Week 13: A Weak Week

IMG_5566

-4 Bread Bags
-1 Dog Treat Bag
-2 TetraPaks (almond milk)
-Coffee Package
-1 Frozen Fruit PAckage
-1 Snack Size Chip Bag
-1 Cauliflower Wrapper
-3 Veggie Ties
-2 Cheese Wrappers
-1 Sponge Package
-4 Pill Sheets
-1 Method Soap Bottle
-1 Toothbrush
-1 Pen
-1 Candy Wrapper
-4 Lids
-2 REI Shipping Bags
-1 Toilet Paper Package
-1 Paper Towel Package
-1 Old Ziplock
-2 Garlic Mesh Bags
-2 Plastic Film Bags
-2 Safety Seals
-1 Padlock Package
-Miscellaneous films

Straight up, I’ve been sick, Brandon was sick before me, even Shadow (our dog) had a rough week…  The pile is bigger than usual, due to weak buys in a haze of congestion and headache, inherited plastic, and a reckless need to make my old doggie feel better.  This is all I got for tonight folks… better posts to come.

Advertisements

Week 12: A Little Bit of This, a Lotta Bit of Styrofoam

5 Safety Seals
4 Food Ties
3 Frozen Fruit Bags
3 Cheese Films
2 Feather Bags
2 Bubble Envelopes
2 Lids
Feminine Pad Wrapper
Straw
Retired Zip-Lock Bag (failed smell test)
Produce Bag
Laundry Detergent Liner
Laundry Detergent Scoop
L.L Bean Shipping Bag
Piano Packaging (Translate: Shit ton of styrofoam & plastic film)

IMG_5537

Wow, almost NO PLASTIC! WOO HOO! We did good this week, eh? I’d say even one of our best yet! The week was going so well that one of these found their way into our lives!

IMG_5550

Meow! This is my new digital piano, a Williams Rhapsody. I had been saving up for a few weeks in order to buy one, and this one happened to be on sale when I strolled into Guitar Center one chance day. It is wondrous to have the ability to make music in your own home, and the piano has a special place in my musical spirit. Indeed, it makes a pleasing addition and causes me to well up in happiness whenever I see it…

However…

It came with THIS:

IMG_5545

A veritable pyramid’s worth of styrofoam and more plastic film than we had collected all month!

There is no doubt that I would want my expensive piece of electronic equipment to be safely shipped and contained until I open it at home, but the amount of styrofoam used to ensure that safety weighs upon me nonetheless. Styrofoam does not biodegrade at any significant rate. It will, indeed, last well beyond me and many of my kin. 😦 To find out more about styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene (EPS), see our old blog post here.

What I’d like to talk about today is an alternative to styrofoam – because there has to be one, right? There is! And it comes from mushrooms, no less. A company called EcoVative Design has discovered a way to grow a styrofoam replacement, and grow it with 100% biological yield. In layman’s terms this means that whatever goes in, comes out. There is no waste in this product, and it is all compostable, turning your electronic packaging into your spring veggies. I highly recommend you watch the TED Talk from the company’s CEO, and get a better idea on how this works, and why it is indeed an amazing step in all the right directions.  Innovations like this are a critical step towards kicking the plastic habit.

Today here near Boston we had another snow storm, canceling schools and causing long commutes – but there is exciting news: SPRING IS TOMORROW… well, based on the calendar, that is. Either way it is a fine message to us all that finer days are ahead and the earth will soon fill us once again with her bounty.

I leave you with a piano piece – a beautiful, moving piece by Chopin. I’ll host my own recording before you know it 🙂

Brandon

A Day in the Life of a Plastiphobe :OD

No place is more plasticized that the supermarket.  These days everything seems shrink-wrapped, encased, prepared, and packaged.  Over the past couple years Brandon and I have created and adopted many ways to reduce our plastic waste.  Today, on my early morning trip to Whole Foods, I thought I would take you along with me, and show you what we do to keep plastic our of our kitchen.

Here is what came home with me today:

We are what we eat: healthy!

We are what we eat: healthy!

Yum! (and if you look closely in the back you can see Shadow’s fuzzy face wondering what the heck I’m doing)

Here are my rules for shopping:

1. BYOB: Bring your own bags!  This includes produce bags folks.  I have been known to pass up produce because I ran out of bags, or stuff multiple veggies into the same bag to avoid waste.  I also always  go back to my car when I forget my bags in it.  No excuses!  With a little planning you can train yourself to remember.  (See our week 1 post for websites that sell reusable produce bags)

2. Plan ahead.  Going to the grocery store with a plan of what to make for the week can result in a lot less food waste.  This week’s bounty will become:

-Bulgar, arugula, and cannellini salad.
-Baked wild-caught Alaskan salmon with cornmeal-masala roasted brussels sprouts.
-Chickpea cutlets.
-Spicy peanut and eggplant soup.
-Parsnip chips.
-Cauliflower and mushroom pot pie with kalamata olive crust.
-Almond quinoa muffins with currants.
-Fresh carrot juice.
-Vegan jelly donut cupcakes.

Of course, there are bound to be impulse items. For example: how could you resist these beets?? Seriously, they might be the sexiest beets I’ve ever seen!

3. Avoid anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce.  As you can probably tell from the photo above, we make most of what we eat from scratch.  It helps that both of us love to spend time in the kitchen.  In fact, cooking together is one of our favorite ways to spend our evenings.  Our love of food and cooking not only brings joy to our lives, it also has given us more energy and stronger, healthier bodies.  As they say, you are what you eat.  We are not high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, dextrin, and yellow #5.  No!  We are carrots, mushrooms, arugula, and tomatoes!!!

4. Buy local whenever possible.  Local food supports your neighbors rather than big corporations.  Local food reduces your carbon footprint by avoiding the massive amounts of fuel necessary to ship food around the country (and sometimes globe).  It doesn’t get more local than your own garden.  We are so excited to set our seedlings in the coming months!  Another thing I am excited about = farmers markets!  This year we might not need them since we just bought a small CSA share from Rustic Roots Farm.  We will be getting fresh, organic produce delivered to my workplace for about 4 months!  Never heard of CSAs before? Read this!

5. Buy organic whenever possible.  Organic foods are better for the environment because they avoid chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  Organic foods are better for your body because they are grown from healthy soils and contain appreciatively higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamins than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Here are some tips to avoid plastic:

1. PRODUCE PRODUCE PRODUCE! Nuff said.

2. Use the bulk isle!  This week I bought peanuts and dried garbanzo beans using my homemade produce bags.  You can also use your own container, like a mason jar, and they can weigh it for you before you shop and tare it when you check out.

3. Whole foods has a great butcher/seafood station that will also allow you to use your own container.  If you lack a container they wrap the meat in paper with a small plastic lining, which in my mind is much better than the foam plate-shrink wrap combo around conventional meat.  Their seafood counter is committed to selling only sustainable seafood, although NPR recently did a 3 part series questioning the validity of sustainable fisheries that is worth a listen.  The butcher provides a rating system to let you know how the animals were raised and treated.  All in all, it seems like a better way to buy meat.

Is our refrigerator truly plastic free?

Nope.  But it’s better than average!  Most of our condiments are in jars, but all those pesky lids are plastic.  I broke down this week and bought almond milk, but we get all of our juice in glass jars or we just make it ourself with our juicer (best kitchen appliance I ever bought!).  You can revisit our previous post for my recipe for hommeade soy milk, it’s so easy I am kicking myself for buying the almond milk this week!  We always leave shelf space for some good bottled beer, supporting microbreweries and avoiding the plastic lining in cans.  We store our leftovers in mason jars and glass Tupperware.  The cauliflower was our only plasticized produce this week.  Can’t seem to get the dang vegetable without it!  Sigh.  The most obvious pieces of plastic this week housed the garbanzo flour and almond meal that I bought for baking.  There was no other way… Our freezer is largely unused besides some frozen fruit, ice racks (I am saving up for some stainless steel ones as I type) and a bag of corn that has been used to ice sore joints and muscles for years.

So there you have it!  A shopping trip in true Plastiphobian style!  If you want to learn more about healthy food choices and great recipes here are my favorite resources:

Anything by Michael Pollen (The Omnivores Dilemma, In Defense of Food).  This man’s writing changed my life is so many wonderful ways.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. (It is also a movie if you are not into the whole reading thing)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

-Anything, and I mean ANYTHING by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Veganomicon, Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World).  She also has some recipes available online at the Post Punk Kitchen.

-Any cookbook with Molly Katzen’s name on it (The new Moosewood Cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health, etc).  You can browse some online recipes here.

Week 10: Save the World, One Straw at a Time!

Week 10:

5 Lids
2 Ziplock Bag
2 Organic Sugar Bags
2 Straws
2 Mini Planting Pots
2 Tempeh Package
25LB Dog Food Bag
Coffee Bag
Tortilla Bag
Pizza Dough Bag
Produce Bag (doh!)
Bread Bag
Surface Cleaner Container
Feta Container
Mozzarella Container
Hummus Container
Grape Tomato Container
Sponge Package (why does my new sponge need plastic wrapping? It is for cleaning!)
Shipping Bag
Scissor Package (You need scissors to get in)
Deodorant Container
Pair of Old Speakers
Expired Triple A Card
Rubber Band
Miscellaneous Bits & Pieces

Buh, not a week to brag about, nor one to condemn.  It was a week of ups and downs.  As a high point I sewed a few more produce bags and I made my own deodorant when mine ran out (equal parts of coconut oil, corn starch, and baking soda! Add a couple drops of an essential oil of your liking for a pleasant scent.  So easy, and it works!).  The low point was seeing the unanticipated straws in our sangrias when we went out to eat.

Which leads me to tonight’s point: straws.  They are so sneaky! In fact, at first, we didn’t even notice we had acquired them!  It wasn’t until my second sip that I realized that the straws would be coming home with us.   Gah! (This later  led to an awkward moment with our waitress as I urgently asked her for my straw back as she kindly cleared the table).

Why do I want to avoid straws?  Well, they fall into the catagory of single use disposables.  That straw, after you use it, is not going anywhere.  Straws are typically made of #2 or #5 plastic.  Both of these plastics are technically recyclable, but since the straws are not labeled as to what kind of plastic they are, they are rarely recycled.

But this is not a labeling problem… it is a production problem.   Americans use an estimated 500 million disposable plastic straws every day.  In 2011, participants of the International Coastal Cleanup picked up 468,161 straws off of worldwide beaches in one day!  That one straw you have in your iced coffee every morning adds up to a big waste problem.  The use of billions of straws every year is sure to make the petroleum companies happy, but what does it mean for our landfills, and our groundwater and our oceans?  With the increasing number of scientific reports suggesting that plastics leak toxic chemicals into our bodies why would we want to put these things into our mouths?!

What can we do about this?!

1) First, ask for no straw!  Many beverages don’t need them! By asking your waiter/waitress/bartender to leave off the straw you can dramatically reduce the number of straws you use per year and inspire others to ask why they use so many disposable items.

2) BYOS:  Buy your own straw!  Being straw conscious does not mean you need to go straw free.  Here are a couple websites to help you find one.

Glass Dharma’s glass drinking straws.  Read a review of these bad boys here.

Reuseit.com sells packs of stainless steel straws

I have seen paper straws sold at Whole Foods or you can buy them online here.

No More ‘Poo

I have a confession to make….

I haven’t ‘pooed in a week.  No, I am not constipated.  In fact, I feel quite wonderful.  Last week I decided to join a growing underground movement dubbed “no-pooing” that supports shampoo free living.  This sounds strange in a culture that gets squirmy just thinking about going 48 hours without a good shampoo.  But the more I read about it, the more it made sense.

Beautiful hair! (after being shampoo free for a week)

Beautiful hair! (after being shampoo free for a week)

Think about it: just like there used to be a world without plastic, there was once a world without liquid shampoo.  Therefore, it is totally possible to live without it.  Then comes the question: “Well, do I want to live without it.  There was a world without penicillin too, but you don’t see me writing that off”.  Point taken, I am not saying we should live like cavemen.  But I do want to decide for myself what is good for my hair and body, rather than listening to advertisements and commercials that pay millions to get me to buy their product.  A good advertisement does not mean I need to buy into it.

Brandon showing off his shampoo skillz

Brandon showing off his shampoo skillz

Modern shampoo emerged in the 1930s.  Back then, it was a weekly ordeal.  It was not until the 70s or so that shampooing became a daily norm.  So I went back and looked at old pictures of my grandmother, to guage whether she looked like a smelly grease ball in the 50s.  Quite contrarily, I thought her hair looked voluminous, shiny, and strong!

So, why do we feel so greasy and gross after a day without shampoo?  Turns out, those powerful bubbles strip our scalp and hair of its natural oils.  Wait a minute, isn’t de-oiling the goal here? What’s the problem?  Our hair needs oil to keep that healthy strength and shine, so our scalp compensates after a good ‘poo, overproducing oil to make up for what it lost.  So the shampoo makes us dependent on it to keep the grease at bay.  Can I break this vicious cycle?

It’s worth a try.

So here are my 5 reasons to stop ‘pooing:

1. It is WAY less expensive.  A bottle of shampoo can cost you anywhere from $5 to over $20. You can buy a pound of baking soda for a couple dollars.  Our 32oz bottle of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar was about $5.  Strapped for cash?? Stop ‘pooing so much!

2. It is better for your body.  My last post talked about chemicals in liquid soap.  Shampoo often contains the same suspects.  Using some shampoos can expose your scalp and eyes to irritants, carcinogens, and allergens.  Why do we need to wash our hair with a concoction of chemicals cooked up in a lab?

3. It is better for the environment.  All those chemicals wash down the drain…. where do they do?  Our bodies aren’t the only thing dealing with the onslaught of plastic-era chemicals, the environment around us is too.

4. You gain power by not giving in to powerful advertisements.  Consumer power is one of our greatest weapons against corporate greed, yet many of us don’t realize it!  If we refuse to buy these chemical/petroleum laden products, powerful companies like Dupont will realize they need to provide healthier products.  Also, by opening our minds to personal care product alternatives, we have the opportunity to support small businesses rather than giant corporations, and help those businesses gain traction in today’s tough economy.

5. You can inspire your family and friends to ask questions about the ingredients in their personal care products.  Sure, you could keep your no-pooing a secret.  It’s weird, I know.  But by letting your friends and family in on your ‘poolessness you can start great conversations about everything from plastic waste to chemical toxins.  You can inspire people to think for themselves, rather than letting companies like Coka Cola and Dupont do the thinking for us.

How to No-poo

There are many ideas out there, so I encourage you to research your options!  The more hard-core no-pooers use nothing but water.  Not quite ready to take that plunge I use baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

1. Mix 1 T baking soda in 1-1.5 cups of water.  You can play with the amount to see what works best for you.  In the shower simply lather the mixture into your scalp and hair then rinse out.  Don’t expect it to lather, but never fear, its cleaning!

2. Also have a mix of 1 tsp apple cider vinegar and 1-1.5 cups of water (again, play with the concentration if you like).  I also add a couple drops of lavender essential oil so I smell all pretty.  Once the baking soda is rinsed out pour the ACV mix over your wet hair.  I try to avoid getting too much on my scalp.  Rise aaaand, voila!  Clean hair!

3. Once a week I plan on using a conditioner to make sure my hair doesn’t get too dry.  Because of the money I am saving on shampoo, I decided to get the best conditioner for my hair.  I landed on this one from Nurture my Body.  My standards for “best” are high: No parabens, no phthalates, do DEAs, MEAs, or TEAs, no colorants or dyes, no petroleum products, no 1-4 dioxane, no SLS, and what really sold me on this stuff was no plastic bottle!!!

Many no-pooers warn of an awkward adjustment period that can last for weeks or even months!  I honestly noticed an immediate improvement, and have felt less greasy since day one.  Perhaps I can owe my lack of adjustment period to the fact that I was using a super natural shampoo before the switch.  A switch from Herbal Essences to baking soda would probably prove more difficult.  My hair is not curly or dyed, so I cannot say how well this would work for other hair types.  For me, it’s been a week and at this point, I can honestly say I have no desire to ‘poo again.

Feeling Great!

Feeling Great!

Starting Out Strong

Week 9 heralds the shortest list to date! Check it:

-1 Pita Chip Bag
-1 Shipping Envelope
-2 Tempeh Packages
-1 Arame Package
-2 Caps
-1 Pair of Contacts
-1 Mouthwash Bottle
-3 Bread Film
-1 Basil Bag
-2 Cheese Film
-1 Plastic Cover from National Geographic Magazine
-1 Toothpick Container
-1 Toothbrush
-1 Saffron Container

I am proud of this week.  A handful of the items, like the toothpick container, saffron container, and mouthwash bottle have been with us for at least 6 months, and finally decided it was their time to go.  Others, like the pita chips, are indications of the things we just cannot give up (yet?).  And others, like the bread bags, are a reminder of how hard it is to break our plastic habits (I got a loaf of bread from a local bakery, asked them to put it in my reusable ziplock, and they put it in a new bag anyways… womp womp).  Overall, this list is a great sign of progress, a tangible way to see our footprint has decreased in the past 2 months.

One area of our home  that houses the most seemingly unavoidable plastic is the bathroom.  Toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, floss, the very shower itself! – all plastic.  How do we reduce our plastic use in our bathroom??  I suppose the kitchen was my first target, but now I turn to our bathroom and wonder: Do we really need all of this stuff.

One item we have cast aside is liquid soap.  We traded it for the bar.  The switch got me wondering, just why is liquid soap in a plastic squeezable bottle so much more popular than bar soap anyways??  Is it our obsession with efficiency and convenience?  Have we grown to expect those superior bubbles liquid soap provides? Maybe its the loofas….

Whatever it is that draws so many American’s to liquid soap, it is unfortunate.  Why?  Well, first, look at the ingredients? The American government does not require pre-market testing of the chemicals that go in our personal care products.  Plenty of American’s look at the ingredient lists (or at least the calorie counts) on our food packaging, but how many of us flip over our bottle of liquid soap, or shampoo, or deodorant, and read those ingredients?  This list was taken from Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash with Nutrimoisture.

dovely

Soybean oil, sunflower oil, sodium lauroyl isothionate, sodium laureth sulfate, cocomidopropyl betaine, lauric acid, stearic acid, glycerin, fragrance, sodium isetheonate, lauryl alcohol, tallow acid or palmetic acid, guar hydroxpropyltrimonium chloride, DMDM hydantoin, methylisothiazolinone,  tetrasodium EDTA, etidronic acid, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, bht.

Hmmm… one look at this list sets off alarms for me.  During my EMT training I learned that our skin is our largest organ, and it does much more than sweat and get sunburns, it also absorbs!  Do I want all these ill-tested, unpronounceable chemicals on my absorbent skin?? Some of these ingredients are potentially toxic as well.  Just to name a few: BHT is a known immune toxicant or allergen and may also be a carcinogen, DMDM hydantoin is a skin, eye, and lung irritant, and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate is a suspected gastrointestinal and liver toxicant.  These products may be approved to go to market, but I have the choice of what I expose my body to, and I say “no thank you” to these suspicious chemicals.  If you are interested in learning more about the ingredients in your toiletries I suggest you check out Envionmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.  They provide online safety profiles for over 79,000 products and can help you find healthier options.

The second unfortunate thing about liquid soap is the environmental impact.  Housed in a plastic bottle, liquid soap aids the petroleum industry (in fact, petroleum products are often in the soap too!!) and once you are done lathering up, that bottle could easily outlive your grandkids.  These bottles are usually #2 plastic, or high density polyethylene.  That is a fancy scientific way of saying they float in sea water and are one of the most commonly found plastics in the ocean gyres.

This was all motivation for us to find a bar soap with natural ingredients that is packaged in paper.  Right now we are quite smitten with Nubian Heritage.  Born in New York in 1992, this company’s mission is to “produce luxurious natural products from African recipes with organic and fair trade ingredients”.  Organic, ethically traded, AND cruelty free!!! But the best part is their scents.  Some of our favorites are goats milk and chai, black soap with shea butter, and carrot and pomegranate.  But the true test is to look at the ingredients.

RAWR!

RAWR!

Honey and Black Seed Soap: Shea butter, coconut oil and/or palm oil, apricot oil, black seed, honey, vitimin E, vegetable glycerin, mineral pigment, essential oil blend.

That ingredient list is a whole lot shorter, pronounceable, and recognizable than Dove’s.  The ingredients come from nature, not a lab or an oil refinery, and the paper package can turn back into Earth again.  Honey has historically been used in healing balms.  The use of black seed can be traced back more than 3000 years to the ancient Egyptians!  It was discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamen and reportedly used by Queen Nefertiti to maintain her flawless complexion.

However, writing this post I realized that this soap isn’t perfect.  The production of palm oil can sometimes result in deforestation of critical rainforest habitat.  And the box fails to disclose the full ingredient list to their consumers by listing “essential oil blend”.  I plan on writing Nubian Heritage this week to inquire about the sourcing of their ingredients.

Washing our hands and bodies with bar soap may not be as excitingly 21st century as a sudsy, loofa-led liquid soap down, but we choose it because small choices can add up to big change over time.  We choose to ditch chemicals because we love our bodies, and want to nourish and respect them.

What ways do you keep your bathroom plastic and toxin free?