I recently read a long thread on the Ravelry boards about some places around the world banning plastic grocery bags (if you’re wondering why this topic is on a knitting/crocheting board think about how excited a bunch of yarn-loving folks would get over the idea of designing the perfect grocery bag). I’ve written here about my quest to become a Plastic Bag-Free Home and a couple of challenges I’m facing. The discussion over at Ravelry had people bringing up several issues that I don’t face, not being in their situation at this point in my life, and it got me to thinking: there MUST be solutions to these problems if we think hard enough. I did… and I came up with some.
Pet Waste: anybody who’s owned a dog in the last 10 years knows that it’s no longer cool to leave dog poo lying in wait for the next unsuspecting passer-by. The most convenient way to deal with this is to carry small plastic bags with you. You turn the bag inside out, put your hand in there, grab the poop from the outside and flip the bag rightside in again. Voila! – poop in a bag and you didn’t have to get your fingers dirty. These bags are then tossed into municipal waste and end up as little perma-bombs of poop in our landfills. Not. Cool. So what’s a dog owner to do? Well, I came up with this one pretty quick: how about a tupperware container? You’d need a little scooper too, though if you did it right you might be able to use the lid as a scooper. You could keep the tub and scooper in a fabric bag. Sure the bag might get a small amount of waste matter on it but that’s why you use a washable bag. Anybody who claims this gets them too close and personal to their beloved animals’ waste products should think twice about ever having children. A quick Google search revealed that I’m not the only one who’s thought about this issue. Check out the Doggie Doo Digester (a septic tank for dog waste) or the Sha-Poopie, a telescoping dog waste catcher with plastic container at the end (which I would wash and reuse rather than throw away).
Other Pet Waste: people who have cats generally have to clean out litter boxes. Ditto if you have rabbits or other rodent pets, or basically any animal that defecates in its bedding. The usual cleaning method is to scoop out the waste (clumping cat litters have made this very convenient), put it in a plastic bag and dump it in the municipal garbage where it can join the dog poop and disposable diapers in creating little time capsules of fecal matter in our landfills (the problem, of course, is when this fecal matter leaks from tears in the bags and contaminates the groundwater). A quick Google search revealed many so-called “biodegradable cat litter” products, but if they’re sealed up in plastic what’s the point? Well, I thought about this issue and was reminded of my days as a stable-hand when I used to muck out horse stalls. Horse bedding ’round here is usually sawdust-like chips and they aren’t cheap so you want to toss out as little of it as you can when removing the manure. A pitchfork and a good technique with the wrist makes this simple and easy. So why not do the same for cat and rodent litter? With the right type of litter/bedding you should be able to just scoop out the cat and rodent poop without too much litter attached and then just flush it down the toilet. And hey, apparently you can buy environmentally friendly, flushable cat litter so perhaps you don’t even need to sift it. The bottom line is that toilets are where poop belongs, not in our landfills!
Diapers: I don’t need to go into all the benefits of using cloth diapers: there are dozens of great websites out there to convince anybody to give them a try (try The Diaper Pin, or Mothering Magazine’s Cloth Diapering forum). But when we are talking plastic bags a couple of issues were brought up. Some people said they used plastic bags to seal up dirty diapers. Well, if you are using cloth how about doing what I did and just carry a few Ziploc freezer bags in your diaper bag? They keep the odor in the bag and they wash out easily with soap and water. They are durable enough that I used the same 5 bags for over two years with my son. And when they are spent you can recycle them (yes, apparently they are Plastic #4, which means our city will accept them for recycling). As for disposables, you can also use ziploc bags if you are in a situation where there is nowhere to dispose of a dirty diaper but then if you’re going to toss what basically amounts to poop wrapped up in a plastic package with Elmo printed on the cover then adding another plastic bag around that is probably not going to make things much worse. I don’t think I need to emphasize the fact that, aside from plastic grocery bags, disposable diapers are the number one item in landfills. It is supposedly illegal to dump human fecal matter in landfills, but we all seem to turn a blind eye because disposables are so darned “convenient”. If cloth just seems like too much work (or if you live where water is a scarce resource) check out the super cool G Diapers.
So these are just a few issues that have been brought up and, in just a few minutes, I came up with an answer. I know I’m not the first one to do so and I’m sure if I spent more time Googling I’d find even more solutions. The point is, I was a bit surprised at how quick people were to deem a plastic-bag free existence as “impossible” simply because they had pets or babies. It’s like nobody can believe we ever managed without plastic bags. Well, I like a challenge and I’m going to continue to pursue this one!