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Monday, September 20, 2010

Plastic, plastic, plastic!

A light dish-washing day
© L Kathryn Grace
Aaaaarrrrrggggh! I've spent most of the afternoon trying to solve three problems without bringing more plastic into the house. I'm about to utter a very bad word out loud.

Here's the thing. In my quest to reduce and eventually become a zero waste household, I try to make every purchase count. Rule of thumb before buying (it wasn't always so) is this: Do we really need this item? Can we solve this problem without buying something new? Will our lives be better with this thing? Truly? Can we get it on FreeCycle? Craigslist?

Once I've made up my mind that bringing something new into the house is worth the trouble, the big question is: How can I meet this perceived need ...
  • Without buying more plastic;
  • Without contributing to unfair labor practices; and 
  • With the least possible harm to the planet and its ecosystems?

Here's what I'm up against today. Wait. I'll share the search for just one of the items--similar issues for all three, boiled into one scenario. A little background first.

Racking up change

For the last nine or ten months, I've worked and cooked at home. Where food counts, we've changed our lifestyle drastically. In the past, with both of us working outside the home, it was not uncommon to eat all three meals out. When we did eat in, quite often we ordered delivery. Luckily, we live in a town where local and organic may be difficult, but not impossible to find on a daily basis, so our eating out habit was nourished with good food that met some of our needs to be socially responsible.

Now that I'm cooking most of our meals from scratch, and preserving some foods, I'm spending more and more of my day in the kitchen. I'm constantly looking for efficiencies--big and small. One I would like to achieve is in cleanup. We don't have an automatic dishwasher--not that we wouldn't like one. An efficient dishwasher saves water and energy, but we don't own one, and there's not much room for it if we did. I wash most of the dishes these days. Typically, I let them air dry.

Back in the day, all we needed was a small dish drainer for the occasional cereal bowl, soup pot, utensils. Now that I'm washing dishes one or even several times a day, depending on the cooking projects, the tiny Rubbermaid drainer we've had for years isn't holding enough. Hence, the photograph illustrating this post.

Know this. I. am. not. taking. time. to. dry. every. dish. (I don't iron my sheets either, thank you, Ann Landers.) Nope. Tried it. It's just not happening. I need a bigger dish drainer.

We’re changing, the world’s changing—Catch up manufacturers!

Every few months, a cup falls off the stack, breaks, and I go on line, hoping to find a new rack that will meet my needs at last. The non-plastic options are wood, bamboo, and stainless steel, all small. If there is a large dish drainer on the market without plastic parts, I have not found it.

simplehuman Dish Rack, System, with Bamboo Knife Block, Stainless SteelThere are some near misses, but none entirely suits. This Simple Human dish drainer is the one I like best. It's big enough. Has that handy knife rack and a good-sized utensil holder. Downside: It has significant plastic features. Plus, I have no idea where it is made. Their web site doesn't mention that. If they're using Fair Trade practices, they're not bragging about it. What about materials? Where are they sourced? How are they extracted? And did you notice that price tag? Maybe that's what stainless steel and plastic are worth these days. How can I know?

Zojila 'Rohan' Dish Rack Drainer Utensil holder and Drain board, Stainless Steel Self DrainingThen there's this Zojila Rohan dish drainer. It's sleek, upscale, designer-looking, all stainless steel except for little plastic feet. I like it too, but it's not going to hold nearly enough. Who knows where and how it was made, and by whom? Plus, there's that astronomical price tag--again. But hey, it's pretty and functional--if you don't have many dishes.

I noodled around a bunch of green sites, hoping to come up with anything else. Nada. Maybe I missed something.

Ideally, I could walk into my local Ace Hardware, or take the train and bus to a big-box store, and find a rack that meets my need. With luck, they would have something on the shelf, not in a box, not wrapped in Styrofoam and shrink-wraped and tied down with five or six plastic ties.

It would have been shipped on a pallet with fifty or so others, which would itself, of course, have been triple shrink-wrapped to prevent damage enroute, but at least it would have been shipped on one big truck headed for one destination, or two if the store has a regional distribution center. Oh, geesh, there's just no getting around it. Buying anything requires buying products of indeterminate origin, rarely manufactured under fair trade policies, and shipped hither and yon on one shrink-wrapped pallet after another. Fissel.

A less than ideal solution or no solution at all

What's a world-saving granny to do? Without. That's what. Three or four months down the road, I'll break another dish, drop another pot on the floor for the umpteenth time because I didn't want to take an extra twenty minutes to dry the dishes, and I'll start the search again. Will there be anything new? Something to ease my buyer's angst? Doubtful. Who knows? I'm open to suggestions.

For today, there will be no online orders, no trips to the giant kitchen supply stores, and no shrink-wrap to wad up and throw in the trash.


  Disclosure:  If you follow one of the Amazon links above and purchase something, it is possible I will earn a few pennies. What a thrill that would be.
We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.
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6 comments: said...

Here's what I do. Before I start washing the dishes, I put a tea towel (drying cloth) on the side. I stack up my washing up on the tea towel. This provides a kind of non slip surface, and I have to say I've never had a breakage by the washing up slipping down. I never dry things either - I leave it all to air dry. The tea towel absorbs most of the wet leaving me to get on with other, more meaningful things...

Hayden said...

I was going to comment on the dish towel notion mrsgreen shared above, too. For me, the problem with actually using that idea is that while I've got lots of square footage here, I've precious little counter space. So spreading things on a towel automatically means no food prep etc. until that batch is dry, and for me it's not practical.

While I hate plastic, I'm not certain that the standard plastic-coated metal dishdrain is all that bad. Yep, it's waste when it hits the landfill, and we don't know who made it. But you can get them at the hardware store w/ no additional packaging, unlike the heavily packaged fancy stainless steel ones that are just never big enough. And they do last well. Not forever, but a couple of years.

Yes, it's not a perfect solution. But it is mindful. said...

We don't have a dishwasher either, and our drainer looks like yours, all day long, everyday.

P.S. Thanks for reminding me about Freecycle.

Kathryn Grace said...

mrs green, thank you for the tea towel solution. Like Hayden, I have very little counter top space. In fact, that photograph shows it all. I'm hoping to eliminate having to stack pots and pans outside the rack so I can save those ten inches or so for food prep. I really need a solution that permits me to stack high while permitting more airflow.

Hayden, I've considered going with a larger vinyl-coated rack similar to the one I have now. It's the best solution, space-wise, and cost-effective! We've had this one since 1995, and it's perfectly fine. If I didn't need more space, very likely it would last until I die--which I expect to be another thirty years or so. For something lasting that long, the trade-off isn't that bad. I had hopes of doing better, is all.

fullsoulahead, welcome back! I miss your blog, Michelle. When I had two growing kids, my dishes were always piled up--and I had a big dishwasher back then!

Hayden said...

Kathryn, you ARE doing better. Every single day you push a little further, every day you get some wins. What you aren't, (maybe) is perfect. And given the highly imperfect world we're in, I personally believe that it may still be impossible to get this stuff right completely - now. Every year it's getting better as more people become mindful of what they're doing, and as more people do, it pushes the envelope on developing better solutions. I absolutely applaud your efforts - but don't punish yourself for not hitting perfect yet! Just think of the extra time/stress-relief you'll have to apply to your goals when you have the convenience of a right-sized dish drain! You use it absolutely every day.

Kathryn Grace said...

You know, Hayden, I think you're right. I'm going to go back and look at one of the big Rubbermaid drains again. Given how long they last, and the fact they're coated steel, which saves on dish chips (I'm pretty clumsy), that may be the best way to go after all. Thank you for the encouragement and reminder to be kind to myself about these things. And yeah, I'm far, far, far from perfect, don't even try to go there!

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