Soap Nuts and Bentos–The February Challenges

After my small success with getting rid of liquid soaps and their respective bottles in January, I decided to try two separate goals for February.  I chose to try two different things because the  two goals for February had different levels of commitment and preparation and I wasn’t sure if the shipment would arrive in time for me to start this month or next.  I decided to go ahead and attempt to cut out delicious convenience store food from my life and also to find a substitute for my laundry detergent.  

Easy in thought, difficult in practice

The first ‘plastic reduction’ goal for February was to stop eating packaged food and drinks from the convenience store.  This doesn’t seem like a difficult thing, but anyone living or who has lived in Japan knows that convenient store food is actually pretty decent tasting and also perfect for after a long day of work.  I spent about half an hour one evening deciding which foods had ‘acceptable’ levels of plastic and which foods were ‘unacceptably’ plastic packaged.  

My beloved bento (boxed lunches) and sandwiches (noooooo! My sandwiches! I need those to collect those cute plastic toys of Rilakkuma!  *runs away crying*) were deemed too much plastic.  Hot foods that were on sticks and wrapped in paper were still acceptable (though really horrible for my health).  All drinks in plastic bottles were stricken from the menu.  Any drinks that were served in glass or cans were allowed meaning, I could drink as much beer and wine to help me forget all of the convenient precooked food I was missing.  

The conbini struggle is real

This step was the hardest part for me because I absolutely hate cooking.  When I started this goal, I was working a full-time job and several part-time jobs, so getting rid of pre-made food was a giant commitment.  I started off the month by spending a free Sunday cooking a large batch of chicken breast and then freezing for me to eat later in the week.  The first month was definitely the hardest, and I admit that I was not perfect (and still am not) in this transition.  And…..If I am to be completely honest, I was not successful this month in achieving this goal.  I actually had to retry this particular goal again in June.  It was particularly hard to give up prepackaged comfort food.  Alas, just another reminder that I am far from perfect….

First cooking and now laundry!  This is the worst….

Now that I was –begrudgingly–cooking all my own meals, it was time to address the issue of replacing my liquid laundry detergent.  The first thing I tried was using powder detergent.  I went through a whole box of powdered detergent and every single load had white residue on clothes!  I tried dissolving the powder in water before adding it to the drum but it still happened.  Also, I couldn’t find any brands of detergent that came without the plastic scoop.  So….time to try something else.

The next thing I could think of to try was to look up how to make my own laundry detergent.  It is pretty common for green people to make their own laundry detergent, however, I was unable to find the ingredients needed to do so in Japan.  Also….I don’t have an oven–and this is a big part of making the detergent (depending on which recipe is used).  So, in the end, I decided to use soap nuts.  

Soap nut tea=squeaky clean clothes

In the end, I decided to try out soap nuts, and I am glad I did.  I used (which ships internationally to many countries–be sure to ask for no plastic in your packaging too!) to get them shipped to Japan.  You can also get soap nuts from Amazon if you’d prefer.  Some people don’t like to use soap nuts because you have to soak them in warm water before using them in your laundry, however I didn’t mind this as I always had hot water ready in February anyway.

Soap nuts are completely biodegradable and easy to use.  They are also reusable for up to seven loads (I usually only used them for three most times) and I used one 16 oz bag from March 2016 until I left Japan in March 2017.  I still had a lot of them left, and was unsure if I could bring them through customs, so I gave them to a friend.  

In the end, it took me almost a month to use up all of the powdered detergent that I got to try and then another couple weeks for the soap nuts to arrive.  My plan to have two February goals did not work out, so I just shifted the soap nuts goal to March and did two plastic-removal goals in March instead.  

Now that you know a couple ways to reduce your plastic, what things would you like to try?  Please comment below and let me know!



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