Week 4 – A Month Amongst Plastic

A hat that lasts! Really lasts…

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3 Tetra Paks (2 Soup, 1 Milk)
3 Cheese Films
2 Feminine Product Package
2 Pillowfill Bags
2 Bread Bags
2 Pill Cases
Ziplock (Gallon)
Phyllo Dough Film
Toaster Oven Film
Toaster Oven Styrofoam
Pasta Package
Tempeh Package
Pita Chip Bag
Method Dish Soap Container
Frozen Fruit Bag
Paper Towel Film
Earth Balance Container
Can of Pumpkin
Corn Tortilla Package
Hard Shell Plastic for Watch
Energy Bar Wrapper
Dry Erase Marker Package
Vegetable Tie
Busted Hair Elastic
Packaging Tape

Today marks the end of the first month of plastic collection, and how much we have learned already! It is easy to have our daily habits and actions go unnoticed, but much can be learned when we start to quantify our activity.

This past week continues our developing trends: TetraPaks, bread, cheese, and a variety of other food product waste. Oh food, you vital and wonderful, essential and beautiful thing! If only to find you in your natural state each day of my life, what joys would follow.

Speaking of the joys of food, Kim and I have begun to plan our foray into an in depth gardening experience this upcoming season. With the stunning growth of urban farming and the explosion of small space gardening, the amount of resources for those entering into a deeper connection with food becomes ever more available. We recently picked up a copy of Urban Farm and seeded a vast array of fresh ideas about how to get started and shared a plentitude of stories about urban farmers in action. We’ll tell you this: We’re pumped! Prepare to see our posts this upcoming spring and summer overflow with pictures, pains and the unrivaled joy of growing your own food — and in a sense growing your very self!

Ah but yes, plastics — they still don’t plan to leave, do they? I must share with you now a photo of a month’s worth of plastics, spread upon the floor:

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Multiply that by twelve and you can imagine how much floor space this plastic is going to take up! The largest plastics in our month’s collection were toaster oven packaging and the  comforter/comforter cover packaging. Otherwise, it is almost all food plastic! I am excited to see what sort of reduction will take place this spring and summer when we start not only making our own food, but having access to the vast array of farm fresh produce blooming from the Earth. Huzzah!

Plastic Free Recipe: Lucky Lamb Dog Treats

Brandon and I are not the only two producing plastic waste in this house, my dog (Shadow) does too!  Reducing your pet’s plastic footprint in some ways is easy (try biodegradable poo bags!).  But when it comes to dog food it can be hard.  Not many of us have the time or the funds to make our own dog food.  It helps to buy pet food in giant bulk bags that will last you for months (Shadow is currently chowing on Canyon Creek).  Last year we started making our own dog treats.  The ingredients are cheap and they take about 30 minutes to make!  Give ’em a try:

What you will need:

1/2 cup ground meat (I used lamb from the butcher at Whole Foods, Turkey would work too)

1/2 cup shredded sweet potato

2 eggs

2 cups flour

Preheat your oven to 350 :O)

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Start by shedding up your sweet potato. This requires some elbow grease!

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Feel the burn!

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Cook your sweet potato and ground lamb (or whatever meat you choose) until the meat is browned. Transfer this into a large bowl, with all the meat juice, and let cool 5 minutes.

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Mix in the eggs. We realized we had no eggs in the house so we substituted a mixture of ground flax seed and water. 1 Tbs of flax + 3 Tbs water = 1 egg! Even if you have eggs you can add flax, it’s great for dogs!

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Add flour until you get a nice sticky dough. We did not use nearly as much flour as the recipe calls for. If you add too much and the dough is dry and flaky just add a splash of water.

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Arrange your treats in heaping tablespoons on a baking sheet (no need to grease). Cook at 350 until the bottoms brown and the treats are firm to the touch (20-24 minutes)

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Ta Da!

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Now for the ultimate test: What does my dog think??

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Success!!! In fact, Shadow is OBSESSED with the snacks.

Yes, obsessed.  He covets them more than any other store bought treat in the house.  I guess Brandon and I are not the only ones who like fresh food!  These treats will keep for a week in the refrigerator.  We put ours in the freezer where you can keep them for up to 2 months. Shadow loves them frozen too!

Do you have any pet recipes you use for your fuzzy friends?

Week 3: Biphenol Ewwww.

Week 3:
  • 4 Contact Cases
  • 3 Chip Bags
  • 1 Tetra Pak (soup)
  • 2 Old ziplock Bags
  • 2 Ski Lift Tickets
  • 2 Tempeh Film Packages
  • 1 Chocolate Wrapper
  • 1 Bread Bag
  • 1 Lid
  • 1 Cheese Film
  • 1 Yeast Packet
  • 1 Tortilla Bag
  • 1 Bacon Bag
  • 1 Grape Bag
  • Toothpaste Tube
  • 1 Can of organic pumpkin
  • 1 Hummus Container
  • 1 Tofu Container
  • 1 Nametag
  • 1 LL Bean Comforter Package
  • 1 LL Bean Comforter Cover Package
  • 1 LL Bean Shipping Bag
  • 1 Broken Hair Elastic
  • 1 Plastic Plate
  • 1 Duster Package
  • Miscellaneous packaging piecesIMG_5252

Week three draws to a close, featuring the usual suspects…. yup…. mostly food packaging.  It’s an unavoidable theme, and we are interested to see how it develops through the seasons.  A large portion of our footprint this week was the packaging for the comforter and its cover that I ordered from LL Bean.  It was hard to feel any ill will towards the packaging after we both enjoyed the coziest night’s sleep EVER after being the victims of blanket wars for almost a year now.  This comforter will be well cared for, and it will keep us warm for years to come :O)

Are you surprised to see that a metal can could make it onto our plastic blog? It is another sign of the hidden plastic that surrounds us, my friends.  The next time you use a can take your finger and scratch the inside.  Look real close and you might notice the super thin layer of plastic lining your can.  Surprise!  Companies started lining their cans with plastic as early as the 1950s to fend of bacteria that could get into the container if it corroded.  The biggest concern was botulism, an illness that used to kill six in ten of its victims.  These liners, along with rigorous sterilization, curbed the threat of food-bourne botulism.

Less illness, sounds great! The trouble is that most can liners contain bisphenol A (BPA).  You’ve most likely heard of it, it’s been a hot topic over the past decade.  BPA is a mildly estrogenic synthetic phenol.  It’s been used in baby bottles, water bottles, and eyeglass lenses among other things. Gleaned from a NYTimes Article, BPA was put into cans “because it helps prevent corrosion and is resistant to high heat during the sterilization process.”  The problem is that in lab studies BPA, in parts per trillion, suppressed testosterone production.  It mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to all kinds of health problems including early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered reproductive function, obesity, and increased rates of some breast, ovarian, testicular, and prostate cancers.  A study in 2005 published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who had miscarried three or more times showed significantly higher levels of the chemical than women who’d had successful pregnancies.

In 2009 the nonprofit Consumers Union found that in 18 of 19 tested cans Progresso Vegetable Soup topped the list with 22 micrograms of BPA per serving.  That’s 116 times their recommended daily amount! (although my recommended daily amount is zero) BPA is now detected in the urine of about 95% of Americans.  This New York Times Article describes how researchers documented a 1,221% increase in BPA levels in urine when their study subjects ate canned soup.  Eeeep!

Not all cans have a BPA lining, as this list points out.  But even if the plastic lining is BPA free, it hosts a slew of other, poorly understood chemicals.  The plastic industry doesn’t have to prove it’s chemicals are safe in order to use them… it falls upon us to prove harm, which can be hard to do.  BPA is not the only estrogen-mimicing chemical used in plastic manufacture.  And the manufactures don’t have to disclose what chemicals they are using instead.  To me, it seems safer to just avoid the cans as much as possible (and YES, this includes soda cans…. if you need that extra nudge to kick that guilty soda addiction, let this be it!)

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Plastic Free Recipe: Soy Milk!

At first glance these cartons seem destined for paperboard recycling

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Think again! What you’re looking at is are Tetra Pak aseptic bricks, featuring 6 super-thin layers of low density polyethylene (plastic), paper, and aluminum foil.  Lightweight, airtight and strong these are a miracle of  food engineering allowing storage for over a year.  These rectangular bricks stack side by side in boxes meaning no wasted space during shipping (take that jugs!)

Any trip to the grocery store will feature various non dairy milks, juices, and pre-made soups sealed in these wondrous cartons.  Production for this Swedish company is soaring, exceeding 167 BILLION cartons last year!  They are now operative in 170 countries with over 22,000 employees.

If you visit Tetra Pak’s website the majority of it is devoted to boasting the sustainability of their products.  It paints a happy picture, and I do appreciate their effort, but I think they gloss over the real consequences of our wasteful habits.  Last year they posted that 35 billion of their containers were recycled.  If you do the math that is 20% of their product.  In what logical mind is 20% something to boast about? Would you feel pride if you got a 20 on an exam?  We need to make sure we don’t get seduced by the idea of recycling.  It is a great idea, but it is not a solution to our waste problem.  It still drives consumption and has its limitations. This recycling figure means that 132 billion cartons were NOT recycled.  If you want to recycle them it is extremely difficult to find a recycling center to take them (to see if your town will accept them click here).  The 6 layers of paper, plastic, and aluminum have to be separated and sorted to make recycling an option.  Not many places have the capacity to do that (my town doesn’t).  Also, in some cases the paper layer is removed and recycled and the rest is thrown away.

I don’t want to totally bash Tetra Pak’s here, if fact I am thoroughly pleased that their website provides craft ideas of how to reuse your Tetra Paks (check them out here!) We are still bound to buy some throughout the year and we will be experimenting with ways to reuse them (window basil planter??).  I think they are an intelligent innovation, but we need to consume them intelligently.  We need to realize we are one of over 7 billion humans, so we cannot consume mindlessly, assuming that recycling will fix everything.  With a little effort we can reduce the amount of Tetra Pak waste we produce throughout the year.  Can you get milk locally and support local dairy farmers?  Do you know of any farmers markets that sell milk? Can we design a system where local farmers recollect used glass milk bottles, wash them, and refill them rather than a couple milk monopolies mass producing milk from animals existing in deplorable conditions to be shipped across vast distances resulting in a dramatic carbon footprint? Yes, I want to see a resurgence of the milkman!

Or you can be your own milkman and follow these simple steps to make your own lactose free soy milk!

Step 1: Before you go to work throw 1/2 cup of soy beans in some water to soak.  Leave in on your kitchen counter and go about your day as usual

Step 1: Before you go to work throw 1/2 cup of soy beans in some water to soak. Leave in on your kitchen counter and go about your day as usual

When you get home this is what you need: A blender, medium pot, fine mesh strainer, liquid measuring cup, stirring spoon, and a container to hold your milk!

Step 2: Gather your materials: A blender, medium pot, fine mesh strainer, liquid measuring cup, stirring spoon, and a container to hold your milk!

Step 3: Dump the beans and water in your blender.  Ad another cup of water.

Step 3: Dump the beans and water in your blender. Ad another cup of water.

Step 4: Puree it until it's delightfully fomy!

Step 4: Puree it until it’s delightfully foamy!

Step 5: Pour the whole foamy mess into your strainer (make sure to hold it over your pot of course).  Mush the beans around with a spoon to press out the liquid.

Step 5: Pour the whole foamy mess into your strainer (make sure to hold it over your pot of course). Mush the beans around with a spoon to press out the liquid.

Step 6: Return the bean puree to the blender and add a couple cups of water. Puree again!

Step 6: Return the bean puree to the blender and add a couple cups of water. Puree again!

Step 7: Repeat the straining process.  You now have a pot full of raw soy milk!

Step 7: Repeat the straining process. You now have a pot full of raw soy milk!

Step 8: Put your pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil.  Boiling the soy milk eliminates potental harmful bacteria.  Boil for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat.  Make sure you pay attention to the pot and stir frequently, the milk can get VERY foamy and overflow if you're not careful!

Step 8: Put your pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Boiling the soy milk eliminates potental harmful bacteria. Boil for 2-3 minutes then remove from heat. Make sure you pay attention to the pot and stir frequently, the milk can get VERY foamy and overflow if you’re not careful!

Step 9: Add some sweetness.  I added about 1/8 cup of sugar. Honey is also an option.  I also added a teaspoon on vanilla extract to jazz it up. Ta da! Toss it in the fridge and let it chill :O)

Step 9: Add some sweetness. I added about 1/8 cup of sugar. Honey is also an option. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla extract to jazz it up. Ta da! Toss it in the fridge and let it chill :O)

This Post is Brought to you by the Letter I

 

The Mighty I, to be exact.  After Zora’s comment on our last post I skeptically dropped one of these nuts in a glass of water and watched it dissolve in a matter of seconds.  What an unexpected turn of events! What are these biodegradable packing peanuts made of and how did I not know about them??  This discovery reduces last weeks plastic footprint by about 50%!

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Expanded polystyrene packing peanuts were introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965.  Prior to their debut natural materials like newspaper, hay, and wood shavings were used to protect packages during transport.  Unfortunately, newspaper had a tendency to compress and goods would shift and arrive damaged.  Hay and wood chips could get infested with pests.  Lightweight and strong, polystyrene peanuts not only protected your precious cargo from damage and infestation, but they also cut down on shipping weight and cost.

Although they seemed like the perfect solution for shipping, concerns about their environmental impact began to arise.   Notoriously difficult to recycle, these morsels could be reused to ship with your family’s christmas gifts, but more often than not they ended up in a landfill, where they would inevitably stay for generations! centuries! millenia!  No conceivable time span can explain the life of these plastics. They simply do NOT break down!  Another concern was the space they would take up in landfills.  My 14 x 14 box unveiled these peanuts like a clown car.  When not compressed they spread themselves out with reckless abandon (aided by their notorious static charge).  Light and clingy, they are easily airborne or shirtborne into the environment, where they can break down into dangerous ingestible foamy morsels that can wreak havoc on marine life.

In the wake of these environmental concerns some innovative companies responded by using partially recycled material to make their peanuts.  California went as far as requiring recycled content packing peanuts statewide in 2012.  This is a positive first step, but once made these recycled peanuts will still be around for centuries (or longer!) and have the same environmental consequences as a pure peanut.  In the 1990s the first biodegradable packing peanuts hit the market.  Usually made from corn starch these peanuts are non toxic, dissolve in water, don’t get static cling, and are stripped of their nutrients to avoid infestation.  They are sturdy enough to still be reused, composted, or you can dispose of them down the drain! (Or popped in your mouth as a shocking party trick)

We will still be keeping these peanuts, but we look at them much differently now.  This was a great lesson in producer responsibility.  Sustainable packaging is becoming increasingly popular in todays “green” market.  I am much more inclined to buy from Container and Packing Supply now that I know they take responsibility for their impact on the environment!

It is also important for consumers to speak up! When you order a product online you can contact the company and ask them if they will avoid using polystyrene packing peanuts for your shipment.  Tell them about more eco-friendly alternatives.   Companies want their buyers to be happy, so we need to make sure they know this is important to us!  See, it’s only week 2 and we’ve already learned something :O)

To close this post, here is what you can do with any polystyrene peanuts you may have inherited:

1. Create a closed loop with you family! Hang on to them and use them to ship gifts for birthdays and holidays.

2. Find them a happy home by listing them on the Freecycle Network.  Someone in your area is bound to be moving or shipping.

3. Get crafty!  Use them to stuff a Halloween costume or a pillow for your pet.  Make a floating keychain.  Glue magnets to the back and put them on your refrigerator.  There are tons of peanut craft ideas you can find online!

4. Put them in your cooler! No seriously, next time you go for a picnic (and you should go for a picnics ALL the time!) put your ice in a reused ziplock bag with packing peanuts.  The ice will stay colder and last longer!

5. Visit the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s website to find a drop off site near you.  With over 1500 drop-off sites in the US (19 in Ma) to take back used packing peanuts there are, of course, NONE near me.  Interestingly, when I did the same search on Earth911 it said my local recycling center accepts them. This just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Week 2: Attack of the Peanuts

Week 2

You came into my life… so now I must love you.

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– 4 plastic Bags from Container Shipment
– 3 Cheese Films
– 3 Chocolate Wrappers
– 2 Vegetable Ties
– Shipping Bag from REI
– Pasta Bag
– Basil Bag
– Potato Chip Bags
– Kapo Packaging
– Ginger Snaps Bag (INH)
– Vital Wheat Gluten Bag
– Calendar Packaging (INH)
– Coffee Packaging
– Revolution Packaging
– Foam Paintbrush
– Panera Soup Lid
– Basil Hard Packaging
– Various Stickers and Labels
– PACKAGING PEANUTS :O( (INH)

Zoomin’ in

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Packing Peanuts… who can plan for their unfortunate arrival, their unduly excess and tasty appearance? When ordering glass bottles for an art project earlier in the week we were left with a bounty and left shaking our heads at not seeing it coming.

Due to these packing peanuts and other plastics coming into our lives like this we have coined a new term to describe them: Inheritance Plastic. While it is possible to have foreseen packing peanuts in a shipment of glass, it was still something that we did not anticipate — it came into our lives and now we must store it away for the year. Inheritance plastic comes from all angles. Lets say you go to a coffee shop with your friend and while you bring a reusable, your friend gets an ice coffee. Since he bought it you’re not responsible to dispose or maintain it… but if he leaves it in your car? It’s all yours now. It would be easy to decide to simply toss it in with the myriad other trash thinking “Well I didn’t buy it…” but it came into our lives and we had to do something with it. It was left in our car, to our hands. We inherited it.

Mreow. Snacks are still aimed to doom us but we have been able to bump down the variety and volume (if we minus the peanuts…) of our plastic consumption. Noticeably absent from this list are TetraPaks, the omnipotent container for all non-milk milk. To combat this Kim purchased some soy beans to which with great ease we made soy milk which tasted smooth and fresh. Not only is making soy milk a cheaper option, it requires no packaging (bulk aisle soy beans!) and you can make quite a few quarts for only a few dollars. Stay tuned for a more in depth look on this tasty creation :O)

Aside from that we had a wonderfully standard week, though a few things stand out which can, with a little effort, be eliminated.

1. Coffee – How many great coffee shops have bulk aisle beans these days? To be honest I haven’t a clue. However a fantastic company in Boston called The Equal Exchange has a café in Boston which offers such a service. Not only is the coffee excellent in quality, but their standards and values are stellar as well – they will be our  go to moving forward!

2. Basil – Question… do we really need basil in January? Though we love tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches, it will continue to bring a plastic footprint that can easily be handled if we can wait until the basil bloom. There are plenty of other things to eat, right…?

3. Snacks – Chocolate, Cheese, and Chips – Snacks seem to start with “C” (Candy, Caramel, [Ice] Cream…), and our bellies seem to start with a hunger for that dangerous trio. Chips don’t serve any great purpose, but they satisfy in a pinch when your hungering for just a smidgen of something delightful… but fruit is amazing too, and packages itself wonderfully. Chocolate and Cheese are a bit different… they hold a high place in our yum-hierarchy. What ideas do you have to keep chocolate and cheese in our lives, but reduce its plastic footprint? Help us continue such deliciousness!

That’s it for this week! We have a variety of other articles planned on topics like coffee cups, LDPE, and the philosophical musings of a day’s waste for hundreds of years of impact. Stay Tuned!

Week One: Bread, Cheese, and Chocolate :O)

Is that a face of shame? Let’s see what we produced in week one:

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Week One:

– 4 Plastic Caps
– 4 Chocolate Bar Wrappers
– 4 Bread Bag
– 3 Tetra Paks (almond milk, soy milk, veggie broth)
– 3 Itunes Gift Cards (+Pkg)
– 3 Cheese Films
– 2 Plastic Cups- Syrup and Bubble tea
– 2 LED light Bulb Package
– 2 Name Tags
– 2 Yeast Package
– Breakfast Bar wrapper
– Tomato Container
– Earth Balance Tub
– Bread Tie
– 3×10 Cling Wrap
– Poster Bag
– Vital Wheat Gluten Liner
– Carrot Bag
– Pita Chip Bag
– Plastic Film and Packaging Tape from Ikea Butchers Block

– Pasta Bag
– Powerberries wrapper
– Hole Punch package
– Plastic Cover for Hummus
– Charlie Ticket
– Broken ID
– Kale Twist Tie
– Various Stickers and Labels

Here’s a closer look:

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It makes me wonder: What can you tell about people from their trash?

The first thing that sticks out to me is that the majority of this waste came from our food.  Take a look in your kitchen, most of what we eat comes packaged in plastic!  It contains our orange juice and milk.  It keeps our cereal fresh.  It houses our yogurt.  It even lines the metal cans in our pantry.

I think this is a good time to come clean about our pre-existing Plastiphobia.  If you look back at the list above you wont see cereal bags and yogurt containers on the list.  Instead I make granola from scratch ingredients bought in bulk and we buy yogurt in glass bottles from Whole Foods.  Noticeably absent are plastic drink bottles, the #1 most used plastic item in America.  Unlike most Americans we don’t drink soda or bottled water.  Yes, we live a “green” life, you might say.  Yes, we have vegan-like tendencies, if you ignore the cheese wrappers from this week ;O). We have already intentionally eliminated much plastic from our lives, and feel healthier and happier as a result.  I hope, through these posts, to show you why!

Yet, we obviously don’t avoid plastic completely, nor is that our intention.  Plastic is essentially unavoidable in this day and age, but we strive to only use it when necessary.  Because let’s be serious, does it make sense to use something that is designed to last forever once then throw it away?

So let’s talk films, and I’m not talking about Hollywood.  I mean the plastic films that make up grocery bags, food wrappings, and most of the packaging Brandon and I produced this week.  It kept our bread and cheese fresh, surrounded the butchers block I picked up from IKEA, and let us indulge in chocolate treats all week long.  It’s some useful stuff!  But when you look into it, most of these films are made from LDPE (low density polyethalene, or #4 plastic if you pay attention to those little recycling codes).  LDPE is notorious for having a low rate of recyclability.  Most curbside programs wont accept them, so throwing them into your curbside bin is the same as throwing them in the trash. Some grocery stores provide collection bins but seriously, how many people do you know who save all their grocery bags and return them to the grocery store?  And they also have the pesky habit of going airborne, so even when properly disposed of they can travel by wind into waterways and landscapes.

So how do Brandon and I avoid plastic films?  Well for one, we never use plastic grocery bags.  We make sure to bring our own, and begrudgingly use paper bags when we forget.  We have also been know to walk out of grocery stores with armloads of loose groceries, getting all sorts of strange looks as we go, in our stubborn effort to reduce.  While we can’t seem to get bread and cheese film-free, we can get fresh produce that way.  This fall, after returning home from researching the effects plastic has on the ocean, I got out the old sewing machine and made myself cotton produce bags. Check em out!

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And have since had many requests to distribute them.  I am not starting a business (yet?), but you can buy reusable produce bags online here and here!  The way I think of it is that using plastic bags week after week can be mindless, seemingly worth the convenience.  But there are over 7 billion of us doing just that, mindlessly consuming, and even if a small percentage of those bags escape and end up in the environment, that small percentage can be a huge number and have a huge effect decade after decade.  It’s time to inconvenience ourselves, so we can live sustainably on the limited resources our planet provides.

What plastic did you use this week? What steps do you take to use less plastic bags and films?