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Recycling Plastic Prescription Bottles

We are just over halfway through Plastic-Free July! So far so good. I think the only thing I’ve bought that may have come in or with single-use plastic are two items I ordered online.

One area of my life where I can’t avoid single-use plastics are my prescriptions. I take four prescription medications every day. (Yay drugs!) I have to get refills on two of them every month, and for the other two, I can get a 90-day supply from the pharmacy.

These are my Prescriptions.

As part of my efforts to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle, I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, but the pharmacy won’t let you bring your own containers. I am in the process of switching my vitamins from plastic containers to glass (preferably with a metal lid) as I run out of each one and buy a replacement.

I decided to look for ways to keep my plastic bottles out of landfill and continue to be used as a bottle.

The Pharmacy Won’t Take Prescription Bottles Back

All my medications are tablets, clean simple tablets. You’d think it would be easy to bring my empty bottle back to the pharmacy so they can remove the label, clean it, and reuse it, right?

Wrong.

I called my pharmacy’s customer service line, and they said they don’t allow customers to return their bottles. But the rep said they have an agreement with the recycling services in some cities to get their bottles back after people recycle them.

A spark of hope! Did they have an agreement with my city?

No.

<Sigh> Back to the drawing board.

I Found a Charity that Recycles Prescriptions Bottles

After digging around on the internet for organizations that take empty prescription bottles, I found Matthew 25: Ministries. It appears to be a reputable charity.

Matthew 25: Ministries accepts prescription and over-the-counter pill bottles, and uses them to help distribute medical aid in developing countries. Many times, when medication is delivered as part of humanitarian aid to developing countries, it comes in a big package, and they don’t have containers in which to distribute the medication. Instead, people are given their pills wrapped in paper, which provides little to no protection from moisture or other elements, and sometimes they’re just put in the recipient’s hand. Our donated pills bottles can have a second life and help someone get the medication they need.

Donate your empty pill bottles Matthew 25: Ministries by sending them to 11060 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, OH  45242. Be sure to check out their detailed instructions in advance. If you don’t follow them, your bottles will be shredded and recycled.

In preparation of sending my first donation to Matthew 25: Ministries, I keep a cardboard box from a previous Amazon delivery on a kitchen chair, where I toss my empty bottles as they are emptied. It looks like it’s full enough to ship now.

Bottles to be Cleaned and Shipped.

I’m pleased I found a charity that takes my prescription bottles and my other bottles for pills that I can only find in plastic, like ibuprofen, antacids, and Rosie’s supplement.

Rosie, my basset hound, is also on medication. (She’s old.) I called our vet, and they said they’d be happy to take back her empty prescription bottles. It feels good to find a way to use these unavoidable plastics to help others and the planet.  

Healthy Eating During Plastic-Free July

Plastic-Free Grocery Haul

I’m just over one week into Plastic-Free July. One thing I’ve noticed so far is that it’s forcing me to eat quite healthily. Most of the junk food I like isn’t available this month. Even in the last few weeks leading up to July, I cut way back on buying foods that come in plastic packaging.

What I’m Not Eating

It’s amazing how many foods I can’t have this month. When I glance around the grocery store, it seems like 90% is food I can’t eat because it comes in plastic. Most breads come in plastic bags. Cold cereal and crackers come in boxes, but within the box, there’s a plastic bag. I have yet to find a brand of pasta that does not have the plastic covered window in the box. If I want pasta, I should find a restaurant that makes their own and doesn’t use egg.

When I’m craving junk food, I can’t stop at the grocery store for a pint of vegan ice cream or a vegan cupcake. I can’t event treat myself to a single serving bag of Fritos at the office. There’s no candy, or even gum, because it all comes in or with plastic. (There are brands of plastic-free gum, but not by the checkout at the supermarket.) If I want ice cream, I can go to an ice cream parlor for sorbet or vegan ice cream and get it in a vegan cone, not a cup. If I want a cookie, there are a few places in town that will sell you a single vegan cookie, or I have to make my own.

I have notice that I have to be more mindful about planning my meals this month because I can’t have any pre-made frozen or shelf-sable meals. This means no gyoza, burritos, or vegan patties from the frozen section, and no mac ‘n’ cheese, Thai food, or Indian food that comes in microwaveable pouches or with plastic wrap, envelopes, or bags.

It also means I can use frozen vegetables, which used to be a staple in my diet. I used to have them at least once, if not twice a day. My freezer used to be filled with bags of fruits and veggies.

What I Am Eating

My rule for Plastic-Free July is that I’m allowed to eat anything that comes in plastic that was in the house when the month started. So, I can have protein powder, coffee, and the bit of frozen fruit and veggies that are in the house.

Most of my food these days comes from the produce section and the bulk bins. I picked up a lot of fresh fruits and veggies this past week, using my reusable mesh produce bags. From the bulk bins, I make sure I always have oatmeal, lentils, rice, and quinoa in the house – also using reusable containers. That’s also where I get raisins, sugar, pumpkin seeds, and corn nuts. My store also has bulk bins for bread, so I was able to pick up some bagels and wheat rolls last week.  

I have dry beans in the house, but it’s been so hot lately, I don’t want to heat the house cooking them. Instead, I stocked up on beans in cans that don’t have BPA in the lining. My go-to meal in a pinch is rice, beans, and a vegetable, topped with a little salt, pepper, and vegan butter. I can also go into the store aisles for canned tomatoes, olives, and pineapple; and peanut butter, jam, oil, pickles, vegetable broth base, and condiments in glass.

Make my own oat milk and vegan butter, so I don’t have to buy them in plastic containers. I recently discovered a recipe for chickpea salad sandwiches, which is delicious. I may try to make my own vegan patties this month since I can’t buy the frozen ones.

I also plan to visit the farmer’s market this month to see what’s grown locally that’s in season. That’s probably the only place I might find plastic-free berries this month. Maybe I’ll find a vendor who sells pasta without plastic packaging.

Plastic-Free July: The Rules

I am doing Plastic-Free July this year. The goal is to avoid using single-use plastics. This event was started in Western Australia in 2011. According to their website, they’ve had over 120 million participants in 177 countries take part to date.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dwysiu/8576080315
Every time I forego a plastic option, I feel like I’m saving a turtle.
“Turtle Canyon” by David W. Siu from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

These are the rules I’ve set for myself:

It’s ok to use the single-use plastics that I already own. (No, I did not stock up heading into this month.) You will still see me using lip balm, flossers, and cleaning supplies that come in plastic. I figured since I already purchased them, they’re destined to go to landfill whenever I get rid of them, so I might as well use them for their intended purpose so as not to be wasteful. I have a few plastic shopping bags under the sink, but I want to try some alternatives to plastic waste bin liners.

When I shop, I will use my reusable produce bags and tote bags, or not use a bag at all. (I love when stores give you a token for not taking a bag, and in turn, you put to the token in the bucket for a charity, where each token will be five cents that the store donates.)

No purchasing produce that comes in plastic – like cauliflower, salad greens, and baby carrots. Many stores sell grapes, and cherries in plastic bags. For those, I’ve been taking a little from multiple bags and putting them in my reusable bag. So far, no one’s looked at me strangely when I’ve done it. (They’re not pre-weighed out, so it doesn’t hurt anyone.) I’ll probably have to buy less produce per visit and go twice a week instead of just once to make sure nothing goes bad.

Check out the farmers market.

Don’t buy packaged foods that come in plastic. This includes all frozen foods, chips, crackers and cereal that have plastic bags in the box, peanut butter in plastic jars, vegan butter, and bread. Instead, I’ll buy things that come in paper, glass, and metal cans that don’t have a BPA liner.

Hit the bulk bins for staples like rice, oatmeal, lentils, and raisins. I re-use plastic bags and bring my own jars for bulk foods. Since I can’t have office snacks that come in plastic, I’ll also get vegan snacks from the bins. I was pleased and relieved to find bread loaves, rolls, and bagels that don’t come in plastic.

Buy vitamins in glass jars.

Drink water from the tap, not the bottled water service at the office. (The delivery person also brings La Croix in cans. I can have that if I want.) I have a reusable water bottle with me most of the time.

Always refuse plastic straws. I’ll carry my metal travel mug and foldable spork with me as needed.  

If no plastic-free option is available, then shift to lower-plastic option if possible. For example, my deodorant comes in a glass jar but has a plastic lid. It’s better than buying an all-plastic version. I buy sunscreen in a metal can with a plastic dispenser, which is better than an all-plastic tube.

Try to avoid using paper products if I know plastic is involved. I keep a hand towel in my desk at work to use a napkin and potholder for my lunch. This month, I’ll also take it with me to the bathroom since paper towels come in plastic.

As always, Rosie is exempt from my shenanigans. Though, I’m happy to report that I found a butcher shop that says they wrap all their meats from the display case in paper, so I can get her chicken sans plastic. (Yay!)

I’m six days into Plastic-Free July, and so far, so good. There have only been a few instances where something I wanted didn’t have a plastic-free alternative, and a handful of times I’ve had to walk back to my desk with wet hands because I forgot to bring my towel with me to the bathroom.

Switched to a Menstrual Cup

If talk about menstruation (periods) or blood makes you squeamish, you might not want to read this post.

Seven months and eight periods ago, I traded in my tampons for a menstrual cup. I’m so glad I made the switch. Note: This post contains affiliate links, each marked with an asterisk (*).

I had two motivations for doing this:

  1. Cost: My Lunette menstrual cup (Model 2)* cost $28.99 on Amazon. It will easily pay for itself in less than a year, and may have already.
  2. Environment: There’s no trash when you use a menstrual cup, just empty, clean, and re-use. Tampons, pads, applicators, and wrappers, on the other hand, pile up in landfills.

Day 1: It Got Stuck

It didn’t get stuck-stuck, but it took a bit to figure out how to slide the cup out of my body. Getting the cup in to my body was easy – squeeze one side in so the circle at the top looks like a “C,” and slide it in. It re-expands back to its circular shape and the little holes near the top create a suction against your skin. You have to break this seal to get it back out, which is challenging when you have tiny hands and short fingers like me. The first time I tried to get it out after wearing it a few hours (you can wear it up to 12 hours) was a complete fail. I got it out that evening, but it took 20 minutes to figure it out.

Leaks Happen – But Not Often

Before switching to a menstrual cup, I dealt with leaks all the time. I have designated underwear for this week. Doesn’t everyone?

I have way fewer leaks with the menstrual cup. I’ve had two leaks because I didn’t quite get the cup into place, and I think I overflowed it once. I just wear black underwear and that seems to be enough. I don’t need to wear a pantyliner or anything for backup.


My Own Horror Movie

Tampons and pads work by absorbing your blood. You can’t tell how much fluid they’re actually holding. Cups are the opposite. It’s just a silicon cup that catches your blood. When you empty your cup when you’re in the shower or sitting on the toilet, it looks like a horror movie. You know exactly how much you’re bleeding.

Thank goodness men don’t get periods. If teenage boys used menstrual cups, they’d be throwing blood at each other in high school bathrooms.

What about Public Bathrooms?

When you empty your cup, you’re supposed to at least rinse it before putting it back in. I’m lucky where I work only has single-user bathrooms so I can easily rinse my cup in the sink.

With multi-user bathrooms, that’s not the case. Thankfully, I’ve only had to deal with this once. I emptied my cup, wiped it out with toilet paper (and dripped blood on my shoe), put it back in, and wiped the blood off my fingers before exiting the stall. It wasn’t a big deal.   

No Rogue Strings (Yay!)

Tampon users know this one: sometimes your string “goes rogue” and pulls in the opposite direction from where it should be. And it hurts. And there’s no discreet way to fix it. You have to reach into your underwear and put it back in place.

When this happened to me, it was usually when I was out running, far away from a bathroom. It happened so frequently, I switched from tampons to “period panties” when I was running. With the cup, there’s no string to worry about.

Equally convenient, I don’t have to worry about having a visible string when I go swimming – which is currently twice a week. (Yes, there’s a true story from my gymnastics days when I was competing in a black leotard with a visible white string!) When I’m at the pool, I always worry that I didn’t put my cup in properly and it will leak. I have a fear of finishing a lap and being confronted by a lifeguard who tells me I’m bleeding in the pool. So far, that has not been an issue at all.

Helps with Dysphoria

Using a menstrual cup* helps with the dysphoria I have about being non-binary and trapped in a female body. When I was using tampons, I had to change it five times a day or more on my heaviest day. That meant I had to have tampons with me, carry them through the office on my way to the bathroom, dealing with the string, and being confronted with my period each time I changed my tampon. Cups are designed to be worn for up to 12 hours, so I only have to deal with it twice a day, three times on my heaviest day. Otherwise, I can “set it and forget it.”

Well, except for the cramps part.

Preparing for Plastic-Free July

I’m preparing for Plastic-Free July, a month where I will be avoiding most single-use plastics.

It’s March.

I know.

It’s 4 months away. Why do you need that long to prepare? You already have the reusable water bottle and bring your own bags to the store. What more do you need?

There are still a lot of single-use plastics in my life. I want to find alternatives for them.

Like what?

Just walk through your day. (Note:This post contains affiliate links, each marked with an asterisk (*).)

I wash and moisturize my face in the morning.

Your soap and moisturizer come in plastic.

I put on my deodorant* that comes in a glass jar. And I brush my teeth with a bamboo toothbrush* and plastic-free toothpaste.

That’s good. By the way, that toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride in it. Ask your dentist to make sure that’s ok.

Some of my zero-waste and reusable products: water bottle, coffee mug, freshly-made almond milk, deodorant, safety razor, toothbrush, and produce bag.

Then I have breakfast – a vegan protein smoothie or a vegan patty on a toasted bagel. I get to have both on my long workout days.

The versions of all those products you’ve been buying come in plastic.

And I have my coffee with almond milk. We make our own almond milk now, and we store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

That’s because the carton has that plastic top on it, so we switched. By the way, we need to find a recipe for vegan butter since our brand comes in a plastic tub.

I use reusable containers to take my lunch to work. After work, my preferred snacks are crackers or a small bowl of cereal.

Cereal and crackers come in recyclable boxes, but they have plastic bags inside them. We’ll have to start making our own, find plastic-free brands, or switch to something else.

Oh geez. Frozen fruits and veggies are staples in our diet. They all come in plastic bags.

It’s going to be an adjustment. I don’t know if we can get berries that don’t come in a plastic container of some type. Perhaps at the farmers market.

Wait a minute. Can’t we use plastic bags as long as we put them in the recycling bin at the store?

The point of Plastic-Free July is to not use them to begin with.

Some of the plastic staples currently in my life: protein powder, contact solution, lip balm, moisturizer, and face soap.

We can still eat things from cans, right?

As long as they’re BPA-free. After seeing the documentary, Bag It, I never want that stuff near me again.

What about vitamins – and your prescriptions?! The pharmacy won’t let you BYO container for that.

That’s true, but we can at least switch to brands of vitamins that come in glass. I will continue to take my medications as prescribed.

Umm . . . what are you going to do about lip balm? You have like 5 of those going at a time.

I will find a plastic-free brand.

What about Rosie?

Rosie is exempt from plastic-free July, just like she’s exempt from my veganism. She’s 11 years old and blind. We’re not messing with her life. But I think it would be fun to try making our own dog treats for her.

What about her dog poop bags?

There may be some experimenting with alternatives like using newspaper or junk mail to pick up after her.

This is hard.

Now you see why we’re taking 4 months to prepare.

I’m looking forward to Plastic-Free July, but I have no delusions. I won’t have a 100% plastic-free life. I want to seek out and reward companies that don’t use plastic packaging and look for alternatives to products that I can’t get without plastic. This will be a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.  

Shifting to Zero-Waste Living

I am trying to be a better human. I eat a mostly vegan diet because I don’t like the idea of an animal suffering for my lunch, and after seeing this turtle suffer, I never want to use a plastic straw again. Inspired by videos about zero-waste living and zero-waste beauty options, I’ve looked at the products I use on a daily basis, and tried to shift to more zero-waste products. I wanted to share some of the little changes I’ve made in my everyday life.

Please note, some of these items have affiliate links. This means if you follow the link and make a purchase, you pay the same as everyone else, but I get a small commission. Any link marked with an asterisk (*) is an affiliate link.

In the Bathroom

Plastic-Free Toilet Paper: It is difficult to find toilet paper where the rolls come wrapped in paper, not plastic, and they don’t come in a 48-roll box. I don’t want a year supply of toilet paper in my home. So far, I’ve only found individual paper-wrapped rolls for sale at Sprouts.

Zero-Waste Personal Products

Bamboo Toothbrush: We’re supposed to get a new toothbrush every three months. I was so happy to find bamboo toothbrushes*, in paper packaging. They come four to a box, and each toothbrush is numbered, so if you have multiple people in your house using them, you can avoid accidentally using someone else’s toothbrush. They have the same durability as any other toothbrush I’ve used.

Zero-Waste Deodorant:  No more plastic containers of deodorant for me. My zero-waste deodorant* comes in a glass jar. You use the little spatula in the jar to scoop a little onto your fingers and then put it on your armpits like lotion. It’s a deodorant, not an anti-perspirant, so it doesn’t stop you from sweating, but you don’t smell when you do.

Menstrual Cup: I will hopefully never have to buy tampons again. The menstrual cup* is a game-changer. Instead of using and throwing away three to six tampons a day during my cycle, I wear this reusable silicon cup inside my body and empty it two to three times a day. It took a few days to figure out the best way to remove it each time, but now it’s easy and convenient to use. Within a few months, this this has paid for itself because I haven’t had to buy tampons.

Safety Razor: I’ve always used razor cartridges that contained plastic, and I wanted to try an all-metal safety razor*. The angle is completely different than other razors I’ve used, and it’s just an exposed blade that’s cutting your hair. It’s easier to nick yourself. I still use my other razor for my armpits and bikini line, at least for now.

Shampoo Bar: This shampoo bar* works great. I rub it on the top my head a few times to build up a lather and spread it to all of my hair. I suspect it could last longer than a typical bottle of shampoo.

Around the House

Laundry Soap in a Box: Do you know how hard it is to find laundry soap that doesn’t come in a plastic bottle or a pod? It was challenging to find laundry powder* that comes in a recyclable box, but I found it. It works just fine.

Reusable Food Containers: I still have resealable plastic bags in my home, and I do use them on occasion, but I try to use reusable glass containers*, and sometimes plastic containers I’ve had for years, instead of single-use bags. When I use plastic bags, I try to reuse them whenever possible.

At the Office and Professional Outings

Bring my Recyclables Home: My office doesn’t recycle, so I bring home papers that don’t need to be shredded so they can be recycled. I have a designated pocket in my backpack for paper to be recycled.

BYO Silverware: The office kitchen has single-use plastic silverware. Instead of using those, I keep a regular spoon and a fork at my desk for eating my lunch and snacks.

BYO Water Bottle: I bring my own water bottle from home so I don’t have to drink water in plastic bottles.

Metal Travel Mug: I have two ceramic mugs at my desk that I use to hold hot beverages and snacks, but I also have a metal travel mug* that I use when going out for coffee or attending events so I don’t have to use a single-use cup and plastic lid.

Reusable Spork: One thing that is always in my backpack is my fold-able reusable spork* so I don’t have to use plastic silverware when I go to conferences.

Grocery Shopping

Rosie’s Chicken in Pyrex, fresh from the market

BYO Container for Meat: When I buy Rosie’s chicken, instead of buying meat in plastic and Styrofoam, I prefer to go to the meat counter and have them weigh the product and put it in a reusable glass container* I brought from home.

BYO Jars for Bulk Foods: I like shopping in the bulk foods section at Sprouts. I bring my pre-weighed glass jars to get what I need. I label each jar with the weight of the empty jar so the cashier can take off that weight and only charge me for the product at check-out.

Reusable Produce Bags: These reusable washable mesh bags are fantastic for produce. If a store gives a discount for bringing your own tote bags, they often give me a discount for each produce bag and jar I use.

What’s Next

Going forward, I want to keep exploring options to be a better steward to the planet. I want to try composting, but have substantial doubts about my ability to maintain my own composting bin, so I’m more likely to try a composting service.

I will also keep an eye out for zero-waste or plastic-free products. Once I run out of liquid hand soap, I’ll switch over to bar soap. I am interested in finding a zero-waste moisturizer. Putting coconut oil on my face sounds like a breakout waiting to happen. As I go through my day, I try to stay aware of when I use plastic products and look for zero-waste alternatives and/or ask brands to change to more sustainable packaging.

Planning my Dream House

For the last few years, I’ve thought about building a house from the ground up for my next home. I’m fascinated by homes that are off-the-grid, net positive, earthships, and tiny homes. I continue to strive to be a minimalist, and I’d like to have a low or zero waste lifestyle. A home should be in harmony with its surroundings and not a structure or a lifestyle that simply takes from the planet without giving anything back.

I would love to work with a minimalist architect who could design a space based on my actual needs now, and what I would likely need in the future. The idea of designing house around your lifestyle instead of fits your needs “well enough” intrigues and frightens me. The scary part is letting go of what I’ve been socialized to think a home needs and instead focus on what I need.

Recently, I saw a 13-part series called Building Green that followed the building of a green home from nothing. It inspired me to begin to think about my dream home in concrete terms. So far, I want a house with:

I want to watch the stars while laying in bed.
“meteo (missed focus)” by Kim MyoungSung from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Straw bale construction for the exterior walls covered in lime and earthen plaster and a steel frame – I know it sounds crazy, but it makes sense from a cost perspective, it’s great insulation, and it’s nearly fireproof. (I want a house where you rarely need to turn on the heat or air conditioning.)

Blue jean insulation for the interior walls. It’s made from recycled materials.

Lots of windows for natural light. I’d rather open a window than turn on a light. I suspect the house will need a wrap-around porch to let light in but keep harsh sun out.

Single story. I’m not climbing stairs.

Cement floors with radiant floor heating.

Skylight or windows in the bedroom that let me see the stars when I’m in bed and blackout curtains for when I want total darkness.

Whiteboard paint on the walls at least in my office.

Built-in bike and skateboard racks on the wall or ceiling.

Washer and dryer that are big enough to wash a king-size comforter.

Solar panels on the roof. Cheers to California for making these mandatory on all new homes.

Gray water system that uses the water from the sinks and showers and uses it to water the plants and a water collection system for collecting rain from the roof when it rains.

Compost pile in the backyard.

Doggy door leading to the backyard.

Outdoor shower in the backyard (with a bamboo privacy screen). It will be handy when the dog needs a bath, and it sounds like a wonderful way to start the day.

Edible landscaping. I have a dream of growing my own fruit, vegetables, and herbs in the backyard. If I’m super lucky, I’ll have a neighbor with backyard chickens and I can exchange produce for eggs with them.

In thinking about my dream life in my dream house, I think I might want 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (with showers, not tubs), 1 office (maybe 2), and an open kitchen/dining/living room area.

For now, this is an evolving dream. The short-term goal is to pay off my condo completely and then save up to pay for my dream home in cash and move in debt free.