It's important to create a family identity that we are people who care for the earth. -Katie Kimball

123: Practical Baby Steps to Reducing Plastic Use With Sandra Harris

I thought I was pretty “green” and “crunchy” after almost a decade and a half using stainless steel water bottles, but I still learned so much from our guest today!

Say Goodbye To Plastic is new book by Sandra Ann Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox, which we’ve been using for years packing lunches.

She dropped some bombs that are both frightening and encouraging, like:

  • What the plastic in the ocean is really like 😮
  • How the pandemic has affected our environment, so far
  • Whose responsibility it is to reduce plastic waste
  • How to ditch the plastic when ordering online (I’m sooooo excited about this!!!)
  • Super surprising items that are actually made of plastic 🙁
  • The depressing news about recycling plastic (and why “reduce” comes first, then “reuse,” SO important to remember as we make purchasing decisions!!)

And we talk about building a family culture of caring for the earth, something that’s always been very important to me.

Sandra is so encouraging and uplifting, shares some practical baby steps, and also knows the facts (even if they’re intimidating).

Check out her new book here and the amazing lunch gear she created.

Can’t see the video? Watch Reducing Plastic Use in Your Home here on YouTube.

No time for the video? Here are the notes!

Reducing Plastic Use in Your Home

  • 0:06: Today’s we’re talking about something near and dear to my crunchy, green heart: avoiding plastic and taking care of the earth
  • 0:58: I’m talking with Sandra Harris, an author, and environmentalist who runs eco lunchbox and wrote the book Say Goodbye to Plastic. You can read a review of the book here.

“Mooooom, I’m hungry!!”

How many times do your kids ask for snacks each day? Wouldn’t it be a relief if they were empowered to prepared their own snacks, instead of coming to you and whining about how hungry they are?

Download and print:

SNACK RECIPES KIDS CAN MAKE

  • 2:00: Sandra shares her background with us and how much nature impacted her as a child. 

Scaring people into avoiding plastic isn’t nearly as effective as loving them into it. -Sandra Harris

  • 4:03: Sometimes it feels like the little steps don’t make a difference, but we have to start and the changes add up. One of my first eco-switches was that I used the same napkin for 2 meals in a row. That seems small but it meant half the napkin trash! There are some tips for cheap, easy cloth napkins in this post.

We Use How Much Plastic?!

  • 4:39: Plastic is in the news a lot now. We see islands of plastic, stores are banning straws, etc. It’s accumulating rapidly in our environment! 
  • 6:54: It’s important to be educated about the facts about plastic, but don’t get bogged down in the negative. It is possible to live joyfully, more cheaply, and more simply without plastic. It can be inspiring to see influencers who show a year’s worth of trash only filling a mason jar, but that can feel overwhelming! Start small and keep moving forward.

I’m not a perfect person who is 100% plastic-free, but I have set my GPS, I’m steering towards plastic-free. -Sandra Harris

  • 8:43: Look for opportunities to say goodbye to plastic over time. You can’t make the change overnight. Sandra encourages you to start where you are.
  • 9:51: It feels like we can’t make a difference as individual people. If we all think we won’t make a difference, then no one will do anything. It isn’t just me, it’s we. We all need to take steps forward together to make a big difference
  • 11:27: Sandra gives us some tips for communicating with our friends and family in a way they will listen without getting defensive. 
  • 13:28: We don’t want reducing plastic use to become a divisive issue that will cause arguments within communities. You just start walking the walk and sharing what you’ve learned with those who are interested.
  • 14:09: My husband and I have stainless steel water bottles given to us 15 years ago. How many times have we refilled those? If we had used plastic water bottles instead of refilling our stainless ones, how many water bottles would we have used and thrown away in 15 years!?

All of these small choices that we make really do amplify. -Sandra Harris

  • 15:02: When someone is reluctant to get started sometimes quantifying and estimating the impact over time can make a huge difference in their attitude. As an example, 2 kids in school and 1 parent working outside of the home will generate over 3,000 pieces of trash just during lunchtime in one year!! :0
  • 16:07: There’s also a cost savings to going plastic-free. Buying prepackaged apple sauce, cheese sticks, disposable napkins, and utensils are all more expensive in the long run. Stainless steel containers seem really expensive, but they very quickly make up their cost when you aren’t buying packaged foods. We have stainless lunchboxes that we’ve been using nearly daily for 10 years! Talk about a good value for your money!
  • 18:45: Sandra’s ECOlunchbox lids are silicone. They’re dishwasher and oven safe, won’t crack, and don’t contain BPA. If you do lose a lid, they have replacements that aren’t expensive. 
  • 19:25: ECOlunch box publishes their planet impact on their website. They don’t use any plastic in their products or packaging. They’ve sold nearly 1 million lunchboxes since starting in 2008 and helped people save hundreds of millions of pieces of trash over the years.

Practical Steps to Go Plastic-Free

  • 21:25: We get into some super practical tips for someone getting started going plastic-free
  • 23:02: One of Sandra’s top tips is to bring your own bags to the store. Many places aren’t allowing this due to COVID. You may not be able to bring containers in for bulk items, but you can have your items placed back in your cart, bring them out to your car, and bag your items in your reusable bags yourself. Read Sandra’s blog article about plastic-free tips during COVID here
  • 23:30: When you’re online shopping try to find companies that do plastic-free shipping or carbon offset. You can actually request that your amazon account be flagged for plastic-free shipping as well! I had no idea! Go into a chat and once you get to talk to a real person, request that your account be marked for plastic-free packaging. 
  • 25:37: Studies are showing that the amount of plastic waste has gone up 30% during COVID!

Don't worry about what you can't do, let's think about what you can do. -Sandra Harris

  • 26:17: Choose a room of the house to start in. (The kitchen is often high impact.) Do a plastic audit and write down all the plastic you want to get rid of in that room. Don’t be overwhelmed. Now you have a plan to move forward step by step. 

Hidden Plastic in the Home

  • 27:18: We go through some surprising plastic items that you might not even think of. You know those laundry soap and dish soap pods? Those are plastic and when they dissolve, they’re introducing microplastics into the water system. Here are some eco-friendly laundry soap options: laundry strips and soap nuts.
  • 28:46: Plastics don’t disappear. They degrade and fall apart, but then they’re just little particles of plastic that we can’t really pick up or get out of our oceans. 
  • 29:30: Surgical masks and baby wipes seem like they’re fabric, but they’re polypropylene. Many fabrics that we use for clothing are plastic. Don’t be fooled by “bioplastics” just because they’re made from plants doesn’t mean they’re safe for the environment.

We have to be cautious and practical. Use things made from natural materials. -Sandra Harris

  • 31:16: We get on autopilot, and just use what we’ve always used. We challenge you to pause. When your dishwashing pods run out, look for a more eco-friendly option. Note: Sandra mentions that she uses Seventh Generation powdered detergent, but the cardboard boxes actually have a thin layer of plastic lining them and are not recyclable! So tricky!

When those dishwasher pods run out -- Pause. Can you make the same choice even though you have more information? - Sandra Harris

Recycling is NOT the Answer

  • 32:40: Many people feel better about themselves if they recycle. Hate to break it to you, but recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In reality, almost no plastic is recycled. The US used to ship our plastic recycling to China, but in 2018, they stopped accepting it. You need to listen to this information! Most people have no idea what is happening to their “recycled” plastic! Here’s the Planet Money show Sandra mentions

No one’s out there trying to intentionally trash our earth. There’s just a lot of misinformation. -Sandra Harris

  • 36:09: I thought I knew the answer to this question! I’ve read that plastic recycling is 20% efficient. So we’re still losing a lot of that plastic in the recycling process, but I had no idea that most plastic wasn’t even being recycled at all! 
  • 36:33: Contact your local recycling agency and see exactly what they accept and what they actually recycle. If you’re putting styrofoam or waxed cardboard in your bin in hopes that it will get recycled, you’re just creating a lot of extra sorting work. Only 1-3% of plastic actually gets recycled globally.

If we're curious consumers and we're asking questions, that's always helpful. -Sandra Harris

  • 38:52: Even when you live a highly reusable life, so many things come in plastic! 
  • 39:15: We still want to participate in recycling to make sure the program doesn’t go away altogether.  Paper, glass, and metal are still highly recyclable and useful.

If we don’t have plastic that needs to be recycled or thrown away, that’s the best. Refuse it as much as possible. -Sandra Harris

  • 40:24: It’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” in that order intentionally. We tend to consider “recycle” as the redeeming first step towards saving the environment from plastic.
  • 40:34: I remember reading a story about plastic bags gumming up the recycling system and centers were tossing the entire truckload if it had plastic bags in it!
  • 41:21: We’re on a journey, there’s no arriving or badge for being plastic-free. We keep moving forward, learning, and doing the best we can with what we know. 

Talking to Kids About Reducing Plastic Use

  • 41:52: How do we talk to our kids about this? We like to teach kids to cook and eat healthily. Thinking about the containers they’re eating from is part of that! Sandra had her kids start packing their own lunches from a very young age. I love that! 
  • 45:28: We’ve created a family culture where reusable options are the norm.
  • 46:26: Sandra leaves us with one last piece of encouragement.

More Resources to Reduce Your Plastic Use

Sandra HarrisSandra Ann Harris is the founder and president of ECOlunchbox, a mission-based consumer products company. Her passion is protecting the oceans by reducing people’s dependence on plastics. ECOlunchbox innovates and sells high-quality, plastic-free food container solutions. She has a diverse background in business consulting, product development, investigative journalism, and digital marketing strategy, along with her work in the non-profit sector for a humanitarian aid organization. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

say goodbye to plastic

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About Katie Kimball

Katie Kimball, CSME, creator of Kids Cook Real Food and CEO of Kitchen Stewardship, LLC, is passionate about connecting families around healthy food. As a trusted educator and author of 8 real food cookbooks, she’s been featured on media outlets like ABC, NBC and First for Women magazine and contributes periodically on the FOX Network.

Since 2009, busy moms have looked to Katie as a trusted authority and advocate for children’s health, and she often partners with health experts and medical practitioners to stay on the cutting edge. In 2016 she created the Wall Street Journal recommended best online kids cooking course, Kids Cook Real Food, helping thousands of families around the world learn to cook. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child learning to cook.

A mom of 4 kids from Michigan, she is also a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, member of the American Institute of Stress and trained speaker through Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power.

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