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


  • 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!)
  • Electronic 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

  • 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.
  • 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.


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.


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

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, 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

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.


What is a CSA?
Here's a definition from

"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."


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