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Reducing Plastic Through Refills #ditchplastic

For years, Peter Tatikian and his wife, Kelley Skumautz, have made a game out of avoiding buying single-use plastic bags. This has been especially interesting when it comes to picking up after their terrier/chihuahua mix, Ollie. It takes a little more creativity on every dog walk. “We have become very inventive in finding bags to pick up poop,” Peter says. This has included paper wrappers, tortilla chip bags, frozen vegetable packaging, and even the plastic mailing sleeves that magazines get mailed in.

The couple began simply enough by bringing their own cloth bags to the store. “It was hard to remember to bring our reusable bags to the grocery store at first,” Peter says. “But after a while, it became second nature, and eventually it was just a no-brainer.”

That first rule of thumb has led to other ways of avoiding the ubiquitous plastic bags and other single-use products, especially when it comes to food and groceries. For example, the couple brings their own containers to buy rice, fig bars and other foods in bulk from stores such as the IV Food Co-op, Pacific Health Foods and Lassens. They buy bag-less bread from local bakeries, and bring their own containers for ice cream refills at Rori’s Creamery. Instead of plastic wrap, they use cloth for sandwich wrappers. They have even managed to avoid takeout boxes and utensils from restaurants by bringing along their own “to-go ware” as they walk, bike or drive to local eateries. “We avoid single-use products whenever possible,” says Peter, “but when we do have to purchase single-use containers, we choose glass over plastic every time.”

Peter and Kelley’s desire to see less stuff tossed into the trash and recycling streams, however, has been just the beginning of the couple’s efforts to lead a less wasteful life.

When it comes to clothing, Kelley tries to purchase from consignment stores instead of buying new items, and they look for brands that offer lifetime repair policies. Recently, Peter found a Patagonia jacket at a local thrift store with the zippers on the pockets ripped out. “I sent it back to Patagonia and they repaired it. For something like $6 plus shipping, I got a really sweet jacket and kept it out of the landfill,” he says.

When they do purchase new clothing, Peter and Kelley try to buy clothing made only from natural fibers like cotton, linen, and wool and avoid others manufactured from oil-based synthetics — including polyester, spandex, and nylon, because it takes longer for those materials to degrade in the environment.

They have also sought to help others reduce their plastic consumption through their respective businesses. As a technology consultant for local small businesses and non-profits, Peter advises his clients to “repair, not replace.” Many of his clients assume that devices with cracked screens, poor battery life, and slow operating systems need to be tossed and replaced with brand new ones. According to Peter, most of the time, devices with these issues can be easily fixed without having to recycle or replace them.

“Someone could spend between $500 and$1,000 for a whole new computer and have the same problem again in a few years,” he says. “Or I can charge them for a few hours of labor and the machine will run like new.” Repairing electronics instead of going out and purchasing the newest, shiniest model can save money, reduce electronic waste, and fossil fuels involved in making a brand new gadget, he argues.

Kelley has also taken her side business in a plastic-free direction. She started Refill to You, out of her desire to see less waste. Kelley hasn’t purchased new containers of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hair spray, laundry detergent, or dish soap in more than four years, and she’s helping others do the same. Not only does Kelley’s business eliminate an extra errand for people, it also reduces the number of disposable containers going into recycling bins and landfills.

Peter and Kelley’s holistic minimal-plastic, minimal-waste ethos has extended into every aspect of their lifestyle and into the lives of the customers they serve. Researching products with the least environmental impact, planning out purchases, and preparing before you leave the house can help minimize the plastic your household consumes, too.

“We’re not trying to change the world,” Peter says, “just our little corner of it.”

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    Emily DeMarco

    Emily DeMarco holds a master of environmental science and management from the Bren School at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she specialized in strategic environmental communication and water resources management.
    Emily DeMarco

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