by Helene Shore, co-chair, 350 Fairfax

For those of you who know me, you know I have been on a Plastic Free—or very near Plastic Free—journey for many years.

I must admit that, since this pandemic outbreak, I have accumulated more plastic than I accumulated in the past ten years combined. It’s shocking. I am probably not the only one experiencing this, especially if, like me, you are having everything—and I do mean everything—delivered.

How do we continue to be good stewards of the earth, live a sustainable lifestyle, and keep ourselves safe?

A few things are still in our control, and we can focus on them to offset our unintentional plastic use. Let’s start with the basics.

Buying Package-Free Food

A CSA (community supported agriculture) share is a great place to start. With a CSA share, you are eating local food and supporting a local farmer, and most of the food you receive is not packaged in plastic. Occasionally, you find something in a plastic bag, but for the most part, it is plastic and package free. Plus, local farming does not deplete the soil of nutrients or contribute to climate change in the way large-scale commercial farming does. Most small-scale farmers regenerate the soil by rotating crops, using sustainable practices, etc. But I digress; this is an entire topic on its own.

Another food option is ugly produce. Several companies offer delivery of weekly boxes (and they are cardboard boxes) of produce and other items that would be heading for the trash. The food is perfectly good and safe, and usually is too small or too large, or has a scar or is misshapen, or is in oversupply or unwanted by a grocer. Non-produce items may have a best buy date that is so soon that grocers won’t buy them. In my experience, this food has never been a problem. It is boxed with very little if any plastic. For example, mushrooms this week were in a paper bag, and the rest was just placed in the cardboard box with no plastic. The box is delivered to your door. The company I use is Hungry Harvest, but there are a few others out there. [Editor’s note: I have been using Imperfect Foods, and they also use minimal plastic packaging. —Julie]

With an ugly produce delivery service, you are helping keep food out of the waste stream and either creating methane in the landfill or being burned and polluting the air.

Growing your own food is another option, even if it is just a couple of pots of herbs. Windowsill gardening can even be done now that the weather is changing. I have basil growing in a glass of water and am going to try other herbs as soon as it gets too cold outside for my pots of herbs. I have also experimented with drying herbs from my pots of herbs.

Believe me, I am not a gardener and I have no yard to grow things, but even without the skill and the space, I was able to keep a tiny box of food growing.

Planning and Repurposing to Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is a huge issue. We waste approximately 40% of the food that is grown in the U.S. Let’s take a look at our own food waste.

Do these scenarios sound familiar to you?

    • Cooking too much food, putting it in the fridge, and forgetting about it until it looks like a science experiment.
    • Buying so much food we can’t possibly eat it all before it goes bad.

If we make a concerted effort to reduce our food waste, we could save all those toxins going into our air from landfills and incinerator facilities.

We can do this by buying less, planning meals, freezing leftovers, and repurposing bits and scraps. Freeze those wilted carrots, celery stalks, peels, and scraps of vegetables and make a broth or soup when you have enough. Take those apples that have bruise spots and make applesauce. Use fruit that is not so great to eat raw anymore to make jams, muffins, or whatever. There are so many recipes out there.

Freeze your leftovers. We all have good intentions of eating leftovers, but if you are like me, that always doesn’t happen. Put leftover food in glass containers or jars and freeze.


Composting is the perfect way to put your waste into resources. If you can compost at home, great! Your plants will love it. If you can’t, there are companies out there that—for a monthly fee—take your waste and compost it. Locally, these companies include Veteran Compost and Compost Crew.

For those who don’t have access to composting, either at home or through a company, there are other ways to use your waste as a resource, not a detriment to the planet. Local farmers may take your compostable materials for free. Ask at your CSA or at the local farmers’ market. Worm composting is another option. It can be done in an apartment, and if done properly, it doesn’t smell and is a fun project. Learn how to compost with worms at home here.

Eating Lower on the Food Chain

So many resources, such as water, grain, and fossil fuels, go into the production of animals for human consumption—not to mention the deforestation of the rainforest to grow crops for animal feed and the pollution of water and air, the depletion of soil, and the impact on climate change. Animals raised for food is one of the leading drivers of climate change.

Choosing to eat lower on the food chain makes a huge difference and lowers your carbon footprint considerably.

Buying Other Essentials

Some of us, like me, don’t want to give up all our pleasures. Wine is one of mine. I was able to find a place called First Leaf that ships wine to my door without any plastic packaging. The bottles are packed in cardboard separators in a cardboard box. The glass bottles go to the purple bins for recycling, and the corks are recyclable. A win-wine situation.

Toilet Paper

Who Gives A Crap packages its rolls of sustainable toilet paper in paper, ships it to your door in a cardboard box, and donates 50% of its profits to nonprofits that provide toilets in areas where they are needed. This company also sells tissues and paper towels.

Reusable Sponges

There are sponges on the market that are machine washable and last for extended periods. I have had mine for over a year, and they are still going strong. No need for plastic sponges that wind up in the trash after a short time. Here is one reusable sponge option.

Dishwashing Soap Blocks

Dishwashing blocks last for months and are solid soap, no plastic at all. They work really well and are perfect for washing those pots, pans, and dishes with your reusable sponge. Here is one dishwashing soap block option.

Contacting Your Favorite Local Businesses

As consumers, we have a lot of power. Let’s put our power to use this week.

Call your favorite local business and ask them to use less or no plastic packaging when you place orders for curbside pickup or delivery.

Talk to local businesses about their use of plastic. When you order delivery food or takeout, say no to plastic utensils, condiments in little plastic pouches, paper napkins, etc. And ask that the business at least ask their customers if they want these items before they include them in the bag.

Be creative. Don’t give up. Share what you are doing with others (and share on social media with the hashtag #PlasticFreeDMV). Encourage others to take this journey with you. We will get through this, and we will make a difference.