What does a year’s worth of plastic look like?

Like this:

Condensed version

Condensed version

Expanded version

Expanded version

It has been 365 days of saving every bag and bottle, lid and wrapper, tube and straw.

What did we learn from a year’s worth of plastic?

1. Plastic is EVERYWHERE.  And it can be quite sneaky too.  Straws would sneak their way into water at restaurants.  Plastic stickers are all over the place (see below).  Safety seals are apparently necessary on everything from pills to honey and oil bottles.  Despite our best efforts, our pile unavoidably grew.

Plastic stickers from produce and clothes

Plastic stickers from produce and clothes

IMG_6789

22 Almond milks

22 Almond milks

2. We have a sweet tooth for salty snacks.  As two busy commuters and hummus enthusiasts, we went through about a bag of chips per week.  Pictured below are the oddly beautiful 56 chip bags we extricated from our annual accrual.

Hummus, cheese, and other bins

Hummus, cheese, and other bins

3. Our communities need more local bakers!  It looked like by far the bulk of the volume we created (when uncompressed) was bread bags.  We didn’t have the time to bake our own and we did not want to go bread-less.  Try as we might, we could not find a good, local bread source were we could pick up our bread plastic free.

4. There is SO much we can do to reduce our plastic footprint!  This year we invested in stainless steel ice trays, bamboo utensils, glass straws, soap nuts, Glasslock tupperware, and Cuppows.  I sewed homemade produce bags and napkins that we wash and reuse.  We now dilute our dish soap and prolong the life of one bottle for months longer than we formerly could.  We quit ‘pooing (resulting in by far our most popular post of the year, check it out here) and now use baking soda and vinegar to wash our hair.  We made our own household cleaners and soy milk, and grew vegetables in our garden.  This project was an inspirational catalyst for change, and we are excited to keep up these plastic-reducing habits and keep searching for ways to support local businesses that promote a zero-waste lifestyle.  This may be the end of our plastic hoarding, but it is just a part of our lifelong learning journey.  Cheers, may the adventure continue!

Happy New Years!

Kim, Brandon and Titan

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.

Still Buzzin!

Last week’s coffee post got a whole lot of buzz, and in our home we are buzzing with delight at the overwhelming response to our post!  To follow up I want to post links to 2 videos just released by Equal Exchange about helping establish a coffee co-operative in Peru.  These co-ops unite farmers and give them the ability to export their product without going through deal brokers and commercial managers.  This company deals directly with farmers, empowering them and supporting sustainable, organic practices.  Cheap coffee has hidden costs, Equal Exchange coffee is worth every penny.  The video is well done, so press yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy!

Equal Exchange Peru Video Part One

Equal Exchange Peru Video Part Two

I also want to share my choice in travel mug.

CUPPOW!

CUPPOW!

The Cuppow turns a canning jar into a travel mug!  Check out their awesome video here!

What is great about this?

1. It is easy to clean.

2. The glass jar is heat resistant and doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals that can leach into your beverage like plastic does.

3. It’s cheap! The Cuppow costs $7.99.  Jars are less than $20 for a dozen, and are super useful in the kitchen even if you are not pickling! We use them to store everything from leftovers to produce, and now we use them as travel mugs!

4. It seals tight and doesn’t leak.

5. The Cuppow lid is phalate and BPA free.

AWESOME!

It comes in different sizes and styles, including a sippy top for hot beverages and a straw top for cold beverages.

The glass jar does heat up, but we found that a beer koozie fit quite snuggly, you can search and buy them online (like these ones I found on Etsy) or, if you are crafty like me, you can knit yourself one!

YUM!

YUM!

and I leave you with the picture that made my day :O) Raccoons and foxes make my heart melt.

I am a puddle.

Buzzed for 1000 Years

Week 7:

-4 Bread Bags
-1 Produce Bag
-1 Vegan Marshmellow Bag
-1 Motzarella Cheese Container
-1 Earth Balance Container
-1 Feta Cheese Container
-2 Frozen Fruit Packages
-1 Vegan Sausage Package
-1 Chapstick
-1 Swiffer Mop Container (and this will be our last)
-1 Blueberry Package
-1 Razor Refill Package
-3 Plastic Films
-1 Nut Package
-1 Tempeh Package
-1 Toilet Paper Package
-2 Dog Treat Packages
-1 Mesh Garlic Bag
-4 Safety Seals
-1 Chocolate Wrapper
-1 Chip Bag
-1 Pair of Contacts
-1 Rosemary Package
-1 Salt Grinder Top
-1 Dog Medicine Package

IMG_5394

One piece of plastic you will never see in our pile is a coffee cup.  This week we wanted to explain why and how we avoid such waste:

Coffee is a delight unto which many people give themselves, each and every day. It has integrated into our culture with coffee shops around every corner and numberous varieties of beans and roasts. I personally enjoy waking up to a hot cup of freshly pressed coffee on cold mornings, enjoying one over a conversation and especially when relaxing and reading a book. Indeed, coffee is an aromatically fantastic beverage that I can see at my side as I move forward. So where does coffee go wrong, and how is it effecting our environment in a negative way?

Just like with meat production, over time a rising demand for coffee has caused some farmers to change their growing methods in order to boost production.  Traditional, shade grown coffee takes longer to ripen, but it offers great soil stability, habitat for wildlife, and maintains a cool, damp microclimate under the canopy that is perfect for water-loving coffee plants.  The newer sun-cultivation method causes the coffee plants to ripen faster and increases yields.  Yet it promotes deforestation and the destruction of wildlife habitat, destabilizes soil and increases erosion and requires more fertilizers, pesticides, and water. As consumers in America our product choices matter.  We import coffee from around the world, driving the market through demand.  If your coffee is not marked organic or shade grown you are probably buying coffee grown through sun-cultivation methods.  You have the power to demand change through what you choose to buy.  For some great options check out Equal Exchange.  (Their chocolate is also top notch!)

K-CUP PYRAMID

IMG_5382

These 31 Plastic K-Cups are the result of an afternoon at my workplace. Being conservative, I’d say my workplace goes through 50 of these each day. Like most plastics we have discussed over the past weeks, these things will not degrade, they will end up in a landfill and last for years and years. Just imagine! Someone casually has a cup of coffee that is made in 20 seconds, drinks it in 3-5 minutes and creates a piece of waste that lasts for centuries. People do it every day, multiple times a day. And, as you may know… there are a lot of people in the world.

Waste… waste… waste! Why so much waste!? Not only are K-Cups wasteful, they are low-quality and could only dream of actually possessing the richness of fresh ground, freshly steeped coffee beans. But unlike a true, delicious cup of coffee, K-Cups produce a slug of caffeine in under 30 seconds, all at the press of a button. It certainly fits the mindset – convenient, no effort, instant reward. How much do people enjoy the ease and convenience of K-Cups? 2.5 Million K-Cups are consumed in America each day, according to a report by Keurig. 😦 How many a year? You do the math… it’s alarming.

In Keurigs defense, they do support socially and environmentally responsible practices.  Yet, within this wordy webpage, they admit that their product is a challenge to recycle.  And they fail to address the fact that their product promotes the mindless production of plastic waste.  If they really care about the environment they would fully endorse their reusable K cup, and phase out the single use disposables.  No matter how much they write about supporting fair trade farmers on their website, their company is in no way environmentally responsible.  There are so many more responsible ways to brew a cup of joe!

EXCESS, SQUARED

IMG_5383

If you live in New England, you have inevitably seen this horrible image. What is it, you may ask, that makes this so horrible? See what sleeps within!

IMG_5386

You have seen correct – it is styrofoam (plastic) housing another piece of plastic, with a plastic straw. These beverages on average tend to last under 10 minutes, many even faster because it is iced, and people drink iced cause it goes down quick and easy.

Styrofoam is a great environmental enemy. It takes a long time to break down, takes up copious space in a landfill, is made from dangerous chemicals and is virtually un-recyclable. How un-recyclable? Roughly 25 Billion Styrofoam cups every year get thrown away into landfills. If you love your Dunkin Donuts iced coffee, and you also love the climate, shelter, and food this planet provides you, train yourself to bring your own reusable cup.

And for what! For an accessible, convenient beverage? I recommend to anyone who cannot take their thoughts off their Dunkin Donuts iced coffee to realize there is a better option, and it starts when you wake up in the morning. Not only is is tastier and more satisfying, it is waste free and could potentially support the people who need it most.

ITS YOU, BREWING AT HOME!

IMG_5387

Fair Trade Coffee Beans and a handy grinder!

Stainless Steel French Press!

Stainless Steel French Press!

It couldn’t be easier to make your own fantastic coffee at home. I have found that going through these motions is a great way to get my groggy brain moving in the morning.  And it feels good to know I am making smart choices for the environment.

1. Buy some beans! We refilled this container from the bulk isle at the Equal Exchange Cafe near North Station in Boston. Most grocery stores also have bulk coffee. So grab a mason jar and fill it up with your favorite!
2. Grind Beans on Coarse Setting. Our Black and Decker Grinder cost me less than $30, and you coffee tastes much more flavorful when freshly ground.
2. Bring Water to a near Boil
3. Place ground beans and water into the french press and stir.
4. Wait 4 minutes.
5. Stir once more, press and voila! You have delicious coffee!  Our Bodum french press makes the perfect amount for 2, but they also sell smaller presses if you are drinking solo.
6. Compost those coffee grounds :O) We dump ours right in our garden.  Turns out that mushrooms love them too. Back to the Roots sells mushroom kits at Whole Foods that lets you grow a pound and a half of gourmet mushrooms out of coffee grounds right in your kitchen!

And if your really feeling sustainable and supportive, get your own set of hand made local pottery to drink em up!  We bought these beauties in Portland, Me.IMG_5393

Trés belle, non? Now wake up and get brewing, waste free!