use to-go containers using less plastic, similar to Chipotle and their paper pulp alternatives.
We live in a world of excess and waste. Doing this challenge made me aware of how much plastic I use in my everyday life, and just how much I can eliminate.
While it isn’t very convenient to carry so much on my commute or to the grocery store, it’s also not convenient for me to know how much waste goes into my usual iced-coffee. Yes, there was a small investment in going plastic-free, but in the end, I think I did my best this month considering my lifestyle.
But it’s also something I want to stick with. And I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t taken the pledge.
Jessica’s always had a love for design. A creative cookie since her first set of scented markers.
After graduating from the Art Institute of California - Orange County in 2005, she started her first job as a package designer and has worked as designer for 10 years. Working in a variety of roles and specifically as an in-house package designer for a variety of fortune 500 companies. Her love for packaging has lead her to have a leading role at The Dieline.
When she isn't designing, she's traveling, hiking, cruising the beach on her bike, or playing with her lovable dog Winston.