Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh, Annie, NO!

I have some good news and some bad news. First the good news: the Eco-Bags are a hit. I took them to Top Tomato, a local green grocer where I usually have to wave and make extra noise to stop the cashiers from placing my purchases in plastic bags. They take the items out and always seem a bit annoyed. Now, I do make a point to say 'I don't need a bag' but I think there's a language barrier here. So I took in my new cloth produce bags the other day. The cashier saw them, stopped, and looked up at me with big smile. "It's nice!" She didn't make a move towards the plastic bags this time.


Now for the bad news: My relationship with Costco may be at an end. The night before starting this blog I went with the idea of seeing what I could get there (that I needed) without plastic. Not much as it turns out. Actually nothing, at least not this time. It is common knowledge that you can't leave a Costco without spending $100. Well this trip cost about $27 for four items: butter, half-and-half, a case of organic diced tomatoes, and Annie's Organic mac-n-cheese in a bulk box. They weren't all plastic free but I thought I did pretty well. The butter came with a thin plastic wrapping around 4 boxes and was $1.50 cheaper per box compared to the grocery store. The half-and-half has a plastic pour cap but also a fantastic price. The tomatoes are canned, so they have a plastic lining on the inside. I love cooking with canned tomatoes in the winter-- not sure what if anything I can do about that right now. The mac-n-cheese was 5 boxes of pasta with the pouches of dry cheese powder. I thought.

So the night before Thanksgiving I don't feel like cooking and get down the mac-n-cheese:
There's a strip of plastic tape holding the box closed. OK, I'll add that to my weekly tally. Then I get the box open:

AAIIIIEEE!! Those aren't the boxes! I should have looked more closely. The foil pouches have that orange cheese goo in them. Even though it is Annie's and organic, the cheese goo is not as good as powder. IMO if you are going for mac-n-cheese from a box, powder is the way to go.

Sigh. This is more plastic than I planned on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

It is a beautiful day in New York. I slept in, had coffee and pumpkin bread with a friend, and handed over leftover goodies from yesterday's locavore feast. A bike ride is planned for the afternoon. I walked to a nearby store for a CFL lightbulb (happily found one that came without plastic packaging), and wondered how 'Black Friday' was going in other places.

Now I'm home checking e-mail and just heard this on the radio. In Valley Stream, Long Island-- 17 miles from my front door-- a man has lost his life. He was trampled to death by shoppers.

A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him. (Credit: New York Daily News)

Today is Black Friday, and something has got to change. I don't know what else to say.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Plastic In The News

Here are a few recent news articles guessed it.
  • Nestle Prepared Foods Company is recalling 879,565 pounds of frozen Lean Cuisine chicken meals that may contain small pieces of hard blue plastic. Yum, yum!
  • Command Packaging, a leading U.S. manufacturer of plastic carry bags for retail stores and restaurants, announced it has been officially licensed by the California State Department of Conservation as an approved plastic film and bag recycling center. CEO Pete Grande: "Compared to all other packaging, these recyclables have the lowest carbon footprint, use less energy, reduced raw material and transportation costs." Seriously? Lowest carbon footprint campared to all other packaging? How about a step in the right direction towards responsible manufacturing?
  • The U.S. Public Interest Research Group is urging parents to avoid buying soft plastic toys this holiday season because of a risk that the toys may contain toxic chemicals. Toys containing the chemicals, called phthalates, can no longer be manufactured or imported after February 2009, according to a product safety law that passed Congress over the summer. But U.S. PIRG says the Consumer Product Safety Commission is allowing the toy industry to circumvent the law. The agency wrote a letter last week telling manufacturers they can still sell their existing stocks of phthalate-containing toys even after the ban takes effect in February. Happy Holidays!
  • Looks like Toronto is examining a bag fee similar to the one Mayor Bloomberg has proposed in NYC. The 5-cent fee proposal is an alternative to a proposal requiring a 10-cent discount for refusing plastic bags, which failed.
  • And across the pond, four of UK's leading supermarket chains say they aim to halve the number of plastic bags distributed to customers by next spring. Last year the supermarkets agreed to voluntary annual 25% cuts in bag use in order to head off plastic bag charges. Bags are placed below the counter and customers are asked if they really want them. The result? One of the company heads says it is cheaper to not hand out the bags, and therefore is a good business decision.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Week 1 Plastic Waste

Here is my plastic waste for the week:
  • Wrapper for a hard sausage purchased from Costco. I think I can get sausage sans plastic at Fairway and specialty markets.
  • Plastic wrapping (sadly, a LOT of it) from a curling iron purchase 3 weeks ago. I got a fancy tourmaline-coated iron that works really well. There were some similar used ones offered on Craigslist but they seemed dodgy. It also came with bubble wrap that I will re-use.
  • Wrapping from a pre-cut hunk of parmesan cheese. I should be able to get parm. without plastic (and lots of other yummy yummy cheeses) from cheese mongers like Murray's or at Fairway.
  • The aforementioned plastic water cup at the pizza place
  • 5 bags of frozen kitchen scraps, left at Union Square's compost drop off point. I will try to re-use the bags in the future.
  • An empty pocket tissue wrapper
  • Kitchen plastic wrap from some bacon in my refrigerator
Can the tissue wrapper be recycled along with grocery bags? Is it the same kind of plastic? I have a couple more packs and plan on using handkerchiefs when they are gone-- unless I get really sick.

Now, about that kitchen plastic wrap. I've been thinking about it for a while. This particular box came from Costco about 3 years ago. It came in a double pack and I don't use it much, especially since I started reading plastic reduction blogs. Most is used to cover open containers and partially used food items in the refrigerator. Should I give it away now and find alternatives, or use it up and then find alternatives? I'm leaning toward the latter. Your comments and ideas are welcome.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Eco-Bags arrived!

My order from Eco-Bags arrived on Saturday, just in time for me to take them to the Union Square Greenmarket for some pre-Thanksgiving shopping.

The order for produce bags was placed before I got a tip from Green Cat about local-to-NYC bags from Organic Needle. When I need more, I will look there!

So far the Eco-Bags are great, with a few drawbacks. They arrived in a plastic-ish USPS soft mail pouch. Hmm, are these recyclable? I may have a candidate for a re-usable compost bag in that. The other drawbacks: made in India, and not pre-shrunk.

Now, I am not entirely anti-globalization. I am glad to know that someone overseas is earning a living helped by my purchase. But a local purchase would save a lot of petroleum getting the product to me. Not pre-shrunk means that if I want the bags to stay the same size, I have to wash in cold and line dry-- making it harder to sanitize them. I'm not all that paranoid about germs and bacteria, but I am a meat eater-- which means that my produce bags may get meat liquids on them on the way home from the store. I'll want to sanitize them every once in a while.

But the good news is-- no more plastic produce bags!

I have a failure to report from the weekend-- I was not brave enough to live out loud. It was my first time eating in a restaurant post-reduced plastic pledge. I went for a run in Central Park with a friend, then we got wine and pizza afterwards. I didn't have my water bottle with me and asked for a "glass glass of water". It arrived in a plastic cup. I didn't speak up. I should have.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Exciting news for 2009: Brita recycles and Preserve takes #5 plastics for recycling

A few days ago the Take Back The Filter campaign announced its first success: beginning in January, Brita and Preserve will join forces to recycle Brita's pitcher filter cartridges. The filters can be dropped off at Whole Foods markets, or mailed to an address Brita will provide in January. So far they are only accepting pitcher filters, not refrigerator or faucet mount filters, and other large US filter manufacturers (such as Pur) don't recycle their products at all...yet.

While poking around Preserve's website, I made another exciting discovery. They aren't just recycling Brita filters! Starting in January they will take any clean plastic item made from #5 plastic for recycling. This is incredibly exciting. Many municipalities (including NYC), if they recycle plastic at all, will only accept bottles made from plastics #1 and #2. That leaves a lot of plastic out! Yogurt containers, medicine bottles, soft butter tubs, take out containers...lots of these are made from #5 plastic.
The program is called Gimme 5, and collection will also be done through Whole Foods, with a mail-in option. Please check out the website for full details!

While this news makes me very happy and excited, will it change my plastic reduction pledge? No. There is a reason why REDUCE is the first R in Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, and why recycling is last. We live in a "disposable" society, using resources that aren't disposable, on a planet that isn't replaceable. Recycling is great, but it takes a great deal of energy and resources to accomplish. Using less in the first place is the way to go.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tomorrow: Freecycle Freemeet in Flatbush!

One easy way to reduce plastic consumption is to get stuff used-- no packaging. That is just one reason why I love Freecycle. Using Freecycle online allows you to give and get individual items, and attending a Freecycle Freemeet is like going to a really great garage sale-- where everything is free! I attended one earlier this fall and scored an insulated lunchbag that I use daily.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle at the Flatbush FreeMeet!

Saturday, November 22, 2008, 12pm - 3pm
P.S. 217 Playground (1100 Newkirk Avenue at Coney Island Avenue)
Flatbush, Brooklyn
Rain or Shine
Directions: Q train to Newkirk Ave or F to 18th Ave. By bus, take the B68 to Coney Island Avenue and Newkirk. You will find the FreeMeet underneath the scaffolding next to the playground.

WHY: New Yorkers discard some 12,000 tons of waste each day that is exported to landfills and incinerators in other states! Here's your chance to help NYC reduce waste and keep our environment clean by finding new homes for your old stuff, and getting somethings you can use in the process. Leftovers will be donated or recycled to every extent possible.

WHAT TO BRING: Bring unwanted clothing, housewares andother reusable items to share* or simply bring a tote bag to fill. Bring friends and family too! Electronics. Bring electronics to be reused, recycled and redistributed through Rattech, who will accept oldcomputers, electronic equipment, printers, monitors, CD's, toner / inkcartridges, etc. Got wire hangers? Bring 'em to the FreeMeet so we can hang clothes and recycle the hangers afterwards.

MORE INFO: (excuse our technical difficulties--the date and location on thewebsite will be fixed today)

*please bring portable items only and log on to give away furniture and other heavystuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beth has a few questions.

...I have a few answers.

Q: What was it that first inspired you to eliminate plastic from your life? Was it a particular issue? News article? Experience? And when was this?

A: In late 2006 I joined The Compact, a group dedicated to not making new purchases for a calendar year. During that year I started following environmental blogs and quickly became fascinated with EnviroWoman's Living Plastic Free. Not buying anything new was pretty radical for me at the time, but no PLASTIC? Now that was radical! I quickly discovered just how easy it is to avoid buying new crap--- which in and of itself wipes out a lot of plastic. Could more changes be just as easy? EnviroWoman's blog led me to Fake Plastic Fish and Life Less Plastic, two of my favorite plastic reduction blogs.

Like a lot of people, the article "Plastic Ocean" had a huge effect on me, and I point people to it whenever they ask 'what do you have against plastic?'.

Q: What have been the 1-3 easiest changes to make?

A: Easiest: taking cloth bags for groceries, going bagless for large produce items, slipping small purchases into my work bag, avoiding new purchases, carrying a reusable coffee mug and metal water bottle.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

A: My biggest stumbling block has been produce bags for bulk items (dry beans, rice, oatmeal etc.) and loose produce (green beans, floppy lettuce...). I know how to sew, so the idea was to make them from fabric on hand instead of buying them new while I was officially part of The Compact-- it never happened. Since then, I've just been dragging my feet and saying "d'oh!" every time I get to the supermarket and forget to bring plastic bags from last time. Silly, right? There is a purchase from EcoBags in my future!

Q: What one thing would you say to encourage others to lessen their plastic consumption?

A: It is a lot easier than you think! A few simple changes will make your life easier, more aesthetically pleasing (glass containers look SO much nicer than plastic...), healthier (plastic avoidance means less processed food and no more worrying about leaching chemicals), and will make you feel good.

Q: What plastic-related issues are most prevalent in the area where you live? Are you working on plastic bag bans? Bottled water campaigns? Finding plastic-free products in your area? I'd like to get a sense of the regional challenges that plastic activists face.

A: In the last year New York City has started requiring stores to recycle plastic shopping bags and is currently considering a 6-cent fee on them, so I'd say that is the most prevalent current issue and one that I will follow in the blog. I would also like to explore why NYC recycles what it does, the history of plastic recycling in the city, and find out just where all that plastic goes. I have been a veeeery minimal part of the Take Back the Filter campaign-- mainly cheering from the sidelines!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bag Battle in Gotham?

I am heartened by the proposed 6-cent fee for plastic shopping bags in NYC. Making stores collect bags for recycling is a step in the right direction, but change won't really come until there's a good economic reason for people to stop using them, or stores to stop providing them. Is it a tax on the middle and lower classes? Sure, but only as long as it takes for us to change our habits, and that isn't long at all.

The recent Times article does bring up points that give me pause though:

Mr. Thrasher, the Brooklyn man battling the wad of bags under his sink, finds plastic bags ideal for, of all things, composting. He uses them to store food scraps in the freezer, then takes them once a week to his farmers’ market. With a paper bag, he said, “I’d worry it’d rot through.”

That is exactly what I do with my compost. I don't have a yard to make my own compost and an inside worm bin isn't an option right now, so it goes in the freezer and then to the community garden or Union Square. I suppose I could look for a big plastic tupperware when my under-sink pile is depleted.

On the other hand, this argument gets no traction with me:

There are, indeed, logistical issues that may make it impractical for many New Yorkers to bring their own reusable bags along when they shop. Most people walk or take the bus and subway, so they have no car trunk in which to carry a number of them. Because so many purchases are spur of the moment — as easy as spotting a storefront and remembering you need candles or toothpaste — sometimes the backpack, briefcase or humongous handbag that can store them are not handy.

How long do you have to live in New York before you learn to only shop for what you can carry, and have a bag big enough to stuff that spur of the moment purchase in? Come on. This is what we do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why am I here?

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fishtank sent me. I have been following Beth's blog for a little over a year now, and a few weeks ago she put out a call for more plastic-free bloggers. I can't promise to be any good at blogging, but I can pledge to post regularly. Doing that will keep me accountable to my reduced plastic pledge.

So what exactly is my reduced plastic pledge? I'm still figuring it out. For now, it is to further reduce my use of plastic of all types, particularly the use of single-use plastics. You can't really call them "disposable" when you know they will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years!

Cutting out all single-use plastics won't be possible, of course. They have become a seemingly inextricable part of modern life. But a lot of plastic is easy to avoid, as I've discovered since starting to read Beth's and other plastic reduction blogs. And there are more changes to make, a lot more. goes!