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

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

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 Giant Pacific Garbage Patch

You have probably heard of the “Giant Pacific Garbage Patch”.  Google it, and you see images like this one:

Disgusting, right?! Well, I hate to break it to you but… that is not the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch.  Like with so many things, what you see in the media is not always factually accurate.  And the persistent myth that there is a floating island of trash swirling in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean is not an accurate description of what we find out there.  Last fall I had the opportunity to travel to the North Pacific Gyre and see it with my own eyes.

What is true is that there is a LOT of plastic in the ocean.  Our research expedition to the North Pacific Gyre found plastic in every single tow!  Plastic was found not only floating at the surface, but in our MOCNESS net, mixed by wind and wave down to depths of 30 feet.  95% of this plastic is smaller than your pinky nail.  SMALLER THAN YOUR PINKY NAIL!

So rather than finding a giant trash island, you find a plastic soup, seasoned liberally with tiny floating plastic bits and the occational larger dumpling, like a buoy or a capped bottle.

On our 37 day voyage we counted 66,077 pieces of plastic in our neuston, manta, and MOCNESS tows, and 2796 from visual surveys.  In total that is 68,873 plastic pieces! Remember, 95% of these pieces were smaller than your pinky nail.

Why is most this plastic so small? Just like we get a sunburn if we stay in the sun too long with no sunscreen, plastic gets sun damage, causing it to photodegrade, or break into smaller pieces. It is not biodegrading — these small pieces are just as persistent as a disposable bottle or utensil.  There is no huge floating island out there.  This microplastic problem presents different challenges than a trash island.

As plastic gets smaller, it becomes ingestible on every level of the food web, from zooplankton to albatross to whales and yes, even to us.  These plastic bits are known to leach and concentrate toxins. If these toxins accumulate in our food, they accumulate in us. Medical professionals are beginning to question whether the abundance of chemicals in the environment could be linked to rising occurances of diabetes, obeisity, autism and ADHD. Even though these plastic pieces are in one of the most remote places on the planet, they could be affecting our health.

The Giant Pacific Garbage Patch is not than a trash island.  It is a threat to marine life.  It is a threat to our health.  And as the creators of all this waste, we are the ones who can reduce our consumption, responsibly manage our waste stream, and innovate ways to create a better future.  Because of this, I write.

How do we study ocean plastic?

Since my voyage to the North Pacific to study plastic, I think the most frequent question I get is: “How big is the garbage patch?”.  What a simple question, with such a complex answer! First, I explain our voyage like drawing a line across a sheet of paper… how much can you learn about the paper by just looking at just that line?? The Pacific Ocean is HUGE, and so is its plastic problem.  It is going to take decades of research to get a better idea of how much plastic is out there.  Secondly, the amount of plastic is always fluctuating, with new plastic being added, and old plastic sinking or leaving the gyre and finding it’s way back to land.  Thirdly, it is hard to study plastic at sea.  Some floats, some sinks, some is ingested by marine life… how do you come up with a size of the problem?

Scientists are often limited by the technology that is available to them.  Perhaps someone will come along with a brilliant new innovation to determine the scope of the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch.  For now, the data set grows, giving us a bigger, but still incomplete image.  This is how we studied plastic as sea:

neusty

Neuston Net: This net is traditionally used to study plankton, the microscopic community of animals and algae adrift in the ocean currents.  The fine mesh of this net lets water pass through, but traps the copepods, pteropods, salps, and other alien-like creatures that call the surface currents their home within its folds.  Nowadays, this net is also frequently used to study ocean plastic.  We typically did neuston tows 4 times a day in the gyre, always towing at 2 anutical miles per hour for 30 minutes so all of your samples could be compared.

neuston

Manta Net: This is a neiston net with 2 fiberglass wings on the sides to stabilize it in rough weather.  Similarly to the neuston net, it collects samples from the surface only.

manta

MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net with Environmental Sensing System)

This beast carries up to 9 nets on its heavy frame (we used 5).  These nets are programmed to openand close at different depths, allowing us to collect discrete samples not only at the surface, but at various depths as well! We towed the MOCNESS down to 10 meters (~30ft) and found plastic in every net!  Looking just at the surface does not give you a complete picture of how much plastic is out there!

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Stay tuned, next time I’ll write more about what we found :O)

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)