Live Plastic Free? Failure IS An Option.

When the cast and crew of Growing A Greener World were first asked if we wanted to join in Rodale’s Plastic –Free February Challenge. My first thought was, “As a mother of two young boys, that is impossible for me. I can’t possibly do THAT!”

Plastic spout on orange juice carton

As a mother, I knew how difficult it would be to feed my family without plastic showing up on something!

Although I grow a lot of my own food on my urban homestead, I know that in order to feed my family, I have to buy milk, juice and other foods that I simply can’t grow. And I also know that those food items are not available to me in glass-only containers. Yes, I can purchase milk in waxed cardboard. But the spout is plastic! Yes, I can buy frozen juice (in a cardboard tube), but that defeats my mission of fresh food for my family. And what about things like toothpaste, medications, shampoo and the ice packs I use in my kid’s lunchboxes? Yep. All plastic.

I knew I would fail at this challenge.

If you know me, then you know that I don’t like to fail. At all! In fact, I tend to dive into things with all my heart and soul. Umm…You might say that I am a bit of a Type-A personality. Okay. I said it.

So the idea of “trying” something half way didn’t appeal to me. Instead of “trying”, I always feel the need to win. If I were to do this, I wanted to be really completely 100 % plastic free. But I knew that was not feasible unless I left civilization and hauled my family off to a homestead in the wilderness to live off the land. (Not that I am opposed to doing that, mind you. I would love to do that! But it is just not a practical option on such short notice. There are all those pesky responsibilities like school, jobs, etc.)

So when first asked to participate in the challenge, I initially declined because I knew I would fail. However, after talking this over with Growing A Greener World’s Christa Hanson (who dove into this challenge wholeheartedly), I suddenly realized that I was missing the point.

By trying to eliminate plastic, we are not trying to be perfect. Instead, we are taking baby steps toward a goal and that is so much better than taking no steps at all!

By participating in this challenge, WE DO NOT FAIL even if we are not able to follow all of the rules everyday. In fact, we all WIN simply by creating awareness in ourselves and in others.

Okay, I get it now and I’m in. I will provide my challenges, frustrations and successes here as a mom, gardener, home canner and of course, as the Associate Producer of Growing A Greener World.

Stay tuned…


Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive Producer and the canning/homesteading expert on Growing A Greener World TV. She creates seasonally inspired pantry items based on homegrown and locally-sourced produce. A lifelong canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program, Theresa also studied sustainable horticulture and culinary arts. She also blogs at LivingHomegrown about homesteading & preserving. Follow her on Google+ and download her FREE CANNING RESOURCE GUIDE.


  1. Jane Ricciardi says

    After watching an episode of Growing a Greener World the other night and looking up a recipe, I have just now discovered this blog post on going plastic free. I have been aware that there are problems with plastics and food prep and storage. I also know that Europe has had different standards for food safe plastics than the United States has had in the past.
    How can I tell if my older Tupperware (marked with a fork and goblet instead of a number) is food safe? At the time that I purchased it, the European market used that symbol to indicate that the plastic was safe for food prep, reheating and storage.

  2. says

    Man i hate those pesky responsibilities. I iwish I *could* just jump off to a homestead in the wilderness.
    Your post makes me feel a little bit less guilty about the lids on my vodka bottles (urr .. I mean medication). I see co-workers take a plastic spoon stir something then chuck it and I am like “wtf?!” – maybe I am not as terrible bad as I think I am.

    • Theresa Loe says

      LOL – good point about the “medication” Twyla. I was double checking my wine bottles tonight. Good thing I drink the good stuff with real corks! HA!

      Perhaps you can post a few articles on the dangers of plastics for those unaware co-workers. You know – anonymously!

  3. says

    I wish I could say that plastic wasn’t even, but I think on some level it is. We use it unnecessarily as in the cases cited above. It comes from oil drilling, which leads to use depleting a resource and the instance that happened this past summer in the Gulf.

    There are also the potential health effects of using plastics when it comes to food

    Plastic itself is only about 150 years old, so we lived in a world without it much longer than we did with it. We’ve become too dependent on it because it’s cheap.

    • Theresa Loe says

      Thank you so much for this link. This is excellent info. It is cheap and easy – tough to convince companies that we don’t want it. Baby steps.

  4. says

    They do! And as far as the plastic cap on the orange juice goes – what was wrong with the cardboard carton tearing open across the top like they used to? I’m sure the cap keeps the OJ fresher, but how much fresher? It helps prevent spillage, but how about just being careful? And this is just one little link in the chain…

    • Theresa Loe says

      I can’t believe it makes that much of a difference either Kylee. But it is the publics perception of perfection in how clean and nice the container looks.

      Funny side note: I did find a creamer that had the old fashioned tear open top. But it wasn’t organic! Ugh!

      • Joe says

        Or, you could learn to drink it black. That would eliminate the creamer problem all together. You can help save the planet and some bucks. See, aren’t you glad you have me for this stuff?

        • Theresa Loe says


          Sorry Joe. If I did that you would find me face planted on my laptop and getting no work done at all.

          Trust me. It is better that I have cream so I am more productive for GGW.

          And no comment from you about me being a Type-A person? I left myself wide open on that one.

  5. says

    I think the entire purpose of this challenge is not to see if we can do it, but to realize how hard it is to succeed. Plastic is everywhere. Challenges like this really focus our attention to that fact and hopefully motivate us to do something about it. Merely succeeding at forgoing plastic for a month changes little more than our perspective of the entire plastic problem. You don’t have to succeed in completing the challenge for that to happen. It’s what comes next that is important. Do we run the challenge for a month and blog about it for that time? Do we incorporate more ecofriendly routines in our lives as a result? Or do we start writing companies asking for change in packaging? It’s not the challenge itself that is important. It’s what we do once the challenge is over that really matters.

    • Joe says

      Very well said Kat. I too have learned that living plastic-free this month won’t happen. I’d say it’s impossible, given how our society uses it for everything, especially food! But as you said, it’s the take-aways from this experience that matters. I know in the 3 days I’ve been at this, I am much more aware at how much I took for granted my consumption of single-use plastic. I’m already working on reducing that.

      • says

        Not only that, but since it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the day that plastics don’t exist, it’s important what we do with them once they’ve served their purpose. I’m not convinced that plastic is evil, even though the use of it is out of control.

        • says

          Kylee I agree with you. I’m not convinced that plastic is evil either. But that photo of the orange juice carton above is a good example of just how far out of control our use of plastic has become. I think we, as consumers, need to really let companies know when we think their use of plastic in packaging is excessive or unnecessary. All those stupid little plastic tabs and lids really do add up.

          • Theresa Loe says

            They do add up Kat! One trip to the grocery store and I bring several home on each trip. I switched to a creamer without a cap. (had the old fashioned cardboard opening) But that is just ONE.

  6. says

    I think the other thing that this puts into perspective (at least to me) is now all of the oil drilling makes sense because it’s used to make these plastics. This is another reason that we need to think of and use alternative options. All of this plastic isn’t necessary.

  7. says

    This is the hardest challenge I’ve ever done. Theresa presented it to me as avoiding single-use plastic, and this is nearly impossible. I already get milk and yogurt in glass bottles, and cheese from a CSA that recycles even the plastic that the cheese comes wrapped in. But I get funny looks when I hand my own cup to the snack bar guy at the rink, not for coffee (that’s quite common now) but for a soft drink. I tried to buy spices by bringing my own used jars to the spice shop–turns out it is AGAINST THE LAW for them to put spices into a reused container, even one that the customer brings. You can get toilet paper wrapped in paper, but only if you buy it just one roll at a time. The whole thing has really opened my eyes, which is the point of the exercise I suppose.

    • Theresa Loe says

      YES! It really opened my eyes too Xan. EVERYTHING we touch seems to come wrapped in a single use plastic wrap. EVERYTHING. I thought I had a grasp on the size of this problem, but until I started the challenge, I really did not. Thanks for taking the challenge along with us.

    • says

      My own particular focus is the single-use plastics. I thought the hard part would be things like to-go cups, straws… but turns out that’s easy! I don’t mind the funny looks, I already get that with my blue-streaked hair and crazy scarf. (Ok, I did tear a straw wrapper last night before I remembered, but someone else offered to use it so it wouldn’t go to waste.) The daunting part to me now is the plastic packaging at the grocery store. I paid attention on my last trip, a week ago (still in January), but didn’t buy differently, just took note. Now this time I’m going to see how much of that I can change. I’m really excited, actually!

  8. Joe says

    Great post Tloe and I have to say I feel better now. After my first night of trying, and failing misribly, I tried again the next day. Better but a long way from plastic-free. Yesterday was the best yet…but still. But as I’ve quicly realized, this month-long jouney is in the lessons we learn along the way, not in winning. If in any experience we learn, we win.

    • Theresa Loe says

      Exactly Joe!

      It’s the journey for sure. And isn’t it amazing as we go through the day to see how much plastic we touch? From the moment we wake up and turn off the alarm clock to when we go to sleep after brushing our teeth with our plastic toothbrush.

  9. says

    When you strive for perfection, you are destined to fail.

    I believe that you have to do the best and make the best decisions given the circumstances that you are facing at that time. It’s what you do 90% of the time that truly matters.

    • Theresa Loe says

      You are right Mike. I’m seeing that now. It sounds so overwhelming to even try. But now, I am very glad that I am.

  10. says

    This is true, Theresa. And it’s how I feel about a whole lot of things such as this. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to do without something altogether, if we insist upon that, then there’s an entire group of people who won’t even try. I feel a blog post coming on…

    • Theresa Loe says

      True Kylee-
      I felt defeated to even try. But then I realized that it was not about perfection here. It was about awareness.

      It is similar to how we wear Joe’s green wrist band that says “Growing A Greener World”. It is a daily reminder to try to do something for the planet, but we certainly can’t be perfect about it.

      I’m glad I changed my mind. It is teaching my kids about plastics too.


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