November Total: There is no away

-7 Chip Bags
-5 Mesh Bags
-1 Organic Cane Sugar Bag
-12 oz Coffee Bag
-1 Padded Envelope
-1 Decrepit, Reusable Grocery Bag
-3 Almond Milks
-1 Orange Juice Container
-12 oz Sparkling Water
-2 Thin Plastic Packaging (bread, TP)
-3 Dog Biscuit Bags
-2 Noodle Bags
-Frozen Pea Bag
-5 Bread Bags
-2 Gallon Ziplocks
-Miscellaneous Film
-1 Pretzel Stick Bag
-1 Computer Mouse Packaging
-2 Cranberry Bags
-6 Cheese Bags
-1 Organic Condensed Milk Container
-1 Shredded Cheese Container
-1 Basil Container
-18 Lids
-2 Single Use Coffee Lids
-1 4oz. Saline Solution Bottle
-2 Styrofoam Plates
-1 Polypropylene Food Bowl
-1 Pill Container
-1 Toothpaste
-2 Condiment Cups
-1 Pen
-1 Fork
-4 Vegetable Ties
-1 Vitamin Package
-1 Bread Tab
-2 Bar Straws
…and a smorgasborg of other bits and pieces

This month I investigated where “away” is when I throw items in a local trash bin.  It turns out that they get trucked to the Southeastern Massachusetts Resource Recovery Facility SEMASS waste-to-energy facility in West Wareham run by Covanta Energy.

SEMASS Waste to Energy Facility

SEMASS Waste to Energy Facility

On November 22, 2013 I met Patti Howard to get a private tour of the SEMASS facility. Patti greeted me with a firm handshake and a big smile. She has been working at SEMASS for 20 years, first as an accountant and now, because she is a “people person”, as a MSP program coordinator giving tours and presentations about the benefits of incineration. As she gave me an introduction to the facility it was obvious that we were getting into controversial territory. A woman clearly accustomed to conflict, Patti started by admitting that waste to energy facilities are not popular with everyone, but she stressed that people need to “have all the facts” before making judgments about it. She consistently tended towards defensiveness and chose her words deliberately throughout the tour.  She spoke with a firm conviction that we need to reduce our waste coupled with a harsh realism about the amount of trash we currently produce. She said that they Covanta sees trash as a resource and that it is much better to incinerate it than put it in a landfill. When my trash arrives at SEMASS it is dumped onto the “tipping floor”, an expansive room that holds mountains of trash that are inspected for hazardous materials (like propane tanks) and where most ferrous metals are removed with magnets to be recycled. At this point Patti noted with pride that SEMASS is the “largest recycler of metal in Massachusetts”, recovering nearly 40,000 tons of ferrous and non ferrous metals every year

The Tipping Floor

The Tipping Floor

SEMASS currently combusts over a million tons of waste a year, providing 25% of the “renewable energy” in Massachusetts. The facility qualifies as a Class II renewable energy source, giving 50% of its renewable energy credit value to boost local recycling programs. They are able to produce just under 600,000 megawats a year, or enough to power 75,000 homes. But is this the “clean, renewable energy” that Covanta claims it to be?
One of the challenges of incineration is pollution. Even the fanciest modern incinerators send CO2 and supertoxins like dioxins and furans into the air. They liberate toxins bound up in our industrial and municipal waste and release them into the air and water. This inevitably includes chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental, endocrinological, neurological, circularoty and reproductive problems. Combustion can even create new toxins that were not in the original waste, like dioxins that are created when items containing chlorine are burned. Globally, incinerators are the leading source of dioxins.
Incinerating does not make waste disappear, it produces ash. “In general, for every 3 tons of waste one shoves into an incinerator we get one ton of ash that requires landfilling” (Annie Leonard The Story of Stuff, 2010, p. 424). The ash is more toxic than the original waste, containing concentrated heavy metals and pollutants. About 1/3 of the SEAMASS facility is devoted to processing the ash, and their emissions of heavy metals and other pollutants consistently measure 60-90% below EPA limits. To avoid groundwater contamination SEMASS collects rainwater in three onsite ponds and has a water treatment plant on site. They also utilize local landfill leachate to meet almost 30% of its water needs and conserve roughly 40 million gallons per year of groundwater resources.

Boiler Aggregate Ash

Boiler Aggregate Ash

Covanta boasts that this ash can be used as landfill cover and does not emit methane like decomposing landfill waste. It has potential to be used as a building material but has not been approved by the state of Massachusetts. It sounded like regulations on incinerators in Massachusetts are stringent and that Covanta was making a sizable effort to “green” their business, but as my nostrils protested the nauseating decomposition and chemical smells throughout the facility I thought it was a stretch to call this energy “clean”. When I asked Patti if the workers at SEAMASS showed physical effects from working at SEAMASS she assured me that HEPA masks were used when appropriate and that high risk workers were tested multiple times a year for negative health effects. If our communities were to shift our focus away from toxin releasing incinerators and towards zero waste programs we could create more jobs. “For every dollar invested in recycling ad zero waste programs, we get ten times as many jobs as in incineration” (Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff, 2010, p. 429). Not only are there more jobs, these jobs are also cleaner and safer jobs that help conserve resources and create a more long-term solution.
I also think that it is a stretch to call this energy renewable. Ultimately, they depend on fossil fuels and trees for much of their fuel. Recoverable energy could be a more appropriate term. At least 15% of what they combust is food waste that could instead be composted and reused as fertilizer. They burn valuable resources and I can’t help but think that we could produce more energy by conserving rather than combusting. It is like choosing between pulling the plug or turning off the faucet to lower the water level in a bath tub. Turning off the faucet has a less immediate effect, but the tub will never really be empty if you leave it on.  I would much rather see comprehensive composting and reduction initiatives in my town than an incinerator. Until we change our minds over to a reusable mindset, this incinerator will keep on burning. Visiting this incinerator made me more proud than ever of the efforts we have taken this year to reduce our waste!

Sources:
Annie Leonard: The Story of Stuff
Susan Freinkel: Plastic a Toxic Love Story
Charles Moore: Plastic Ocean
SEMASS website and personal communication with P. Howard

August Total: What a heap!

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Total:

1 25 lb Dog Food Bag
8 Chip Bags
17 16oz Single-use Water bottles with caps
2 48oz Almond Milk Bottles
1 Gallon Distilled Water
2 Amazon Shipping Package
1 Sugar Bag
5 Dog Treat Bags
2 Toilet Paper Bag
9 Bread Bags
6 Produce Bags
1 Miscellaneous Plastic cover
1 Miscellaneous Wraps and Films
1 Stapler Package
1 Headphones Package
1 Soy Milk Container
1 Ziplock Bag
3 Cheese Film
2 Frozen Fruit Bags
4 Toiletries Bottles
1 Avocado Bag
15 Lids
1 Fire Wood Mesh
6 Plastic Containers
2 Plastic Cups
1 Small Plastic Plate
5 Pill Containers
2 Glue Sticks
1 Parking Ticket
1 Toothpaste Container
4 Contact Container
1 Fork
Ipad Mini Case

Titan, always down to get his face in our trash, has proven himself a great model, giving scope and scale to our monthly plastic piles.  This one, as you can see, is huge compared to many previous months.  It left us shaking out heads and vowing to do better next month.  This is the point right?  To see the damage we have done?  To know that there is no “away”?  To feel the repercussions of our daily choices as they add up over the year?  I am already dreading the annual total, but I am also excited.  This year has taught us so much, and we have made some meaningful changes to reduce our plastic footprint.  Here are some highlights:

1.  Still no ‘poo.  That’s right, I have not ‘pooed since March, and Brandon hasn’t ‘pooed since 2 months ago.  (I mean shampoo of course!) And to be honest, we don’t see ourselves ever going back to our old ways.  My hair feels healthier and my reason for showering is never “my hair feels greasy” anymore.  But the best part about it is that by using baking soda and apple cider vinegar on our hair the only plastic we produce is the plastic cap to the vinegar bottle, and we are not using any nasty chemicals on our bodies or putting them into our wastewater.  It feels good to no-poo!

2. Never again will we wash chemicals through our laundry again either because, quite frankly, soap nuts rule!  We started using soap nuts in April and have been impressed by their natural ability to clean.   In addition, we are thrilled at how long they last!  I feel like our bag of soap nuts is just as full as when we got it in April.  If you want to give them a try I highly recommend The Laundry Tree because of their commitment to plastic-free, recycled packaging.

Never going back :O)

Mother Earth, I apologize for our pile this month.  We have had victories and failures, and learn more about ourselves and our relationship to you every day!

Homegrown :O)

Homegrown :O)

~Kim

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.

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.

Week 5: Bring Bamboo to Lunch!

Rejected!

Rejected!

Week 5:

-5 Lids

-3 food containers (1 hummus, 2 take out indian food)

-2 Container Seals (from hummus and earth balance? It becomes hard to tell)

-3 Films

-2 Frozen Fruit Bags

-2 Toothbrushes

-2 Toothbrush packages

-1 Graham Cracker Wrapper

-1 Bubble Wrap Envelope

-1 Simply Orange Juice Bottle

-1 Chocolate Wrapper

-1 Hair Brush Package

-1 Potato Bag (the only way we could buy organic…)

-1 Tortilla Bag

-1 Bread Bag

-1 Brown Sugar Bag

-1 Large Tetra Pak (almond milk)

-1 Tempeh Package

-1 Dehydrated Dog Food Bag

-1 Spice Lid

-Film seal from Hummus Package

-Pill Package

-Seal from Nyquil

Another week, another pile.  This one looks smaller than average, a promising start to our second month.   Yet this pile, however small, is adding up to a big realization of how extensive our footprint is on this planet. We find ourselves thinking much more about our consumer choices knowing that we have to keep it with us until the end of the year.  We are no longer making excuses for the things we buy (Ok, we excused the OJ this week because Brandon was sick… there are still excuses, but we recognize them for what they are: areas for improvement).  If it is wrapped in plastic, we hem and haw over the pros and cons to buying it.  We know we cannot live without plastic, nor do we plan to or want to, but these plastic piles are making us think long and hard about what plastics we could be avoiding.

This week we want to feature one of our favorite plastic-reducing tools: To-Go-Ware Utensils!

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Easy to carry and beautiful to boot, these utensils make a great lightweight addition to any lunch bag, purse, or backpack. Each set of utensils comes with a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks. They are made from a high-quality sustainable bamboo, which is very durable and doesn’t stain or absorb flavors. They also have a food-safe oil finish so they can look sleek without any chemical additives.

If carrying around your own place-setting seems a bit odd, the company does you a favor and puts them all in an easy to carry case with a handy carabiner. Even the utensil package sports a sustainable drive, being made from recycled PET bottles itself! Indeed, when it comes down to lunch time nothing turns more heads in curiosity then when you whip out a bamboo spoon before you dive into soup in a mason jar.

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

However these utensils serve a great purpose than turning heads and starting conversations – they are a symbol of sustainability and another grand step away from single use disposable plastics.  From backyard barbecues to take-out orders, we see plastic ‘silverware’ floating about everywhere.  They are a sign of our disposable living, of people who are too busy to make a proper lunch, of marketing that seduces us with convenience.  These utensil wait for us to use them that one time, that one bite, that one sample of ice cream. We use these plastics and throw them out, their life seemingly not lasting even a minute.  Yet these plastics live on, in landfills and in the environment.  Worldcentric.org estimates that at least 40 billion plastic utensils are used every year in the US alone.  Just imagine all those forks!

I can no longer be satisfied tasting anything if by doing so I produce and therein promote waste. There is a better way! As one adage goes, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — There is a reason why REDUCE comes first.  It is the most effective way to solve the problem.  Well, we all gotta eat, so let it be with our hands, or with our bamboo! So treat yourself to a To Go Ware bamboo utensil set.  I’m also willing to bet that if you start to avoid the places that serve you plastic utensils, you will not only be making better choices for the environment, but also healthier choices for your body.

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 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?