Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another plastic recycling option: Caps!

Aveda started recycling plastic caps last September, during the Spring/Summer 2009 New York Fashion Week. Plastic caps are usually made from #5 plastic, and are not collected by the City for recycling. So, in addition to the Park Slope Food Coop and the Take 5 program at Whole Foods, we can drop off our caps at Aveda stores. Has anyone tried this or seen the collection points at Aveda? One advantage to Aveda's program is that they take rigid plastic caps whether there is a #5 symbol on it or not. Here are the details on what they take:

What type of caps do we collect?
The program accepts caps that are rigid polypropylene plastic, sometimes noted with a 5 in the chasing arrows recycling symbol. This includes caps that twist on with a threaded neck such as caps on shampoo, water, soda, milk and other beverage bottles, flip top caps on tubes and food product bottles (such as ketchup and mayonnaise), laundry detergents and some jar lids such as peanut butter.

Excluded from collection are pharmaceutical lids and non rigid lids such as yogurt lids, tub lids (margarine, cottage cheese), and screw on lids that are not rigid. If you can bend or break the lid with your bare hands, than it does not meet the rigid plastic definition. Please do not include any metal lids or plastic pumps or sprayers. Unfortunately, too much of the wrong types of materials can contaminate the recycling process. We appreciate your efforts in keeping it clean!

Full details are here:

Aveda stores in New York City:

10 Columbus Circle STE 308
NEW YORK, NY 10019

10 Grand Central Termina 87 E 42ND ST
NEW YORK, NY 10017

456 West Broadway
NEW YORK, NY 10012

20 Vandam St
NEW YORK, NY 10013

233 Spring Street
NEW YORK, NY 10013

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In praise of drinking fountains

Remember in grade school how you would stand in line for the water fountain, wishing the water hog would hurry up so you could take your turn? And then when it was finally your turn you would drink and drink and drink until your teeth hurt from the cold because that water was just about the most delicious thing you ever tasted?

Well, it is STILL THAT GOOD. Maybe it is the wait. Maybe it is the aeration, and drinking fresh cold water straight from the source. Whatever it is, this stuff is amazingly good-- and already paid for with our tax dollars.

This is something I've known for a long time, but the point was nailed home during my Christmas travel. There I was early on Christmas morning at LaGuardia airport with several new Kleen Kanteen bottles in my suitcase, gifts for nieces and nephews. I checked the bag to avoid any hassles with security, arrived at my gate and looked around. It was obvious that Siggs and Kanteens were popular gifts this year! A few hip young things were hanging onto sparkling new bottles, and the sight made me happy...and thirsty. That's when I realized I left my metal water bottle on the kitchen counter. Crap!

It wasn't a problem, though. Water fountains were plentiful at the airports, there was never a line for any of them, and that water tasted SO GOOD. I wasn't thirsty during my short flights, and it was nice not to have to worry about generating waste, or asking the flight attendant about filling my bottle instead of using a plastic cup- this has never been a problem when I've asked previously, but it is nevertheless a bit awkward.

Drinking Fountains! Try one today!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It has been a busy week, trundling between work, caroling gigs, rehearsals, and church singing jobs-- along with the customary flurry of last minute Christmas preparations. There hasn't been much cooking going on. This means meals out, and my choice of the week has been Whole Foods-- they have a food bar with lots of variety, and have cafeteria style trays and bowls. Fast, good, no waste.

Except for the forks. Whole Foods has re-usable bowls, but not re-usable cutlery. So there will be a plastic fork and fork wrapper on the next tally. I still haven't made or ordered a silverware to-go kit, but tossed a fork and spoon in my work bag for the time being.

Of course, that didn't help me yesterday at the annual office holiday luncheon. I totally forgot about that. Plastic everywhere. I chose virtue (well, fake virtue) and grabbed a couple cookies with a napkin. Later in the day though, I accepted a slice of cake from someone and didn't even THINK about the plastic plate until I saw it later beside the computer and gasped. How did that get there?!?? I slunk off to the kitchen, washed it and stashed it in a drawer with some other plastic-ware.

Light posting for the next few days as I travel to the midwest to see my family. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Week 4 Plastic Waste

This is a few days late...

- Plastic window from a CFL mini bulb box.
- labels from a green pepper and some oranges.
- bag from some shredded cheddar cheese
- thread spool and package for D-Rings (sewing notions)
- plastic topped party toothpick
- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups wrapper

CFL Bulbs: the larger bulbs come in a box with no plastic window, why not the small ones? I could probably do a better job of looking for produce without plastic stickers. The next cheddar I buy will be in a block, wrapped in paper or placed in a container brought from home. I haven't tried this yet with the cheese counter guys, so wish me luck. The sewing notions are from a home improvement project-- I made two big belts to tame a futon mattress that really, really didn't want to fold for couch duty. In the future I can go to notion stores in the Garment District and purchase notions from bins, counted out into a small paper bag. But for thread I'm stuck with plastic. They used to come on wooden spools, but not anymore.

I've been pretty lucky with holiday parties so far, getting away with putting nibbles on a paper napkin. However the Swedish meatballs were my downfall. I used that plastic topped toothpick with intent. As for the Reese's wrapper-- I squinted and told myself it looked like paper but knew better.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the topic of Planned Obsolescence

Remember this ad from Ikea a couple years ago? Back then, I thought it was genius. Way to personify an object, then yank the rug out from under us! Now? It just makes me sad. I'm not sad for the lamp. I'm sad for us.

That old lamp could have been re-used, donated, given away, Freecycled (stuff on Freecycle, even BROKEN stuff, goes FAST), or taken to an electronics recycling event. But no, it is on the curb in the rain next to a half empty plastic garbage bag, bound for a landfill. A lot of New Yorkers put things out on the curb knowing someone might pick it up, and generally a lot of stuff DOES get re-used that way. But in the rain? With no note that says "Still Works"? Forget it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can we declare war on planned obsolescence?

This article was posted on the New Jersey page at The New York Times:
Time to Buy a New Stove. Again.
...I wish it were placed somewhere more prominent so that everyone would read it.

The refrigerator repairman had waxed philosophical, holding the defunct thermostat aloft like poor Yorick’s skull. “Plastic!” he boomed. “They all used to be metal.” His glumness should have warned me that planned obsolescence has reached the level of infinite jest.

The article/opinion piece (I recommend reading all of it) bemoans planned obsolescence as it applies to large home appliences-- stoves, in particular. As an apartment renter I've never felt the pain of replacing a major appliance. But I know the feeling when it comes to smaller kitchen appliances, cell phones, iPods, computers, TVs, DVD players, furniture, clothing, radios...

You name it, if it was made recently, it wasn't made to last. It also wasn't made to be repaired. It WAS made to be replaced. And it was probably made with plastic and came in a lot of unecessary packaging.

Can we stop that now, please?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good News: NYC's Plastic Bag Law To Remain Unchanged

This is great:
In January 2008, the New York City Council passed a law creating the most expansive plastic bag recycling program in the nation. In June of this year, the State Legislature passed a bill that would bring plastic bag recycling to the entirety of New York State.

The State legislation initially threatened to preempt the Council's law, and would have drastically reduced the number of city stores required to accept bags from consumers. However, upon signing the bill into law, Governor Paterson announced an agreement on legislation that grandparents in the City’s plastic bag law, so as to allow it to remain in full force and effect.

More details and statements from Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Peter Vallone are here.

Thanks to all who wrote letters to Governor Paterson!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plastic free peanut butter plastic, anyway.

Last night I went to my friend K.'s house to avail myself of her food processor. Put in salted roast peanuts purchased from the bulk section at Fairway, add a little oil (I used corn oil since I had it already), hit the button and hey presto! Peanut butter!

It is in the plastic jar from my last peanut butter purchase. As you can see, I can't keep my fingers out of it.

NOT ONLY did K. aid me in my peanut butter making, she also made me dinner, a delicious leek & asparagus risotto with local beer, and sent me home with some great items of clothing. She gets more space in her closet, and I get new clothes with no plastic price tags. Win!

Friday, December 12, 2008

What plastic can be recycled in New York City?

I realize I've made several posts about plastic recycling, so let me get this out of the way:

Recycling is not the answer. Recycling is the last option before the landfill. Recycling is what you do when you cannot avoid, reduce, or re-use. Recycling takes a lot of resources and energy, and things (especially plastic things) are not recycled so much as they are downcycled. A plastic bottle cannot be recycled into another plastic bottle.

That said, recycling is still important. There is a lot of plastic out there and while the idea is to use much, much less of it, we still have to deal with what is already there.

So. What plastic can you recycle in New York City?

Let's start with The New York City Department of Sanitation. Many well-intentioned New Yorkers (including me until I learned!) put all of their plastic containers in the recycling bin for the City to pick up. However the City only recycles plastic bottles and jugs made of #1 PET and #2 HDPE-- any bottle where the neck is smaller than the body. Even if the container is labeled #1 or #2, if it isn't a bottle they can't recycle it-- because they are formed differently and have different melting points.

More information on NYC's Residential Recycling Program can be found at these websites:

Natural Resources Defence Council

Thanks to Local Law 1 of 2008, we've been able to recycle plastic bags in NYC since June. The law requires large stores and chain stores that provide plastic bags to accept shopping bags, dry cleaning bags, and newspaper delivery bags. Not only that but they must offer re-usable bags for sale! I hadn't realized that. I've been thrilled to see re-usable bags popping up everywhere and thought all the stores caught on to the re-usable bag trend-- but they did it because they had to by law. Food for thought.

This law is under threat from the New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Act, which is a much weaker law that would in effect cancel out NYC's program. No news yet on what is happening here. Have you written the Governor?

UPDATE: The State plastic bag recycling law was signed by the Governor with a provision to let NYC's law stand. Win, win. Thanks to all who wrote!

More information on recycling plastic bags in NYC:

Beginning in January 2009, we can recycle Brita pitcher filters and clean #5 plastic food containers at participating Whole Foods Stores, or by mailing them in.

The Gimme 5 program is piloted by Preserve, which recycles the containers into household products. Not every Whole Foods store will participate-- it is up to the store manager to make that decision. If you want to take advantage of this program, please contact your local Whole Foods store and ask. UPDATE: The Union Square Whole Foods is participating !

#5 Plastic Caps
Aveda started collecting polypropylene plastic caps in September 2008. These include caps that twist on with a threaded neck such as caps on shampoo, water, soda, milk and other beverage bottles, flip top caps on tubes and food product bottles (such as ketchup and mayonnaise), laundry detergents and some jar lids such as peanut butter. The caps do not need to display a #5 symbol but should be rigid and within Aveda's guidelines.

The Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn accepts many items for recycling that aren't accepted elsewhere:
* #1 & # 2 (where mouth is wide or wider than the body, meaning NOT bottles) plastics
* #4 plastics
* #5 plastic tubs, cups & specifically marked lids and caps (discard any with paper labels)
* Plastic film

I am not a member and am unsure if just anyone can bring items in-- but I will be checking this out! Eventually. Its a bit of a hike from Astoria. More information and hours are here.

Do you know of other plastic recycling options in New York City? Let me know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lunch Loser

I lose. Lunch came with a #6 clear plastic clear clamshell box. It was crowded and busy and I wasn't fast enough with a 'wrap that in paper, please!' request. This is the place downstairs and they were slammed-- the weather is nasty and no one wants to go outside.

I've been meaning to do some holiday cookie baking though, so the box could at least get some re-use.

PS- You know what? These things aren't cheap! The website where I found the picture above sells plastic take-out containers from 30 cents to a dollar A PIECE. And we use them for all of a few minutes before throwing them away. Wow. I wonder what the average New York take-out place spends per month on containers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Week 3 Plastic Waste

Just got back from my lunch break at Pret A Manger . At first glance, everything there comes in plastic. But I ended up with a hot wrap sandwich that was pretty tasty, wrapped in paper.

Here is my waste tally for the week:

-- bag/foil pack of Annie's Mac n Cheese. I'm getting sick of mac-n-cheese.
-- 2 martini swizzle sticks. I was at a bar and forgot to tell the waitress to leave them out (one drink came with 2 plastic swizzle sticks).
-- Lid from a McDonald's medium Coke. Even though I carefully explained I didn't want a lid, I got it anyway. The server removed it when she remembered, but I'm counting it.
-- Eye shadow applicator. I prefer brushes but have a few lingering applicators.
-- Expired monthly MetroCard. They aren't refill-able.

The Eco-Bags continue to work well. They've gotten several admiring remarks from shop cashiers. One went through the wash and it did shrink a bit. I will probably buy or make more bags down the road, and be sure to use pre-washed fabric. When purchasing bulk items, the bar code stickers don't stay on very well-- just be sure you have them when you check out.

Also... it is candy cane season! I adore candy canes. Do they come without plastic???

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oh, crap.

Yet another excellent reason to stop using "disposable" plastic (and paper, and metal):

"Just months after riding an incredible high, the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown. As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills' demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables.
Cardboard that sold for about $135 a ton in September is now going for $35 a ton. Plastic bottles have fallen from 25 cents to 2 cents a pound. Aluminum cans dropped nearly half to about 40 cents a pound, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a gross ton to about $100."

This doesn't look good...

Why isn't this big news?

When other cities around the country and the world do something about plastic bags, The New York Times writes about it. When the New York City Council passed a bag recycling law last January they wrote about it. And when Mayor Bloomberg proposed a 6-cent bag tax, they certainly wrote about it. But when the State of New York passes a weak bag recycling bill that would NULLIFY New York City's law, there is nary a peep from the Times. What gives?

WNYC, Gotham Gazette and NY1 have aired the story, but without follow up. That has been the only coverage-- at least that I can find with Google searches. The bill is currently with Governor Paterson. He can veto or exempt NYC from it, or do nothing and let it become law-- which it will IN THREE DAYS.

Am I missing something? This will affect everyone in the city-- we all buy groceries! For the life of me I can't figure out why more people aren't screaming bloody murder. If anyone knows, please give a girl a clue.

Here is how the State law would affect NYC:

*The State bill would preempt the City from taking stronger action on bag recycling, now or at any future point.

*While the Council’s law applies to stores of 5,000 square feet or more and to chains under a common name, the State bill only applies to stores 10,000 square feet or more, and to chains under common ownership or management. The 5,000 square feet requirement is better suited to the City’s needs, as stores tend to be much smaller than in other parts of the State.

*The State bill only applies to plastic carryout bags. The Council’s law also required the recycling of film plastic, such as package wrap, dry cleaning bags and newspaper bags.

*The Council’s law has clear responsibilities for manufacturers of plastic bags. They must, upon the request of a store owner to whom they sell plastic bags, make arrangements for the collection, transport and recycling of plastic pursuant to the provisions of the law. Under the State law, there appears to be no manufacturer obligation to collect, transport or recycle bags.

So if you think the State law sucks and want to do something about it, go here (this page also has links to more information about the issue):

Friday, December 5, 2008

Big money in caps?

I don't know that much about plastic, apart from knowing I want less of it in my life. There are many different types, some more recyclable than others, some scarier than others, but all of them a complicated mix of petroleum and chemicals.

This guy writing for the Duluth News Tribune knows a thing or two about plastic though:

After being yelled at for putting a cheapo high density polyethylene bottle with a polypropylene cap still on it into a recycle bin, I had to check the plastics market. The Street Plastic Prices Report confirmed my hunch: Polypro was selling between $1.01 and $2.25 a pound. HDPE was going for only 49 to 89 cents.

So why are recyclers asking you to throw away the more valuable material and reclaiming the cheap stuff?

Several reasons, says Duluth’s Greg Hartel. “It becomes difficult to bale a plastic bottle when the top is on,” he said, relating horror stories of caps turning into projectiles when the bottles are crushed.

In that case, duck. The real issue, though, is economics.

“It’s not necessarily that something can’t be processed, but whether a particular process makes it economically feasible to do it,” Hartel said, adding the no-cap policy of his family’s business may change with an impending expansion. “I don’t think we’ve made up our minds which direction we want to go in regards to caps.”

At two bucks a pound, I’ll help — except I might have competition. Mike Lunow from Waste Management in the Twin Cities said the company’s Duluth operation does accept caps.

Huh! It has always bugged me that plastic bottles are recyclable, but the caps are not. And here's this guy saying the caps are worth twice as much. Hopefully the recycling companies will figure out how to get at that untapped revenue potential soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Week 2 Plastic Waste

Here's the weekly tally. Some of this was discarded pre-pledge but is being taken out now:
  • Cap tab from 1/2 and 1/2
  • 2 clear/2 foil packs from Annie's Organic Mac-n-cheese
  • Carefree panty liner bag, and a few liners (plastic backing) and wrappers
  • Wrapper for McVitties Digestive Crackers
  • Ball of packing tape found when cleaning under the bed
  • Plastic grocery bag, used as a kitchen trash bag
  • A few plastic window envelopes
  • A Swiss Miss cocoa powder envelope
I'm looking into alternatives to the panty liners and will post about that later. We use grocery bags to line the kitchen trash can-- I don't think my roommate will want to go without. The cocoa envelope might not contain plastic, but it probably does. My hands were cold at work today and I really wanted some, so I caved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New development in the bag recycling issue

The State of New York passed a bag recycling law- but it is weaker than the one passed last month by New York City. The new state law, awaiting signature from Gov. Paterson, would require stores larger than 10,000 sq. feet and certain chain stores to collect used bags for recycling. New York City's law passed last January is stiffer- it includes more chain stores and stores larger than 5,000 sq. feet.

Local politicians are urging Governor Paterson to veto the new law or exempt NYC. Good on them. This law does not effect Mayor Bloomberg's proposal for a 6-cent bag fee.

The law hit Paterson's desk on Monday. I heard about it yesterday evening on WNYC. So far it hasn't been covered in the New York Times. NY1 has the story.

If you'd like to tell Governor Paterson what you think about this issue, his contact information is here. Or add your name to a letter from the New York City Council.

Update - The governor has until 12/12 to act. A copy of a letter from Cristine Quinn about this is at sustaiNYC.

Bad Morning

Slept late and didn't have time to make coffee. Totally fine, just pack a travel mug and fill up at the office! Not as good as coffee from home, but it is free.

Except the office coffee comes in those pods and you know...plastic.

I know where I'm going at lunchtime!
(Oh yeah. I totally had a good plasticless lunch packed and ready to go, and forgot to grab it. Drat.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

There Is No Spoon

I had a close call at lunch today. I try to pack my lunches on office days, which include a cloth napkin and silverware from home. Today I was lazy and had a yen for chicken noodle soup from the place downstairs. Then I remembered I was spoonless.

What to do? Should I cave and use a new plastic spoon? These are my least favorite-- the flimsy plastic ones that get soft in piping hot soup. I'd rather not think about leaching chemicals with my lunch. I decide to sip the broth from the cup and toss back the solids at the bottom. There are wooden chopsticks at the checkout counter. Aha! One time use chopsticks aren't a great environmental choice either, but I will re-use them. They did the trick.

I need something like this to put in my work bag:

Image taken from Plastic is Forever. This cool kit is available from The thing is I know I could make something similar myself-- and that is how it took me almost two whole years to get my Eco-Bags.