Week 16: Introducing… Soap Nuts!

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-5 BandAid Wrappers
-1 Pasta Bag
-1 Produce Bag
-1 LAZ Parking Ticket
-5 Kale/Arugula Ties
-2 Toothpaste Tubes
-1 Bread Bag
-1 Mint Package
-2 Lids
-2 Field Roast Packages
-3 Safety Seals
-Misc. Bits and Films

It is hard to tell from the photo, but this week’s plastic stash is tiny! Definitely the smallest pile to date!  Perhaps Earth Day inspired us to have a particularly plastic-free week :O)

The rest of this week’s post is about how we got plastic out of our laundry routine:

Why give up traditional detergent? When it comes to laundry detergent it isn’t the plastic that concerns me the most, it is the nasty chemicals lurking inside.  A study in 2002 linked phalates, BPA, and triclosan to laundry waste water. Acting as hormones, the dosage of these chemicals doesn’t matter much.  Research indicates that levels as low as one part per trillion can cause adverse health effects.   Not worried? Consider the following:

“Adult men with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies are more likely to show signs of hormonal disturbance, including reduced sperm concentration and motility, increased damage to sperm DNA, and altered hormone levels (Duty 2003, 2004, 2005; Hauser 2007). Baby boys exposed to higher levels of phthalates in the womb or in breast milk are more likely to display reproductive system abnormalities (Swan 2005). And women with polycystic ovarian disorder, a leading cause of female infertility, or those who suffer recurrent miscarriages, are more likely to have higher levels of bisphenol A [BPA] in their blood (Sugiura-Ogasawara 2005; Takeuchi 2006). Though no epidemiological studies of triclosan are available, a recent animal study suggests that this substance may be a potent disruptor of the thyroid system (Veldhoen 2006).” (http://www.ewg.org/research/down-drain)

The damages of chemicals like these are not confined just to our own bodies, they also pose an ecological threat.  Once we are done with them, they go down the drain, and many times end up in wastewater treatment plants that effectively remove food and human waste, but were never designed to remove the broad spectrum of unregulated chemical pollution in our household products.  These hormone disrupters have developmental and reproductive effects on animal populations, and some chemicals bioaccumulate in animal tissues and come back to haunt us again in the food we eat.

Isn’t it important to know what chemicals are sneaking into our homes? I think it is, and after a bit of searching I found a hopeful alternative to keep the chemicals out of my clothes, body, and environment: soap nuts.

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Soap nuts are no more a nut than a jellyfish is a fish.  They are the fruit of the tree Sapindus Mukorossi, found primarily in the India, Nepal, and Indonesia.  This is no new thing.  The indiginous people of the Himalayas have been using these bad boys for centuries.  These dried fruits contain saponin, a natural substance known for its ability to cleanse and wash.  It is gentle and residue free, no sulfates, toxins, or harsh chemicals.  Soapnuts contain one ingredient: Soap nuts.  This makes them particularly great for people with sensitive skin, allergies or those of us just looking for a greener way to live.  Put in your laundry they are a 100% natural, 100% biodegradable, excellent alternative to traditional laundry detergents.  We decided to give them a try.

I bought my soap nuts from Laundry Tree.  I guess there are some sketchy soap nut distributors out there, so I went with a company that had great reviews.  There are so many things I love about this company.  They don’t hide the details from you.  They talk about where their soap nuts come from, and how they were harvested.  You can buy in bulk quantities, meaning less packaging.  They tell you exactly what you will get when you order, including how it will be packaged (which I am delighted to inform you is all plastic free, thanks to Beth Terry).  And they offer a 100% money back guarantee, so why not try them out!

When these morsels first arrived in our home, I was giddy about the packaging.

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Glass safely shipped without plastic!

Glass safely shipped without plastic!

Even the glass bottles of essential oil fragrance were cushioned with shredded, reused paper.  No Styrofoam.  No unnecessary bags or wrapping.  It was simple and minimal, just enough to transport my package safely.  So we opened the recycled paper bag and grabbed a big handful of our new soap nuts, curiously sniffing these exotic nuggets.  I will be honest, they smell weird.  A bit like vinegar.  We puzzled over these mysterious, smelly nuts for a bit, then excitedly gave them a try.

The soap nuts come with a small cloth drawstring bag.  You have 2 options for your wash.

1. Throw 4-5 nuts in the bag and throw it in with your laundry.  The cycle must be on warm for this method to work.  The nuts can be reused for 5-8 loads!

2. If you like to wash with cold water, prepare an easy soap nut soak.  It is as easy as boiling water.

The results were… clean! The finished laundry did not smell like the soap nuts at all.  Just clean, fresh clothes.

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Week 15’s Plastic Free Recipe: Chocolate Hazelnut Milkshake!

Week 15:
-2 Kale Ties
-2 Bread Bags
-1 Tortilla Bag
-1 Bagel Bag
-1 Honey Container
-1 Ketchup Bottle
-1 Tempeh Wrap
-Bubble Wrap and Inflatable Bags from Shipment (bulk of this week’s stash)
-1 Old Ziplock
-3 Misc. Films
-1 Pill Casing
-1 HDPE Tub (goat cheese)
-3 Cheese Wraps
-1 Band Aid Wrapper
-4 Lids
-2 Safety Seals

This week’s pile is filmy and puffy, with about half of its volume coming from bubble wrap and shipping film.  When compressed, it looks quite small, but dumped out the films spread themselves out and take up quite a bit of space!  This week I tried a new nut milk recipe, and I wanted to share it with you all.

I can’t remember when I stopped drinking cow’s milk.  Was it because of my distaste for the industrial food system that treats these animals with no compassion or respect? Was it to avoid the large ecological footprint that comes from the waste produced by industrial dairy farms?  Was it because the idea of breast feeding from a cow freaked me out? I couldn’t tell you.  Whatever made me do it, I am glad I made the decision now, for my body and the environment.

Many people find they feel much better when they switch to nut and seed milks.  Dairy cows are exposed to high levels of antibiotics, GMOs and hormones.  These toxins can end up in your glass, and in your body.  Your body will also thank you for the lack of lactose.  Our bodies are designed to consume our mother’s milk when we are little, but not as adults.  Lactose disturbs the digestive tracks of most adults.  Want less farts? Try nut milks.

We love nut and seed milks.  Almond milk continues to be our favorite.  I have used it for smoothies, cooking, and baking.  Unfortunately, almonds are expensive, so we have been making soy milk.  For a recipe for homemade soy milk visit our previous post.  This week I decided to try something new: a recipe for hazelnut milk taken from Good Girl Gone Green.

What you need:

-1 cup hazelnuts, from the bulk isle of course!, soaked for 4-6 hours.
-3 cups water
-1/4 cup sweetener (we used maple syrup, honey or agave would work too)
-1 Tbs vanilla
-2 Tbs cocoa butter or coconut oil (we didn’t have any so I omitted this)

What to do:

-Dump it all in a blender and puree it until you have foamy, delicious milk!

-You have the option of straining the milk.  If you don’t it will be far more nutritious, but quite gritty.  If you do it will be silky smooth milk.

Now, if you paid attention to the title of this blog, I said Chocolate Hazelnut Milkshake!  What we did was add 2 Tbs of cocoa powder and some frozen banana to the mix. Yum!

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Week 14: Food Truck Fail

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-2 HUGE Polystyrene to-go food containers (plastic FAIL of the week)
-1 Coffee Bag
-1 Pasta Bag
-3 Bread Bags
-1 Tempeh Package
-1 Frozen Fruit Package
-1 Garbanzo Bean Flour Bag
-2 Cheese Wrap
-1 Empty Tape Dispenser
-1 Nyquil Bottle
-1 Produce Bag
-5 Lids
-4 Stir Straws
-4 Misc. Films
-3 Kale Ties
-2 Safety Seals
-3 To-Go Condiment Cups
-1 Fork
-1 Small Chip Bag
-Misc. Bits and Pieces

Look in the top right corner and you will see this week’s epic plastic FAIL: 2 GIGANTIC polystyrene take-out food containers…

We do not go out to eat much.  First of all, we love to cook, especially together.  As I type Brandon is seasoning some kale chips, chopping asparagus, and pre-heating the oven for some sustainably farmed tilapia filets… I am one lucky girl :O) But who doesn’t love a meal out? Unfortunately, it can be hard for us to find a spot we like.  We often leave restaurants feeling like we could have made a better meal at home, and we don’t like to support big corporate chains that oust local businesses out of our communities.  Often, plastic sneaks its way into our lives as straws and side containers for salsa.  Our thoughtful ingredient choices are not supported by the average, meat laden menu.  And eating at home is so much cheaper, especially if you are fond of enjoying a crisp micro-brewski with your meal like we are.  Alas, eating out is a rare event for us.

Sometimes it can’t be helped.  That’s what happened to me the other day.  I found myself at BU before Tap into Boston’s Sustainability Network (where I was a guest speaker) hungry and unfamiliar with the area.  Dunkin donuts.  Starbucks.  Some scetchy pizza place… no no no, this wont do… but what’s that??! A food truck! Oh I do love the food truck movement.  I say bring on the food trucks.  It gives small businesses a way to compete for business without the pressure of renting property in Boston.  It allows startups to compete with established corporate chains.  Now local businesses can appeal to our obsession with convenience, food on the go, and variety.  I get seriously excited when I see a new food truck in the area, most that I’ve tried have been great!

This truck was the Baja Taco Truck.  I began to scope the place out, starting with the menu.  I instantly respect a place that offers more than 2 vegetarian options, and this truck did not disappoint.  Beans, guac, toatadas, count. me. in.  But not so fast, how is it served?  I stood back and watched the trendy BU students order.  The big plates came out in giant plastic packages, but everything else seemed to be handed out on a small paper boat.  I went for it, ordering 2 small tostadas, never dreaming they would put them in polystyrene!  My heart dropped as I received my meal.  The service was excellent and the food delicious, but I could not believe they put such a small amount of food, that was going to be eaten immediately, is such large packaging that is going to outlive me.  Just tragic.

To end this post on a positive note, allow me to give a shout out to my FAVORITE food truck: Clover!  If you have not tried Clover yet, your life is seriously lacking.  They have trucks all over the place, my most frequent stop being the one outside South Station.  Why is Clover awesome?

1. I can eat EVERYTHING on the menu.  Their food is locally sourced, organic, vegetarian, and made from scratch.  They have a whole section of their website dedicated to their food philosophy, how could you not love them?!?! They boast that 90% of their customers in Cambridge are non-vegetarian, they are THAT good.

2. The food is FREEKING DELICIOUS!  Fresh food is always tastier.  Clover makes everything fresh in the morning.  The corn fritters I ordered last week were literally fried to order (meaning you have to wait a couple minutes, but it is SO worth it.  They drizzle them with maple syrup and they taste like corn embellished french toasty bites!).  Every sandwich I have tried there has been delightful: chick pea fritters, soy BLT, egg and eggplant (sounds weird, but I seriously LOVED it).  Add on a delicious brewed-to-order coffee, or a chilled hibiscus tea, and your day will be MADE.

3. They are affordable.  Coffee is $2.  Sandiwiches are $6.  Everything is simple, in whole dollar amounts.  Portions are filling and nutritious.  Even a non-profit employee like me can afford this.

4. Everything they hand you is 100% compostable.  You will never get a gigantic polystyrene package from them.

5. The service is excellent.  Dylan, who takes my order, learned my name (and I don’t even go there often) He is ALWAYS smiling when I get there.  He was the one who originally told me to get a Cuppow, my wonderfully, locally-made lid that turns a mason jar into a travel mug! The people who work there make me as happy as the food!  Stopping by the Clover food truck will inevitably brighten your day in so many ways.

So next time you walk by a Clover food truck, stop by and try the french fries :O)

I must go, dinner awaits. Yum!

Another delicious homemade meal :O)

Another delicious homemade meal :O)

A Brief History of Plastic

This sunny spring morning has me inspired.  Sproutlings are stretching their leaves on the windowsill, birdsong greets my ears, and I have a fresh pressed coffee at my side.  After a couple rough weeks I finally feel ready to re-enter the blogisphere full force.  Thank you to everyone who sent love my way :O)

This morning I present to you: A Brief History of Plastic

It’s hard to imagine a world without plastic. By the time you eat breakfast in the morning you have probably already brushed your teeth with plastic, stepped into a plastic shower through a plastic curtain, donned some plastic clothing, and opened your plastic refrigerator to take out your plastic wrapped breakfast before you get in your plastic car and go to work. It’s everywhere! But, believe it or not, there WAS a world without plastic, and it wasn’t too long ago.

We used to look to natural materials like metal, bone, shells, and wool to make the products we used every day. Until the late 1800s elephants were hunted for their ivory to make many items, including billiard balls. After newspapers published rising concerns about the fate of these animals a New York billiards supplier offered a handsome fortune for the development of a suitable alternative that would save the elephant from extinction. Enter John Wesley Hyatt, the “Father of Plastics”, who, after years of experimentation debuted his new billiard balls in 1869. People quickly recognized the potential of synthetic polymers to offer respite to dwindling natural resources.

African Ivory Trade

African Ivory Trade

It wasn’t just elephants that benefitted.  Turtle shell was used to make hair combs.  Whale baleen for corsets. Hyatt’s invention launched the development of a myriad of plastics, from Nylon to Teflon. These plastics offered a material utopia, the means to shape the world to our wills and whims. At first plastic was used primarily as a building material, and its production leapt during World War II, nearly quadrupling from 213 million pounds in 1939 to 818 million pounds in 1945 as we conserved rubber, built atomic bombs, and supplied our troops. After the war plastic was well positioned to come into our homes, cars, clothes, playthings, workplaces, and even our bodies.

Our relationship to plastic has changed dramatically since Hyatt’s day.  What emerged with good intentions has wrapped us into an unhealthy dependence.  Now, we are used to the never-ending smorgasbord of affordable plastic goods to choose from.  We live hyper-convenient, disposable lives.  Now, it retrospect, we are starting to see the full picture of the negative impacts on the environment, and our own health.

Yet I think there is hope in all of us to discover a new path.  We are creative beings, and if we can break our wasteful habits we can create new ways to live and consume.  We see the negative impacts of our actions, and we all have the ability to change.  Talk to your grandparents, even your parents for some of us.  Learn to cook from them, ask them about how they used to live in a plastic free world.  Share ideas, like I do with this blog, so we can help each other discover a more sustainable way to live.  Inspiration is a powerful tool for change.

The sea turtles will thank you!

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Of course, this brief history of plastics is horribly simplified. If you want to learn more read Plastic: a Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel.  It’s a wonderful read.

Happy Saturday everyone :O)

The March of Many Plastics (Week 13)

YIKES
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Many plastics indeed. I don’t think I can get my legs around this mighty pile. More so than the two months before it, March built up plastics with a momentum that surprised. We’d have what seemed like a good week at first but plastics would assault us from unforeseen angles: Dog food, sugar, soap, medicine containers emptied seemingly simultaneously while random items like speakers and revealed themselves to frowning faces.

As we stated in last week’s post “A Week Weak”, sickness fell upon our house and the quest for comforting foods and easy meals arrived in quick succession. Cheese was purchased with a regularity that would make France proud and bread warmed us with its toasty love. Ah yes, when one’s health fails one’s determination and will can languish too.

A note must be made. The biggest contributor to the plastic phenomenon, that chemical love we have for this dynamic material is the state of our age: convenience and immediacy – the two never wander far from one another. One becomes weak, and cannot cook – buy soup in a Tetra Pak, cheese wrapped in plastic and orange juice in a plastic bottle… one needs new speakers so one tosses out the old. Even scissors, a product made of steel comes wrapped in plastic… for our convenience and safety.

So what is the lesson – must we become psychologically stronger, to resist the temptation to purchase plastic items which simplify our lives but pollute the planet? In the realm of philosophy and theory, the answer is simple. When faced with the realities we can all taste the toxic flow of plastic as it picks us up in its powerful stream. We can certainly stand off to the side and stay dry… but how do we stop the flow? How do we not only resist the tempting temptation, but slap the wrists that consume it without thought, that in many ways revere the convenience and immediacy that plastic offers? It is a tough question, one that will be a legacy of our generation – do we let the onslaught of plastics reign supreme, or do we resign ourselves, calling it an inevitability and a force beyond our control?

A grim thought indeed! But it is also a call to arms. The knowledge of what plastics are doing to our environment is the key to unlock the pathway to a new vision, a new understanding of how we treat converse with the world around us. The river may be raging, and we may have to swim within its noxious stream but at the end we shall stand tall, the flow but a trickle with a relieving sigh from ourselves and the Earth. We may be one within ourselves, but together we can manifest greatness. So to battle, curious reader! Take the first steps of war and bring this plastic storm to a halt.