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.