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

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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

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3 Months To Go: September Total

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-4 Almond Milk Bottles
-1 Uncle Matt’s Orange Juice Bottle
-2 25 Pound Dogfood Bags
-8 Chip Bags
-11 Bread Bags
-1 Toilet Paper Wrapper
-4 Bunched Basil Bags
-1 Carrot Bag
-Packaging for L L Bean sheets, pillowcases and towels
-1 Coffee Bag
-2 Avocado Bag
-1 Lime Bag
-6 Produce Bags
-2 Dog Treat Bags
-2 Toothpaste Tubes
-1 Raspberry Container
-1 Chocolate Covered Graham Crackers Container
-1 Tofu Container
-20 Lids
-3 Cheese Films
-1 Ziplock Bag
-3 1 oz. Spice Containers
-2 Airbourne Tubes
-1 Vegan Marshmellow Bag
-1 Sundried Tomato Packaging
-1 Earthbalance Bin
-4 Contact Cases
-8 Lobster Bands
-1 Plastic Cup
-1 Pill Container
-2 Pens
-Miscellaneous Bits
-Miscellaneous Films and Bags

There you have it, the plastic footprint of 2 people and a big fluffy dog for the past month.  It’s not pretty, and it reminds me of the places where I have been slacking (bread).  There are too many bags this month, definitely something to be more aware of.

If you have been following us, you may know this already, but its been on my mind this week as I restocked out cleaning supplies… toxicity.  Most people out there are aware of BPA, or Bisphenol A.  BPA mimics estrogen, a hormone linked to everything from fetal development to metabolism.  Guys, this is not just a female thing, you have estrogen too!  It is a key player in the maturation of your sperm and may even be necessary to have a healthy libido.  It makes sense that we do not want BPA in our bodies messing with our development and a couple years ago there was a big push to get it out of our waterbottles.  But did you know that BPA is still in the lining of most cans? (This is why I do not drink beer out of cans)  You can find guides (like this one) online to help you identify companies that took the CPA out of their canned goods.

It’s not just BPA we need to think about.  There are thousands of ill-studied chemicals in the products we use such as detergents, soaps, household cleaners, toothpaste, shampoos, and other toiletries and cosmetics.  This became increasingly apparent to me when my allergist told me that I was severely reactive to Thimerosal.  Thimerosal is a mercury based preservative that was routinely used in childhood vaccines in the past but has fallen out of favor in recent years.  It is 49% ethyl ethyl mercury, which is recognized as a potent neurotoxin.  The FDA banned the sale of topically applied antibiotics containing thimerosal in the 1980s.  Nevertheless, Brandon and I were able to identify it under different names in multiple products in our own bathroom!

Why are companies allowed to put harmful chemicals in our products?  Shouldn’t we be able to trust them to do what is best for their customer’s health? The short answer to this question is no.  Producers do not have to prove that a chemical is safe before putting it in their products.  It is up to us to prove harm (which is very hard to do!).  Every day we are exposed to harmful chemicals in our household cleaners, toiletries, and many other products.

The best thing to do is to be as informed as possible and make the best choices for you and your family.  So here are some resources to get you started!

-Watch Chemerical!.  This documentary follows a family as they challenge themselves to rid their home of harmful chemicals.  This ends up being a lot more challenging than they expect, but rewarding in the end.  You can stream it on Netflix, check it out!

-Look up the products you use and find out more about what is in them.  http://www.goodguide.com/  and http://www.ewg.org/ (Environmental Working Group) both offer easy online guide that allow you to search for and compare products as well as learn about ingredients and find healthier options.

Lastly, I will share with you my recipe for our household all-purpose cleaner.  Last week Brandon was using it to clean our kitchen and couldn’t believe it was homemade!  Not only is it way cheaper to make it yourself, it is also free from the harsh chemicals in factory made cleaners :O)

-Combine 1 tsp. Borax, 1/2 tsp washing soda, 1 tsp of Dr. Bronners liquid castile soap, 2 cups of water, and essential oil as preferred (I used about a 20 drop combo of lavender and eucalyptus).  Mix it up and you are done!

Simple DIY cleaners

Simple DIY cleaners

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

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?