Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Plastic Free Christmas: A Success!

On Christmas morning, I received a text message from my friend Neal asking, "Did Santa bring you any plastic this year?" With all the holiday excitement I forgot to respond to him, but I should have said: "Yes, Santa brought me some plastic...but not much."

So now you know.

My Plastic Free Christmas wasn't plastic free. My family gave me a few gifts containing plastic, and I gave a few gifts that had some plastic packaging.

Then why was my Plastic Free Christmas a success? Because my family and I tried our hardest to avoid plastic, and we did a darned good job at it. Read on to learn about a few of our plastic free successes, as well as the few gifts that weren't so plastic free.

Plastic Free Gifts

Received

  • Two one-gallon glass jars (no plastic coating or seal on lid)
  • Wooden cutting board
  • Book on home canning
  • Book on bread baking
  • Gift certificate for a class at the Old Town School of Folk Music
  • Wooden hair comb
  • Owl mug
  • Eyeshadow and lip gloss in metal tins
  • Burt's Bees rosemary mint shampoo bar
  • Dr. Bronner's soap bars
  • Lush deodorant bar (my sister hates the way this smells. I'll have to test it and see what I think)
  • Sappo Hill soap bars (very yummy smelling!)
  • Socks (held together with tiny metal clips)
  • Bottle of fancy corked beer from Trader Joe's
  • Lindt chocolate bars
  • Chocolate chip and molasses cookies (although I just learned that my family ate these while I wasn't there. Curses!)
Given
  • Electronic Threadless.com gift certificate (admittedly, this will result require a plastic envelope for shipping the t-shirts)
  • Electronic itunes gift certificate
  • Outdoor planter
  • Books on woodworking
  • Issue of Tools and Jigs magazine
  • Bulk candy from Whole Foods (wrapped in paper bags and tied with pieces of ribbon)
  • Bottle of fancy Italian soda
Gifts with Difficult-to-Avoid Plastic

Received
  • Pizza Stone - This was the worst offender because it had Styrofoam to hold it in place within the box, as well as a bag around the metal rack that came with it (sorry to out you, Mom!)
  • Bike pump - My new bike pump is made of metal, but a few parts are made of plastic.
  • Two one-gallon mason jars - These were shipped in bubble wrap and sealed in plastic.
  • Two pairs of socks - These has a plastic binding to hold them together.
  • Plastic gift cards to Whole Foods and Starbucks - I told my family it was okay to get me gift cards since ultimately I would get to use them for less "plastickie" stuff.
  • Five pairs of nylon undies - I looked it up and I'm still not sure if nylon is technically plastic so I'll list it anyway just in case.
Given
  • Four sweaters - Each of these had a plastic binding to hold the tags on.
  • A veggie steamer - It was hard to see it, but legs for the steamer were not pre-attached and were wrapped in a little plastic bag inside of it.
  • A small bottle Captain Morgan's Rum - My brother-in-law is obsessed with Captain Morgan's rum, and it was a necessity that I buy this for him even though the bottle had a plastic cap.
  • T-shirt - I bought a cute t-shirt for my baby nephew online a while back, and forget that it would probably come shipped in plastic. It arrived in a thick plastic envelope.
As you can see, there really wasn't much plastic involved, and I'm proud to say that I had a mostly plastic free Christmas.

To my family: Thank you for all your support with this! It really meant a lot to me!

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Christmas Wish: Better Chemical Regulation

This Christmas, I could ask Santa to make people stop drinking bottled water or ask that he help people remember their canvas bags when they go to the market, but I think it might be best to ask for something even more far-reaching.

I would like to ask Santa to make the U.S. government and the EPA create stricter regulations and review policies for the man-made chemicals that find their way into almost everything in our homes, including the foods we eat and the toys our babies put into their mouths.

According to a recent news article:

"In the U.S., industrial chemicals are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Passed in 1976, the law requires companies to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for permission to use new chemicals. But companies do not have to test for potential health hazards, or provide any proof that the compound isn't hazardous.

Since the law passed, more than 82,000 chemicals have been registered with the EPA; environmental health scientist Michael Wilson says only a few thousand have received careful vetting. "The great majority of chemicals in common use have not been adequately studied for their effects on human health," says Wilson, executive director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley. "The big picture is that there's a complete lack of basic public health information"....

Critics of TSCA say hundreds of chemicals - compounds commonly used in detergents, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, sunscreens, food packaging, and many other products - may pose serious human health risks. They say this is particularly true of chemicals, including BPA, introduced before TSCA took effect in 1979. Such compounds received a waiver, and are automatically assumed to be safe."

Santa, we need your help.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"No Plastic Straw, Please" and Other Important Phrases

No Straw, Please
Over the past few months, I've been quite good with taking all the necessary precautions to avoid plastic, but during the past few weeks, I've been lax with at least one thing: remembering to say those very important words, "no straw please."

I would estimate that I've ordered five different drinks, only to be shocked and appalled when each one was handed to me across a bar or delivered to my table with some hideous red or green straw swimming in it. Not good and totally my fault.

To ensure that this never happens again, I am now going to make a public promise:

From now on, I will always remember to say "no straw, please" when ordering a drink.

Other Important Phrases
No that I've made my official no-straw promise, here's a list of important phrases for any plastic free individual:

  • "No bag, please" - When grocery shopping or making purchases of any kind.
  • "No plastic silverware, please" - When ordering takeout.
  • "No lid, please" - When ordering beverages such as coffee (Note that Starbucks doesn't allow this)
  • "How do you package that?" - When buying things online or over the phone, including takeout.
  • "Can you wrap that in paper?" - At the deli or meat counter.

Anyone have any good phrases to add?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wild Oats' Bulk Foods Department: A Letter Supporting A Small Piece of Heaven

This weekend, on the way home from a cross-country skiing adventure, I stopped by the Wild Oats Market in Oakbrook, IL so my friend could purchase an oh-so-difficult-to-find vegetarian product called The Celebration Roast.

I must admit, in dragging me to this market I thought my friend was forcing me into another ordinary trip to the froofy grocery mart, but when I walked through the doors of the Wild Oats I discovered that I was wrong. Inside this store was my equivalent of heaven: an extensive bulk foods section. Yes, a slice of paradise with a huge variety of items from the usual nuts and candies to the not-so-usual soup mixes and pastas. It was truly beautiful.

Unfortunately, Wild Oats is now owned by Whole foods and I recently read that Whole Foods is planning to standardize all of their bulk foods sections in order to increase the profitability of the department. Does this mean they will do away with Wild Oats' awe-inspiring bulk food section? I hope not!

To prevent this, I have, of course, written a letter.

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A Letter Supporting Bulk Foods

Dear John Mackey, Whole Foods Decision Makers, and the Oakbrook Wild Oats Market:

As an environmentalist and someone who is trying to seriously reduce the amount of plastic I use, I've found that buying from bulk bins is one of the best things I can do to avoid excess packaging and live a greener lifestyle.

That is why I was so excited when I recently discovered the bulk section at the Wild Oats Market in Oakbrook, IL. It is one of the only places in the vast Chicagoland area where I can purchase such a huge selection of items from bulk bins. Offering everything from grains and candy to soup mixes and pasta, it is truly impressive, and I know that whenever I'm in the area I will make a special stop at the Wild Oats Market in order to purchase items from the store's bulk bins.

That is, I'll shop at this store as long as the bulk selection remains so good.

Whole Foods, I know that you have acquired Wild Oats Market, and I have read that you plan to standardize the bulk sections of all Whole Foods stores, but I must ask this: Please do not shrink the bulk section at the Wild Oats Market in Oakbrook.

It is almost impossible to find food in bulk bins in Chicago, which makes these bins a very important resource for environmentalists in the Chicagoland area. Also, at a time when people are becoming more and more eco-conscious, it would surely be beneficial to your image as an environmentally friendly grocer to maintain or expand the bulk section at this store, as well as at your many stores.

With all this in mind, I just wanted to share that I will be looking forward to future stops at your Oakbrook store, and hope that each time I walk through the doors, I will be greeted by a large selection of tasty foods in bulk bins.

Sincerely,
[Me]

Note: Please contact me and let me know what your plan is for the Oakbrook store. That way, I can let all of my blog readers know your response. To read my blog, which contains lots of kind references to Whole Foods as well as a copy of this letter, visit http://lifelessplastic.blogspot.com.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Plastic and the Environment: Plastic Waste Statistics

Statistics on Plastic Waste from the EPA:
  • The total amount of plastic in the municipal solid waste stream in 2006 was almost 30 million tons (a.k.a. nearly 60 billion pounds).
  • In 2006, the United States generated 14 million tons of plastic through containers and packaging.
  • The amount of plastic consumed as a percentage of total waste has increased from less than 1 percent in 1960 to 11.7 percent in 2006.
Soda Stats:
  • Americans drank approximately 14.7 billion cases of non-alcoholic beverages in 2004 (this includes both plastic and aluminum containers; note that aluminum cans are lined with plastic).
More Statistics:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No More...Computer?

My computer is dying again, apparently due to a failing hard drive. I'll be ordering a new hard drive shortly and should hopefully have it installed within the next few weeks. In the meantime, though, my posts might become sporadic again.

Once my hard drive is replaced, I plan to return to posting in full force. However, if the problem isn't the hard drive, I'm going to face an interesting plastic- and waste-related question:

Do I send my whole computer back to Dell and spend hundreds of dollars getting it repaired, or do I buy a brand-new, problem-free computer for just a few hundred dollars more?

Argh. I guess my goal to use less plastic dictates that I send it back, but I don't want to. Can someone please provide me with some electronic waste statistics that will convince me to send my computer in?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Protect the Environment: Ten Tips for Avoiding Plastic

In the earliest days of my blog I posted a list of tips on how to avoid using plastic, but I grabbed it from another site since I hadn't solved much of the plastic free puzzle yet. Well, at this point, I'm a bit wiser (although I still have much to learn) so I wanted to provide my own list. Here it is...

Ten Tips for Reducing Your Plastic Consumption

1. Bring Your Own Bag: The EPA reports that between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide. Avoid this needless waste by always carrying a bag or two with you and be sure to bring grocery bags and produce bags with you when you go to the market. Ecobags offers a wide variety of cotton and string bags that a great for grocery shopping, and you can also probably find great canvas bags at your local thrift shop. See here for tips on how to remember your grocery bags when you go shopping.

2. Drink Tap Water: Americans consume at least 22 billion bottles of water each year (I've also seen statistics reporting much greater numbers), and nearly all of these plastic bottles end up in the landfill. Unless you have serious water quality or taste issues, this is an easy way to curb usage. Here's an additional list of reasons not to drink bottled water.

3. Buy from Bulk Bins: This is a great way to avoid buying food products in plastic packaging. Stores like Whole Foods offer granola, cereal, dried fruit, dried beans, nuts, candy, and grains that you can bring home with reusable cloth bags. Use the internet to find out if you have stores in your area with bulk bins.

4. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle: Sometimes you just need a drink, so be sure to carry a reusable water bottle with you. Don't forget that Nalgene bottles are made of polycarbonate, a type of plastic that is likely to have many adverse health effects.

5. Bring Your Own Mug: If you love hot beverages, be sure to carry along a mug. Stainless steel mugs are a great option.

6. Discover Fresh Foods: Almost all processed foods come in plastic in some form or another. Buy fresh fruits and veggies (be sure to use your produce bags!), get your meat wrapped in paper from the meat counter, and find a deli where you can get your cheese in paper.

7. Do Some Baking: Lots of baked goods that usually come packed in plastic can be made easily at home. Favorite examples include cookies and bread. Note that breadmakers turn baking bread into an easy task and are simple to find at local thrift stores and garage sales.

8. Enjoy Slow Food: Among the many ills of fast food, it's almost impossible to avoid plastic packaging when eating at a place like McDonald's. That means it's time to slow down and start cooking your own meals. If your new to cooking, Allrecipes.com has an amazing collection of user-reviewed recipes.

9. Kick Your Soda Habit: Americans consume billions of bottles and cans of soda each year (note that aluminum cans are lined with plastic to prevent the aluminum from leeching into your soda). To avoid this waste and possible health consequences, pour yourself a glass of agua from the tap.

10. Use Natural Cleaning Products: Products like baking soda and vinegar don't have to come packed in plastic and are multi-purpose and effective. Learn more about natural cleaning products to reduce your plastic consumption.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Negative Effect of Plastic: A Synthetic Sea

Plastic waste is forever changing our oceans for the worst. Check out this video to learn more about the huge accumulation of plastic in the central Pacific Ocean and its effect on wildlife.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Good Chinese Food with Bad, Bad Packaging

I was absolutely starving after work today so I decided to order Chinese carry-out, which I naively assumed would come in a cardboard container. This was not the case, unfortunately. My food came in a giant plastic rectangle. Poop!!

Now I'm asking: Whatever happened to those cute cardboard boxes that Chinese take-out used to come in? Why have Chinese restaurants abandoned their signature packaging for ugly plastic boxes? Why, I ask, Why?

Photo courtesy of
Brooklynrecord.com

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Great Plastic Challenge

A fellow environmentalist and blogger has created an online social network for the growing anti-plastic community called The Great Plastic Challenge.

The site gives users the opportunity to discuss issues and share ideas about going plastic free, as well as a place to post blog entries and share photos. In addition, each member has a profile page that provides info about their activities in the network (think facebook profiles).

So if you want to learn more about being plastic free or are thinking about joining the movement, be sure to take a look!

Monday, December 3, 2007

No More...Blue Plastic Water Glass

It's been more than two months since I started my quest to stop using and buying plastic goods, and, as crazy as it is, I've been drinking out of a plastic water glass all this time. See, I've been using my favorite blue water glass every single day at my office for the past three years so I've had a hard time giving it up. I guess you could say I had an emotional attachment to it.

But today was the day. After work, I went over to my local thrift shop and picked up a new-to-me blue water glass that isn't made of plastic. Now, finally, I won't be drinking out of something that may or may not be hazardous to my health.

You can see a picture of my new water glass at above. Isn't it beautiful?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Be a Locavore and Get in on Community Supported Agriculture, CSA

After reading the book The Omnivore's Dilemma, I decided that I want to be more locavorous so on Thursday night I went to an event at my library called "CSA 101: Everything you wanted to know about Community Supported Agriculture."

Presenting were the four CSA farms that make drop-offs at the Chicago farmers' market near my house, with each farmer talking a little bit about the benefits of CSA's as well as the details of their own CSA subscriptions.

What Did I Learn?
Here are some of the coolest things I gathered from the evening:

  • The farms offer a box of vegetables that comes straight from their farm to you. This means that the veggies are not packed in plastic during transport as is typical with non-local produce.
  • Most of the farms that presented are certified organic or expecting to get their certification this year.
  • They use practices such as crop rotation and strategic planting to avoid the need for fertizers and pesticides.
  • Most of them expect to sell out of shares soon. One farmer only had three shares left as of the meeting.
  • The farms are entirely transparent and encourage people to visit their farms (and help out if they want).
  • CSAs allow the consumers to shoulder some of the farmers' risk, making it more feasible for farmers to grow food crops in areas with more volatile climates.
The event was great because, not only did I get to learn all about CSAs, I also got to meet the actual farmers that would be growing my food next year. Now I just have to decide which CSA I'm going to go with.

The Presenters
The farms that presented were
Mike and Clare's Organic Farm, Red Tail Farm, Montalbano Farms, and Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

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What is a CSA?
Here's a definition from LocalHarvest.org.

"A CSA (for Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become members of the CSA. Most CSA farmers prefer that members pay for the season up-front, but some farmers will accept weekly or monthly payments. Some CSAs also require that members work a small number of hours on the farm during the growing season.

A CSA season typically runs from late spring through early fall. The number of CSAs in the United States was estimated at 50 in 1990, and has since grown to over 1000."

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The Word "Locavore"
Locavore was named 2007's Word of the Year by the New Oxford English Dictionary. Here's a definition.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Celebrate! It's a Plastic Free Christmas

My ultra-supportive sister is urging me to attempt a Plastic Free Christmas, and with her encouragement I think I'm going to try it. But I have to ask myself, what would a Plastic Free Christmas be like? Is it even possible? I suppose it's time for me to find out.

My plan is in the early stages of conception, but so far I intend to:
  • Make a special request to my family to avoid plastic when they're buying stuff for me. I'm considering indicating that plastic gift cards are okay, since using said gift certificates will allow me to make sure all the other stuff I get with them is plastic free.
  • Request that I receive no candy in my stocking, excluding bulk candy in paper bags or fine chocolate wrapped in paper
  • Avoid buying my family stuff made of plastic. This might be tough, but I'm gonna try.
  • Make homemade chocolate-covered pretzels for my co-workers again instead of buying presents.
  • Use newspaper and old packing paper to wrap presents, thus avoiding the plastic cellophane wrapping paper comes in. Actually, I think wrapping paper should be outlawed, but that's besides the point.
  • Avoid using tape for wrapping presents by experimenting with homemade glue (does anyone have a recipe they can recommend?)
Anyways, that's my plan so far. I'm probably going to annoy the heck out of my family with it, but, according to a somewhat annoying recent New York Times article, every family these days has an eco-grinch, so I guess that's going to have to be me.

Note: My sister has been eco-conscious and vocal about environmental issues for way longer than me, so I think she might actually deserve the title. We'll have to battle it out this Christmas :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Letter to Whole Foods on the Plastic Scooper in My 365 Everyday Value Laundry Powder

Below is my letter to Whole Foods. Note that I mailed back the plastic scooper with the letter.

-------------------------------------

Dear John Mackey and Other Whole Foods Decision Makers,

I care a lot about the environment and I know you do, too. That’s what unites us, and that is why I do a lot of my shopping at Whole Foods. When I take a trip to your store, I’m always happy to buy the nice goodies in your bulk bins, and I always appreciate the fact that many of the meats and dairy products you sell come from healthy, free-range animals that are raised in an ethical and environmentally friendly way.

What I do not enjoy is the plastic scooper that I found in your 365 Everyday Value Laundry Power. As an advocate for reducing the plastic that this nation consumes, as well as someone who wants to be nice to the Earth, I spent a lot of time hunting around Chicago for an affordable laundry soap that wouldn’t pollute the Earth (you’re probably not surprised that such a soap is hard to find in the Midwest). When I finally found your 365 soap, I was overjoyed. I thought I had found the answer to all of my laundry woes. But, of course, that feeling died when I opened my new box of detergent and found that plastic scooper.

So my plea to you is this. Please stop selling your 365 laundry power with a plastic scooper!

If you do this, I will continue buying your detergent. For the time being, though, I won’t be buying it again. I am switching to Ecover brand laundry powder, which comes with a convenient and biodegradable cardboard scooper.

Oh, and if you remove the plastic scooper, please contact me so that I can let all of my blog readers know. To read my blog, which contains lots of kind references to Whole Foods as well as a copy of this letter, visit http://lifelessplastic.blogspot.com.

Sincerely,
[me]

Monday, November 26, 2007

No More...Shampoo and Conditioner

I like my hair. It is nice to me. I don't color it, barely ever style it, and only blowdry it on Chicago's famously cold days, and despite my lack of effort, my hair responds by being silky and shiny, with just a bit of wave for volume.

So naturally I don't want to disturb this amazing status quo. I mean, why would I want to change something that is working pretty well for me right now? But since there's a serious lack of hair care products that aren't packaged in plastic, I may have to. Crapola!

Luckily, I don't actually have to give up shampoo. There are several options out there that seem totally viable including:
  • Doctor Bronner's bar soap, which has worked fine when I've used it on camping trips
  • The various shampoo bars available at Lush
  • Burt's Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo, which I totally forgot about (an entry in Fake Plastic Fish reminded me).
But, seriously folks, we all know that shampoo really isn't what makes for amazing hair. It's the conditioner. I have long hair, which I sometimes pretend to myself might even be called beautiful, so the thought of giving up conditioner makes me want to cry. Seriously. Cry.

Still, I know I will (or might) make it through this because I think I have a plan. Here's an outline:
  • When I run out of my current shampoo, I'll make the switch to one of the various products above, which will probably be fine.
  • I'll slow my use of the two bottles of conditioner I still have to one application per week.
  • When I run out of the conditioner I still have, I'll probably go out (after I finish crying) and buy one of the conditioning bars available at Lush, which don't get great reviews. Then I will hope and hope and hope that my hair still looks nice.
  • If my hair is miserable and looks horrible after a few months of the new regiment, I'll go out and buy a bottle of eco-friendly plastic-packaged conditioner and only use it once a month or on special occasions.
Yep, that's my plan. I'm going to try my absolute hardest to avoid buying a plastic bottle of conditioner, but I'm also going to also allow myself to buy it if, after a few months, I feel it's my only option. And I think that's okay for now, especially if it takes me a year to get through that bottle. We'll see, though. Maybe I'll just cut my hair instead (um, just joking).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Target Recognizes the Dangers of PVC Plastic

In light of the recent surge in public awareness about the possible dangers of PVC plastic, Target is planning to reduce the number of products that it carries that are either made of PVC or packed in it.

A November 6 Wall Street Journal article reports that Target is taking the following actions in relation to PVC plastic:
  • Developing an action plan to identify PVC alternatives
  • Making efforts to produce Target place mat and table linen categories nearly phthalate-free by spring
  • Finding PVC alternatives for use in most toy categories for fall 2008.
It is obvious that Target is taking these steps because they ultimately think it will increase their bottom line by bettering their image and protecting them from future lawsuits or problems that might arise if phalate-containing PVC is outlawed.

Still, I find Target's initiative encouraging because it shows that when the public expresses interest in an issue, retailers will make efforts to respond to the public's demands.

With this in mind, I'm planning to write a letter to Target to show support of their actions and to encourage them to take further steps to protect the environment such as choosing better packaging and materials for Target-brand products and setting higher standards for the products they purchase from other companies.

I'll post the letter once it's sent.

Emergency Post: My Computer Crashed

Just wanted to let readers know that my computer is dying and no longer recognizes my wireless card, so my posts might be a bit more sporadic for the next few weeks.

Thanks for the understanding.

LLP

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

No More...Garbage Bags

My dilemma is this: when I run out of plastic garbage bags, where am I going to put my trash?

I have three options right now:
  1. Continue to buy plastic garbage bags
  2. Buy biodegradable plastic bags, which will take many, many years to decompose in an airtight landfill
  3. Start vermiculture composting so that I can use paper bags for the garbage that doesn't go in the bin
So I'm not interested in options one and two, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to start composting inside my house. I mean, I have so many questions. Where will I keep the bin? How much work will it require to take care of the bin? Am I too lazy to do it?

I do want to compost, though. I guess I'm just scared.

Another quandary
In order to recycle in my Chicago ward, you have to put recyclable items into blue plastic bags. But I HAVE to recycle, so I guess that means I won't be able to totally avoid plastic garbage bags no matter what I do.

Fortunately, the city of Chicago is planning to adopt a new Blue Cart Program, but unfortunately, it's been delayed until July 2008. Once the program is in place in my neighborhood, I won't have to use blue plastic bags anymore. I can't wait.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

My Garden, the Plastic I Found in it, and Why Gardening is Good for the Environment

Yesterday I put my garden to sleep for the winter. I pulled up new weeds, raked up any additional leaves and dead plants, and then turned the soil. To my surprise, I also found several bits of old plastic (pictured at right) lurking in the soil of my beautiful garden plot.

It made me sad to find all of this plastic stuff in my garden because it once again reinforced the idea that it's impossible to escape plastic. It's everywhere and unavoidable.

Still, I was happy this weekend because I spent a lot of time thinking about the benefits of gardening, as well as about about my experiences this year growing my first garden ever.

Why Gardening is Good for the Environment
Gardening is good for the environment because it provides:
  • locally grown fruits and vegetables that are not being shipped from thousands of miles away and are not polluting the Earth on their way to your plate
  • food that is not being sprayed with harmful pesticides
  • produce that is hopefully grown responsibly and organically
  • plastic free fruits and veggies that are not shipped or stored in plastic containers at any time
My Gardening Experience
I feel very fortunate that I live in a two flat and have landlords with an extra garden plot that they let me use. Excluding a few hiccups due to extremely heavy rains, my garden was very good to me this year and allowed me to eat many wonderful basil and tomato salads and stir frys made with awesome fresh vegetables that were not only kinder to the environment, but also more nutritious because they were fresh.

I grew a variety of herbs and vegetables including tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeƱo peppers, green beans (bush variety), basil, sage, parsley, and rosemary. All of these plans are easy to grow in the Midwest and can be grown on a balcony in large pots.

Next Spring
I already can't wait to plant my garden next spring. I've learned a lot this year, and have also had the chance to think more about maximizing the space I have and producing even more wonderful food. And now that my garden is ready for the spring, all that I have to do now is plant my garlic and wait for warmer weather.

Resources

To learn more about gardening before spring comes around, visit Gardenweb. The site provides tons of info on how to grow a garden and connects you with tons of people that are incredibly knowledgeable about a variety of gardening topics.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween and Plastic

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $5.07 billion on Halloween related goods this year. Of that, around $1.55 billion will be spent on candy, likely purchased by the 72.9 percent of Americans over the age of 18 who plan to give out sweets to neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

Here's some math: If 72.9 percent of Americans over 18 give out candy, an estimated 96.6 million people will be handing out the sweet stuff this year. Now, if each of those people buys just 60 individually wrapped candies to give out to kids, which is probably a conservative estimate, Americans will be sending 5.79 billion plastic candy wrappers to landfills this Halloween. Now that's spooky.

Eco-friendly Alternatives
So what can we do? Here are a few eco-friendly trick-or-treat ideas for next year:
  • Give out bulk candy in brown baggies - with people concerned about the safety of halloween candy this might not work for many of us but could be a possibility for those that live in close-knit communities.
  • Hand out raisins - most people like raisins and although they still have a decent amount of packaging and come wrapped in plastic, they're a little better.
  • Pay them off with dimes or quarters - if you can spare the money, most trick-or-treaters would be pleased enough with dimes or quarters.
  • Give out pencils - And if you can find them made from recycled materials, that's even better.
  • Give small boxes of wax crayons to the little one - they will probably appreciate them more than the candy in the longer run.
  • Visit the thrift store - it might be fun to try and find things like used books or jewelry to give out. It might not make you the most popular house to visit, but that's okay.
  • Shop at your summer garage sales - maybe you can find a few good things to give out during leisurely visits to garage sales.
  • Don't give anything out to the teenagers - it might sound mean, but they're a bit old for this anyway and it would be hard to please them with anything but plastic-wrapped candy.
More Ideas
For more eco-friendly Halloween ideas visit GreenPromise.com or check out the blog posts by Former Fat Guy and Twisted Plot.

Monday, October 29, 2007

No More...Medicine (not really)

Ibuprofen, neosporin, prescriptions and pretty much every medicine out there come in plastic bottle or tube, and sometimes I need medicine. For example, there is no way I am ever going to be able to give up ibuprofen because sometimes I get really, really bad cramps and that is the only thing that will make them go away.

So unfortunately, I won't be able to give up plastic completely. Plastic bottles of ibuprofen will always be part of my life.

But are there any medicines that can be replaced by plastic free products?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An American Self-Portrait: What Our Trash Really Looks Like

Photographer Chris Jordan has created a brilliant collections of images that represent the damage we do to our Earth in a striking, disturbing, and thought-provoking way.

Below three of Chris Jordan's photos depict two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.

Two million bottles












Partial zoom of the same image


















Full zoom


















Of American consumerism and his work, Chris Jordan says:

"The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.

As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake."

To learn more about Chris Jordan and his photography, watch his Colbert Report interview.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bulk Cereal, You Are Finally Mine!

I thought it was impossible. I thought it couldn't be done. But it has happened. It's a miracle!

When I went down to the South Loop Whole Foods to buy eco-tastic laundry detergent, I swung by the bulk food section and found it!! I found bulk cereal!!

Now, getting to the South Loop Whole Foods is going to be a pain and in the butt because it's a 15 minute bike ride south of where I work (I live north btw), which means I'm going to have to spend an entire lunch hour every few weeks biking down to Whole Foods just to buy bulk cereal.

Still, I'm happy as can be that the South Loop store sells bulk cereal at all, even if it's the only Whole Foods in Chicago that carriers the stuff, since it means that I can eat cereal again. Could it be that I might survive my plastic free journey, after all?

Right now, by the way, Whole Foods seems to be the only place you can buy foods in bulk within the city limits of Chicago, which seems totally crazy to me for a city so large. Oh, and if anyone knows of any Chicago bulk food stores, please let me know.

Blog Fav: Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist

Even though it doesn't directly relate to plastic consumption, a current blog fav of mine is Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist.

When I was reading all about laundry detergent I came across the blog via a wonderful post about clothes and laundry, Green Clothes Part I - A Long-Lasting Wardrobe, that gives great info on how and why taking good care of your clothes is just plain good for the environment.

Since I read the post, I've been really motivated to take better care of my clothes and have started to make some major changes. Afterall, even though it's pretty obvious, I never thought about the fact that tossing my clothes on the floor or washing them too often is bad for the environment.

So in the past few weeks, I've been hanging my clothes up after wearing them and making an effort to only wash clothes when they are actually dirty. And I must toot my own horn and say I'm doing a good job. Toot!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Searching Chicago for Environmentally Friendly Laundry Detergent: Part II

God bless Whole Foods.

Late last week I was running dangerously low on undies, and I had absolutely no laundry detergent.

This led to a frantic search for environmentally friendly laundry detergents at my ordinary local supermarkets. To my surprise and total dispair, they didn't have any. Absolutely none. Nada.

I was scared. Was I gonna run out of undies before I found laundry soap? Dear God.

That's where Whole Foods comes in. Wearing my absolutely last clean pair of underoos, I biked down to their South Loop store during my lunch hour and finally found the soap I was looking for. It's the Whole Foods Generic Brand 365 and it claims to be biodegrabable and free of phosphates and dyes. It is also not that expensive, which is an obvious plus.

One problem: it came with a plastic scooper inside. Ahhhhh!!!! Damn you Whole Foods.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No More...Frozen Pizza

It's cheap, it's hot, and it's oh so cheesy-delicious. Frozen pizza is definitely one of my favorite things to eat when I'm feeling lazy. Unfortunately, it's wrapped in plastic, and I don't want to eat it anymore (which is definitely a good thing since it's so unhealthy).

Seeking Frozen Pizza Alternatives
So now I need to develop some frozen pizza alternatives. My first idea is to take a few slices of my homemade bread, cover them in pasta sauce and mozarella cheese, and then bake them in the toaster oven for 10 minutes. I think it would make a decent pizza bread and might satisfy my pizza cravings.

Anyone have any other good plastic free suggestions?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Grocery Shopping Can Be Difficult

Since I started doing all of the grocery shopping for my boyfriend and I, my boyfriend has sort of felt like I don't buy him the right lunch foods. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite been able to communicate what he wants me to get for him, so he's been pretty unhappy about our food situation lately.

This makes me feel bad, so I let him come grocery shopping with me today. The result: we bought lots of plastic-packaged things including 10 cans of soup, bread, frozen pizzas, individually wrapped snickers, and a pumpkin pie.

I wasn't so happy about this, but all of the stuff I picked out for myself followed my anti-plastic rules, and I don't plan to eat any of his plasticky things (well, except for the pie).

But the pie aside, today's grocery store trip demonstrates the most difficult part my attempt to consume less plastic. My boyfriend isn't doing it along with me and wants plastic-packaged food, but anti-plastic me is buying his food for him. That means I have to somehow buy us groceries and still make him happy with what I buy. The thing is, I don't know if he can actually be happy without frozen pizza and soda. What to do...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Joy of Thrift Stores and My New-To-Me Soap Dish and Jars

I'm trying to develop a new mindset about the things I buy. Previously, if I needed something, I would immediately assume I had to purchase it brand new at Target or the like. Then I would hop on my bike, go over there, and buy it without a second thought.

But obviously, some of the things I was buying could have easily been picked up at a second-hand shop, so why was I buying these items new?

I mean, for every time you buy something used at the thrift store, you in a way prevent something new from being produced and eventually ending up in a landfill. You also encourage the creation of second-hand stores, which themselves prevent the items they sell from ending up in the trash.

With this in mind, I spent a few days scouring my local thrift stores for some things I needed.

First, I found a super-cute soap dish that's yellow, oval-shaped, and perfect for holding my Kiss My Face bar of soap. To be honest, I didn't actually need the soap dish quite yet because I still have two plastic bottles of liquid soap left, but I really wanted to put bar soap out on my sink. It just seems so much more earthy and nice (don't worry, I'll still use the liquid soap).

Second, I bought four glass jars that are perfect for storing things like oatmeal and almonds that I can buy in bulk (and don't come wrapped in plastic). With these new containers and the many pickle jars that I already have, I almost have enough to store all of the items I buy. Hopefully, I'll find a few more big jars at the thrift store soon and my collection will be complete.

To summarize, I bought some really useful things at my local second-hand stores, and I feel really good about it. I have to admit that it was more work to find these things at the thrift stores, but that is probably only because I don't know the stores that well. I think as I get more accustomed to the types of things I can find at each store, I'll become an expert at find many wonderful new-to-me things.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

News Article: Squeezing a Dime Out of Every Bottle

The Mayor of Chicago is proposing a $0.10 tax on every bottle of water sold in Chicago according to Squeezing a Dime out of Every Bottle, a recent Chicago Tribune Article.

Apart from raising $21 million per year for the city, the intent of the tax is to persuade people to stop drinking bottled water and start drinking the city's tap water again. Supporters of the tax believe it will succeed and ultimately reduce the amount of resources used to package, ship and dispose of bottled water and its containers. Critics, on the other hand, contend that the tax will make city residents return to drinking soda, obviously not a desirable outcome.

Tax It, Baby!
From my header you can gather that I support a tax on bottled water. This is because:
  • Bottled water is ridiculous, especially since the water coming out of Lake Michigan is free and often cleaner than the stuff Aquafina is selling.
  • Bottled water is a luxury good, isn't it? This basically means that people are drinking bottled water because they want to look cool. Well, if it's 10 cents more expensive, the people drinking it will just look that much coolor.
  • Bottled Water Is Not a Neccessity. Now this is an important one. Nobody in Chicago needs bottled water because, like I said, Lake Michigan is a great water source. I'm not sure how or why people started thinking that Lake Michigan isn't good enough. When did this happen?
  • Bottled Water Creates Pollution. Billions and billions of bottles are being transported around the country and then going into landfills or being burned each year (that's right, we burn plastic). To be exact about how much we're transporting, throwing into landfills, or burning, Americans bought 33 billion bottles of water in 2006 according to the American Beverage Association.
So basically I support the tax because bottled water is a tax on a ridiculous, unnecessary luxury good that creates at least 33 billion bottles worth of pollution each year. For an additional (and better) list of reasons not to drink bottled water, visit the blog Lighter Footstep.

And as for people returning to soda because of the tax, I doubt that will happen. People who are willing to spend so much money on something they could get for free probably won't be price sensitive enough to make any lifestyle changes because of a little 10 cent tax.

Other Cities Taking Action
A recent USA Today article gave a nice summary of what other cities are doing:
  • The mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City have asked city employees not to use bottled water or have banned city spending on it.
  • The Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council this summer urged residents to tote refillable bottles and stopped buying bottled water for city functions. "We're not trying to make bottled water the bad guys," city spokeswoman Nancy Stone says. "We want to make the statement that tap water is great."
  • New York Assemblyman Bob Sweeney has proposed a ban on individual bottles of water in state facilities. "This is something people can understand," he says.
  • The Farmers Diner in Quechee, Vt., stopped selling bottled water a few months ago. Customers "are quite happy to get water from a well," the restaurant's Denise Yandow says.
  • Santa Barbara, Calif., in April stopped buying bottled water and began serving tap water at city functions. "There's a significant amount of energy consumed to produce, store, bottle and ship the water," city spokeswoman Nina Johnson says." This is one of the simplest ways to counter that."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blog Fav: No Impact Man

It's only been three weeks since I vowed to reduce my plastic consumption, and I have to admit that it sure has been hard.

That's why I'm so impressed by No Impact Man. The blog belongs to Colin Beavan, a New Yorker who decided to spend a year developing a way of life for himself and his family that would make no net impact on the Earth. Colin says of his experiment, "the challenge is to take a year to develop and live a no impact lifestyle. Our approach will be to research our ecological options and run down our damage in one area at a time—solid waste, transportation, energy, for example. Our aim, over the course of the year, is to do no net harm to the environment. We’ll wind down in stages."

It's been a while since the Beavan family began their experiment and by now they are living a relatively bare bones lifestyle. In a recent blog entry, What No Impact Feel Like After Ten Months, Colin says, however, that he and his family are happy and feel that life is back to normal these days. According to theory, this is probably because human beings can actually adapt and become happy living in almost any set of conditions.

That's definitely good news. If Colin and his family feel like a "No Impact" life can be totally normal, I'm sure I can adjust to life without plastic. There's hope for me yet.

Oh, by the way, Colin's blog not only talks about his own mission, but also covers topics like living a green lifestyle, helping the environment, and reducing pollution, global warming, and climate change. Each of his blog entries typically generates 30 or 40 comments within a few days, and the discussion is always very interesting. So be sure to take a look!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Searching Chicago for Environmentally Friendly Laundry Detergent: Part I

I went down into the basement yesterday afternoon and was surprised (and somewhat mortified) to learn that I was out of laundry detergent. How could this be? I thought I had at least a few more weeks worth of detergent left. But there I was realizing that I needed to find a plastic free laundry detergent in a serious hurry because I was almost out of undies.

The Search for Detergent
Scared at what I'd find (or should I say wouldn't find), I stopped at Dominick's on my way home from work. Now, you're probably thinking, "Why are you afraid? Lots of powdered detergent is sold in cardboard boxes. You'll definitely find something." Well, the problem is that I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and it turns out that laundry detergent can actually be pretty bad for the environment and is probably pretty unhealthy for our bodies. Consequently, I felt like I should really be looking for a plastic free AND environmentally friendly detergent.

By the way, there was reason to be scared. My quick stop in Dominick's revealed that among the some 20 brands of laundry detergent they sell, not a single one of them is environmentally friendly. Determined to wash my undies, though, I stopped at an additional grocery store, Strack and Van Til, and found out that they don't have any eco-friendly detergent either. Gotta love the Midwest!

Anyways, now I don't have any laundry detergent and only one clean pair of undies remaining. Luckily, I have time to stop at Whole Foods tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure that they sell detergent I'd be willing to buy. If not, I'm going to be in trouble.

Info on Laundry, Detergents, and the Environment
For more information on laundry and your health, see the article Cleaner and Greener Laundry from The National Geographic's Green Guide. Note that the article provides an extended list of environmentally friendly laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and stain removers. Fortunately for those of us living in the Midwest, several of these products are available on Amazon.com.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No More...Cereal?

My boyfriend loves cereal, and I have to admit that I like it, too. I like the crispy, milk-soaked taste of a bowl of raisin bran in the morning, as well as how fast I can pour a bowl and chow down before I run out the door to work each day.

And now I'm in a state of shock. When I decided to start using less plastic, I never thought it would be impossible to find plastic-free cereal, but I really can't find it anywhere. As I wrote in my last post, they don't sell it at my local bulk food store, and they also don't carry it at Whole Foods. This is horrible!

So where can I find cereal in bulk in Chicago? I just don't have any ideas. Maybe I can email some environmental organizations in Chicago and see if they know of any stores?

Anyone have any other pieces of wisdom?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Avoiding Plastic at the Grocery Store: Third Attempt

Now that I have produce and grain bags, I decided that this weekend's grocery shopping experience could finally be done at the bulk foods store.

The Home Economist
I was happy to buy several things from the bulk bins at The Home Economist including:
  • pasta
  • oatmeal
  • coffee
  • almonds
  • wasabi peas (for my boyfriend)
  • malted milk balls (for me)
  • and a few other things
Additional items available at the store that I will probably purchase in the future include popcorn kernels, a large variety of nuts, granola, flours and grains that I can use for making bread, and spices.

One thing they didn't have that I was very disappointed about: cereal. My boyfriend, whom I live with, is obsessed with cereal and it's something I absolutely have to buy for him. But The Home Economist doesn't sell cereal! Not even cornflakes! How could this be??? If I can't find it at The Home Economist, where can I find it?

Whole Foods
Full of fear about not being able to find bulk cereal, I decided to take a quick stop at Whole Foods and see if they sell it. Unfortunately, I got completely lost on the way over there and ended up driving around the near northwest suburbs of Chicago for nearly an hour. It was horrible.

Even more horrible--they don't sell bulk cereal at Whole Foods. Ahhhhh!!

Still, I bought a few things there:
  • real maple syrup in a glass bottle with a plastic lid (darn) - Hopefully my b.f. and I will like this. We're both used to the fake corn syrup stuff.
  • sparkling water in a glass bottle - I'm starting to freak out a bit about not being able to buy beverages. I think this was me revolting.
  • yogurt cultures - I make my own yogurt
  • peanut butter - in a glass jar
Conclusion
Buying from bulk bins is great! It's really fantastic to come home from the grocery store with lots and lots of food and to realize that the stuff you bought isn't wrapped in packaging that will one day end up clogging a landfill.

My shopping day wasn't perfect, though, because it proved to me that it might be difficult or impossible to find plastic free cereal. Oh, and because I got lost for an hour. That stank.

Shopping Guide
I updated my Guide, Everyday Products with Little or No Plastic Packaging, with the info I gathered today. Check it out for some tips.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Emergency Post: Traveling Made Me Use Plastic!

Starving and trapped in the Columbus International Airport, I had no choice but to order an oh-so-plasticky bowl of broccoli and cheddar soup from Quiznos! The soup came in a polystyrene (a.k.a. Styrofoam) container, and alas, I had no choice but to use a plastic spoon to eat it.

Other plastic blunders while traveling: I went to an amazing ice cream shop called Jeni's and agreed to try a sample of their pumpkin and spice ice cream, which was immediately served up on an ultra-tiny plastic spoon. Darn. I also got a complimentary cup of coffee at my hotel in styrofoam because I was running late and I didn't have time to stop anywhere else (I'm totally addicted).

Avoiding Plastic: Travel Tips
All and all, I really didn't use too much plastic, but I still found it very difficult to travel and avoid the stuff. Here are a few tips I learned from my trip, though:
  • Definitely, definitely, definitely bring your own stainless steal mug for water and other beverages. It will help tremendously.
  • If you travel a lot, consider buying a set of travel silverware and a small stainless steal plate. I already have a set for camping that I'm going to bring with next time I travel.
  • Try to avoid fast food restaurants if you can since many of them serve their food in plastic containers.
These are just a few tips. If anyone out there has any additional advice, please leave a comment and let us know!

Want to Avoid Plastic? Buy Ecobags

If you're concerned about the negative effects of plastic, you might want to consider buying some Ecobags. Made of regular, organic or recycled cotton, these lightweight bags allow you to avoid nasty plastic bags when you're picking up a few apples or even buying a week's worth of groceries.

I recently ordered some Ecobags online and was excited when they arrived in the mail after just a few days wait. Now I'm all ready to take my handy new produce bags and go to the Home Economist, a Chicago-area food store that sells a variety of foods from bulk bins. I have to say, I can't wait to buy things like pasta, granola, and coffee in bulk and not have to worry about taking home tons of plastic packaging.

Also available through Ecobags are a wide variety of net and canvas bags. The net bags are perfect for bringing home things like green beans, and the canvas ones are obviously a great replacement for your standard plastic grocery bag. Oh, and don't forget to check out their Classic String Bag. It's very cute.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

News Article: Remote Waters Offer No Refuge from Plastic Trash

I'll admit it. I've littered. Probably not since high school, but I've done it. The thing is, at the time, I had no idea that the plastic that I was tossing on the street might end up in Lake Michigan via the storm drains. I had no idea that storm drains typically empty into water sources and oceans.

And based on the amount of plastic ending up in our lakes and oceans, it sounds like there are many, many people unaware of where their litter might end up.

The story Remote Waters Offer No Refuge from Plastic Trash, which aired on NPR's All Things considered on October 1, 2007, focuses on how plastic waste being flushed through our storm drains is making its way into some of the most remote sections of our oceans and ending up in the bellies and around the necks of the creatures living there.

According to the article, trash flushed into the Pacific Ocean gets picked up by circular currents, known as the North Pacific Gyre, and brought far, far away to parts of the ocean like the Midway Atoll. There, animals either mistake the plastic for food and ingest it or curiously play with it and get themselves caught. This can sometimes result in death for the animal.

The endanged Hawaiian monk seal, of which there are only 1,000 left, is especially susceptible to these dangers due to their entirely curious nature. Other animals at risk include whales, dolphins, fish, many varieties of seabirds, and the world's coral reefs.

The moral of the story: Don't litter because your trash is dirtying our water sources and killing baby seals.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blog Fav: Fake Plastic Fish

Reducing your plastic consumption is not an easy task. Lucky for us, Fake Plastic Fish provides a wealth of information on how to do it.

The blog was created by Beth Terry, a California resident who's interested in protecting the environment and decreasing the amount of plastic she sends to landfills. Her online journal gives an interesting glimpse into her everyday life and includes many, many blog entries about about her adventures in finding plastic free products. Very interesting stuff.

See the right hand column of the blog for a list of entries by topic. And if you have any questions, definitely leave Beth a comment. She's swift with her responses and knows a ton!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No More...Ramen Noodles

Ramen noodles are one of my true joys in life. They're salty, and delicious, and oh-so-bad for me, and I love them. Unfortunately, they're packed in obnoxious plastic bags that make buying them totally off limits.

Wanted: A Ramen Alternative

Right now, I have exactly seven packs of ramen left over from my plastic-buying days, which means that very soon I'll never be able to eat my favorite noodles again. So what I need to do is figure out a ramen alternative. I suppose I can use some chicken bouillon for the flavoring, but I need to find some good noodles that are plastic free. Ideas?

Monday, October 8, 2007

EPA's Report on Municipal Waste

The following information was compiled from the EPA's Facts and Figures on Municipal Waste from 2005 (the most recent report available).

Plastic Waste Not Being Recycled
  • Of all waste products, plastics were the least likely to be recycled in 2005
  • Only 5.7% of all plastic waste was recycled in 2005
  • Americans produced 28.9 million tons of plastic waste in 2005
More Garbage Per Person
Americans are producing significantly more trash each day than they did in the 1960's.
  • In 2005, each person produced an average of 4.54 pounds of trash each day
  • In 1960, each person produced an average of 2.68 pounds of trash each day
However, Americans now recycle a lot more. As a result of individual recycling efforts and composting and combusting programs, we actually sent less trash per person per day to landfills.
  • In 2005, approximately 2.46 pounds of trash per person per day went to landfills
  • In 1960, approximately 2.51 pounds of trash per person per day went to landfills
With these statistics in mind, the questions become:
  • Do we produce more trash each day because we know that some of it will be recycled?
  • Does that make it okay? Especially when you factor in population growth?
  • What additional factors are causing us to produce so much more trash per person now than we did in the 1960's?
  • What can we do to get back to 1960's levels of waste production?
Additional Information from the Report

The Bad News
  • Americans produced a total of 254.7 million tons of garbage in 2005 (of the amount generate, 58.4 million tons were recycled; 20.6 million tons were composted; and 33.4 million tons were burned with energy recovered).
  • 133.3 million tons of that garbage ended up in landfills
The Good News
  • Americans produced less garbage in 2005 than in 2004, and sent 2.2 million tons less garbage to landfills.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Avoiding Plastic at the Grocery Store: Second Attempt

Tacos, tacos, tacos!! I went to the cozy Mexican grocery store near my house today and was pleased to remember that I can make these Mexican delights entirely plastic free. And now, I am full of tacos al pastor, and I'm very happy.

Tacos
For the tacos, I bought:
  • tortillas, which I can get still warm and wrapped in wax paper in my neighborhood
  • carne al pastor, a.k.a. pork. The stuff I bought was marinated, but it was dry enough that I could get it wrapped in paper
  • cilantro, without a produce bag
  • onion, without a produce bag
  • a few limes, without a produce bag
And when I got home, all I had to do was heat the meat on medium-high for 5 minutes, chop up some onion and cilantro, and heat the tortillas up in the micro. That means yummy, fast, and plastic free!!

Meat
At the meat counter, I picked up some carne al pastor, as I mentioned, and a pound of deli ham. I had the guy at the meat counter wrap both things in paper, but I must say that it was a bit awkward. He definitely thought I was crazy for getting my stuff wrapped in paper, which I think is just strange. I mean, when did plastic become the norm for meat? It wasn't that long ago, was it?

Produce
Nothing too exciting here. I got a few heads of romaine, cabbage, limes, cilantro, and onion. I didn't put anything in produce bags.

Laughing Cow
I also bought some Laughing Cow Cheese, and it seems to be plastic free. Anyone have any input?

Shopping Guide
I updated my Guide, Everyday Products with Little or No Plastic Packaging, with the info I gathered today. Check it out for some tips on being more plastic-free-ish.

Friday, October 5, 2007

My Favorite Things: Canvas Bags

Now that I've entirely, completely, and absolutely given up plastic grocery bags, my new best friends are my canvas bags (pictured right). I only have three of them right now, all of which I stole from my sister. I like to think, though, that since she wasn't really using them and I'm using them to avoid plastic bags and protect the environment, it's okay that I stole them...right?

Anyways, three canvas bags probably isn't enough for a big supermarket trip, but I have several paper grocery bags from past shopping excursions that I've been re-using. I'm considering getting a few more big canvas bags, but I don't feel like I NEED more quite yet so I'm going to wait on that. Too bad, the bags I have right now are super ugly (thanks sis), and it would be nice to buy some of the really cute new ones I've been seeing around.

Tips for Remembering Your Canvas Bags
I'm sure we all know that the challenge with using canvas bags is simply remembering to bring your bags with you when you leave. With that in mind, here a few strategies to help you remember:
  • Put a reminder in your Outlook or Yahoo calendar to remind you to bring your bags and have it ding on the morning of the day you usually go grocery shopping.
  • Hang a note on your rear view mirror that says, "got your shopping bags?" Then once you're in the habit, you can take the note down.
  • Put a reminder note in a pantry or cupboard that you usually take inventory of before you go to the store.
  • Set an alarm in your cell phone set to go off weekly on the day you go shopping. When you hear the alarm, you'll remember that it means "I need to bring my canvas bags to the store when I go!!"
  • Attach a reminder note to your coffee can if you make coffee daily. Hopefully, seeing the note in the morning will help you remember.
I think any one of these strategies would be useful for me, and would help me remember my new Favorite Things when I go to the store.

Tell Us About Your Canvas Bag
If you love your canvas bags, write a comment and tell us why. Oh, and if you're still in the market for cute canvas bags, check out other people's recommendations on This Next.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

News Article: Consumers Worried about Plastic Bags' Impact on the Environment

Plastic bags are being consumed at a rate of more than 500 billion bags per year worldwide, according to an AP article from September 29th, Consumers Worried about Plastic Bags' Impact on the Environment.

The frightening thing: only 1 to 3 percent of those bags are recycled. That means that last year's 495 billion unrecycled plastic bags are sitting in landfills or, even worse, are littered about the Earth or making their way into our oceans. And wherever the bags land, they will rest there for hundreds of years before they break up into "toxic bits that mix with the soil and water."

One might ask, why use plastic bags then? According to the article, "manufacturers and retailers advocate plastic bags for their convenience, strength and protection to goods from outside contamination."

Seems they forgot that the bags are the things contaminating the outside.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Blog Fav: Living Plastic Free in 2007


I'm trying to use less plastic, but one of my heros, Envirowoman, has been shunning plastic completely for the past nine months. Check out her blog, Living Plastic Free in 2007, at http://plasticfree.blogspot.com.

From regular updates on accidental plastic usage to insightful stories on the difficulty of finding milk and deodorant with plastic free packaging, Envirowoman's blog is both hilarious and informative. It comes highly recommended and is definitely a Blog Fav!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

No More Tuna, No More Chili: There's Plastic in Aluminum Cans!

It's sad news, but it's true. There's a plastic liner inside aluminum cans, which means that some of my favorite things like canned soda, canned tuna, and canned tomatoes are things I no longer really want to buy. And I have many, many cans of stuff already in my pantry (see pic). I'll still eat what I already have, but I'm going to feel crappy about it. Crappy.

Tuna Fish Sandwiches (as made from canned tuna)
I love tuna fish sandwiches. They're tasty-delicious, and so convenient. All you have to do is open up a cute little can, add some mayo or sweet relish, and BLAM you have a sandwich. How will I get around the fact that I no longer want to buy canned tuna? I have no ideas yet.

Chili (as made from canned tomatoes)
Another favorite food of mine is chili, which I love to make in the fall and winter from canned tomatoes. It might be intuitive, but I'll explain that I use canned tomatoes because they're so much cheaper, especially since I'm making chili when tomatoes are out of season. So what can I do? My only idea right now is the Polish grocery store by my house. They have lots of veggies in jars so I'm hoping they have tomatoes. Otherwise, what will I do?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Negative Health Effects of Plastic: A Strong Possibility

So I've been hearing a lot of talk lately about the possibility that plastic has some pretty bad health effects, but I really hadn't had the chance to read up about it until this month.

So here's the deal: There have been lots of studies that have found that some plastics have bad health effects, but according to the scientific community, there's not quite enough scientific evidence to be sure. Still, based on the research available, it is likely that both plastics #3 and #7 have some pretty nasty health effects.

Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC (Plastic #3)
Scientific research has found that phthalates, which are added to PVC to soften it for certain uses, leech out of PVC into the human body. Unfortunately for us all, studies have also found that PVC may cause side effects such as decreased lung function, increased weight, increased resistance to insulin, low sperm count, and DNA damage to sperm. It has also been found the exposure to phthalates in PVC may negatively effect the reproductive development of infant males, resulting in undescended testes, smaller scrota, and smaller penises.

USES:
PVC is used in products such as children's toys, vinyl floors, wallpaper, shower curtains, vinyl bibs, and cosmetics, including lotions, shampoos, and nail polish. It is also used in many medical products including plastic bags for storing blood, plasma and intravenous fluids, feeding, breathing and dialysis tubes, catheters, respiratory masks, and exam gloves.

Polycarbonate (included in plastic #7 category, "Other")

Polycarbonate contains a chemical called bisphenol A that leeches into the foods that it comes in contact with. This chemical is widely known to mimic the human hormone estrogen. At this point, very little research has investigated the effects of Bisphenol A on humans. Based on the limited number of studies that have examined everyday contact with bisphenol A, the chemical may increase the risk of miscarriages and polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that can cause infertility, ovarian cysts, and baldness in women.

In animals however, bisphenol A has been widely researched. In the more than 150 studies on the effects of very low doses of bisphenol A in animals, the chemical has been linked to obesity, prostate and mammary gland cancers, early onset of puberty, reproductive-organ defects, reduced sperm counts, altered mammary glands, and difficulty getting pregnant. Scientists also found that low doses of bisphenol A received prenatally had lasting effects throughout an animal's lifespan.

Note that high doses of bisphenol A have not been found to cause significant effects, and that special interests groups have conducted high dose studies that have allowed them to make claims contrary to low dose studies.

USES: Polycarbonate is used in products such as baby bottles, aluminum cans, pop cans, nalgene bottles, generic polycarbonate water bottles, sunglasses, eyeglasses, safety glasses, coffee makers, consumer electronics, laptop computers, CDs, DVDs, and dental sealants. It's also used for many other products including car parts, water filters, textiles, and paper, and is a widely used flame retardant.

To read more about potential negative health effects of PVC and Polycarbonate, visit:
L.A. Times article - Plastic May Not Be So Fantastic for Kids
Salon.com article - Two Words: Bad Plastic

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Everyday Products with Little or No Plastic Packaging: A Shopping Guide

Today I created a new guide, Everyday Products with Little or No Plastic Packaging: A Shopping Guide.

The guide is basically an alphabetized list of everyday things that we buy, and provides the names of products that are packaged in little or no plastic, or tactics to use to avoid plastic when purchasing a product.

Included right now are only the categories of products that I bought yesterday, so it's a limited list. I plan to expand it over time and hope that it will eventually be a comprehensive guide for approaching life without plastic.