By Carole Upshur, Bronxville Green Committee
Feb. 17, 2021: Plastic is causing havoc in the environment and to human health. Plastic is critical in the medical field, and we can’t eliminate it from our lives, but we can purchase fewer single-use plastic items.
No Such Thing as “Biodegradable Plastic”
“Biodegradable plastic” is a misnomer, and manufacturers who use it are indulging in “green washing,” making an item seem environmentally beneficial when it’s not. Since plastic is not organic, it can never biodegrade; that is, it can never be broken down by bacteria, fungi, and other organic matter into soil. When manufacturers call an item made of plastic biodegradable, they mean it breaks down into smaller pieces more quickly than regular plastic. This might allow it to take up less space in landfills (in Bronxville, our trash is incinerated), but it still enters the soil, air, and water with all the attendant negative effects on health.
Items that look like plastic but are made of organic matter such as corn are truly biodegradable; when commercially composted with other organic matter, they become soil. The term “biodegradable” in this article refers to matter that truly biodegrades into soil.
The Best Strategy
Try to avoid buying new plastic items, but if you already own a set of plastic food storage containers, a salad spinner, colander, or small electrical appliances with plastic components, don’t throw them out in favor of a new, natural product. Just keep using them for as long as you can--you are still saving them from the plastic waste stream. I have a 20-year-old salad spinner that still works and a 50-year-old Cuisinart with a plastic mixing bowl that’s going strong!
Purchase storage containers made from glass, ceramic, or stainless steel instead of plastic. Crate and Barrel, Bed Bath and Beyond, Ikea, and Target all have good selections.
Some reusable snack and sandwich bags are made of silicone. Although silicone is a form of plastic, it’s durable and reusable. The retailers mentioned above sell them.
When freezing food in glass containers, choose tempered glass. Leave plenty of space for expansion as the food freezes, and be sure to place only thoroughly cooled food in the freezer, to prevent the glass from cracking. Some steel canisters work well for freezing; they can be found on some of the special websites listed below. Most do have silicone sealing rings.
Cloth lunch bags are readily available, but many have plastic zippers and liners. For a plastic-free version try Etsy.com and packagefreeshop.com.
Bamboo drinking straws can be found at brushwithbamboo.com. Stainless steel drinking straws are listed on various sites, including Target and Walmart.
Compostable food storage containers, straws, and liners for garbage bins can be found at www.ecoproductsstore.com. This site offers large quantities for restaurant use but also smaller quantities for home use. Compostable trash bags can also be found at overstock.com.
Bees wrap is a reusable, organic cover that you mold with your warm hands to fasten over containers, in place of plastic lids or plastic wrap. You can find it at Target and anthropologie.com, among many other eco-friendly retailers.
Plastic free kitchen sponges, derived from plant products such as coconut hulls or loofah gourds, are available at Etsy.com, and on many other eco-friendly sites.
A dish soap block for hand washing dishes allows you to avoid a plastic container and the plastic micro-beads contained in some dishwashing liquids. Soap blocks are sold on many sites, including notoxiclife.com, which also carries biodegradable sponges.
Mesh produce bags to bring to the grocery store can be found many places, including anthropologie.com.
The Vermontcountrystore.com carries stainless steel ice cube trays.
Biodegradable birthday candles are available at packagefreeshopping.com.
Bathroom and Personal Hygiene
So many sites offer such a wide variety of plastic-free grooming tools and personal care products, it’s impossible to list them all. Packagefreeshop.com seems to have almost everything.
There you can find:
If you’re looking to replace a plastic razor with one made of stainless steel or chrome, Walmart, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond carry them.
Brushwithbamboo.com carries bamboo personal care items with natural bristles, including:
Bamboo and cotton Q-tips can be found at Esty.com.
You can also find a refillable dental flosser at getquip.co, but the floss itself is standard nylon.
With wool dryer balls you can avoid using synthetic dryer sheets; look in Bed, Bath and Beyond. I found mine at TJ Max.
The Refill Room, located in nearby Hastings, sells laundry detergent with a baking soda base and other natural ingredients, without plastic ingredients and in a refillable glass container. Find that, and other natural cleaning products, at: www.refillroom.com. During Covid they offer curb-side pick-up or you can arrange for a delivery.
Have a Dog?
You can find compostable dog waste bags at Provisions for Pets on Kraft Avenue and at packagefreeshop.com. This site also has an ingenious compostable paper cone scoop for dog waste.
Compostable mailing envelopes are available at noissue.com.
Look for biodegradable pencils at packagefreeshop.com.
Stainless steel pens from Zebra come with refillable cartridges and are available at many office stores and online sites, including our own Bronxville Stationary. Retro offers stainless steel pens with metal, not plastic, refills.
A New Model
In Canada, it’s easy to find retail outlets based on a model in which customers bring their own refillable containers and stock up on basics such as flour, sugar, shampoo, and moisturizer. The Refill Room in Hastings follows this model, as does Whole Foods, for limited items. If you’re serious about cutting down on plastic waste, trying out this concept is a great way to start.
Note: Carole Upshur, EdD, is Professor Emeritus, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Photos courtesy Bronxville Green Committee
Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.
Bronxville is a quaint village (one square mile) located just 16 miles north of midtown Manhattan (roughly 30 minutes on the train) and has a population of approximately 6,500. It is known as a premier community with an excellent public school (K-12) and easy access to Manhattan. Bronxville offers many amenities including an attractive business district, a hospital (Lawrence Hospital), public paddle and tennis courts, fine dining at local restaurants, two private country clubs and a community library.
While the earliest settlers of Bronxville date back to the first half of the 18th century, the history of the modern suburb of Bronxville began in 1890 when William Van Duzer Lawrence purchased a farm and commissioned the architect, William A. Bates, to design a planned community of houses for well-known artists and professionals that became a thriving art colony. This community, now called Lawrence Park, is listed on the National register of Historic Places and many of the homes still have artists’ studios. A neighborhood association within Lawrence Park called “The Hilltop Association” keeps this heritage alive with art shows and other events for neighbors.
Bronxville offers many charming neighborhoods as well as a variety of living options for residents including single family homes, town houses, cooperatives and condominiums. One of the chief benefits of living in “the village” is that your children can attend the Bronxville School.
The Bronxville postal zone (10708, known as “Bronxville PO”) includes the village of Bronxville as well as the Chester Heights section of Eastchester, parts of Tuckahoe and the Lawrence Park West, Cedar Knolls, Armour Villa and Longvale sections of Yonkers. Many of these areas have their own distinct character. For instance, the Armour Villa section has many historic homes and even has its own newsletter called “The Villa Voice” which reports on neighborhood news.
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