Monday, December 7, 2009

Nicholas Kristof has another column about Plastic in the NY Times

I haven't had a lot of blog posts here recently. Hopefully that'll change soon. In the meantime, please read Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times. A pertinent excerpt:

I asked these doctors what they do in their own homes to reduce risks. They said that they avoid microwaving food in plastic or putting plastics in the dishwasher, because heat may cause chemicals to leach out. And the symposium handed out a reminder card listing “safer plastics” as those marked (usually at the bottom of a container) 1, 2, 4 or 5.

It suggests that the “plastics to avoid” are those numbered 3, 6 and 7 (unless they are also marked “BPA-free”). Yes, the evidence is uncertain, but my weekend project is to go through containers in our house and toss out 3’s, 6’s and 7’s.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New York Times is on a Plastic Roll

Wow, twice in a week! The New York Times published an article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has taken them a long time to cover it, but I'm really glad that they are.

ABOARD THE ALGUITA, 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii — In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement. Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organization estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.

Scientists say the garbage patch is just one of five that may be caught in giant gyres scattered around the world’s oceans. Abandoned fishing gear like buoys, fishing line and nets account for some of the waste, but other items come from land after washing into storm drains and out to sea.

Plastic is the most common refuse in the patch because it is lightweight, durable and an omnipresent, disposable product in both advanced and developing societies. It can float along for hundreds of miles before being caught in a gyre and then, over time, breaking down.

But once it does split into pieces, the fragments look like confetti in the water. Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world’s trash-filled gyres.

PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles...

Please read the rest of the article here: Even if you are already familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there's some new information you'll want to see.

Non plastic side note-- It interests me that there's this at the end of the article: "Travel expenses were paid in part by readers of Spot.Us, a nonprofit Web project that supports freelance journalists." Is this the future for research journalism?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Plastic and Food...and The New York Times

BPA is about to get a lot more attention. BPA isn't in all plastic, but it is in a lot of it, and especially in a lot that touches what we eat. The lining of most cans, for example.

Nicholas Kristof, in today's New York Times:
Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies — to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That’s a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it’s in our food.

I think you will want to read the rest of this article. Here's the link again:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Plastic Is Making Us Fat, Part 2

Colin Beavan's blog post today sheds more light on how plastic is making us fat.

And it suddenly occurred to me that only food that is bad for us has any trash associated with it. Only food that is bad for us needs packaging. So I've been thinking about a new healthy eating diet. All you have to do is never eat food that has packaging associated with it and you'll automatically end up healthy and skinny!

Healthier people, healthier planet. Yay! Because it turns out that what trashes the planet trashes ourselves.
Read the rest of Colin's excellent post here.

While science may never figure out precicely how the chemicals in plastic affect us, from making us fat to messing with our reproductive systems, it is pretty much a no-brainer to see that the stuff IN the plastic is, 99% of the time, not good for us.

Eat Naked Food!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Hardest Thing about avoiding Single Use Plastics?

Eating out. Hands down. I can control the plastic that comes into my house. Getting restaurant food without plastic is the thing I find most challenging.

For example today I met a couple of friends for lunch at Grand Central. We found a table in a public area so that one friend could eat her lunch from home (smart girl!), and the other two of us could grab something from one of the many food stalls. Working close by, I know the lay of the land and what my choices are for food served without plastic. Today's choice was Two Boots Pizza served on a paper plate. Once in line though the strombolis caught my eye, so I ordered one. When the line got closer to the register I saw someone else's stromboli delivered in a foil dish with a plastic lid. Oh no! So I asked the cashier if I could get mine on a plate, without the plastic.

You know the Visa ad where commerce (the ad calls it "Life" but REALLY? It is commerce.) is thrumming along, everyone using a Visa Debit, until someone pulls out cash and the consumer ballet comes to a screeching halt? That is what happened today at Two Boots! The cashier and two other employees behind the counter were on the case, making sure my stromboli got a plate and not a dish. Orders stopped, the line backed up. The kitchen guys were popping their heads in the window to see who cuased the ruckus. After all that I got my stromboli on a plate, served with a plastic dish of sauce, which I returned. Oy. I should have stuck to pizza.

The best thing would be to pack my lunch, but I'm lazy and don't do it very often. So past that I find restaurants and items that are "safe" to order. Even then, I know full well that the food I'm served comes with all kinds of plastic, I just don't see it when it is served to me. Preparing my own food is really the best option.

...unless the restaurant industry can get the message that we all want less plastic with our food. What kind of effort will that take?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why isn't NYC water the Official Water of the New York City Marathon?

On Thursday, one of NYC's free daily papers (AM New York? Metro? one of them) was wrapped with a huge shiny ad for Poland Spring, the Official Bottled Water of the New York City Marathon. The ad announced that Poland Spring water is "Born Better". From the ad, and also on the very fancy website:
Keeping the land around our springs clean and sustainable is also important. It's good for the environment and also contributees to the high quality of Poland Spring water. Which is why we work so hard to carefully select our sources and monitor our watersheds. So far we've preserved over 14,000 acres around our springs in the U.S.

While I am happy that Poland Spring is preserving acreage and protecting "their" watersheds from pollution, this text galls me. Just this week, Chesapeake Energy decided not to drill in New York's watershed, because the ruckus being raised by environmentalists and NYC politicians was more trouble than it was worth. Whew. But this isn't over yet- unless the state moves to protect it, some other company could come along and try to drill in the future. Read more details here, at the NY Times.

So reading that bit from Poland Spring about 'we carefully monitor and protect our watersheds' seems a bit like a taunt. As in 'if you lot don't get your act together and protect your water source, you can always buy safe clean water from well over 100 times the price'.

Wouldn't it be nice if New York City, in an act of civic pride, insisted on serving up crisp delicious New York water at the marathon?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bottle caps

My photo for the International Day of Climate Change shows bottle caps picked up in my neighborhood. This video shows bottle caps picked up in a different neighborhood: by albatross chicks at Midway Atoll, in the North Pacific.

The photos were taken by Chris Jordan, who traveled there with a group of artists to document the affect of plastic waste at Midway. He explains:
The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.
As a child in the 70s, I remember a big public push to get rid of, or at least cut up 6-pack rings, because they were killing marine life. I wonder if Chris Jordan's photos will do the same thing now for bottle caps? Perhaps 6-pack rings were unfairly targeted, because people missed the forest for the trees. The rings were part of a much bigger picture, the problem we still have today: plastic pollution.

It is hard to miss that both items are made from plastic.


Tomorrow, October 24, is the International Day of Climate Action, expressed by a number: 350. Why? 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit of CO2 for the earth's atmosphere. Right now, mostly because of our use of fossil fuels, we are at 387, which is why the polar ice caps are melting.

The mission of International Day of Climate Action is to
...inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.

One action is to creatively express the number 350 and send a picture and caption to My photo is made of plastic bottle caps picked up from sidewalks near my apartment.

Please check out There will be plenty to do, even after October 24. It sounds a bit melodramatic, but the future of our planet really is at stake. World leaders are meeting in Copenhagen in December to discuss what the world's governments plan to do about global warming. It is vitally important that they know we are paying attention and that we demand action from them- ESPECIALLY the United States.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Say it aint so, Bo!

Can somebody tell me what is wrong with this picture?

[Photo: Pete Souza/Flickr]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who needs M&Ms?

Since learning there's no such thing as plastic free M&Ms, I've been meaning to make a batch of cookies and take some to work for an afternoon treat, instead of heading for the break room vending machine.

Behold: oatmeal cookies made with several ingredients purchased from bulk sections using my cloth bags: oatmeal, walnuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. Now all I have to do is not eat the entire batch before Monday.

...add "delaying gratification" to the list of skills needed for a life with less plastic. Other skills include willingness to change habits and planning ahead. This less plastic experiment is teaching me things I had not planned on learning!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Plastic Free Penne!

I finally made a trip to the 4th Street Food Co-op, to check out their bulk selection. What on earth took me so long?!!? Not only do they have penne in bulk but at least 3 other kinds of pasta, including a gluten free variety. They also have several other things in bulk that are not carried at other bulk sections in town (Fairway, Integral Yoga's store, etc.). They have loose spices so you can fill your own container, as well as olive and a few other cooking oils, and liquid soaps.

I am SO PSYCHED. The co-op is in the process of phasing out plastic bags, and have cloth bags for sale, and are selling inexpensive bio-bags as well-- you can bring them back to re-use and recycle (they take them to the Lower East Side Ecology Center for recycling).

I purchased some new cloth bags- could use some more, and these have the tare weight printed on them which my others do not- as well as chocolate chips, walnuts, raisins... and PENNE. That last thing makes me a very, very happy girl.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Good-bye, Red. Oh don't cry, you'll melt so dreadfully. Good-bye, Yellow. And Blue, I think I'll miss you most of all.

Boosted from comments in "Who Says I Can't Find Plastic Free Junk Food?":
Fake Plastic Fish said...
Okay, I have partial info. The jury is somewhat still out but not completely. I called M&M Mars and spoke with "Bill" today. He could not find the exact materials for the package (and we both agreed that I was talking about the small individual serving size that they sell at the check-out counter. Not the minis and not the huge bags.) But he knows they are not recyclable because they are paper coated with some kind of plastic. Which is kind of what I thought. So I guess they rip because they are paper, but they are also plastic and therefore not so great, actually.

Can you get chocolate covered nuts from a bulk bin somewhere? That's my fave M&M substitute.

September 15, 2009 2:47 PM

On some level, I knew those bags were coated with plastic. I just didn't want it to be true. So no more wandering to the break room vending machine when I'm sleepy in the afternoon, and no more purchases at the bodega counter for an after lunch sweet. I liked the ritual as much as anything-- even though bringing something from home that came from a bulk bin would save on money as well as plastic.

Then again, mixing candy coated chocolate with tamari roasted almonds, bulk bin finds both, does sound kind of awesome.

Monday, September 7, 2009


A little bad news/good news today.

First the bad news. There will be a plastic cup and appetizer plate on my next tally. I went to a party yesterday and was feeling a little shy and introverted. I just didn't feel like asking for a non disposable cup or plate--even though it would have been fine. Boo, me.

Now the good news: FETA, purchased with no new plastic! I went to Mediterranean Foods in my neighborhood with a #5 container brought from home. It was my first time at the market and I didn't know if they would have feta cheese that wasn't already packaged in plastic. Not only do they have unpackaged feta, they have several different kinds! The man at the counter was fine with my container from home- I just had to convince him that I didn't need a bag for it, that I could carry it in my hands without spilling the brine.

So now I have the topping for tonight's plastic free feast: Double Broccoli Quinoa

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ew, gross! I love it!!

Despite my post about junk food earlier today, I love this new subway ad campaign from NYC's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Because in addition to making us fat, sugary drinks come with plastic bottles and caps. And if you take a walk in my neighborhood you will see lots and lots of those bottles and caps on the sidewalks, in the gutters, washed into storm drains, and thrown down onto the banks of the East River.

See all the ads here.

Why I love my Kleen Kanteen, Reason #2

Sigg's CEO has finally admitted that bottles made up till last year did have BPA in the liner. Newer bottles have BPA free liners. It should be noted that Sigg released "independent testing showing that its bottles leached no BPA in tests that mimicked liquids like colas, fruit juices, and water." But when asked if there was BPA in the lining they dodged the question...until now, almost a year after they've stopped using it. A casual observer might assume they waited so that they could sell the BPA lined bottles and not be stuck with them-- is that an awful thing to say?

I love my Kleen Kanteen- it is made from stainless steel. No liner needed. I also have a knock off Sigg at home that is a couple years old, and am pretty sure it has a lining with BPA. I'll still use it, but will avoid hot liquids (not that you want to put those in an uninsulated metal bottle anyway!) and will probably recycle it in another couple of years.

And by the way, is a BPA lined Sigg still better than plastic bottled beverages? Heck, yes!

Hat tip to Elizabeth Royte for the story.

Who says I can't find plastic free junk food?

Dear America,

Thank you for paper wrapped ice cream sandwiches. And M&Ms. And Milk Duds.



Saturday, August 29, 2009

New attention brought to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

Photo: Reuters/J. Leichter/Scripps Institute of Oceanography

When people ask me "What is so bad about plastic?" one of the first things I mention is the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. I first learned about it from this November 2006 article in Best Life Magazine- not somewhere you would expect to find cutting edge environmental news. Lots of people have never heard of it. Others have, and like the threat of terrorism or nuclear war, try not to think about it too much-- it is too big a problem to fathom, and what can I do? Let someone else worry about it.

For over a decade Captain Charles Moore has been studying the Pacific Garbage Patch and sounding the alarm to the outside world. His message has been getting through to some and now is starting to really get out in a big way. The Scripps Institute if Oceanography just completed a 3 week fact finding expedition. Their research and the research of Captain Moore and other scientists is just the beginning in this dangerous problem area- created recently by humans and yet largely unknown and almost completely not understood by science and humanity.

Today the AP has an article about the Scripps expedition. Here is what I find to be new and alarming:
The scientists hope their data gives clues as to the density and extent of marine debris, especially since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may have company in the Southern Hemisphere, where scientists say the gyre is four times bigger.

"We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there," said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution.

There is a bigger one out there? Oh, no. I knew there were other oceanic gyres on the planet but until today had thought the Pacific gyre, and its garbage patch, to be the largest.

What can be done? Well, like they say, when you find yourself in a pit the first thing to do is to stop digging. That is why I have my blog. Nothing I do will shrink the garbage patches of the world, but I like to think that by consuming less plastic I'm at least not adding as much to them. If more of us do that they may not grow as fast. If we as consumers and citizens let companies, manufacturers and governments know that we want less plastic, after a while they will listen, and the the patches may not grow as fast.

It has to start somewhere.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things I Hate: Plastic Gift and Discount Cards

This morning in the office mail I saw a postcard made entirely from plastic. It had perforation lines for the featured promotion, a 20% discount card. Um, wow. Was that really necessary?? It reminded me of something I hate: plastic gift and discount cards. To review, Things I Hate generally:

- are made of plastic
- are meant to be used once and tossed away
- are not in any way recyclable
- appeal to people's vanity and desire for instant gratification
- strive to create a need where there was none before
- are recently created streams of pure waste

Now before I launch in, I have to say my hate is directed at the producers of the cards, not at people who give them. I have a gift card or two at home, intend to use them, and very much appreciate the thoughtfullness of the gift. Also- a couple Christmases ago I gave iTunes cards to my nieces and nephews because I wanted to give them a non-material gift: music of their choice. I suppose I could have investigated buying the iTunes credit online and giving them a paper card with the code, but having a plastic iTunes card to give them was faster and easier. I totally get the convenience and appeal of gift cards. I still hate them.

How long have plastic gift cards been around? Ten years? Fifteen? They are everywhere now--every chain store has them. I killed some time Sunday afternoon checking out the big new Barnes & Noble on the upper east side. The display of gift cards before you get to the registers is HUGE. Why dedicate so much pricey floor space to one-time-use plastic cards? Why do they need a selection of cards so vast- it is a book store, not a gift card store, right? My guess is they make more money selling those cards than actual books. That is really something.

Whatever happened to paper gift certificates and coupons?

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Love My Kleen Kanteen, Reason #1

Pity the poor people at Condé Nast. This year they have lost many perks to cost savings, including the fancy bottled water:

"When I started, there was this little refrigerator, and it was stocked with amazing drinks,” said one ad-sales source. “Pellegrino, Orangina, Red Bull. And like the water wasn’t Poland Spring, it was like Fiji. I remember when I started working here, I emailed everyone I know and I was like, ‘I have to tell you about the drinks!’”

But then in December, a few months after Condé Nast ordered publishers and editors to cut 5 percent from their budgets, the drink supply emptied out. That Fiji water turned into Poland Spring. Worse, instead of the fridge, the water bottles were stowed in a warm closet.

Mmm. Bottled water that has been stashed for who-knows-how-long in a warm environment. NOT my idea of tasty. Neither is the thought of drinking water that has been shipped thousands of miles farther in a bottle that has twice the plastic-- that would be Fiji.

Gawker beat me to pointing out that if only Condé Nast had waited they could have cut the Fiji water for the sake of virtue, not just to save money: this month's Mother Jones has an excellent article exposing the corporate, environmental and social evils of Fiji water. Of course, even before the article it didn't take much to figure out that an American company importing water from a tiny island nation in thick plastic could not be a good thing, no matter how much greenwashing the company did.

I wonder if the folks at Condé Nast know about Kleen Kanteens. I may not get to see Greydon Carter in my workplace lunchroom, but I do get to drink freshly drawn, crisp Croton Reservoir water from my sleek, über-cool stainless steel Kanteen. Lucky me!

Eventually, I do think this idea will take hold in the popular media and society at large: drinking and eating from plastic is disgusting. But I wonder how long it will take.

Friday, August 21, 2009

In praise of washcloths

My less plastic lifestyle has happily re-introduced me to washcloths. Somewhere along the line we've been taught that bar soap and washcloths are icky, and a big glop of liquid soap from a plastic bottle on top of a plastic bath poof is divine. Hmm, where does that idea come from?

Now I have a stack of inexpensive washcloths and use them once or twice before washing them. My skin is smoother and happier for it, especially on my back and shoulders. The blog Things Your Grandmother Knew recently said
Skin care & cosmetic companies don't want you to know it, but washing gently with a wet washcloth works better than exfoliating products -- I know, I've worked for those companies!
I believe it! I much prefer a fresh terry washcloth to the plastic poof that rarely got washed, felt slimy on my skin and was even slimier after hanging in the shower for a while. Gross! And those things tended to fall apart quickly in the washing machine.

Not only are washcloths (to me) the cleaner option, but they are gentler and more effective at exfoliating dead skin cells. Like a lot of people I was a St. Ives Apricot Scrub girl. Well, that stuff can be a bit too effective, you know? And then there is the plastic packaging to consider. But much worse are exfoliating products that have plastic 'microbeads' in them- tiny bits of polyethylene plastic that go right down the drain! Beth at Fake Plastic Fish has a more detailed post about those.

Washcloths are great. They are inexpensive, easy to clean, extremely re-usable, and do a better job at cleaning and exfoliating than the plastic alternatives. Win, win!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Things I Hate

I have a new blog label: Things I Hate. Things I hate generally:

- are made of plastic (of course)
- are meant to be used once and tossed away
- are not in any way recyclable
- appeal to people's vanity and desire for instant gratification
- strive to create a need where there was none before
- are recently created streams of pure waste

A previous example of a Thing I Hate is the ubiquitous-in-warm-weather iced coffee cup/straw/lid combo.

Another example hasn't appeared yet here on the blog, but was mentioned in Elizabeth Royte's Mother Jones Article: the Starbuck's splash stick. These "adorable" plastic lid plugs appeared a little over a year ago. I started seeing them littered on NYC sidewalks this past winter. They aren't around much now, but wait until the weather cools off-- they'll be back. It is a cute little throw-away plastic plug for your cute little throw-away plastic coffee lid. Gag.

Here is the latest entry to Things I Hate: The Colgate Wisp. Have you seen the ad? A hip and gorgeous clubber whispers lowly to her partner in a female impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenneger: "Aahl be right beck." Then you see her pull a Colgate Wisp from her evening clutch purse so she can achieve fresh, kissable breath on the dance floor. Isn't it funny how they don't show her wrestling with the packaging while trying to hold on to her clutch, or sticking the Lilliputian device in her mouth...then swallowing the gunk from the liquid filled bead, along with all the plaque she just brushed loose (since it is designed to be used without water)? And then tossing the used Wisp on the floor to be trampled under foot?

Oh. Well I thought it was funny.

NOTCOT has a series of pictures of the Wisp and its packaging in all its clever glory.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week 38: Clearing my plastic cache, Part 2

Here is plastic stuff I was squirreling away in my bedroom.

- 2 boxes of Restastis eye drops. I was prescribed these during my bouts with eye infections; they are for promoting tear production and they didn't really work for me. One box is still completely sealed. Unfortunately they are expired so it is too late to take them back to the doctor's office or donate them. The box bottoms are marked #5 and don't have printing on them that would indicate they held medicine; I'm taking these to Whole Foods for Gimme 5-- they're perfectly clean and sterile. The tops don't have the #5 stamp and do have a sticker that says Rx, so they go in the trash, along with the drops themselves.

- 5 boxes of contact lenses. Sadly they are expired. My eyes haven't been able to tolerate contact lenses since I had that series of infections: if I wear them, I get another infection. I have 5 more boxes that are not expired and emailed an organization called Madre to see if they can accept them as a donation. They will! So I'm dropping them off next week. Thank you to Cat for the suggestion! Expired lenses go in the trash, boxes recycled.

- 2 contact lens cases. They're used, and even if I sterilized them I don't think they are the kind of thing to give away for re-use. It sets off my ick factor. You?

- 1 bottle of expired Benadryl. Hmm, is it recyclable? The bottle is #2, and it is a bottle, so that sounds like curbside recycling. But it is thick white plastic, not clear like water and soda bottles, which makes me think it would have a different melting point and be a contaminant. Plus, I'm under the impression that prescription medicine bottles can't be recycled, though this is OTC medicine. Then there are the expired pills... what a quandary! I'm thinking I should put the whole sealed bottle in the trash to be safe. What do you think?

- Plastic bag, for a 6-pack of new underwear. Is it less plastic if I buy underwear that is individually tagged, not bagged? Hard to say.

- Several plastic tag hangers. I bought some new clothes for my high school reunion. Very Un-Compact of me, I know.

- 1 bottle of old pink nail polish. The bottle is glass but the applicator is plastic. Why do I have it in the first place? Every time I try to paint my nails it looks like the efforts of a five year old, so what I usually do is buff my nails when I want them to look nice and have a professional give me the occasional pedicure. And nail polish is classified as hazardous waste in many communities, so getting rid of it is not all that easy. Unclutterer says to let it dry to a solid and throw it in the trash. Other places on the internet say to take it to a hazardous waste facility. I sent an inquiry to NYCWasteLe$$ to ask which is best. UPDATE: NYCWasteLess says to tightly seal the bottle and throw it away in the regular trash.

- Empty "Z-Pack" package. A 5 day dose of Azithromycin, taken when I had bronchitis. Trash.

- Cranberry Emergen-C packet. Consumed while I was sick. I don't like the stuff but had it leftover from an old roommate. Empty envelope goes in the trash.

- Mach-3 razor blade. I have one or two of these left. Then will be a tough decision-- buy replacement blades for my Mach-3 which I've had for several years (a package of 5-6 blades will last me almost 2 years), or get an old fashioned metal safety razor and a box of metal blades? Beth at Fake Plastic Fish is happy with her safety razor and blades...but I really like my trusty Mach-3 and am scared of cutting myself. Hmm.

- Plastic pocket from a falafel sandwich. It LOOKED like paper, but wasn't. I'm really bummed because the food was fresh and dirt cheap and that was about to become my new favorite lunch spot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Honey Facial Wash

After reading about it two months ago at Green Goddess Dressing (including all the comments and the monster thread on the Mothering board), I decided to try washing my face with honey. It is simple, inexpensive, non-toxic, locally produced, AND comes with less plastic than my previous facial cleanser. So there is still a plastic lid, but the jar can be taken back to the green market for re-use.

Guess what? Honey works WONDERFULLY for me as a facial cleanser! I have rosacea, and since I started washing with honey my skin has calmed down a lot. It isn't a complete cure, but my skin hasn't been this smooth in a long time-- and that was when I'd paid a ton of money for laser skin treatments from a dermatologist! Perhaps my skin was reacting badly to something in the generic Cetaphil cleanser from before, or perhaps there is something to the humectant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities of honey. Maybe both. All I know is that my skin calmed way down within the first couple days of use, and it has stayed that way. I still get flushed, but not as badly, and I no longer get those awful pebbly bumps.

This has to be one of the better things to come my way while seeking less plastic options.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Week 38: Clearing out my Plastic Cache

This won't be pretty, and it won't be complete. I've been slacking, and letting some plastic things consumed outside the home slide. A half-n-half container here, a birthday cake fork there... Hopefully getting this load of plastic stuff off my chest and out of my house will make it easier for me to stay on top of things and make better choices, which lets face it, is all about planning ahead.

First off, the biggest item. AN ENTIRE REFRIGERATOR/FREEZER. It stopped working sometime over the July 4 weekend. Our super (who is great by the way, one of the best I've had in 10-plus years of NYC living) checked it out, conferred with his repairman and determined that it was cheaper to replace than repair. I don't know what the cost comparison was, and since we rent it wasn't my decision to make. But I'm counting it was part of my plastic tally, since it was mine to use. Here are pictures of the old refrigerator and tape/packaging from the new refrigerator. There must have been a lot more packaging, but this is what arrived when they installed the new one. The 2nd picture also has the broken kick-plate from the old refrigerator. The good news is that since I've been avoiding plastic for a few months, there wasn't a lot of plastic of mine that had to be thrown out- or food, for that matter. My roommate is a different story. The poor guy had gone shopping recently and was away over the weekend. I was out a lot too and didn't notice the thing had shut off for a day and a half. Not a pretty picture!

Now, to sort out the rest. Food packaging is probably the largest category.

- Pirate's Booty bag and Whole Foods tiramisu cake liner. I had a little party in the apartment last week and these were brought by guests. Do I turn away delicious gift food with plastic? No! Most friends know about my plastic avoidance and try to not give me any. Bless them. My aim is to do this project without being an asshole or losing friends, so if I can mention it in a non guilt-trip inducing way I do. If not, not.

- Bottles. Corn oil (have replaced with a glass bottle of canola oil), mayonaise (will try making from scratch one of these days), syrup (will replace with REAL maple syrup eventually; am using jams to put on French toast and pancakes for now), corn syrup (had this for YEARS for some candy making project, never use it, tried using it up various ways but was disgusted with the results, threw out the rest), tonic water (I've heard tonic is available in cans, which though lined with BPA is less plastic...not sure which is the better choice though), cod liver oil (an experiment- I'm not much of a fish eater. If I want those healthy fish fats this is probably my best option, but even with a good brand flavored with lemon it didn't become a habit). The bottles will go to curbside recycling and caps to Aveda for recycling.

- Bug traps. I found six more, left from my previous roommate. In the past couple of months the only bugs I've seen are the occasional centipede and a few disturbing 'water bugs'. That is what my super calls them. I call them HAFRs, for Huge Ass Flying Roaches. I don't think these bug traps would do anything to the HAFRs (in fact the apartment was recently visited and treated for them, which had absolutely no effect!), and with all the rain this summer it is easy to understand why they are around and getting inside our ground floor apartment. I've been dispatching them with the wand extension on my vacuum cleaner. I'm ruthless that way.

- Various caps and lids. Crisco, vanilla bottle, olive oil cannister, balsamic vinegar bottle, a few other things I don't recall. The 2 rigid threaded caps go to Aveda for recycling and the rest go to the trash. As far as replacing these items with less plastic, I had the Crisco around for a long time- probably bought for pie crusts. I use butter now. The other items were on glass and metal containers for the most part.

- Chicken broth Tetra Brik and blueberry clamshell. I prefer homemade chicken broth, but still have a few containers from Costco to use up. I knowingly purchased the blueberries in a plastic clamshell because I couldn't find them in a paper container at the store and didn't feel like delaying my purchase. I might be doing more of that in the future-- letting go of a little guilt to buy good food with some plastic. This week I did get blueberries at Union Square green-market in a paper box with plastic netting and rubber band- a little less plastic. But getting them took planning and I'm not always very good at that. I'd rather strive to be a little less perfect and remain sane! Tetra Brik gets recycled curbside, blueberry clamshell goes to the trash.

- Plastic wrappings and bags. Pocket tissue bag (I had a cold, then bronchitis, and took this from my roommate), plastic wrap from a hunk of Parmesan (maybe I can get it cut and wrapped in paper if I go shopping during the day and ask nicely at the cheese counter, but this hasn't happened yet), a couple bottle neck wrappings, plastic wrap from a pack of butter blocks from Costco (future butter may not be purchased in bulk to avoid that wrapping- but am I really avoiding plastic? After all, it probably comes wrapped that way before the store puts out boxes for display...), candy wrapper, one plastic bag that I've forgotten the contents- possibly related to the new refrigerator. All go to the trash.

- Scrubby sponge. Not food related, but kitchen related. I'm now using a hand knit washcloth for most things, and the scrubby side of another sponge for hard jobs. When that sponge goes, there are some scour pads under the sink that I've had for a couple years. They're still made from nylon though. But I already own them, and they're big so I cut them in smaller pieces to use-- we'll have them around for a long time yet. Beth at Fake Plastic Fish uses a copper scrubber, which looks like a good option when we finally use up the nylon scour pads. Old scrubby sponge goes to the trash.

- 6 bar code stickers. Also kitchen related. I purchased several dark colored washcloths to use for wiping down table, stove and counters in the kitchen. I didn't notice the plastic stickers until later. Yes, I COULD use perfectly good rags I already own for these jobs, but the store was going out of business, they were cheap, and they look a little nicer...I gave in.

Now, on to the rest--

- Two dental floss containers. Finally, these are used up! Now I'm using EcoDent Vegan Floss, which comes in a cardboard box. Plastic floss boxes go to the trash.

- Two eye drop vials. As mentioned before I have an eye condition. Sometimes I need a lot of drops, sometimes not. Trash.

- A plastic spoon, two cocktail straws. This is a representative sample- there was more. Especially on a recent trip to Kansas for my 20th high school reunion. I ordered a number of gin & tonics- they came in a glass, as opposed to a plastic cup of beer- and mentioned 'no straw' but the bartenders always forgot, or would remember too late and take the straw in my drink or about to go in my drink and throw it away. Sigh. I guess I should stick to wine, but I DO like G&Ts in summer. There was also a very fun late night trip to the Chinese take out where we had many a rushed lunch during high school. It was just as fast and as greasy as ever-- and everything came in Styrofoam with plastic utensils. I just went with it.

- Plastic from a junk mail envelope. I don't tally most window envelopes. Curbside recycling will take envelopes even with plastic windows. Now, I know that plastic doesn't get recycled. Beth at FakePlastic Fish does a good job in this category and even tries to get companies not to send them. This is an area of improvement for me. But I did save one plastic envelope because it was just so disgustingly huge, from American Express Publishing. I've since written and asked them not to send me offers-- we'll see what happens.

- Eye shadow applicator and package. Last one! I use my make up brushes for eye shadow now. They are washable, durable, and do a much better job. Applicator and package to the trash.

- Hotel and sample shampoo/conditioner bottles and packets. I was using up my last bits of shampoo and conditioner before trying a 'no poo' experiment. Was. There will be a future blog post about this. I'm taking this packaging to Origins to see if they will accept it for their recycling program.

Whew! That is it for the cache o' plastic that was in my kitchen. There's a smaller cache still to go in my bedroom. More to come.

Plastic Blogging at ReadyMade Magazine

Katherine Sharpe at ReadyMade Magazine has just finished A Week Without New York City, no less. Check it out!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm still here!

Wow, it has been a long time since my last post. I got a little busy, I got bronchitis, and then I just didn't feel like blogging even though the piles of plastic in my kitchen and bedroom kept growing.

Well it is time to come back or risk becoming a plastic Collyer Brother...because I won't let myself recycle and throw out my plastic rubbish until it has been tallied.

So look for a few updates in short order.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Farewell Hair Clip, Hello Chignon.

My last plastic hair clip bit the dust recently and I am left with a challenge: what to do with my mane on bad hair days? (Bad hair days are rampant in NYC right now, what with the umpteenth day in a row of rain and humidity.) The Office Ballcap is a look that never had its day. Ponytails can look polished and grown up on some women, but not on me. Throwing it up in a clip was really easy, but that's just the way the brittle clip crumbles. If I want to avoid buying new plastic, I have to use the tools I already own: hair elastics, bobby pins, and metal barrettes.

Today's solution was a chignon. I taught myself the basics with a video clip here:

...the result is a little Severe Librarian on me, but it worked and didn't fall out all day. I'll experiment with getting a more casual look.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Make-up Brushes Rock

One of the plastic items I'm throwing out this week is an eye shadow applicator, the last one from a pack that (I think) was provided to me as part of a stage make-up kit for an opera. I have two make-up bags: one at home, and a smaller one I carry in my work bag and the plastic applicators, being small, were in there.

The thing is, I've never liked using those plastic, foam tipped eye shadow applicators. They feel rough and don't do a very good job of applying eye shadow-- which makes me wonder why people use them in the first place. So when the last one was getting grungy, I looked around for a retractable or small eye shadow brush that would fit in my work bag.

As it turns out, I already had a brush the right size at home, back in the remnants of my stage make-up kit*. It works SO MUCH BETTER than the plastic applicator...and it isn't plastic.

Aside from working well, make-up brushes rock because you can clean them-- try that with a plastic applicator and it'll fall apart on you pretty soon. A good make-up brush will last for years of regular use if you take care to clean it regularly.

I clean my make-up brushes by getting them wet and brushing them against a bar of soap, then brushing back and forth on the palm of my hand to work up a lather. Rinse and repeat until it rinses out clear, then squeeze out the excess moisture and let the brush air dry.

The added bonus for me was that I already owned the perfect brush for the job. As others have said and I'll repeat: the 'greenest' purchase you can make is no purchase at all-- use and enjoy what you already have.

*These days I find I don't need the huge tackle box of stage make up I once carted around on opera tours-- my MAC make up collection does the job, with a couple added contour shades, brushes, a set of fake eye lashes or a paste on mustache for the occasional Prince Orlofsky.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Weeks 28 & 29 Plastic Waste

Here is my plastic waste for the last 2 weeks:

- 2 shampoo bottles
- 1 hair clip
- 1 pasta bag, 1 window from a pasta box
- 2 plastic cups
- 1 mascara container
- 4 old bug traps

Shampoo bottles: I thought I was out, but found a few more shampoo samples/bottles in my toiletry stash. Bottles go to curbside recycling, caps go to Aveda.

Hair clip: My last one--it got brittle and broke. I wish there was a non-plastic alternative, but for now am using the other hair implements I own: bobby pins, metal barettes and hair elastics. Clip goes in the trash

Pasta plastic: I'm out of pasta except for one lone box of rice lasagna left by my roommate. I'll have to be REALLY jonesing for pasta to eat the rice lasagna! Pasta plastic goes in the trash

Plastic cups: one cup I had hoarded in the kitchen cabinet- I think I used it at a work function in December and brought it home to see if I could re-use it somehow. The other cup is new, and came from my favorite coffee shop. I forgot to say 'to stay, please' when ordering my iced granita. Cups, unfortunately, go to the trash. One is #6, not easily recyclable (unless perhaps I take it to the Park Slope Coop, which is far from me and where I'm not a member). The other, while #2, is still not easily recyclable-- the city only accepts bottles for curbside recycling.

Mascara: It smears and is past old enough to throw out. I'm taking it to Origins for recycling.

Bug traps: left by my former roommate. They are old and no longer effective; I'm not replacing them. I've only seen one roach and a couple silver fish in the last two months-- hopefully things stay at that level. Bug traps go in the trash.

Week 27 Plastic Waste, Part 2 - Food Waste Edition

The same week I went on a Freegan Trash Tour, I also cleaned out my refrigerator and freezer. There were several plastic wrapped items that I would never eat and were WAY too old to pass on to someone else. Witness my shame!

- Veggie burgers, veggie 'turkey' and a fish fillet, left in my old apartment by Former Roommate #1...I moved last August, so this stuff is almost (and probably over) a year old.
- 2 Vitamin bottles, left in my old apartment by Former Roommate #2. I've been hanging on to them for almost a year and never use them--I think they were pretty old when she left them.
- 3 Giant Costco Chicken Breasts, from my last trip there in November. I ate 2 of them and felt funny after both-- either they were bad or my mind was so freaked by the unnatural size of them that my body reacted.

Everything but the vitamin bottle caps went in the trash. Caps go to Aveda for recycling.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Delaying my 'no poo' experiment

As you will see from my Plastic Tally (when I eventually post it!), I've used up 2 bottles of shampoo recently. I've been anticipating this for months, planning a "no poo" experiment. Going "no poo" means not using shampoo on your hair. Instead, you can use baking soda, or wash with conditioner, or even just rinse with water and scrub the scalp with your fingers. You can read about it here, here, and here.

My plan was to try the baking soda thing for at least 3 weeks. (My friends are already planning an intervention over this one.) Then, if I couldn't stand it, I would try a bar shampoo, like JR Liggetts or Lush. Another option to try would be just using conditioner, though if I'm substituting shampoo for conditioner, isn't that trading one plastic bottle for another? However, I might use less total product this way, meaning a little less plastic. Then, if all else failed, my plan was to reward companies like Aveda and Origins for thier recycling programs by purchasing their shampoo.

As it turns out, I don't need to try any of these things...yet. I found 3 more sample and partially used containers of shampoo in my under-bed toiletry stash. So for the time being I will continue what I have already been doing to use less plastic in the shower: wash my hair 2-3 times a week (down from 4-5 times), and use up what I already have.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fancy Recycling Symbol- not a recycling symbol, actually.

Since I'm now in the habit of scrutinizing every plastic container I own, trying to determine it's recyclability, I've come across this symbol and wondered what it meant. It looks fancy, must be European.

Well I was right about it being European, but this actually isn't a recycling symbol. This is called the "Green Dot" and it basically means that it:
complies with the German Packaging Ordinance for the return of consumer packaging. The symbol can, in fact, be in any colour other than red. It is administered by Duales System Deutschland GmbH, a non-profit organisation which was established to enable manufacturers and distributors to fulfil the requirements of the legislation. This shows that a fee has been paid for the recovery of the packaging in some European countries.

What does the symbol mean here in the United States? Bupkis. Nada. Zilch. Furthermore with the specific bottle of MAC tinted moisturizer I'm looking at now, there are no other symbols indicating what kind of plastic the bottle is made from- so I can't put it out for curbside recycling if it is #1 or #2 plastic. Not very helpful.

However, many cosmetic companies have recycling programs. For instance, when I'm done with it I can take my MAC tinted moisturizer back to MAC (though they don't say what they will do with it), or I can take it to Origins- they have a brand new recycling program and will take back cosmetic packaging, no matter what brand, for recycling or "energy recovery"-- I'd love to see more details on what that means!

Now, if only I could find a really good tinted oil free spf moisturizer that doesn't come in plastic...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Week 27 Plastic Waste, Part 1 - Freegan Trash Tour edition

Last Friday evening (a little over a week ago) I went on a Freegan Trash Tour in Brooklyn. What is a Freegan?
Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.
The word "Freegan" is a combination of "Free" and "Vegan", (though I don't know that all Freegans are Vegans). Freegans are probably best known for reclaiming waste, i.e. dumpster diving, and the Freegan organization in NYC gives regular Trash Tours that are open to the media and to the public.

During my Compact year, people sometimes asked me if I was a Freegan or if I'd become one. Once I figured out what they were talking about, I said no-- my Compact was (and still is) more about getting rid of the things I don't value to make room for the things that I do. I had and have enough changes to make without "going Freegan". But I do admire Freeganism: they rescue items and food from the trash to use for themselves and to share with those in need, and they point out the massive waste in our society, and question the value and utility of a system that rapes the planet and creates so much waste. I'm really glad I got to do the tour.

I think everyone should do it. Taking a Trash Tour really opens your eyes, shakes you up, and forces you to examine your own feelings about consumption and waste. For starters, you see up close how much edible food gets thrown out each and every night, right in your own community. Then you decide for yourself: will you just watch, or will you take some of it home? I did a little of both- including taking some plastic that was already headed for the trash.

Here is what I brought home:

- 4 bagels recovered in front of a bagel shop
- 2 roses recovered in front of a deli
- a new magazine with the cover removed, recovered in front of a health food store
- a bag of prepared lettuce, one day expired, from in front of a large chain grocery store
- a lime recovered in front of a gourmet grocery store

The magazine was good subway reading material and I'll pass it on to someone else soon. I ate all the bagels (they were great toasted), and had 3 salad servings before the lettuce went bad. The roses joined my freezer compost today, and the lime is still in my refrigerator.

Plastic waste from the evening: a produce bag and a shopping bag that will be used for kitchen garbage and compost, the lettuce bag that is being used for compost.

Want to learn more about Freegans? Look here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Plastic Free "Only In New York" Fun

If you find yourself on the Upper East Side this evening, come find me at the corner of Park Avenue and 86th Street and I'll read you a poem by Walt Whitman.

I will be there between 5:45-6:45 offering free Whitman poetry readings to passers-by; several other actors will be at corners along Park Avenue doing the same. This is part of The Sixth Annual Walt Whitman Birthday Bash, a free event sponsored by Theater 1010 and The Walt Whitman Project, celebrating Whitman's 190th birthday a few days early--he was born on May 31.

Coming to the Birthday Bash at 7pm? BYO fork to keep it plastic free. There might be cake.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finally applied for my renewable MetroCard

Well, it took me long enough. I just completed the online application for an EasyPayXpress 30-day Unlimited MetroCard. Once I get it, I won't have to throw out another MetroCard until it expires (cards are good for a year, I think), wears out or is lost, stolen or damaged.

Now, instead of purchasing a non-recyclable Unlimited 30-Day MetroCard each month, I can just use one card and it will refill automatically. No more panicked card purchases in the morning while I'm trying to catch the train that will get me to work on time-- an added bonus.

I hope it arrives before my current MetroCard expires.

Many people don't use 30-Day Unlimited MetroCards because they worry they will lose it and be out a lot of money-- this is also a concern they may have with the EasyPayXpress. Another concern some may have is with giving bank/credit card information online to the MTA.

From my own experience, I've been using the Unlimited card for a few years and have lost or had my card stolen all of 2 times. Both times I called the MTA and had my money refunded quickly. And if you are worried about giving the MTA your debit/credit card information-- if you purchase MetroCards from the kiosks using those cards, you ALREADY share that information with them. The only difference is they will have your permission to make a monthly charge to renew your card.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week 26 Plastic Waste

It has been 2 weeks since my last tally, and there's kind of a lot to report. Here goes:

- Olive Oil cannister and plastic cap
- cap for a vanilla bottle (red)
- fruit sticker (representative sample- there were more)
- 2 windows from pasta boxes
- blue magic marker cap
- plastic wine cork, Ecco Domani
- generic Cetaphil (facial cleanser) bottle and pump
- plastic wrap from a newish bottle of facial cleanser
- chicken broth TetraPak
- Bob's Red Mill flax meal bag
- a bag that once held rugelach, but now holds the remnants of THREE credit cards
- a Diet Coke bottle and cap

Olive oil: the big cans last me several months, and I feel that is the best way for me to purchase it. The can gets recycled. Vanilla cap: next time I'll look for a larger bottle with a metal cap, or at least a larger bottle. Sometime I should try making my own. Cap goes to Aveda. Fruit sticker: comes on all citrus around here, except lemons and limes. I wonder why. Trash. Pasta box windows: I still have a few odds and ends of pasta to use up and might just get a jar of sauce and finish them off in the next couple weeks. Trash.

Magic marker cap: found while emptying the cabinets when my roommate moved out. Trash. Wine "cork": Beth keeps a list of wines with the kind of cork or cap they use. What is easier for me though is to follow my friend Kate's advice and go for bottles with metal caps. She assures me there are some good ones at Trader Joe's, and she is much fussier about wine, so she should know. Cork goes to the trash. Facial cleanser: I opened up one last small bottle of facial cleanser. It will take me a long time to use up, but when I do I'm changing to a non-plastic option. Goats milk soap? Olive oil soap? I'm open to suggestions. I have fussy, sensitive skin! Bottle gets recycled, pump and wrapping go to the trash. Chicken broth: still have a couple of these lurking in the cabinet. Not a huge fan of store bought broth and will be happy to return to homemade, or bouillon cubes in a pinch. TetraPak gets recycled.

Flax meal bag: I can get whole flax seeds in loose bulk sections. Rugelach bag: my roommate had them around on her moving day, and I ate the last few and kept the bag. They were yummy. But only fyi- plastic free rugelach is pretty easy to come by at many if not most bakeries in NYC. I didn't know what rugelach was before I moved here! Bags go to the trash

Credit cards: Oof. This is a lot of stupid plastic waste, most of it my fault. Two of the cards are from when I lost my wallet last fall, the very night I started this blog. It was miraculously returned to me intact by a neighbor the next evening. Yay, neighbor! But by that time the cards had been reported lost and they sent me new ones. This week I finally got around to activating the new cards and replacing them in my wallet, which says something about how often I use them. The third card came from when Amex discontinued IN:NYC and sent out the latest version of their equivelant card. I wasn't pleased since I had -just- gotten a new replacement Amex. Cards go to the trash.

Diet Coke bottle and cap: another mistake on my part. I stayed late at work and they ordered dinner. I was all fake virtuous, getting a paper wrapped deli sandwich, and shifting the guilt for the bag onto the other people who were getting food as well. Then I ordered a can of Diet Coke, because I saw someone else drinking a soda and wanted one- even though I know the cans are coated in plastic on the inside, and I could have had water in my Kleen Canteen. Well, the deli sent a plastic bottle, not a can. And you know what? It didn't taste that good. Maybe someday I'll stop craving soda, but I still want it now and then. Bottle gets recycled curbside, cap goes to Aveda.

Belated shoreline cleanup report

Last Saturday I participated in It's My Park Day at Astoria Park, and helped clean up a stretch of East River beach and shoreline, opposite the War Memorial in the park. The clean-up was sponsored by Green Shores NYC, The Astoria-Long Island Waterfront Parks Alliance. It was the first time I participated in a shoreline cleanup, and that has been on my to-do list for years.

Going in, I had fantasies of recycling all the plastic, glass and aluminum drink containers that so often get tossed from the walkway above the shoreline. As it turned out, this wasn't possible. We were told that since they had been exposed to the elements, these items could contaminate recycling batches and therefore weren't recyclable-- instead they were bagged with the rest of the trash. I was disappointed to learn this, but still happy that at least we had the chance to get them out of the park and away from the River.

We were provided with 2 sets of gloves (a plastic set and a pair of cotton work gloves) a black garbage bag and some safety instructions, like: leave glass there (it eventually turns back to sand), stay away from sharps and medical waste, leave heavy items and alert the organizers so a team could go after those later, more that I can't remember but in general use your judgment and be safe. Then we were sent down a ladder and turned loose on the shoreline.

I identified two streams of trash in the area we were cleaning: stuff that washed up from the East River, and litter that was dropped from the walkway. Of the stuff that was washed up from the river, a lot of it was broken glass. Like I said, the beach makes a pretty tinkling noise when there are waves, and the glass bits are in varying states of being worn back to sand by the river. There was also a lot-- a LOT-- of styrofoam. Some were identifiable as broken bits of floating docks and ice chests discarded at the beach or lost from boats, others were funny discolored chunks that were worn and looked like rocks and pebbles, but weren't. Lots was really tiny, and not worth bending down to pick up-- though if I was already down to grab something else, I'd go after whatever small bits I could. It would be interesting to sit down in a small area with a screen and do some digging, like an archaeologist. In areas where stuff collected from the waves you could tell there were several layers, and we were only getting at what was on top. Aside from glass, styrofoam and general flotsam, the things I remember picking up from the beach near the water were a computer mother board, a red velvet cushioned seat, possibly from a boat (actually that was too heavy, but someone eventually did get it off the beach), and a blue plastic star-- I kind of wish I'd saved that or gotten a picture.

Most of the trash that I collected came from the section of shoreline by the walkway, and most of that was beverage containers and food trash. Lots of Mister Softy and Dunkin' Donuts cups and straws, lots of plastic water bottles and even more caps. In areas where there was foliage and layers of dead leaves, I could hear the crunch of plastic under my feet and knew that if I did some digging, there was lots more to be found. But by this time I was working on the "broken window" theory-- only instead of crime and vandalism, I was trying to prevent littering. If we could pick up the visible trash, I figured, people on the walkway would see a clean stretch of shoreline and might not be tempted to throw down trash. Whereas if they see trash already down there, they might feel free to treat the area as a dump. Just typing that makes me sad. Memorable items, aside from the food & beverage trash: a frisbee, a broken bracelet, and a miniature liquor flask on a belt chain, another item I sort of wish I'd saved.

In all I picked up two very full bags of litter before succumbing to allergies and calling it a day. My allergies aren't that bad, but digging around in the foliage caused me to inhale a lot of pollen and I was coated in it head to toe; much coughing ensued! My personal plastic waste for that day: 2 large trash bags and a pair of plastic gloves. I'm not counting the plastic I picked up. I had a sore back for a couple of days, but the satisfaction of doing my bit more than compensated for the temporary discomfort. Though next time I plan to take one of those grabber thingies...and a friend or two.

If you are interested in participating in future events sponsored by It's My Park Day or Green Shores NYC, please check out the links. Not in NYC but want to volunteer for a shoreline cleanup? Check out The Ocean Conservancy, which sponsors an International Coastal Cleanup and can connect you to shoreline cleanups in your area-- and not just for oceans!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This Saturday is It's My Park Day in NYC!

Join thousands of New Yorkers in caring for and celebrating New York City parks on It's My Park Day. Participate in clean up and planting projects, enjoy free events or just get outside to enjoy your park. Supplies are provided for all projects.

This spring, It's My Park Day will focus on community members working to "Reclaim our Waterfront Parks", with shore clean-ups, free paddling and rowing, and other fun water-based activities at sites throughout the city.

How does this relate to plastic? Well let me tell you. Every time I go for a run along Shoreline Boulevard in my neighborhood of Astoria, I look over the railing and see all kinds of glass, plastic bottles and debris lining the shore. It is hard to tell if stuff gets thrown over by litterbugs or washes up from the East River-- probably both. When there are waves, you hear the tinkling of broken glass, which is actually kind of pretty in a strange way. And I've often wondered what it would take to organize a clean up, and if anyone already did it. Someone does!

This particular event for It's My Park Day is sponsored by Green Shores NYC, The Astoria Long Island City Waterfront Parks Alliance. I learned about them last Saturday at the neighborhood recycling party hosted at Build It Green, and was very excited to learn not only that Green Shores existed, but that there is a clean up this coming Saturday. Here are the details:

Astoria Park, 10am - 3pm

Volunteers needed for shoreline clean-up. Activities include arts & crafts, a recycling workshop and the second annual “It’s My Park Day Scavenger Hunt.” Scavenger hunt participants ride their bikes along the greenway and collect points to lead their team to victory! To register for scavenger hunt, email Projects and events coordinated by Forest Hills High School – Academy of Public Service, Long Island City Community Boathouse, Children for Children, Green Shores NYC, Astoria Park Alliance, Council on the Environment of NYC – Office of Recycling Outreach & Education and Transportation Alternatives. From 1pm to 3pm, City Parks Foundation will provide free tennis lessons.

Location: World War II Memorial in park, along Shore Blvd.
By Subway: N/W to Ditmars Boulevard. Walk 10 blocks west to Shore Boulevard, walk south to World War II Memorial.

Looking for an It's My Park Day event closer to your neighborhood? Check the website!

Monday, May 11, 2009

How To Reduce Plastic Usage - My Top 10. OK, 15.

By request, here are my top tips for reducing plastic usage. Many of these are new habits, and habits must be acquired over time. So if you are trying to follow these tips, be kind to yourself!

1. Stop purchasing and drinking bottled water. Drink good old tap, filtered if you must. Use a regular glass or a re-usable bottle. I have two-- a knock-off Sigg and a Kleen Kanteen.

2. Stop purchasing and drinking other beverages that come in plastic, especially in single serving containers-- sodas, iced tea, juices, etc.

3. Use re-usable shopping bags. Also, carry small purchases in your knapsack or just carry it in the open.

4. Use fabric produce bags, like these from EcoBags. For larger produce items like whole fruits and veggies, you don't need a bag at all.

5. Take a look at the processed foods you buy- breads, chips, cereals, condiments...basically anything that came from an inside aisle at the store. Most of it comes with plastic, right? Try to find plastic free alternatives.

6. Purchase loose bulk food items, and use your fabric produce bags. Loose bulk includes things like oatmeal, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruits, popcorn, granola, flour, sugar...all kinds of things.

7. Buy used. Books, clothing, CDs, home items, whatever. If you need it, consider getting it used. Used means no plastic packaging, and it keeps stuff in circulation and out of the landfill.

8. Get to know your local recycling situation. What exactly goes in your city's curbside recycling? Are plastic bags recycled locally? What other programs are available in your area? These include Gimme 5 for #5 plastic items, Aveda's bottle cap program, Best Buy's electronics recycling program, other area electronics recycling events. Once familiar, recycle everything you possibly can. This doesn't mean go buy new stuff because you can recycle it-- recycle what you already have!

9. Acquire re-usable to-go ware. Coffee mug, utensils, foldable fabric bag. Carry them. Use them.

10. Stop eating take-out. Eat in, on real plates! Enjoy your food! Take-out involves a lot of plastic, so just stop. If you like taking leftovers home, some people take containers with them to the restaurant-- I haven't done that yet, but have at it.

10a. I confess to being lazy and not packing my lunch nearly as much as I should. So tip 10a is to learn which take out places offer food in paper-- like Subway, delis, etc.

11. Eat naked food! Basically, this means stop buying processed foods that come in plastic and buying whole foods that come in their own skins. Also, get to know your mongers, if you have them: fish mongers, meat mongers, cheese mongers-- they'll wrap your naked food in paper if you ask.

12. Discover your local bakeries. Bread isn't meant to come with preservatives, pre-sliced, and bagged in plastic. Really.

12. Get used to saying things like: "I dont' need a bag with that, thanks!", "No straw with that, please!", "Can you wrap this in paper, and skip the plastic? plastic! Ok, thanks!" "Do you have any real mugs back there behind the counter?" (This last one is when you are stranded on the Upper East Side, land of no good coffee houses, and go into Starbucks).

13. Learn to prep for shopping trips. In addition to making a list, pack your fabric produce and shopping bags.

14. Start looking at the other plastic in your life-- cosmetics, toiletries, home accessories, storage containers, etc. As they are consumed or wear out, can you recycle them? Can you replace them with something that can be re-used, lasts longer, and is more sustainable?

15. Using plastic containers in the kitchen? Me too. Someday I want to replace them with glass refrigerator containers. Until then (here's the tip), I'm keeping them out of the microwave. Heating plastic means risking that bad stuff from the plastic will transfer to the food.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Compact vs. Plastic Reduction-- when to buy new?

I am talking with some people today about The Compact, which I did formally in 2007 and do informally today. Compacters pledge to not buy anything new for a year except food, underwear, medicine, and items necessary for health and safety.

Doing the Compact changed the way I shop and consume, and I think of the changes as permanent. Though I do purchase the occasional new item, when I need things now I ask myself:

-- Do I really need it?
-- Can it wait? What happens if I wait a week or a month? Will I still need it?
-- Can I borrow it? Rent it? Get it from a library?
-- Can I get it used?
-- Where did it come from, what is it made of, who made it, how far did it come to get to me?
-- Can I get it without packaging, without shipping?
-- How long will I have it, what happens to it when I'm done with it? Can it be re-used or recycled? there isn't a lot that I buy new.

BUT. There have been a few new purchases recently. These are things that I can use instead of plastic.

One was a stainless steel insulated travel coffee mug from Gorilla Coffee, a local roaster in Brooklyn. I LOVE it-- the top screws on tightly so there are no leaks in my bag, and though there is a little plastic in the top, there's no plastic in the mug proper.

Another was a set of bamboo cutlery, bought at Whole Foods. They are lightweight and don't make clanking noises in my bag.

And I plan to purchase a fabric shower curtain soon. Mine needs replacing and there's no way I'm buying a new plastic curtain. That strong smell from new plastic shower curtains? Turns out it is bad for you. Fabric curtains are kind of expensive, but this is a purchase I've been planning for a while.

See? I'm not really anti-consumerist. I'm for smart consumption.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cross Post from The Green Cat - FreeMeet in Astoria this Saturday!

Thanks to The Green Cat for posting this:

A FreeMeet is like a neighborhood garage sale where everything is free. You bring things you want to give away (except in this case they ask for no furniture, large items, or dangerous objects) and you can then browse and take away anything you like. It is a great way to keep useful items, plastic or otherwise, in cirulation and out of the landfill-- and getting things used means getting them without the plastic packaging.

This one will also be a block party, with live music, food, and workshops. It looks like a lot of fun, and right in my neighborhood!

Saturday, May 9th
from 11:00 am - 4:00 pm.
Located at Build It Green, 3-17 26th Avenue
in Astoria/Long Island City.

For more information, click here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Week 24 Plastic Waste

I have some catching up to do! This doesn't seem like a lot for 4 weeks worth of plastic-- likely missing some windowed envelopes and fruit stickers. Look for larger items in the coming weeks as I clean out my freezer and run out of things like SHAMPOO (this is a big one).

Laundry detergent scoop: Do 'green' brands like Ecover come without the scoop? I will "tide" myself over by buying the small cardboard boxes of detergent at the laundromat until I figure out my options. Will re-use if I can.

Hair clip: It was in the bottom of my bag. It was old and brittle. It broke. Plastic does that. I got it free at a Swapping Party, so easy come, easy landfill, I guess.

Toothpaste: Very excited to finish up this tube and go with Beth Terry's recommendation of Tom's of Maine SLS-free toothpaste. I like it a lot! Cap goes to Aveda, tube to the landfill.

Bag and sticker from EcoDent dental floss: Very little waste, considering. I still have 2 plastic boxes of floss to finish before starting on the EcoDent. Landfill.

More stickers: fruit and from the Tom's of Maine toothpaste box. Landfill.

Debit card: expired. Cut up, then landfill.

Clothing tags: I purchased several new pairs of underwear. Is this less plastic than if I'd bought a bag of Fruit of the Loom undies? Landfill.

Ice cream taster spoon: I went to the trouble of asking for a cone, then a re-usable cup instead of a plastic one. Would I like to taste the hazelnut? Sure! Two seconds later-- D'oh! Landfill.

Ketchup cup: Next time I order yummy french fries at the Beer Garden, I need to ask for ketchup right on the plate.

Energy Kitchen Cup: This one deserves a letter. The surface is covered with paper, so it looks like paper but is actually STYROFOAM. (Granted I should have stuck with my Kleen Kanteen, but got lazy and was craving a soda.) How can a company that is trading on a healthy image feel OK with using so much plastic packaging and service items? I guess "healthy" and "plastic free alternatives" aren't linked in the public imagination. I wonder if that will change with time. Landfill- after I write that letter.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bag Tax Action

It looks like the State Assembly will soon see the proposal for a 5-cent tax on plastic shopping bags in NYC.

The city and State of NY already have a bag recycling law for large chain stores, but without a tax it doesn't do much to decrease the number of bags being used and wasted.

It remains to be seen if this will get public approval. Will it be a common sense fund raiser that also does environmental good, or will it be the straw that broke the camel's back in bad financial times? Talk about the huge MTA fare hikes and people complain but shrug, accepting it as inevetible. But a nickel bag tax? Right now could make New Yorkers IRATE.

BTW my favorite, favorite part of NYC's bag recycling law is that stores that take bags for recycling must also offer re-usable bags for sale. More and more people are using them, and it is good to see.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A sign of sea change

You know attitudes are changing when you see an infomercial like this:

I just saw this ad on ESPN during my lunch break. ESPN. That means the company is paying big bucks to saturate their message- they smell big profit.


A word to the wise, though-- from comments on the YouTube page it seems there has been difficulty getting the canteens from this company delivered after ordering. Other stainless steel bottles are already out there and can be purchased in stores, for instance Kleen Kanteens are at Whole Foods.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Earth Day at Grand Central

Yesterday at lunch I walked by Grand Central and was caught by surprise. There was an Earth Day fair! A big one! I am constantly amazed by this city. Huge events can take place, attracting thousands, and 2 blocks away you wouldn't know it. I should have known about the Earth Day at Grand Central event, but didn't.

It is still going on today until 5pm, so drop by if you are out and about! There are many great booths there, petitions to sign, tap water to sample, drawings to enter, and even a little swag if that is your thing. The fair is on the west side of Grand Central, outdoors.

One of the people I talked to was producer/director Pamela French who is creating short films that ask: "How would you make New York a Greener Apple?" I waited my turn and mentioned a few less-plastic things...I'm afraid I was a little obnoxious. But it was fun!

Check out Pamela's project at

PS- Have you been outside today? It is BEAUTIFUL. Get out there!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


It looks like we won't be getting our bottle deposit law for a little while yet. Here's fervently hoping any amendments are used only to allow companies to comply, and not to weaken the law.

Heard this morning on public radio:
The expanded bottle deposits were supposed to take effect June 1st, but now Governor Paterson and legislative leaders say it may have to be delayed. It seems the new law has some unintended consequences. It requires that all water bottles sold in New York have a special UPC bar code, so that bottles sold in other states without deposits can't be used to fraudulently collect the nickel deposits from New York redemption centers.

But bottlers, particularly smaller operations, say they can't make all of the necessary changes by then. And some large distributors say they have so much inventory in their warehouses that they can't sell all of the non deposit water bottles in the six or so weeks left before the law is to take effect.

Governor Paterson says he's listened to the companies' concerns, and is looking at ways to delay the implementation of the law.

"We are talking to them," said Paterson "We don't want to do anything to hurt the industry while we are trying to clean up the environment."

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also received awards, say they are willing to consider delaying the implementation of the law as well, so that bottlers and retailers can comply. Speaker Silver says he's not interested in "hurting businesses", while Senator Smith says there's no harm in correcting a mistake.

Paterson and the leaders say the change could be accomplished through amendments, and believe they won't have to redo the entire bottle deposit law.