Saturday, August 31, 2019

Zero Waste Labor Day

My hobby for the past couple of years has been to collect as little new plastic as possible, from packaging to products. I even tried composting in an apartment composter for a while until I had several infestations of other insects and my worms died. While I am certainly not living a zero waste life, I have endeavored to have less trash and to be aware of what I’m bringing into my home that I eventually will have to throw out.

Going totally zero waste may not be your thing, but can you do it for one day? All over the country Zero Waste Labor Day celebrations are springing up to bring awareness to how much we contribute to the landfills. The average American makes 4.4 pounds of trash a day. Outdoor picnics are one of the biggest contributors to an individual’s trash because everything is typically disposable.

If you’re hosting a Labor Day event this weekend, consider using real silverware and plates and washing them. If you are going to someone else’s house, lug a mug, a plate and silverware to avoid using disposables. I keep a set of bamboo eating utensils in my purse and a metal container in my car for leftovers.

Here are some picnic tips:
  • Use glasses instead of plastic cups
  • Label trash, recycling and food waste bins
  • Repurpose decorations from other holidays
  • Pack leftovers for guests   
  • Use foil instead of plastic    
  • Choose a drink in a recyclable bottle or can

If you aren’t going to a picnic this weekend, challenge yourself to see if you can go one day without throwing anything into the garbage can. Use recyclables when you can. Compost food scraps – if you don’t have a compost bin or live somewhere where that’s impractical, collect your food scraps and bury them in the back yard or forest at the end of the day. Make sure everything is bio-degradable that you are burying. 

Noticing what goes into the trash bin is the first step in reducing your footprint on Mother Earth. Few of us are aware on a daily basis of the packaging of our food items that goes into the garbage. Even fruit and veggies usually have plastic labels on them, which are easy to peel off but don’t recycle.
Most of all, though, don’t feel bad if you can’t do zero waste. Our society really isn’t set up to make that easy. But the first step in solving any problem is always awareness. Make Labor Day your day to work on the planet’s health by using the day as a meditation on what you can do to heal Mother Earth.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What to do with all those old plastic toys your kids don't want anymore?

One company has found a use for old plastic toys. Ecobirdy is turning old toys into sustainable kids' furniture. Sure it's still plastic, but it's getting a second life as sturdy and chic furniture, which might be less likely to end up in a landfill or in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

According to Ecobirdy, 80 percent of plastic toys end up in landfills, waste incinerators, and oceans. 90 percent of toys are made from plastic and have only a 6 month lifespan. By 2050, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish by weight, and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production and 15% of the annual carbon budget.

Find out more here: Ecobirdy Upcycled for the Future

Monday, March 26, 2018

Plastic waste is a time management issue

On weeks when I'm really busy and have too much to do, I definitely use more plastic. On a normal week I do most of my cooking using whole foods -- like rice and beans purchased in the bulk bins at the grocery store, meat and cheese from the butcher and cheese store in my own glass containers, vegetables that I buy at a farmer's market or get loose at the grocery store.

Not only do I not have time to go to multiple places when I'm busy, but also I don't have time to cook from scratch. On those weeks when too much is going on or I have too many tasks to complete, I buy more packaged food and pre-cooked items, helpfully called "grab and go" from the grocery store. Most of those items come packaged in plastic. Or I pick up take out for a quick evening meal, which usually comes in plastic. (Some restaurants are starting to use post-consumer cardboard for food packaging.)

I really enjoy cooking though I know that not everyone does. I mourn the weeks that I can't spend part of my time creating wholesome meals for myself and my family. As a certified professional organizer®, I try to leave gaps in my schedule for cooking and for unexpected challenges that normally come up in a week. Even so, some weeks just get away from me. Those are the weeks that I notice that I'm picking up sushi in plastic boxes or a pre-cooked chicken in a domed plastic container.

In 1982, physician Larry Dossey coined the term "time sickness," which refers to the belief that people have that there is never enough time. Thirty-five years later we're still struggling with this concept. Try as we might, the world seems like it's speeding up and our lifestyles reflect that. I believe that our reliance on plastic is part of that. Yes, it's a lightweight and cheap way of packaging foods. But why do we need so much food packaging? I believe it's because we aren't able to slow down enough to create food from scratch. Sold to us as "convenience foods," packaged and prepared food are consumed by our society in ever greater quantities.

When we consciously choose to slow down and re-prioritize, we can make a different choice about plastic and food. We can choose to make it a priority to prepare more farm to table food that didn't pass through a plastic bag on its way to our kitchen. We can hop on the Slow Food bandwagon and buy high quality, locally sourced ingredients as often as possible. And we can participate in the magic and mystery of creating the food that nourishes us the way our ancestors did.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Break up with plastic

Break up with plastic video

 It’s great to see younger people becoming the models for what rest of us could be doing. There are a couple of problems with this video, namely that if you put a bamboo and boar’s bristle toothbrush in a plastic bag in the landfill, you are no better off than putting a plastic toothbrush in a landfill.  But it definitely has the right idea: How can we reduce the use of plastic in our lives?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What's up with plastic in tea bags?

I stopped buying tea bags because either the boxes were wrapped in plastic or, even worse, each  tea bags was. Did you know that the tea bags themselves contain plastic, so they can't be composted?

According to the blog, Treading My Own Path, tea bag sheaths contain reinforcing plastic. Read Lindsay's post here: Plastic Free Tea. 

If you'd like to do something about this, join her campaign. Oh, and use loose tea, which tastes better anyway!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The problem of water

Americans use more plastic disposable water bottles than any other country in the world. Eighty percent of them end up in landfills. The Healthy Human website reports:

The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year.
  1. It takes 3 times the amount of water in a bottle of water to make it as it does to fill it.
  2. Plastic water bottles are made from a petroleum product called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires giant amounts of fossil fuels to make and transport.
  3. The production of bottled water uses 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s slightly more than it would take to fill one million cars a year with fuel.
  4. It takes almost 2,000 times the energy to manufacture a bottle of water than it does to produce tap water.
  5. If you fill a plastic water bottle so it is about 25% full, that’s about how much oil it took to make the bottle.
One alternative is to drink tap water or filtered tap water. Most tap water in the U.S. is pretty safe. (You can check your municipality's water testing results to reassure yourself.) You can buy filters that attach to your sink faucet, which is the best choice for water filtration, but they are expensive. 

Another option is to use a Brita water pitcher with disposable filters. The filters are made of #5 plastic, which can be difficult to recycle. However, the Brita company maintains a recycling program where you can send the filters back to them on their dime. 

To recycle your Brita filter, go to the Brita Company's website and create an account. If you don't want email from them, make sure to indicate that as you create the account. After you enter your address, you will be emailed a link to print a UPS label.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Plastic and traveling

I recently went by airplane to California. I knew that water was difficult to get without plastic in airports and on the airplane, so I brought empty water bottles with me to fill in the airport. I also brought snacks and a sandwich wrapped in cloth. This worked pretty well, except that the water fountain water tasted terrible and I couldn't get the flight attendants to refill my water bottles. What I ended up doing was getting coffee in a paper cup, rinsing that out and having the flight attendant refill the coffee cup.

Bringing food was a little more successful. I was able to avoid both having to purchase food at exorbitant prices and also the dreaded styrofoam take out container. (see left)

While in the airport, I saw the following amazing item (at right): a toilet with a rotating plastic sleeve to keep your tushi from touching the toilet seat where other people have sat. This has never been a big concern for me, but apparently it is for others. I chose not to push the button to rotate the plastic sleeve. Thankfully, it wasn't automatic!