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.