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 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

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!

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 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.

[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.