Sarah Wolfe


Several weeks ago I attempted to be plastic free and I failed. I have always been very environmentally conscious, I recycle religiously and have a backyard compost, so I thought I would challenge myself to go one week without buying anything with plastic, cooking plastic free meals, and generally trying to be zero waste. I’m an optimist by nature and I really thought I could do it, I had carefully planned out all of my meals for the week, redrafting my meal plan a couple times after realizing that certain ingredients contained sneaky plastic packaging (like the small piece of perforated plastic on the lids of some condiments, and the unnecessary plastic window on every single box of pasta because apparently people don’t know what spaghetti looks like). I was so excited the morning that I was going to begin my challenge, I took out the trash and then set the trash can outside the back door, to discourage thoughtlessly tossing something in there, but I really believed I had planned my week so well that I wasn’t even going to generate any trash.

However, it was not meant to be. An Amazon package arrived generating plastic upon plastic. I decided to put together a puzzle that turned out to be new which meant all the pieces were in a plastic bag. I had a very bad bout of anxiety/depression and a friend came over to keep me company, so I ordered us pizza. I ended up having an upset stomach for a few days and while the canned soup was plastic free, the crackers certainly weren’t. Essentially life happened, and our lives currently revolve around plastic.

I was disappointed in myself for not completing the challenge. My overconfidence and optimism were bitter pills to swallow. However, I took a step back and reminded myself that one person changing their own personal habits will not have an impact on our society’s dependence on plastic. The larger issue comes from companies that need to make changes. It’s a shame that I can’t wake up one morning and think ‘I’m going to eat plastic free today’ and actually be able to do that with ease. It’s unfortunate that my meals were so limited and I felt as though I had to give up all my favorite snacks just to avoid plastic. In response to this, I decided to change my one-week challenge and simply strive to have a plastic free meal, attempting to eat as many meals as I could plastic free and if I faltered, there was always the next meal to try again.

I also began e-mailing companies. I contacted several brand name pasta companies and asked them to please remove the plastic window and perhaps replace it with an illustration of the pasta. This is actually something that Barilla has already done, but only in the U.K., and in my email to them I requested that they expand that to the U.S. I emailed two different companies that make my two favorite snacks and asked them to consider changing their packaging and in the interim perhaps partner with Terracycle so that at least the plastic waste can be repurposed. I emailed the berry company Driscoll and asked what their future plans are in terms of shifting away from clamshell containers to something less wasteful.

I encourage (and challenge) all of you who are reading this to do the same. Don’t be discouraged by our society’s structure, instead let’s work to shift it. Take a moment to e-mail your favorite companies and ask them to make environmentally sustainable changes. Let’s put them on the spot and ask what they are going to do to keep our business because it shouldn’t be about us, the consumer, making sacrifices. It should be about the companies changing their business practices so that everyone wins.

I have found that the two best tips for eating plastic free are simply to: 1. Shop thoughtfully. For example, keep in mind that even though plastic bottles are recyclable oftentimes they have additional plastic either covering the lid or underneath the lid; and 2. Visit your local farmers market. In my opinion, this is the best way to avoid unnecessary packaging, including those pesky produce stickers.

My favorite plastic free meal of the week: Canned black beans, boxed rice, and fajitas made with bell peppers, jalapeno, and onion from the farmers market.

Sarah Wolfe currently lives in Gainesville, Florida. She has always been interested in environmentalism and even began the recycling program at the middle school and high school in her hometown. Everyday she strives to do a better job at reducing, reusing, and recycling. She can be reached at [email protected].