Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lotion, Lotion Everywhere, No Room Under My Sink

I have something crazy to share.

Even though I gave up buying plastic-packaged products over a year ago, I'm still not out of lotion. In fact, I have five half-full bottles of it lurking in my bathroom. They're of varying sizes—some big, some small—but when it comes down to it, I have enough lotion to last me at least two more years (or until the stuff goes bad).

So I'm left asking myself some questions. Where the hell did I get all of these lotions? Were they gifts? Did I buy them? And if I already had several bottles at home, why on Earth did I buy more?

Unfortunately, I don't have answers. Maybe I forgot I had lotion at home. Maybe I wanted to enjoy that extravagant feeling I used to get from buying beauty products and scented candles. I don't know.

All I know is that I've learned a valuable lesson since I purchased my last bottle of lotion (whenever that was):

Don't buy more unless you've run out of what you already have.

It's a rule to live by and it applies to pretty much everything. Following it saves you money and storage space in your closets and under your sink—two things most of us are desperate to do—and it's good for our planet! Bonus!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Beauty of Furoshiki

A reader sent me a picture of the gifts she wrapped using Furoshiki.

Look how pretty her presents turned out!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reusable Gift Wrap, Furoshiki Style

During my Plastic Free Christmas extravaganza last year, I struggled with a gift wrap dilemma because wrapping gifts (typically) requires tape, which is obviously made of plastic. My solution was reususing old gifts bags, as well as some very ineffectual origami. It wasn't pretty.

But this year, I'm going to make gift-wrapping into a cultural experience by using the Japanese art of Furoshiki to wrap my presents. If I do it correctly, my gifts will be beautifully surrounded by colorful pieces of cloth that I can reuse next year.

Interested in attempting Furoshiki yourself? Check out this helpful video.

Additional Resources
Wikipedia page on Furoshiki
An illustration of different Furoshiki methods

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Amazon.com Launches Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative

Earlier this month, Amazon.com announced a Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative that will improve the packaging of the products they ship. This means packaging that is easier to open and requires less plastic.

Obviously, this is great news for eco-nerds, but it's also great news for everyone who absolutely, totally, completely, and utterly hates blister packs. They're the most annoying things in the world and for klutzes like me, they're even dangerous—I once sliced my hand open on one.

Down with blister packs! Hooray for Amazon!

Related: A letter from Amazon's CEO about the new initiative and Amazon's Gallery of Wrape Rage, which illustrates why better packaging is long overdue.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's November

I'm glad it's November because October didn't go so well for me.

Mid-month, I went on a week-long business trip that made it pretty tough to remain plastic-free. I was working conventions, and all the free lunches came in plastic boxes. And of course, the food inside the boxes was wrapped in plastic, too. It was a bad scene, and for some reason my whole travel experience, which included lots of time in airports eating stale, plastic-packaged salads, sucked the life out of me and my plastic-free experiment for the rest of the month.

Which led to something interesting—I became a normal person for a while and realized how much plastic I used to throw away.

As you might expect, it really shocked me. I used plastic silverware, and water bottles, and mini plastic butter packages. I bought bread in plastic bags, and ate fortune cookies from those little plastic wrappers, and even got a slice of pizza in a styrofoam clamshell. I used tons of plastic.

And it made me feel horrible. This whole month was like a giant guilt fest for me. Looking back, though, I think it's also given me a renewed belief that what I'm doing is a good thing. I don't want to be like I used to be.

So I'm glad it's November. It's a new month and a brand new chance to be plastic-free.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Blog Contest: Announcing the Winner

The random drawing has been ceremoniously conducted, and I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the Life Less Plastic Year Anniversary Blog Contest is Sandy!

To claim your prize, Sandy, just send me an email at lifelessplastic@yahoo.com.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Your valuable plastic waste reduction tips are much appreciated!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Plastic-Free Shampoo Suggestions

A few months ago, my blog and I were featured in the Time magazine article, The Truth About Plastic. The author started the article with the line, "If you know where to find a good plastic-free shampoo, can you tell Jeanne Haegele?"

As you might imagine, this little line resulted in a lot of emails and ideas coming my way, which I figure I should share. Here they are.

Plastic-free Shampoo Ideas
  • Lush bar shampoo (I got a looooot of emails about these)
  • J.R. Liggett's old fashioned bar shampoo
  • Chagrin Valley bar shampoo
  • Burt's Bees baby bar shampoo
  • Burt's Bess rosemary mind bar shampoo
  • Kirk's original hardwater castille soap
  • Liquid shampoo from bulk dispensers at health stores (it seems that this is a possibility on the West coast)
  • Indian herbs (see here for recipes)
  • Yoghurt (although I think this is actually more of a conditioner)
And that's all I got. Thanks everyone for your suggestions.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog Contest: It's Life Less Plastic's Year Anniversary

It's hard to believe, but it's been a year since the day I composed the first Life Less Plastic post and started this blog. It's been a hard road, but it's also been extremely rewarding, in part because of the support so many of you have given me.

As a bit of a thank you and to get new people involved, I've decided to have a blog contest! Everyone is invited to participate.

The prize: A set of five produce bags from Ecobags

How to Enter: Just submit a comment that shares one thing people can do to cut their plastic use. And don't be afraid to be creative. Oh, and don't worry if you submit a repeat. That's okay, too.

To decide the winner, I'll do a random drawing from all those who enter.

The entry deadline will be October 3, and I'll post the winner the following day.

Good luck everyone!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's Official: I'm Out of Deodorant

I knew it would happen one of these days, and now that day is here. I finally ran out of my last stick of deodorant.

That means I'll be using baking soda from here on out.

It sounds scary, but I'm not that worried because I already ran a week-long experiment to find out if baking soda would be effective enough to kill my pit odor. And it was.

We'll see what happens over time, though. Some people say that baking soda eventually irritates their armpits or even gives them a rash. Gross.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Time to Take Back the Filter

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish has been on a mission to get Brita to recycle their water filters for quite some time. A main argument: they recycle the filters in Europe; why can't they do it in North America?

Help Beth reach Brita by signing her petition at www.takebackthefilter.org.

Need convincing? Check out this simple video by a supporter of the cause, Jeph Foust.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How I Gave Up Plastic

Here's something interesting. The Dallas Morning News asked me to write an opinion piece for their Sunday news magazine, and they actually published it!

The article I wrote is called "How I Gave Up Plastic," and it was paired with a piece by Stanley Fish called, "I Am, Therefore I Pollute." Fish writes the New York Times blog Think Again.

Here's the text of my article as it appeared:

How I Gave Up Plastic
by Jeanne Haegele

Bad habits are hard to break, but sometimes you just have to try. At least, that's what I've been telling myself for the past year as I've attempted to give up plastic.

Why on earth would anyone give up plastic? There are ample reasons.

Americans send huge amounts of plastic to landfills each year – almost 60 billion pounds in 2006 alone. Some plastic never biodegrades, and most of what does takes hundreds of years. It is difficult to recycle, and evidence of plastic's negative health effects is mounting. Then there's the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a vast, swirling soup in the Pacific Ocean where wildlife is threatened by plastic refuse trapped in the currents.

Last autumn, thinking over these worrisome facts on a bike ride through the streets of Chicago, I started to wonder whether it would be possible to live without plastic. It seemed unlikely, especially since everything in the supermarket is wrapped, if not double-wrapped, in the stuff. How could I avoid it?

But I decided to go for it. I would conduct an experiment and give up everyone's favorite polymer.

Looking back now at those first few months, I understand why people feel green fatigue. Learning to live without plastic wasn't easy. I had to throw out so many of my old routines and rethink fundamental aspects of my life.

Grocery shopping was my greatest challenge. I remember my initial trip to the the supermarket, when I first learned that so many of my normal standbys were off-limits. Crackers, chips, cookies, pasta and dozens of other favorites were out, and I had no idea what to buy. Only a few items came home with me that day – and even some of those, like the canned tuna and milk, had hidden plastic in their packaging (aluminum cans and paper milk cartons are lined with a thin layer of plastic). I spent those first few weeks a bit hungry.

But with some practice, grocery shopping became surprisingly easy. Fruits and veggies are a much bigger part of my diet now, and I've discovered that several stores in my area have bulk bins with enough products to keep me happy – cereal, oatmeal, granola, nuts, dried fruit, rice and chocolate candy are some of my favorites. And I still buy milk (in a glass container) and meat (wrapped in paper at the deli), and use my own cloth produce and grocery bags. Eating well has been not a problem – and the cost savings are significant.

Groceries haven't been my only dilemma, though. Most of my favorite toiletries are packaged in plastic. Searching for a shampoo replacement has been a constant struggle, and conditioning my hair with a vinegar solution, while effective, makes me worry about smelling like a salad. And do you know how hard it is to find plastic-free makeup? Difficult enough that I've basically given up. Still, even these have been changes for the better; I use very few toiletries now, and I am, once again, saving a lot of cash.

So, like kicking a nail-biting problem, I gave up plastic – a bad habit that was hurting the environment – and I'm stronger for it. I've tested my boundaries, forced myself to think critically about my actions and developed a simpler way of life. I'm happier and healthier than ever.

I know I have more bad habits, still unnoticed or unchecked. But with a little effort, I know I can get rid of them, too. It just takes a true dedication to change, little by little. A commitment to drive less, adjust my thermostat, even eat less meat.

At first, breaking these habits will seem difficult; it did when I gave up plastic. But this experiment has shown me that the hardest thing about making changes is breaking old patterns, patterns that comfort you or help you make mundane decisions but don't truly influence your quality of life. Getting greener seems difficult at first, but it only takes small steps to get you on your way.

As for me, the more steps I take, the less I miss the old bad habits. And the more I learn that it's not the minor hardships that matter in the end.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Evidence Mounts: Bisphenol A May Cause Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report on the first study examining links between Bisphenol A and its effects on humans.

The report states that scientists identified "a significant relationship between urine concentrations of BPA and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities in a representative sample of the adult US population."

It also points that the study, which suggests "links between BPA and some of the most significant and economically burdensome human diseases, is based on a cross-sectional study and therefore cannot establish causality."

So correlation doesn't equal causation. But it probably means it's time to stop letting our babies drink out bottles made with this chemical.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear American Airlines Flight Attendant, What Was Your Problem?

I'm back from my trip and can report that, with the support of my sister, I was able to limit my plastic consumption for the most part. Here's a quick summary of the plastic I did use:
  • A plastic glass for wine on the plane (an early transgression)
  • Two of those miniature cups for cream
  • A glasses repair kit with a bit of plastic packaging (the screw on my sunglasses fell out)
  • various hotel key cards
  • A miniature bottle of shampoo (I went in this amazingly gorgeous soaking pool at my hotel and I had to wash the chlorine out of my hair)
  • A few bags of chocolate covered hazelnuts (souvenirs for my new roomies and my dad)
  • A styrofoam cup and plastic stirrer for tea
I know I'm missing one or two things, but that basically sums it up, which is pretty good for six days of travel. A few of them could have been avoided, obviously, and I take full responsibility for them.

Well, for all of them except the last one.

That STUPID styrofoam cup and stirrer were not my fault at all. On the plane on the way home, it was really, really cold so I asked my American Airlines flight attendant for some hot tea. I handed her my stainless steel reusable mug and asked politely, Can you just put the tea in here please?

And you know what she said? Oh, ahhhh (uncomfortable pause) I'm just going to put it in a cup for you.

What is that supposed to mean? Why didn't she want to use my stainless steel mug? It was totally clean. What was her problem?

Did American Airlines instruct her not to fill reusable mugs, or was she just being a freak? I would really like to know.

Anyways, I may never find out, but I guess it's time to write a letter.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Dark Side of the Otherwise Enchanting Sky Mall Catalog

Written on my plane ride yesterday:

On a seemingly endless flight from Chicago to Portland, I'm plagued by an annoying runny nose, an unfamiliar pressure in my sinuses, and a severe case of boredom. Luckily, I have with me several things to keep me company including my laptop, a few frothy works of fiction, and the Atlantic Monthly that I bought in airport.

Oh, and of course, I have the Sky Mall Catalog. Thank God.

Yes, thank God for the Sky Mall. It's a work of art, really. Or at least in my mind it is. From my view (and I'm pretty sure in part in the creator's view--note the lowercase "c"), it is a hilarious work of social satire that makes fun of humanity's illogical desire to buy things, often made of cheap plastic, that no one could or should ever need.

Examples include:

The Corn Butterer













The Insta Airbed with Backrest












The Do-Nu-Matic












The Pet Observation Dome












Wow. The Sky Mall is truly brilliant in its ability to entertain.

But with all good things in life, the Sky Mall has a dark side. That is, there must actually be people buying crap out of this catalog. And not just the normal stuff in the catalog--there are a few things like clocks and wind chimes--they're buying the crazy, ridiculous junk like the delightful corn butterer I just mentioned (oh my God, use a knife!).

It seems unfathomable to me, but it must be true because the Sky Mall is always there. On every flight. So I'm left asking, what is wrong with people? How do they not realize that once they buy this stuff, it's just going to clog up their basements and attics and living rooms. And God forbid, they're buying these things as gifts. Please, friends and family, don't buy me this kind of stuff. Ever! It will just stress me out and make me think about how I lack storage and need a bigger apartment. Your presents will make me feel inadequate. Is that what you want?

Anyways, maybe I shouldn't be complaining. At least the Sky Mall helps me pass these horrible, food-less, dehydrating hours with a smile--a smile I can still enjoy even if it does have murky undertones.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another Travel Challenge

I'm off to Portland today to visit my sister, and you know what that means. Another travel challenge.

Will I buy fast food wrapped in plastic? Will I buy bottled water out of serious dehydration?

Based on this previous experience and this one, I may not have the ability or the will power to be plastic-free. But we'll see. At least I'll have my sister there to help me out this time.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

BBC writer Chris Jeavens has been blogging about her adventures in giving up plastic for the past month, and only a few days ago she mentioned my no 'poo regimen on her blog.

Normally, this would be extremely exciting, but instead it's a bit embarassing because I'm no longer a no 'poo person.

I know. It's hard to believe, but I think I have a good reason for giving it up. I had the most horrible case of dandruff! A case so bad that I was forced to buy a bottle of Head and Shoulders.

Please don't scoff. If you could have seen the blizzard of snowy white flakes coming off my head you would have understood.

Anyways, since I started using my new bottle of shampoo my hair has been dandruff-free and wonderfully clean. It's been a real relief, so I guess I'm planning to use the whole bottle of Head and Shoulders and then move back to Lush shampoo. But just in case I get dandruff again, does anyone have any tips?

p.s. I checked out Lush's dandruff bar and it's not an option. I can't stand the smell.

p.p.s Since it's been a while since I've written, I feel I should admit that I've had one or two additional lapses this month in my plastic-free-ness. But otherwise I'm still doing well.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Out of the Closet

My sister keeps asking me when I'm going to come out of the closet. Sorry. No. It's not that kind of closet. It's my plastic closet--a closet I'm in because I've been hiding my little plastic-free experiment from my co-workers all this time.

Well, guess what. The other day, one of my co-workers came up to me and said, "Um, were you in Time Magazine?" Oh my God, I can't explain to you the way my heart jumped in my chest when she said that. It was crazy. I think I started sweating. I definitely couldn't breathe.

But after I caught my breath and dabbed the sweat off my brow (just kidding, I almost never sweat), she and I started chatting about the article and she was SO NICE about my blog and what I'm doing. She was so incredibly supportive that it made me want to cry.

Since this initial confession, I've now told five or six of my co-workers know about my blog and my plastic-free-ness, and I'm sure many others are about to find out or have already heard about it through the grapevine.

So I guess I'm out of the closet.

But now I have a problem. It's going to be weird to talk about my bathing habits and other personal junk now that my co-workers might be reading along.

Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to get over it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plastic-Free Camping: Is It Possible?

This past weekend, my friends and I went on a lovely camping trip.

We took the train out to the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore on Friday and then spent our time laying on the beach, swimming in the cool waters of Lake Michigan, and even partying with a friend's family (his Dad has a house on the beach). We also made some nice campfires and spent hours under the stars talking and drinking whiskey.

Yes, it was a wonderful little vacation, but it had its downside.

I think I may have used more plastic this weekend than I have in the entire year put together.

And it was all my fault. Almost.

I didn't go to the grocery store the night before our camping trip because someone stole the wheel off my bike, my primary mode of transportation and the vehicle I use for my grocery shopping. This meant that I had to wing it and eat what I could find in Indiana. That meant buying turkey dogs in plastic wrappers and various other plastic-ful things. It was sad.

But I'll get over it.

Still, the experience got me thinking. I absolutely love backcountry camping, but is it possible to do backcountry camping trip without plastic? I mean, I usually rely on those freeze dried dinners, which are packaged in a thick plastic bag, because they are light and very easy to prepare after a long, exhausting day of hiking. And that's just dinners. Lunch is typically a bagel or a pita straight out of a plastic bag. And of course, I kind of want everything to be in plastic because it's light and prevents food from getting all over my backpack.

What's a girl to do? Ideas? I don't want to stop backcountry camping!

I guess I'll have to consider adding this to the "What I Haven't Given Up" List. Hmpfh.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Time

I have exciting news to share. My blog and I were featured in the Time Magazine article, The Truth About Plastic!

If you're a new reader, thank you for stopping by. It means a lot to me to know that you're interested in what I'm doing and that you may even be thinking about or already trying to reduce your own plastic consumption.

That said, here's a summary of some of my favorite and/or most popular posts for those of you visiting Life Less Plastic for the first time.
As you read, please feel free to leave comments. Your input is extremely valuable to me and, I'm sure, to other readers. We can't wait to hear your ideas!

Finally, if you're interested in further reading on going plastic-free, I recommend you check out the blog Fake Plastic Fish. Written by Beth Terry, a fellow environmentalist from far-away California, the blog contains tons of in-depth info and thoughtful discussion.

P.S. Regular readers, I just want to say thanks to you as well. I always appreciate your feedback and am so happy to have the opportunity to share my adventures (and mis-adventures) with you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Produce Bags, Anyone?

It seems like everyone is using cloth shopping bags these days—a great thing since the number of plastic grocery bags consumed each year is somewhere between 500 billion and 1 trillion.

But what about produce bags?! From what I can tell, absolutely no one in Chicago is using them. It's crazy!

Indeed so few Chicagoans are hip to these amazing little baggies that I'm forced to assume that most people don't even know what they are.

Here's a quick, if not obvious, explanation:
  • Produce bags are small cloth sacks.
  • They serve as reusable replacements for the disposable, plastic produce bags most of us are familiar with.
  • They're available in various sizes from several online vendors including Ecobags.com, Reusablebags.com, and Amazon.com.
  • To be the most eco-friendly, you can also make your own produce bags out of your old t-shirts or use bags you already have around the house.
I got my produce bags from Ecobags.com back in October and have been loving them ever since.

When I pull them out in the supermarket and start putting apples or spinach into them, no one notices or looks twice at what I'm doing (although, to be honest, I'm so proud of my produce bags that I'd be happy if they did). And when I have things rung up, the cashiers never seem to care. They just peek into the bags, quickly figure out what's inside, and ring the stuff up. It's painless.

If you're trying to find easy ways to green your lifestyle, get some produce bags. You won't regret it.

For additional tips on how to use less plastic, see the following post: Protect the Environment: Ten Tips for Avoiding Plastic.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unexpected Benefits of Giving Up Plastic

When I first decided to give up plastic, it was an experiment. I didn't know if I could do it, and I didn't know what it would mean in terms of my daily life.

Eventually, though, I learned that I really could do it. I just had to change the way I shop.

Now when I go to the grocery store, I do most of my shopping along the outer wall of the store. I buy tons of produce and bulk food items like rice, and nuts, and whole grains, and I don't buy pop since aluminum cans have a plastic lining. I also never buy pre-packaged convenience foods. Basically, giving up plastic has made my diet a lot healthier.

And now when I step into a department store or the drug store, I usually don't buy anything because almost every product available is either packaged in plastic or has plastic in it. Including clothes. That means that I avoid buying new things that I probably don't need anyways. Translation: giving up plastic means saving tons of money.

How unexpected.

When I went plastic-free I knew I'd be doing something good for the environment and I knew it would help me get potentially harmful chemicals out of my life, but I didn't realize that it would also mean eating healthy and saving money. What great bonuses!

And how inspiring to know that making one positive change in your life can lead to so many positive consequences for you and the environment.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Waste at the Taste

The Taste of Chicago has to be one of the most wasteful festivals in the country.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's a great event for the most part. It's bunches of fun to spend an evening in downtown Chicago trying new and exotic foods, but almost EVERY dish available comes laden with packaging, most of it made of plastic. It's not environmentally friendly.

Case in point: I went over to the Taste yesterday with my sister and tried my hardest to avoid plastic, and I still failed.
I ended up with two plastic forks and a small styrofoam bowl.

How did it happen? For the forks, I told the servers that I didn't want them, but they were moving so fast that they forgot. For the bowl, I ordered a dish I was unfamiliar with and found out too late that it was being served in styrofoam. Darnit.

Anyways, I want the Taste organizers to start thinking of more eco-friendly ways to distribute fast food and then I want them to encourage participating restaurants to use them.

Afterall, Mayor Daley has made it a priority to turn Chicago into a "green" city. A less wasteful Taste of Chicago would be an important step in getting there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Big Changes

For anyone who's noticed my semi-incommunicado status and general lack of posts lately, I'm finally going to reveal a few of the many causes.

To start, my boyfriend and I broke up. Even though it was a very civil break-up based on a mutual decision by the two of us, it's been a sad and stressful time over these past few months, and it's made it hard for me to get motivated to write posts.

Adding to the stress was the fact that I had to find a new apartment because my b.f. and I lived together. This meant lots of time spent going from apartment to apartment and having plenty of interviews with potential new roommates.

Then I actually had to spend many, many hours packing up all of my stuff and move to my new place. Obviously, tons of work.

Despite all the craziness, though, I think things are finally starting to level out for me. My new apartment, with its hardwood floors, high ceilings, and quirky kitchen tile, is absolutely gorgeous, and my new roommates are very nice and completely charming.

Now I just have to tell them about my plastic-freeness (I didn't know them before moving into my new place so they don't know).

Right now, my plan is to wait a week and then tell them. That way, once they hear the news they will already understand that it won't effect their lives within the apartment very much.

The one way it might effect them: dishsoap. I don't know what we'll do yet. Should we use Dr. Bronner's? Should I ask them to use a homemade solution? I'll have to think about that tomorrow.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Babies R Us Baby Bottle Recall: What's the Story?

This just in. My sister, who has one baby and another one on the way, just emailed to tell me that Babies R Us is doing a recall on bottles containing BPA.

Here's what she said:

"I found out yesterday that Babies R Us is doing a voluntary recall of bottles containing BPA. It's not advertised by them anywhere, but I called the store to confirm. You can bring in all the bottles you have with BPA, and they will give you credit in the amount of the current selling price of those bottles towards the purchase of BPA-free bottles like Born Free or Glass. Isn't that awesome? They can be old/used and you don't even need a receipt or boxes or anything."

This is great news, but also a bit mysterious, because the Babies R Us website says they are not doing a recall (see FAQ number #26).

Could it be that it's only the Babies R Us near my sister's house that's doing the recall? Or could it be that Babies R Us is doing some strategic maneuvering to keep their recall quiet for the time being.

Either way, if you've purchased baby bottles with BPA in them from Babies R Us, you might want to give your local store a call to find out if they'll take your bottles back.

I mean, there's nothing to lose, right?

UPDATE:
Chicago, IL: My sister lives in the Chicagoland area and they are taking back bottles at her store.
Seattle, WA: A commenter just said that the Babies R Us stores in Seattle are participating in the recall.
Houston, TX: Another reader informed me that they are also taking bottles back in Houston. The customer service person at the store she visited told her that the take-back will be going on indefinitely.
Scottsdale, AZ: Another reader commented that she had success exchanging bottles in Arizona.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When Your Laziness Prompts You To Buy Very Bad Things

















A friend of mine sent me a link to this picture, which orginally appeared in The Stranger's Slog blog.

The caption read, "The hard-boiled egg’s packaging problem—solved!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The No Shampoo Revolution: No 'Poo Update

It's been about three weeks since I stooped 'pooing, and my hair is really starting to look nice again.

As you may have gathered, I've completely abandoned using shampoo. My routine is to instead work a teaspoon or two of baking soda into my hair (starting at the top of my head) on Wednesdays and Sundays.

I also do a vinegar rinse on Sundays just to keep everything really soft and shiny.

At this point, the no 'poo choice seems like it's going to work out, which I think is amazing. For my whole life, I thought expensive shampoos and conditioners made of god-knows-what were prerequisite to making my hair feel clean and healthy.

I was wrong. I don't need to pour unfamiliar chemicals on my hair to make it look nice. And I don't need to buy hair products that translate to mounds of useless plastic waste. My scalp and hair can take care of themselves.

With all that said, I feel I have to admit that on Tuesdays and Saturdays my hair does still get a bit greasy. But I've read that things should continue to get better and better over time and that eventually my hair will be beautiful all the time.

Do you know what this means? After all my hair care trials, I think I may have found a solution!

And it's as simple as can be.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The No Shampoo Revolution (also known as Going No 'Poo)

I've done it.

I've stopped 'pooing.

I can tell you that right now, it's not pleasant. There's lots of discomfort and things even seem a bit greasy. Not good.

But according to this great article, which talks in detail about the No 'Poo Movement, as well as some comments on my last hair care post, things should be better in a few weeks.

All soft and shiny.

But for now, going No 'Poo has got me feeling a bit unattractive. I'll let you know in a few weeks how it's going. Hopefully better.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Teen's Science Fair Findings May Help With Plastic Problem

A teenager may have uncovered natural bacteria that degrade plastic.

Basically, the teen isolated two bacteria that appeared to be dining on plastic and found that these guys reduced the volume of his plastic sample by 43%. Very interesting.

Check out a full blog post on the subject on the Discover website.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baking Soda Shampoo and Lush Conditioner: An Update

I'm back and here to report that I am no longer clapping my hands with joy about my baking soda shampoo and Lush conditioner development. In fact, I'm actually quite melancholy because my hair is pretty gross right now.

Here's why:
  • The baking soda shampoo worked well for a few days, but an icky build-up has made my hair feel strange and wiry.
  • The Lush conditioner worked well, but it has a very strong smell and my friends have started asking me things like, "Um, do you smell like pachouli?" Not good.
So I guess I'm going back to the alternating between the Lush and Burt's Bees shampoo bars and then using a vinegar rinse. My hair looks good when I follow this routine, but is it nice enough to make me clap my hands in happiness? Not quite.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sorry!

Sorry I haven't been posting lately. To be honest, I've been really stressed out at work, and just haven't had the motivation to write posts.

Actually, to be even more honest, work has been driving me so insane that I broke down and cooked a frozen pizza yesterday. As you might recall, I love frozen pizza so this was one of those moments where stress caused me to stray from me values and revert to old ways. I felt so guilty as I was throwing the plastic wrapper from the pizza in the garbage, but I just couldn't help myself.

I need to do something to de-stress. Hopefully tabling at the Chicago Green Fest tomorrow will help!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

OMG, I'm So Happy

Okay, I just washed my hair with baking soda and used a solid conditioner bar from Lush called Jungle, and am about to cry tears of joy because my hair is so absolutely and completely AMAZING because of it.

Now, don't get me wrong, the vinegar rinse conditioner still works quite nicely, but ever since I ran out of regular shampoo, my hair has been a little down in the dumps. Kind of depressed. Moody. Ya know.

But now I think my hair and I have found the secret. Yes, we have found the key to all wisdom and happiness in life: the magical baking soda shampoo and Lush conditioner bar combination!

I think this development merits a little singing.

If you're happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap)
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap)
If you're happy cause you're hair is super soft and super nice
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap)


(Thanks, boyfriend, for the Lush products. I like them)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Morel Hunt and How I Found Plastic-Free Food In The Forest

This evening my friend Jim and I drove out to a forest preserve on the outskirts of Chicago to go on a morel hunt with a local mushrooming group.

I have been obsessed with the idea of mushroom hunting for a while, so when we arrived a few minutes late to the forest preserve parking lot, I freaked out because no one was there. I was so worried that we had missed the event altogether. Luckily, a few somewhat experienced people from the group showed up a few minutes after we got there and stopped any chance of me hyperventilating or crying from disappointment.

With the two people that had arrived, Jim and I set out into the forest to find some fungus. At first we didn't see anything—just the beautiful spring flowers, lush undergrowth, and bright green color of the forest—but eventually Jim found something. Don, one of the people with us, confirmed that what he found was indeed a small morel. More specifically, as we later learned, it was a half-free morel.

How amazing! And just a few seconds later Jim found another little morel right nearby. I was determined to find one of my own so I circled the elm tree we were near, and found, much to my great happiness, a big half-free morel, about four inches in length.

Just as we found these mushrooms some of the other club members found us and came over to greet us. I shared that my morel was the first one I had ever found, and a grey-haired fellow also named Jim, the seeming leader of the group, said that I needed to start singing the corresponding song, which was, of course, "The First Morel" as sung to the tune of the similarly named Christmas tune. Ah, mushroom people are nerds. I love it.

Anyways, about 20 minutes after our first proud discoveries it started to rain. No, I should say it started to rain heavy drenching sheets so we had to make a mad dash to our car.

But that was okay. We had four half-free morels in our possession, which we brought home and cooked up. Just as the older Jim had promised, they weren't the best tasting mushrooms in the world—sort of flowery tasting, not strongly flavored—but that was okay. We found something edible in the forest, and that was certainly cool enough.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Whole Foods Banned Plastic Bags So Everyone Just Switched To Paper

If you haven't heard the news, on April 22nd, a.k.a. Earth Day, Whole Foods officially eliminated the distribution of plastic shopping bags to their customers, which means that shoppers have to use paper bags or bring their own.

Sounds great, right? This will totally protect their environment because everyone will bring their own bags, right?

Um, no.

A few days ago, I biked over to Whole Foods to do some shopping, and I can honestly say that out of the, oh, 200 people in the store, there was only one other person besides me who brought their own bags. That means, obviously, that almost all of those people took their groceries home in paper bags.

Now, I will say that at least Whole Foods' bags are made from 100% recycled paper, but I'm sad the store's reforms aren't having a more positive effect and motivating shoppers to bring their own bags—although, I'm not sure Whole Foods ever thought they would.

Maybe one day, Whole Foods will make a real commitment to the environment and start charging customers for each paper bag they take.

Afterall, IKEA saw a 92% decrease in the number of bags used at their stores when they instituted a fee, and grocery stores all over Germany charge people for bags and people almost always bring their own.

...I think this means I need to write Whole Foods yet another letter.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Buy Nothing Challenge: The Results

Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008

Early last month, I wrote a quick post about how I was participating in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge for the month of April.

Well, April is over, and I'm pleased to report that I did awesome. I only bought one thing for the entire month—a DVD of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation's Synthetic Sea film. I bought the movie in case I have additional presentations about plastic or anyone I know is interested in seeing it. Obviously, and somewhat ironically, it's made out of plastic, which makes me sad, but hopefully the effect it has on people will make it worth it in the end.

Anyways, I do want to admit a few things about The Challenge:

First, it was really easy for me because I'm anti-plastic and there is so little I can buy in the first place.

Second, during April I did go out to eat several times, order several drinks at bars, and buy two lattes at Starbucks. All of these things were okay according to the contest rules.

That said, I think I would like to do the challenge again in a few months and make restaurant meals and alcoholic and coffee beverages made outside the home. I think it will be a fun way to challenge myself and I can save a bundle of money at the same time.

Final comment: even though I can't really buy too much anyway, it's still amazing to see that it really is possible to go an entire month without buying a single thing.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No More...Bike Light?

I've got a problem.

I haven't mentioned this before, but I'm a big fan of biking and make it a point to bike 10 miles round-trip each day to work for most of the year. Apart from all of the mean drivers and smog, it's great fun, and I really enjoy getting some exercise instead of driving a polar-bear-killing car or using the somewhat unpredictable Chicago trains.

In case you're wondering, I always wear a helmet and use bike lights because riding around on my bicicleta in Chicago tends to make me, and probably most bikers, feel like my life is precariously balancing just on the edge of some horrible and violent death. Obviously, taking every measure of caution possible is a good idea.

Here's where my problem comes in. The other day, I was trying to open up one of my oh-so-necessary bike lights to check out what was going on with my batteries, and I broke the plastic mechanism for clasping the light onto my vehicle of choice. Crapola!!

And on top of that, the batteries turned out to be dead. Eh! Double crapola!!

So now I might need to buy a new bike light, which will surely be made of plastic and come packaged in plastic, or figure out how to somehow attach my light to me or my bike some other way. And I also need to buy batteries, which will definitely come wrapped in the shiny stuff. This stinks.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Vist to my CSA Farm

A while back I mentioned that I was thinking about doing a CSA share so that I could spend the summer eating delicious, locally-grown produce. Well, I decided to go for it and purchase a share with Mike and Clare's Farm, and as a result was invited to a farm tour and potluck dinner at their farm this Saturday.

I dragged a few friends out there with me, and we really had a blast. The farm was absolutely gorgeous so it was already a joy to be there, and on top of that we got to pet some cute pigs (even though it freaked them out), and eat tasty food. We also got to know Mike and Clare, who are extremely nice and friendly.

The day really convinced me that my CSA was a good decision. Now I can't wait to go to the farmer's market each Sunday, pick up my box of produce, and see what's inside. Whether it's lettuce, onions, or radishes, it doesn't really matter—I'll always know who grew it and where it was grown.

Oh, and I'll also be able to return plastic packaging to them, and request as little as possible in the first place. That will be nice.

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

A few pics from the day (Mike, seedlings, pigs, a friend of mine)

























(Although they do seedlings in plastic, the farm is still awesome)










Thursday, April 24, 2008

Using a Handkerchief Makes Me Feel All Funny

I've been using my handkerchief for two days now, and it's been going quite well so far, except for the fact that blowing my nose into something made of cloth feels really weird. Somehow I feel like I'm doing something wrong and that my mom is going to sneak out from behind some wall or chair and slap my hand for blowing my nose into my shirt.

I guess one might identify the feelings I'm having as guilt, but it's an odd sort of guilt because I am, in fact, not doing anything wrong. It's also odd because people have been using cloth hankies for centuries, but I'm so far removed from the idea that I can't even figure out how to feel about it.

In any case, I'm not giving up my purple snot rag, even if it does make me feel all funny. I am sticking to the promise I made a few days ago, which means that I really am committing myself to blowing my boogies into my shirt...um...I mean...my handkerchief.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day: Hail to the Snot Rag!

In celebration of Earth Day (and because allergy season is starting), I am officially giving up tissues!

From here on out I will exclusively be using a handkerchief for my boogs.

Actually, I won't technically be using a handkerchief, since I don't have one, but instead a purple bandana that a friend left at my house about two years ago (sorry, Tasha!). A light blue and pink bandana will also make it into the rotation when necessary.

Anyways, I'm glad I'm finally making this move. It's an important one that will help me use less paper and plastic and help me protect our lovely planet.

Praise be to the handkerchief!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Creating a Life Less Plastic: A Presentation

This weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Justice Day Celebration, a conference held annually by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

This year's event, which was themed Planting Seeds of Sustainability, was intended to "provide participants with insights on the global impact of food purchasing habits as well as the effect of U.S. government policies on poverty levels and the environment."

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the first half of the conference, but from what I could tell, it seemed like a truly wonderful event.

As for my presentation, I thought it went really well, and the group of people who attended it were really great. Everyone had many comments and questions, and definitely gave me lots to think about.

My Presentation Slides

Read this doc on Scribd: Creating a Life Less Plastic



Follow-up
As follow-up to a few of the questions from my presentation, the vinegar rinse I use on my hair is basically a diluted solution of water and vinegar so it isn't harmful to the skin. However, if the solution gets in your eyes, you should still flush them with water.

For information on recycling in Chicago, below are a few links on the subject. I'm going to continue researching this and then post additional information as soon as I can put something together.

City of Chicago recycling info for residents of 1 to 4 unit buildings (Note that it says that you can only recycle plastic milk, juice, soft drink, water and laundry detergent bottles bearing the "1" or "2" symbol)
"The Awful Truth about Recycling in Chicago" (a scathing article from the Chicago Reader)

Here's an excerpt for the article:

"The Blue Bag program started citywide in December 1995, supervised by the Department of Environment. A year later the city claimed 12 percent of the trash it picked up was being recycled, which seems like a respectable figure for a new program— Calvin Tigchelaar, president of the Chicago Ridge-based Resource Management, which collects and processes recyclables from dozens of communities in the midwest, says recyclable commodities make up about a third of municipal solid waste. But the city’s own data show that the 12 percent figure was the total diverted—and half of it was liquid that simply evaporated from the trash. Other cities don’t include evaporated liquid in their calculations, and three industry officials burst out laughing when they heard that Chicago counted it.

The story was much the same over the next several years. In early 1997 residents of low-density buildings were encouraged to start blue bagging their yard waste with the understanding that Waste Management’s MRRF workers would pull it out of the trash and send it to composting companies. City officials included that waste in their new recycling rates and within a year were claiming a rate of 20 percent. Soon they were regularly announcing figures of between 25 and 30 percent, though yard waste was up to 20 percent of the total.

Yet the recycling rate for commodities has topped 10 percent only a few times since the Blue Bag program started. The peak was in December 1999: 10.3 percent. The number of people participating in the program keeps dropping, and almost no one in the city’s black and Latino neighborhoods recycles.

....Daley has repeatedly said that people just need to be educated about the Blue Bag program’s merits. This past winter his press secretary, Jackie Heard, said the ten-year-old program was merely off to a 'slow start.'"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Swaptree: CD, DVD, and Book Exchange Website

Ahhhhh!!! I'm super busy preparing something very special for Earth Day weekend so I won't be able to provide a full-length post right now.

For the time being, please accept this gift as my most sincere apology:

A link to the website Swaptree.com!

I recently received an email about this website, and since it's pretty cool, I wanted to pass the link along to y'all.

Basically the site allows you to get free used books, CDs, and DVDs in exchange for giving away your own unwanted books, CDs and DVDs to other people who want them.

As if it wasn't cool enough already, Swaptree company plans to donate $1 for every trade made on Earth Day, with all donations going to the Sierra Club.

We better do some trading!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gardening Failure: A Sad Day for Seedlings

Bad News! I forgot to water my seedlings for a few days and lots of them died!

I'm so sad. To be honest, when I realized that my seedlings had died, I felt REALLY sad--almost like I had lost a pet or something. It was bad (and sort of weird).

Anyways, my tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and green peppers all made it through, but I'm going to have to replant my thyme and basil.

Try and try again, I guess.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Safer Baby Bottles: Avoiding Bad Plastics and Bisphenol A

With the possible hazards of several types of plastic making it onto the Today Show twice this week (see here and here), many Americans are probably thinking about how to get bad plastic out of their lives and the lives of their children.

Of course, one special concern for parents is baby bottles since the food babies eat might come into direct contact with them.

Fortunately, the IATP provides the following information in their publication on safer baby bottles.

Avoid Buying:
Clear, shiny plastic baby bottles, unless the manufacturer says they’re not polycarbonate. This includes clear, plastic bottles made by Avent, Dr. Brown’s, Evenflo (clear), First Years, Gerber, Munchkin, Nuby, Playskool, Playtex Vent Aire and Second Nature.

Instead Choose:
Bottles made of glass or opaque less-shiny or pastel colored plastic (polyethylene, polypropylene or polyamide).

Safer Baby Bottles
Adiri Natural Nurser (1-888-768-4459)
BornFree (1-877-WWW-BORN)
Evenflo glass, colored or opaque plastic bottles (1-800-356-BABY)
Gerber colored or opaque plastic bottles ( 1-800-4-GERBER)
Green to Grow (1-877-GRN2GRO)
MAM/Sassy/Ultivent Baby Food Nurser Kit (1-616-243-0767)
Medela (1-800-TELL-YOU)
Mother’s Milkmate (1-800-499-3506)
Playtex Nurser, Drop-ins
Think Baby (1-877-446-1616)
Wee Go Bottle

Glass Bottles
Glass baby bottles are made from thick, durable glass that is very shatter resistant. To be extra safe, you may want to invest in silicone sheaths that wrap around the glass to prevent breakage if dropped. Visit www.silikids.com. Also, you could try slipping a snug-fitting sock around the bottle or just use glass for infants and switch to safer plastic for older babies.

Additional Resources
Smart Plastics Guide
Guide to Baby-Safe Bottles and Formula

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Letter Requesting Bulk Bins

Buying food from bulk bins is one of the best ways to get packaging-free foods, but unfortunately for me, it's pretty hard to find bulk foods in Chicago.

In fact, the Whole Foods where I usually shop is the only store with bulk bins within a fifteen-minute drive from my house.

That's why I've written the following letter. I plan to send it out to both the local stores where I shop as well the corporate headquarters of the companies that own them.

I encourage you to write similar letters and send them out to stores in your area. If you'd like, feel free to steal ideas from my letter or to use my letter as a form for your own.

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

Dear Store Manager, [or Dear (insert corporate executive name)]

The environment is really important to me, and when I go to the grocery store I always try to buy the most eco-friendly and responsible products available. For me, this translates to purchasing organic produce and additional foods with as little packaging as possible, usually sold from bulk bins.

With this in mind, I'd like to tell you that I no longer shop at your store because you do not offer food in bulk bins. Instead, I drive a few miles further to Whole Foods and purchase foods like oatmeal, cashews, and cereal from the bins there.

To be honest, though, I don't really like driving the extra miles. It's bad for the environment, and the traffic stresses me out.

Therefore, I would like to ask you to install bulk bins at your store. I know it's a lot to ask since I've heard that bulk bins can have low profit margins and are difficult to manage, but it's something that will attract customers, who will surely also buy higher margin items, to your store. Also, providing your customers with food in bulk bins is exactly the type of "green" move your company needs to be making to continue to attract customers in Chicago.

I hope you consider my request, and I look forward to seeing bulk bins in your store in the near future (and not having to drive so far to shop!).

Thanks so much.

Best,
[My Name]

Photo courtesy of Veggie Chic.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Fantasies

Lately I've found myself thinking a lot about better and more sustainable packaging solutions and just human behavior in general, and my daydreams have led to a few fantasies.

And no, these fantasies have nothing to do with packing tape and bedposts.

Instead they're related to returnable jars and people accepting new and different ways of doing things.

Fantasy A: Giving Back
In the world of Fantasy A, we all create a lot less trash because most liquid products come in returnable jars only available in a few types, maybe three or four total. For example, milk would come in a "big" glass jar, pasta sauce comes in a "medium" jar, jam would come in a "small" jar, and toothpaste might come in a "tiny" jar.

My dream system would make it substantially less costly for companies to reuse jars because there would be a large intermediary company that could introduce economies of scale for collecting and washing these universal jars before they were sold them back to the companies.

Oh, and as a bonus, since lids are standardized too, we could even reuse jars from grocery store products for canning.

Fantasy B: Looking Forward
Fantasy World B is a place where no one looks at you sideways when you do something different, and people don't ever have to be scared about standing out. In this world, people try lots of new things because they know they can be good for the environment. They use cloth shopping bags and produce bags at the grocery store and know that no one is going to think they're weird. They even have the people at the deli counter pack their cheese and meats into the reusable containers they brought to the store. Heck, they'll try anything because the environment is more important to them than the possibility of feeling a little different.

...But that's enough with my fantasies. It's back to reality.

Friday, April 4, 2008

IKEA Is Throwing Out the Plastic Bag

As of this October, IKEA will no longer be distributing plastic bags, according to a recent press release from the compny.

Apparently, IKEA is confident that this is the right decision because, when faced with paying five cents per plastic bag, 92% of customers went without.

Wow! That's amazing.

I guess this proves that if something is free, people are less likely to question whether or not they need it, but once it costs something, they step back and think about it--even if the new cost is very small.

That makes sense. Examining the value of an item against its (financial) cost is something we do everyday, so of course we do the same with the plastic bag.

What we can glean from this: the "convenience" of a plastic bag isn't worth five cents to most Americans. Interesting.

In any case, I'm very excited to find out what happens at IKEA. When people buy something there, they'll either have to bring their own bag, buy a $.59 cloth bag, or go without a bag all together.

Will there be an uprising? Will people stop shopping at IKEA?

Or will people just learn to bring their own bags?

Photo courtesy of Substance

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Homemade Deodorant: Just Use Baking Soda!

While I was busy collecting my plastic waste last week, I was also running another experiment: testing if baking soda works as a deodorant.

The Hypothesis
Baking soda deodorant will leave your armpits smelling fresh and clean.

The Methodology
From Monday through Sunday last week, I replaced my usual deodorant with baking soda. To apply, I pressed an old powder brush for makeup, which I'm basically giving up, into a bowl of baking soda and dabbed it onto my damp skin directly after I exited the shower. Over the course of the week, I figured out how much baking soda to put on the brush based on how much would actually stay on my skin.

The Data
  • Six out of the seven days, I was pretty much smell free. No strong odors were noticable at all, even though I biked 10 miles round trip to work on three of these days. Note that I could detect a very, very slight odor of sweat by the time I went to sleep, but it was so hard to notice that it's almost not worth mentioning.
  • On one of the seven days, I could smell some odor under my arms. That particular day happened to be incredibly stressful at the office.
  • I've heard that some people experience skin irratation from the texture of baking soda, but I did not experience this.
The Analysis
Baking soda is indeed an effective underarm deodorant. By the end of each day, I could only detect the slightest odor, which I would guess is usually there but is difficult to recognize because of the strong fragrance of most deodorants.

Even on days when I biked long distances, I also noticed little or no odor. On the other hand, when I was under stress, the soda wasn't quite up to the task.

The Conclusion
Baking soda deodorant is great! It's prevents odors and is inexpensive and easy to use. Just use caution if you anticipate high stress situations.

Further Exploration
Since I've never been someone with horribly smelly armpits, my very informal experiment doesn't prove this will work for everyone. What we need is a larger sample size!

Anyone willing to try this out and leave a comment about how it worked for you? Any men interested in trying it out?

Update: It's a year and a half after I wrote this post and I'm still using baking soda as a deodorant. Please note that I now mix baking soda and cornstarch in a one to one ratio, which neutralizes the abrasive effect of the baking soda and makes it quite skin-friendly.

Art courtesy of Sweet Babboo.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Plastic Waste: A One Week Collection

To get an idea of how much plastic I'm sending to the landfill these days, I decided to collect a week's worth of plastic waste, with the week starting last Monday and ending yesterday. Below are the results, a la Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, minus the weight measurements since I don't have a scale.

The Results

















Clockwise from top left:

1. Bag from brown sugar: This was purchased before I started trying to reduce my plastic consumption

2. Two safety seals from Breyer's ice cream: I had people over for a potluck on Sunday night because it was my birthday, but I ended up running short on time when I was getting everything ready. To make up for it, I purchased ice cream to serve as a dessert, but I had to buy Breyer's since my boyfriend is lactose intolerant. Hence the plastic seals.

3. Ribbon: This was part of the gift wrap from my otherwise plastic-free birthday gift from my boyfriend.

4. Kleenex box plastic: This came from the box I used to have at work (I need to get a handkerchief!)

5. Packaging for disposable contact lenses: This is a type of plastic waste that I'm not ready to give up.

6. Safety seal from organic peanut butter jar: Not much to say here, but that I hate plastic seals.

7. Tag from asparagus: I didn't realize this was plastic when I was purchasing the aspargus for my birthday dinner. Darn.

8. Plastic tab: I found this under my couch while I was cleaning for the dinner party.

9. Two bags from microwave popcorn: My co-workers were going to throw the bags away because they were expired. I intercepted them and ate them as snacks instead of letting them go into the trash.

Not pictured: Two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (aluminum cans are lined with plastic). I drank these in a moment of weakness (read: pre-birthday drunkeness) at a bar on Saturday night.

Summary

I'm pretty happy with how I did, although I obviously had a few weak moments. I could have, for example, planned a different dessert for the dinner party or opted not to have the cans of beer at the bar.

Lessons learned: Plan better for dinner parties, examine tags on vegetables, and don't drink too much.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Used Clothing and Fun Crafts at the Swap-o-rama-rama

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending Chicago's first ever Swap-o-rama-rama.

What's a Swap-o-rama-rama?

It's basically a huge clothing swap. You contribute a small donation towards a charitable cause and bring a bag of clothing to throw into the pile. Then everyone dives in and searches for stuff they like.

During my day at the swap, I found lots of great stuff, including several shirts, a pair of pants, and some fabric (for use while I'm learning how to sew).

But I didn't just take home clothes. The event also included lots of workshops and craft tutorials, so I learned a lot. I found out how to make fabric jewelry and even fashioned myself a few pairs of earrings and a necklace.

I also learned how to use a loom and got to do some weaving. It turns out that weaving can be very easy. The women who was teaching me how to do it explained that a simple piece can be woven in just a few hours, but setting up the loom for creating the piece might take an entire evening. Very interesting.

Why swap?
Because, as the old saying goes, one (wo)man's trash is another (wo)man's treasure.

Also, according to the swap-o-rama-rama website, "fabric waste currently comprises 4.5% of residential waste created. Each American is responsible for approximately 35 pounds, totaling 8.75 billion pounds per year. Fifty percent of the textiles consumed and discarded are made from synthetic fibers that are produced from oil , which has a negative effect on the Earth."

From what I can tell, that means that 4.38 billion pounds of synthetic clothing, most of which is probably made from plastic, is put into landfills each year.

Find a Swap
If you're interested in participating in a swap, the swap-o-rama-rama website provides a list of future events in cities around the U.S. Information is also provided on how to start a swap where you live.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm Giving Up Makeup (Well, Mostly)

I started wearing makeup for the first time when I was in high school, right around when I met my first boyfriend. At that time, I only wore makeup on the weekends because I went to an all-girls high school, but when I got to college, I started wearing it everyday.

Since then, I've been a daily user of foundation, blush, powder, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and lip gloss, and have also occasionally used lipstick, mascara, and eyebrow pencil.

Times are a'changin because of my plastic-free goals, though, and I've been seriously rationing my makeup. Instead of wearing my full "face" everyday, I've been picking and choosing what to wear. On days I really want to look nice, like when I'm going to a big meeting or a nice restaurant, I go back to my old cosmetics routine. On days when it matters less, I only wear a little eyeliner and eyeshadow.

But I don't like it because makeup makes me feel pretty--as if all my imperfections have vanished away. In the winter, when my face gets all red and blotchy, it makes my skin look even and clear, and if I'm not wearing it, no matter what the time of year it is, I always feel like I look tired and not quite "put together."

Yep, as you can imagine, I've been feeling pretty ugly lately because of the rationing, and now I'm almost out of foundation and I'm freaking out. The reality is really starting to hit me that sometime this year, I'm probably going to run out of all the makeup I have and that I'm going to feel absolutely hideous. My self-esteem is going to take a beating.

Eventually, though, I'll get used to seeing myself without makeup and I'll recover.

Or should I say I'll get used to seeing myself with less makeup. I'm still hoping to find at least a few plastic-free alternatives. I already know of a few lip glosses in metal tins, but my dream is a plastic-free eyeliner.

I have this sinking suspicion, however, that my hopes and wishes aren't quite going in the right direction. What I should really be wishing for is that one day women won't wear makeup at all. Men don't wear makeup. Why should we?

Note: It's probably for the best that I'm giving up most makeup because, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, makeup often contains dangerous chemicals.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Use Bar Soap: Save Money, Smell Good

Off to Germany (A Little Story)
A few years ago, I traveled over the ocean to spend a year living in Berlin. Of course, along with a few shirts and pairs of pants, the baggage I carried with me included all my many habits from the old country, including my daily use of bar soap.

Now, you wouldn't think bar soap would be a big deal. I mean, it's just soap, not white gym shoes or khaki shorts. Why would anyone notice?

I don't know, but notice they did.

I can say this because two of my German friends quickly realized that I used bar soap and asked, Um, why do you use bar soap?" (said in German with some distate, if I can recall)

My response: "Um, because it's cheap and effective and smells just fine."

Their response: "But, don't you think it makes you smell like an old Turkish woman?"

My response: "Um, no. Also, I don't know what an old Turkish woman smells like."

Their response: "Bar soap, obviously."

Ach du lieber!

If the only people in Deutschland using bar soap were the old (and smart) Turkish women, what was the rest of Germany using to get themselves clean?

Body wash, according to my friends.

What? Germans using body wash? Why? It's so wasteful and expensive, and Germans are usually so eco-friendly!

Well, as much as I wanted to fit in while I was living in Germany, I definitely wasn't going to start using body wash. So I wore scarves and funky shoes and spoke German 24/7 (some people said I barely had an accent), but still used soap in solid form. Yep, I continued to use it despite what my friends thought. I mean, anything else is just silly!

Back in the United States and Saving Money
A few years later, I'm back in the U.S. now and still using bar soap. I'm on to my current favorite brand, Kiss My Face, which I love because it lasts FOREVER. I started using the bar I have now (pictured right) in the beginning of November and it's not nearly gone yet. I paid about $3.00 for it, which means I'll probably end up spending about $6.00 on soap this year.

And Smelling Good
My bar soap leaves me smelling really nice, which makes sense because most bar soap smells great. Also, it comes in a huge variety of scents, everything from light and flowery to strong and masculine.

And Creating Less Waste
Not only does bar soap smell good, you can find it with very little packaging, which obviously means it creates less garbage to send to the landfill.

Random Questions

So if it saves you money, smells good, and is better for the environment, where did Germans get the idea that body wash is better than soap? Is body wash, called Duschgel in German, really so prevelent? Warum? Any Germans out there who can provide some enlightenment?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ragging on Paper Towels (and Our Disposable Culture)

I grew up in a home where paper towels were used for everything. When there was a spill, you cleaned it up with a paper towel. When you wanted to dry your hands, heck, just use a paper towel. These throw-away towels were the solution for everything, and I never thought twice about it.

But now I see that instead of being a solution for anything, they are part of a huge problem--our disposable culture--a sickness that creates huge amounts of waste and is pushing Americans into deeper and deeper debt.

What's Causing Our Disposable Culture?
The causes are hard to pin down, but I think the following are some of the likely reasons we've opted for this new way of living:
  • Allowing ourselves to be over-worked: Americans work some of the longest hours in the world, and therefore have less time and energy for tasks like cooking meals and cleaning. This apparently makes us more likely to buy things that promise to save us time like pre-cooked meals and magical cleaning products.

  • An obsession with convenience: Sometime in the past, oh, let's say 50 years, savvy marketers convinced Americans that convenience is the way of the future. At first, this probably made sense to people, especially since we were (and are) over-worked, but these days, many of these needless products end up clogging our arteries and filling up our cupboards and closets (which we don't have time to organize).
  • Watching too much television: The average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television per day, which is exactly 4 hours and 35 minutes of time spent being persuaded by misrepresentations of what American life is really like and by the commercials and product placements on the air.
  • Credit cards: Average credit card debt in the United States is now at $6,600 per household, which shows that most of us seem to have lost sight of just how much we should really be spending. Instead of being frugal, people feel like they have enough money to buy any of the myriad disposable goods on the market.
  • A misunderstanding of the term "healthy": It seems that people are so desperate to lose weight these days that they will buy any processed food that claims to be healthy or low-calorie. The problem is that these products typically have loads of packaging and are usually a far cry from being good for you. My favorite example right now is Hostess' 100 Calorie Packs of Muffins. You can't find the ingredients on their website (I wonder why?), but I saw them recently, and it was the longest list of ingredients I'd ever seen.
  • A need for cleanliness and a distaste for dirt: It seems like everyone these days wants their homes to be absolutely spotless, but can't handle the idea of touching something dirty. Case in point: this afternoon I read an article reviewing disposable cleaning products from the magazine Real Simple that said, "A majority of testers found picking clumps of hair and dust bunnies off [the mop] distasteful enough to throw their votes in favor of the pricier Swiffer system." So basically people have become so removed from the act of cleaning that they won't even touch dust bunnies? Strange.
  • Fear of germs: Just about every other newscast and commercial I see contains a story about food borne illnesses or scary, scary germs. It seems we're being convinced to live in fear of sickness, and therefore to buy a huge array of cleaning products, many of which probably don't even get used (I mean, it's not like we have time to clean anyway).
  • Fashion, fashion, fashion: Changing in the blink of an eye, fashion is continuously giving us an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mentality. And these days, this sort of fashion is spreading to things like refrigerators and the size of your floor boards. Whether we blame HDTV (which is surely part of the problem) or our appetite to spend, the need to constantly replace the things we own is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the environment.
The Symptoms of Our Illness: Some Seriously Annoying Products
So these appear to be some of the fundamental causes of our disposable culture, but what are the symptoms? Obviously things like paper towels and disposable napkins have been plaguing us for awhile, but it seems that more and more disposable products get launched into the American buy-o-sphere everday.

Here are some perfect(ly annoying) examples in the cleaning products category:
My Questions
  • Wasn't there a time when people saw value in rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty? What's happened?

  • How can we return to the idea that living simply and frugally is a valued way of life?

  • Will people ever see that sometimes the disposable items aren't necessarily better?
  • And the question on everyone's minds: If we can't find time to cook dinner, why do we have enough time to watch 4.5 hours of t.v.?
Back to the Paper Towels
I'm going to make a bold and controversial claim and say that paper towels aren't really any better than rags. I can say this because I NEVER use paper towels anymore. When I have a spill, I reach under the sink, grab a rag and clean it up. Then I throw the rag in my "dirty rag box" and do a load of laundry a month later. It's not hard. In fact, it was probably the first thing I ever did when I started to become more concerned about the environment, and I barely noticed the change.

So maybe doing away with paper towels should be the first move we all make in our attempt to do away with our disposable mentality. After all, we've got to start somewhere.