The Struggles of Staying "Green" On the Road (Groceries & Recycling)

Living "green" is important to me. I know, it probably sounds ridiculous coming from someone whose primary means of moving about the country gets 6.5 mpg on a good day. I realize this and can only offer to you, dear reader, the excuse of "but we don't drive that much". And, truth be told, we most definitely use less fuel these days than we did in our "previous {normal} lives". Although we both had very short commutes Clark drove pretty much non-stop during his 10 hour work shift. During our first year on the road we accumulated about 9000 miles between both vehicles...way less than the combined totals of my car, Clark's Jeep and his work vehicle prior to going 'full-time'. Regardless, I am of the thought that we should educate ourselves and make the changes we can, even those that require effort, and make an attempt to be 'good stewards' of the Earth.

Here are some numbers that will hopefully grab your attention:

~The average American (not family...individual) produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage daily
~The amount of garbage that can be recycled...60%.
~60,000 plastic bags are consumed in America every 5 seconds of which less than 1% are recycled.
~2.4 MILLION pounds of plastic waste enter the world's oceans every single hour.
~2 million plastic beverage bottles are used every 5 minutes in the United States alone.

{for more staggering numbers along with links to support these claims click here}

And paper is not a better choice requiring 50% more water to produce while producing 70% more  air pollutants. It is also harder to recycle and leaves forests and animal habits scarred or destroyed for decades.

Recycling makes sense and having always been one to recycle anything and everything possible, the first obstacle we faced in 'green living on the road' experiment has been finding places that accept said recyclables. The first part of our journey, probably all the way through New Mexico, recycling was a snap. There seemed to be just as many recycling containers as there were garbage cans. But once we hit Texas (and all points beyond) it became a task...a dirty, filthy, stinky task in which we were forced to hoard our recycling (piled up in the Jeep) in the hopes that the next town would have a recycle drop off. Our recycling was seeing as much of the country as we were!

Once in a while we'd run across a place that accepted cans or bottles but not the cereal type boxes, paper, tin cans, cardboard, glossy magazines (which all the campgrounds like to hand out as guides to cool things to do in the area) and all of the other items we had been used to recycling in the West (we didn't even have to separate our recycling for gosh sakes!). Things got tense in the Mutiny as we continued to tote an ever growing stash of recycling around with us...so I turned to the Internet (when we actually had Internet) and found a couple of useful websites to help locate recycling centers.

1800recycling.com is a great site that uses your current zip code as well as the type of recycle goods you want to unload to find the closest center. It allows you to search for centers that recycle not only your regular household items like cans and bottles but also hazardous waste (like oil and paint) and electronics. You can also download the app which is handy when, like us, you find that the "free Internet" at your campground doesn't mean it actually works.

earth911.com is a fun site that not only has a link to search for recycling drop off locations but also provides articles you might find handy for reducing consumption or re-purposing items you no longer need.

Target and most grocery stores accept plastic grocery bags for recycling but what many people don't know is that you can also recycle plastic sandwich bags and kitchen storage bags (think Ziplock) along with your grocery bags.

All of these CD's and DVDs fit inside that case but we were left with about 137 cases. Yes, they were all recycled.
And for those of us who are DIYers... Lowes.com can help you find a location for your pesticides, paints and varnishes you no longer need and BestBuy.com has a search area to locate a store where you can drop off old cell phones, rechargeable batteries or CDs and DVDs. I know a lot of RVer's who transfer there CD or DVD collection into a CD case and don't know what to do with the cases...Best Buy can help you out so that you can feel less guilty about contributing to the plastics problem affecting our planet (is the shaming working?).

Even though we have found these resources to unburden ourselves of the massive amounts of recycling we were toting around it became apparent that a better solution would be to reduce the amount of recycling and trash we generate to begin with. I mean, recycling and re-purposing plastic grocery bags is certainly a much better option than just throwing them in the trash but wouldn't eliminating the consumption of these horrible petroleum sucking, toxin leaching bags be even better? (and yes, I am still struggling with an alternative to the good old garbage bag...which is another reason we are striving to reduce the amount of garbage we produce, thus use less bags)

Before we started RVing I was an avid proponent of reusable grocery bags and within 6 months of setting my mind to it, I was 99% successful at eliminating plastic bags from my grocery store trips. Now that we've been on the road for a year I've gotten into the habit of carrying 2 reusable bags (which fold into tiny little balls) in my purse and have now extended the use of my reusable bag habit to cover any and all types of shopping (they bag everything from produce at the Farmer's Market to new flip flops from Menards to carrying left overs from a restaurant). So, I have about 8 bags for groceries and 10 reusable mesh bags for produce and my 2 bags I carry everywhere.

You may be wondering what I do for poop bags since we not only have a dog that we have to pick up after but 2 cats and a litter box. I use bags. While far from perfect, the current bags I am using (for both dog poo and to clean the cat box) are made from recycled plastic by a method that allows them to disappear within 2 years leaving no toxins behind. In a perfect world this would be a great solution but most landfills compact and bury the trash so tightly that even biodegradable becomes non-degradable. Another solution are the corn-based bags which at least do not rely on petroleum to begin with to make their bags. In any case, disposing of pet waste is an issue for all pet owners and whether reusing plastic grocery store bags or purchasing a biodegradable version is your solution we all have to decide which will work for us best. Fortunately, I came across a huge clearance sale on Perf's Go Green Doggie Duty Bags. At 25 cents for 20 bags I feel comfortable in using these (with the 5 cent discount per bag I receive at almost all grocery stores for bringing my own bags it's kind of a wash anyway). I also almost always find "biodegradable poop bags at Marshall's, Ross or T.J. Maxx for way cheap.

When you have to carry your trash and/recycling with you until you can find an appropriate place to dump them you become much more aware of the amount of trash you generate. Our latest endeavor has us looking for ways to eliminate the trash at the source...the purchase of goods. We've all seen ridiculous  examples of over-packaging whether it's the unnecessarily large box used to ship something small or those individually plastic wrapped english cucumbers at the grocery store (that we then put into a plastic produce bag, go figure) so we have set out to see if we could eliminate some of this excess.

A recent trip to the grocery store gave us a perfect opportunity. The easiest area to eliminate packaging is the produce department, and since I am a vegetarian it really does make an impact. Instead of buying prepackage "baby carrots" I bought a bunch of loose carrots (using one of my mesh bags) which I then peeled and cut once I got home. Not only did I eliminate unnecessary packaging but instead of paying about $1.50 per pound for "baby" carrots I paid 59 cents and had the pleasure of connecting with my food by prepping it myself. This works well for all produce...buy a head of romaine rather than a bagged salad, loose radishes rather than those prepackaged, loose mushrooms, tomatoes, apples, etc. You may find that you not only save money (per pound) by buying loose veggies but you have less waste as well, especially when you really only want 4-5 mushrooms and not necessarily a package of 15.

Check out the deli counter where you can often save money while getting a much better quality product which you can ask to have wrapped in paper.
Our next challenge was the deli counter. Clark doesn't often eat 'lunch meat' and it was tempting to just turn a blind eye when he decided he wanted a small package of salami (this happens like twice a year and it would be easy to say 'what does it really matter' BUT it all matters really). Looking at the package of Boars Head Hard Salami I saw that not only was it in a plastic container but it also had plastic wrap. At $4 for 4 ounces I quickly deduced that this was equated to $16 per pound!! Staring at us from the deli case was a huge log of Boars Head Hard Salami for $9 per pound...hmm...I'm no genius but I could see that there was a pretty significant difference here. We of course decided to order a quarter of a pound of the hard salami sliced thin and then asked for it to be wrapped in butcher paper instead of the plastic bags most delis use now.

Obviously this example can be applied to the meat counter as well. By ordering your hamburger, chicken breasts, steaks and fish directly from the butcher you can request butcher paper instead of purchasing the prepackaged meats with their plastic wrap and dreaded Styrofoam trays (boo!!). Another option which I learned from one of my favorite blogs, Zero Waste Home, is to bring in your own containers (she uses mason jars) and have the butcher place the meat in those (they can zero out the scale with the mason jar on it so you won't be paying for the weight of the jar itself). Either way, a few small changes like this can quickly reduce the amount of garbage you'll produce with an added benefit of being a bit 'greener'. Even if it seems to have too minor of an impact (what's one person really able to affect??) I'm of the mind that a few people trying to make a difference with small changes is better than all of us tossing our hands in the air and hiding our heads in the sand.

Moving along in the grocery store we made the best choices we could like buying a 1 pound bag of dried black beans (granted buying in bulk where I could have used one of my mesh bags would have been better but was not available at this store). Again there were significant savings since one can of beans cost about the same as the one pound bag of dried beans (which is equivalent to 4 cans of prepared beans) but I also don't have the headache of finding somewhere to take those cans once they are empty. Other areas of opportunity to eliminate packaging can be found in the bakery where you can ask for your fresh loaves of bread, muffins, bagels or rolls to be placed in a bag you bring with you (linen and muslin have shown to keep baked goods fresher for longer...store that inside a tin and you're set).

There are many, many more ways to shop a little more green than these listed here. Shopping at local farms or Framer's Markets is generally cost effective while being package free (mostly). Buying in bulk, whether truly bulk items like those found at Costco or finding a grocery store that sells from bins where you can spoon out as little or as much of a product as you wish, would be an ideal situation, at least for me. But for RVers it can be particularly challenging since our location might change frequently (like us) meaning we are at the mercy of the stores we can find. We also tend to have much less storage space so buying that one gallon container of mayonnaise might seem like an economically sound decision but it's highly unlikely that it will fit in our fridge. 

We are learning as we go, trying to make small changes as we can with what we have available. These suggestions are based off of our own usage and experiences and we hope to expand upon this in the near future. A lot of the suggestions have links to our Amazon affiliate store which show products we actually use however many can be made by those who are handy with thread and needle, as a matter of fact I have made many of my own shopping bags from old t-shirts as well as mesh produce bags from and old laundry bag. The suggestion of the linen bread bags can be substituted by making your own from an old sheet or purchasing material to sew your own. I have also purchased Envirosax from Groupon for significant savings.
I am NOT very handy with thread and needle but making my own bags was a great learning experience.

To date, all of my handmade bags have held up quite well.

I've been inspired by several websites and blogs. I hope you will find some inspiration as you peruse these resources below:

Zero Waste Home

My Plastic Free Life

thedailygreen

Care2

Mother Nature Network


“Tales From the Mutiny (represented Lynn and/or Clark Bonelli) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

Comments

  1. Wow! Very Glad I found your blog!! We will be full time in a Class A before or by this fall. We have been recycling and minimalist plastic users since 1972, when we got married.

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