Life in Bloom: June Plastic Total

June passed by in a rainy blur, ushering in summer so fast it feels like winter never happened. The plastic pile in our crawl space grows, and it turns out a month of plastic for the two of us and Titan (dog) fits quite perfect inside a 25 lb dogfood bag.  Per usual, mostly film… bread bags, food wraps… a couple Tetrapaks, a couple bags of chips, some old toothbrushes, lids, inevitably a couple sneaky straws.  As the year goes on, we seem to have hit a plateau.  The pile is not alarming or troublesome by American standards.  No water or soda bottles.  No produce bags.  No processed food.  Yet, we cannot seem to reduce in the past couple months.  Partially it is a symptom of where we live.  Bulk isles are hard to come by.  So is a fresh bread source (there are a couple, but they are 30 min away!)  Local businesses are taken over by larger corporations.  Without local businesses, we sometimes have to buy online, and end up with bulky plastic packaging as a result.  Out culture does not support a life with reduced plastic.

One thing that we LOVE about summer is the supply of fresh produce.  This year we are receiving weekly drop offs from an organic CSA, supplemented with a bounty from our own home garden.  This year we grew our whole garden from seed; here is a snapshot of how it is coming along!

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Beautiful Eggplant :O)

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You can see scallions on the left, kale on the right, and tomatoes in the back, yum!

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Scallion :O)

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Broccoli on the patioIMG_6048

This might be my proudest sproutling, I cannot believe this was just a seed a few short months ago!IMG_6045

Patio carrots = genius!!!IMG_6052

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May’s Monthly Plastic Total

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Tucked into our bin, this month’s total seems neat and manageable.  A closer look, aka dumping it all over my kitchen floor, revealed an expanding smorgasborg of films, bags, caps, containers, bottles, tubes, and tubs.  Included in this pile I found:

-2 Bags stuffed with plastic bags and films (I couldn’t bring myself to individually count them all, this made up the majority of the pile)
-4 Chip Bags
-2 Bubble Wrap Padded Envelopes
-5 Mesh Bags (from lemons, limes, and garlic)
-1 6-pack holder
-1 Toothpaste Tube
-1 Tetra Pak (coconut milk)
-4 plastic cups
-20 Lids
-5 Tubs (cheese, yogurt, pomagranate seeds)
-6 Utensils
-2 Straws
-1 Coffee Bag

Titan being a very good boy and resisting the urge to bury his face in this pile of trash

Titan being a very good boy and resisting the urge to bury his face in this pile of trash

This month I decided to cut back on my totaling posts.  Without weekly tallies I was disconnected from what was accumulating in our plastic bin.  Once covered and out of mind, these pieces now bring back memories of a good times, like our reusable cups from the bacon and beer festival or the wrappers from healthy snacks we snuck into the theater to see the new Star Trek movie.  Dumping it out on my floor felt like flipping through a scrapbook, and I relived my month, good and bad, as I made piles of lids and shoved a bread bag full of plastic films.  In our fast-paced, throw-away culture we never contemplate the life of our waste after we throw it away.  For us, away is still here, in our crawl space.  And week by week be build a scrapbook of memories that will will rediscover at the end of the year.  There is no way we can ignore our plastic footprint this year.

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.

Two Months Down

Week 8:

-1 Frozen Fruit Bag
-1 64 oz Almond Milk Tetra Pak
-1 Tempeh Wrapper
-1 Hummus Container
-1 Dish Soap Container
-1 Potato Bag
-1 Totrilla Bag
-1 Bottle Draino
-1 Chocolate Chip Bag
-1 Pizza Dough Bag
-1 Travel Lock Package
-1 Electronic Screen Wipes Package
-1 Johnny’s Selected Seeds Bumper Sticker
-1 Pill Container
-1 Pasta Bag
-3 Cheese Wrappers
-6 Safety Seals
-2 Lids
-2 Bread Ties
-1 Train Ticket

By the looks of it, this is our smallest pile to date!  Here are a couple key points about this week:

1. You are going to be seeing a lot less Tetra Paks in March.  I was clinging to store-bought soy milk’s delightful ability to remain suspended in coffee.  This week I decided that it is not enough of a reason to keep store bought, plastic contained milk when I can easily make it at home!  Sure, my home-made milks sink, but just what is it that makes store bought milk so creamy and long lasting? Is Carrageenen  that amazing? Why the Potassium citrate? Or even more mysterious, “natural flavors”?? Well homemade soy milk is cheaper and easy to make anyway (Click here to check out my previous post on how to make it at home!).  No more excuses!  In fact, I find I quite enjoy my coffee black.

2. We went bread free this week, just to see what it would do to our plastic stash.  There is no fresh bread source near our home (unless you count Panera…), nor do we have the time to make our own every week.  One thing we surely learned this week is this: we love bread. So bread bags will inevitably work their way into our lives.

And now, here comes the mothership: The monthly total for February!

Confronting our plastic waste in this way makes me so much more aware of the consequences of my actions.  I feel like I have more control over my decisions.  More power as a consumer.  And more respect as a cognizant habitant of this Mother Earth.

Week 6: Snowstorm Essentials

Week 6:
-3 Bread Bags
-1 Tortilla Bag
-1 Coffee Package
-1 plastic wrap
-1 1/2 Gallon Almond Milk
-1 Pita Chip Package
-2 Graham Cracker Bags
-2 oz and 4 oz Food Container
-1 Chocolate Wrapper
-1 Razor
-1 Razor Package
-1 Toothpaste Tube
-2 Cheese Films
-1 Produce Bag
-1 Tempeh Package
-1 Kefir Container
-1 Toilet Paper Wrapper
-1 Field Roast Package
-2 Container Safety Seals
-1 Kale Food Tie
-2 Straws
-3 Lids
-1 Yeast Packet
-Miscellaneous bits and films

Week 6 Plastic Waste

Week 6 Plastic Waste

First of all, I want to say how much I appreciate the comments, facebook “likes” and “shares”, and overall support we are getting from so many of the wonderful people in our lives.  Knowing that you are sharing our journey makes it mean so much more to us, and we love hearing your ideas!  You guys seriously RULE.

This week an epic snowstorm pummeled Massachusetts, leaving us (and 650,000 others) without power for three days (or more, I still have some friends without).  Roads became clogged with snow, trees fell, and power lines hung slack between houses.  With the right combination of homemade pizza, beers, and snowpants we managed to survive, and were embraced by the snow-coated wonderland outside our doorstep.  We thought this would be a great time to express our appreciation for the plastic that did not make our waste list, but helped us brave the storm.

A snowy morning walk :O)

A snowy morning walk :O)

1. Shovels: Where would I be without you?? Oh yeah, stuck in my house.  Dig it??

2. Let there be light!  Brandon’s Black Diamond camping lantern shined as bright as any house lamp on 4 double A batteries.  Our headlamps lit our books and knitting projects.  Out little orange plastic lighter started our 4 candles that provided a warm glow on cold nights.

Plastic we love: lanterns, lamps, lighters, and warm gear!

Plastic we love: lanterns, lamps, lighters, and warm gear!

3. Bundle up!  Above you see my fluff-tastic, super warm down jacket.  What’s it made out of?  100% polyester.  That’s right, plastic.  Put on some wool long underwear beneath that beast and you are ready for some serious cold!  I would also like to thank my Patagonia Gortex jacket.  Waterproof, warm, awesome.  I don’t have to be an REI employee to tell you that this stuff is worth every penny ;O)  We have invested in some expensive, yet high quality outdoor gear because we understand that the storm is only as bad as your worst piece of gear.

4. Distractions: Our computers played an assortment of my old DVDs on dwindling batteries to pass the time while we waited for the wind to cease.  My guitar, although only partially plastic, enjoyed some extra attention as we strummed and plucked the hours away.  Thank you plastic, for assuaging our cabin fever!

Shadow refusing to pose for a picture

Shadow refusing to pose for a picture

Week 4 – A Month Amongst Plastic

A hat that lasts! Really lasts…

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3 Tetra Paks (2 Soup, 1 Milk)
3 Cheese Films
2 Feminine Product Package
2 Pillowfill Bags
2 Bread Bags
2 Pill Cases
Ziplock (Gallon)
Phyllo Dough Film
Toaster Oven Film
Toaster Oven Styrofoam
Pasta Package
Tempeh Package
Pita Chip Bag
Method Dish Soap Container
Frozen Fruit Bag
Paper Towel Film
Earth Balance Container
Can of Pumpkin
Corn Tortilla Package
Hard Shell Plastic for Watch
Energy Bar Wrapper
Dry Erase Marker Package
Vegetable Tie
Busted Hair Elastic
Packaging Tape

Today marks the end of the first month of plastic collection, and how much we have learned already! It is easy to have our daily habits and actions go unnoticed, but much can be learned when we start to quantify our activity.

This past week continues our developing trends: TetraPaks, bread, cheese, and a variety of other food product waste. Oh food, you vital and wonderful, essential and beautiful thing! If only to find you in your natural state each day of my life, what joys would follow.

Speaking of the joys of food, Kim and I have begun to plan our foray into an in depth gardening experience this upcoming season. With the stunning growth of urban farming and the explosion of small space gardening, the amount of resources for those entering into a deeper connection with food becomes ever more available. We recently picked up a copy of Urban Farm and seeded a vast array of fresh ideas about how to get started and shared a plentitude of stories about urban farmers in action. We’ll tell you this: We’re pumped! Prepare to see our posts this upcoming spring and summer overflow with pictures, pains and the unrivaled joy of growing your own food — and in a sense growing your very self!

Ah but yes, plastics — they still don’t plan to leave, do they? I must share with you now a photo of a month’s worth of plastics, spread upon the floor:

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Multiply that by twelve and you can imagine how much floor space this plastic is going to take up! The largest plastics in our month’s collection were toaster oven packaging and the  comforter/comforter cover packaging. Otherwise, it is almost all food plastic! I am excited to see what sort of reduction will take place this spring and summer when we start not only making our own food, but having access to the vast array of farm fresh produce blooming from the Earth. Huzzah!

Week 3: Biphenol Ewwww.

Week 3:
  • 4 Contact Cases
  • 3 Chip Bags
  • 1 Tetra Pak (soup)
  • 2 Old ziplock Bags
  • 2 Ski Lift Tickets
  • 2 Tempeh Film Packages
  • 1 Chocolate Wrapper
  • 1 Bread Bag
  • 1 Lid
  • 1 Cheese Film
  • 1 Yeast Packet
  • 1 Tortilla Bag
  • 1 Bacon Bag
  • 1 Grape Bag
  • Toothpaste Tube
  • 1 Can of organic pumpkin
  • 1 Hummus Container
  • 1 Tofu Container
  • 1 Nametag
  • 1 LL Bean Comforter Package
  • 1 LL Bean Comforter Cover Package
  • 1 LL Bean Shipping Bag
  • 1 Broken Hair Elastic
  • 1 Plastic Plate
  • 1 Duster Package
  • Miscellaneous packaging piecesIMG_5252

Week three draws to a close, featuring the usual suspects…. yup…. mostly food packaging.  It’s an unavoidable theme, and we are interested to see how it develops through the seasons.  A large portion of our footprint this week was the packaging for the comforter and its cover that I ordered from LL Bean.  It was hard to feel any ill will towards the packaging after we both enjoyed the coziest night’s sleep EVER after being the victims of blanket wars for almost a year now.  This comforter will be well cared for, and it will keep us warm for years to come :O)

Are you surprised to see that a metal can could make it onto our plastic blog? It is another sign of the hidden plastic that surrounds us, my friends.  The next time you use a can take your finger and scratch the inside.  Look real close and you might notice the super thin layer of plastic lining your can.  Surprise!  Companies started lining their cans with plastic as early as the 1950s to fend of bacteria that could get into the container if it corroded.  The biggest concern was botulism, an illness that used to kill six in ten of its victims.  These liners, along with rigorous sterilization, curbed the threat of food-bourne botulism.

Less illness, sounds great! The trouble is that most can liners contain bisphenol A (BPA).  You’ve most likely heard of it, it’s been a hot topic over the past decade.  BPA is a mildly estrogenic synthetic phenol.  It’s been used in baby bottles, water bottles, and eyeglass lenses among other things. Gleaned from a NYTimes Article, BPA was put into cans “because it helps prevent corrosion and is resistant to high heat during the sterilization process.”  The problem is that in lab studies BPA, in parts per trillion, suppressed testosterone production.  It mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to all kinds of health problems including early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered reproductive function, obesity, and increased rates of some breast, ovarian, testicular, and prostate cancers.  A study in 2005 published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who had miscarried three or more times showed significantly higher levels of the chemical than women who’d had successful pregnancies.

In 2009 the nonprofit Consumers Union found that in 18 of 19 tested cans Progresso Vegetable Soup topped the list with 22 micrograms of BPA per serving.  That’s 116 times their recommended daily amount! (although my recommended daily amount is zero) BPA is now detected in the urine of about 95% of Americans.  This New York Times Article describes how researchers documented a 1,221% increase in BPA levels in urine when their study subjects ate canned soup.  Eeeep!

Not all cans have a BPA lining, as this list points out.  But even if the plastic lining is BPA free, it hosts a slew of other, poorly understood chemicals.  The plastic industry doesn’t have to prove it’s chemicals are safe in order to use them… it falls upon us to prove harm, which can be hard to do.  BPA is not the only estrogen-mimicing chemical used in plastic manufacture.  And the manufactures don’t have to disclose what chemicals they are using instead.  To me, it seems safer to just avoid the cans as much as possible (and YES, this includes soda cans…. if you need that extra nudge to kick that guilty soda addiction, let this be it!)

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