No-Buy Challenge? Really It’s Our Buy-Less Life
September 20, 2020
Mr. Plastic Picker and I went to Costco for the first time in months together. Since becoming the Plastic Picker family and trying to reduce our plastic consumption compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, we have reduced the things that we bring home. I have salvaged over 1000 things from the landfill mostly aluminum cans. The 1057 items I have salvaged, I try to recycle, regift, repurpose or donate. I have three bags today going to GoodWill of salvaged shoes and clothes that have been cleaned. The answer it not to wishfully donate our things away, because much of it also will end up in the landfill. The answer for our family has mostly been to slow down the things that flow into our home.
Marie Kondo was very popular for a while. I never read her work and did not give her any of my money. When she opened on on-line store selling stuff, I tuned her out. I had been skeptical from the start. As I have told my children and anyone who will listen to me, when the crowd goes right you go left. It just didn’t strike me as a good thing for everyone to get rid of everything as that would inevitably create trash. Many people practice wishful recycling and wishful donations. Most people don’t want our old things, and it’s kind of elitist to think that those that are economically less well off should gratefully take our leavings. Isn’t it better to create a healthier and more egalitarian (but still capitalist) world for all of us based on a circular economy? I was reminded this when someone left a baby bouncer on top of their garbage bin in my neighborhood. I was insulted as a litter picker and walked right past it three times on my plastic picking walk. Like having children, when you bring something into the world (or buy it) I think one is responsible for it and to make sure it goes to where it is meant to be.
Yesterday Mr. Plastic Picker and I finally went to Costco together. We go before the crowds and it is relatively empty. I had been avoiding Costco because for most of my life, I have always left with things I never intended to buy but then suddenly felt like I needed. I have instead been going mostly to Sprouts and buying food with less packaging and from the bulk bins (which right now still uses plastic bags, but at least those bags I can use as doggy poop bags). Something definitely happened to my mind and worldview this last 12 months of plastic picking and salvaging things from the ocean. When I think of the things I have salvaged this is how I think of them.
|Item||Total||Fate||The Good Gained||The Bad Averted|
|Aluminum Cans||408||Recycled||Can power a computer for 200 days||More Mining|
|Plastic Bottles||178||Recycled||Saves Twice the Energy of Burning It||Great Pacific Garbage Patch|
|Sand Toys||173||Gifted||Regifting, Kids Love Them!||Great Pacific Garbage Patch|
|Flip Flops||21||Gifted||Saved Someone $10 each pair||Great Pacific Garbage Patch|
|Clothing Items||74||Donated||148,000 L of Water Saved for the world||Landfill Space|
|Toys||21||Gifted||Saved Someone $5||Landfill Space|
|Glass Containers||36||Recycled||Industry employs 1.1 million people||Stop dredging rivers for sand|
|Hats||8||Donated||More Jobs at Goodwill||Landfill Space|
|Tenis Balls||26||Gifted||Saved Friends $$||Landfill Space|
|Swim goggles||7||Gifted||More Jobs at Goodwill||Great Pacific Garbage Patch|
|Office supply Item||28||Reused||Saved Myself $$||Landfill Space|
This inventory of things I have picked up has changed me. I have big Dr. Plastic Picker Buy-Less Muscles now. I bravely walked into Costco and we left mostly with only the food we needed. Very little prepackaged and processed food, and mostly fruits and vegetables in as little packaging as possible. I walked by the meat section and remembered I still had plenty of pinto beans, chickpeas, and tofu at home. I walked by the clothes section and held Mr. Plastic Picker tight when he said he needed a new pair of shorts, and reminded him “we have to wear our values.” I walked by a cute Baby Yoda and thought, no thank you. We are certainly not perfect as I still bought a large conditioner for our daughter that is a plastic bottle and likely made with palm oil. We are not yet at bar shampoo and conditioner. Mr. Plastic Picker wanted to try a Korean new packaged ramen they had. But overall we felt very good leaving Costco with our $260 bill with mostly food staples.
And with less plastic things in the house, I have mental space to think about the container garden we are starting in the back. I have mental space to think about the vermicomposter project I’ve always wanted to try. We did go to Home Depot to buy some things to start our garden, but our plan is some of it will be repurposed containers. The vermicoposter I could buy, but there is an easy enough project on youtube that I can watch to reuse some platsic tubs I already have.
And living a buying-less life gives me more room in my heart for my family and friends, environmental advocacy and for you – dear readers of this blog. Olaf #3 (don’t ask me why we bought 3 Olafs at Costco years ago) made it home to his new family is Texas, along with our 2006 Honda Odessey Minivan. Remember that was our 4th car in a 3-driver family which makes no sense. We added $4500 into of liquid assets, and saved about $300 a year in DMV fees and insurance cost. With the money saved we are adding it to our financial fund to buy a rental condo (that is actually our dream retirement condo). Stay tuned! So remember the words of Olaf, “Let It Go” but not into the ocean. Let go of the myth that things will make you happy. It’s strengthening family, rebuilding community, regenerating the earth and rewilding our worlds that will bring us true contentment. Although for Dr. Plastic Picker, real estate makes me happy! Real estate that doesn’t create more suburban sprawl but builds density and community.