Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Walk of Shame

I've been dreading  a post like this for a while because it will show how much plastic stuff I really have been throwing away. Also, since this is the first time i've ever done this, I probably didn't keep as track as well as I should've. However, at least this is a start.  So from 3/16 to now, in almost 2 weeks, I've thrown away:

- 2 styrofoam takeout containers
- 2 popsicle wrappers
- 3-4 straws (though I've started not getting straws if I can help it)
- 2 shopping bags for cat/dog waste (bio ones hadn't come in yet)
- countless plastic food bags while cleaning out my Honey's pantry
- 3-4 plastic tea bag cases
- 2 plastic spoons
- plastic fork (I'm not counting the ones from Mad Greens b/c they're recycled...more on that later).
- plastic wrap on box of tea
- togo plastic cup (ouch! Still haven't remembered to tote mine around!)
- 8-12 bits of plastic from 2 boxes of easter egg dye. (I couldn't believe how much waste came from coloring 12 eggs!)
- broken mechanical pencil

Ok, this list does not include the countless Kleenexes and paper towels I've thrown away in the last two weeks. I try to recycle all paper products, but those things are not recyclable. And since I don't have the ability to compost yet, then I will just have to wait on those. At least they'll biodegrade faster...I guess.  But that, overall, doesn't look SO bad considering that I could've done much, much worse. However, that's not good enough for me and I want to do better. Some of these things above could be avoided, like the plastic utensilware (keep my own fork and spoon in my desk b/c I know that we run out of reusable stuff every day.) and togo cups (BRING. MY. OWN. TOGO. CUP!). And some of the stuff cannot be avoided quite yet - like some of the food packaging.  Hopefully thing's'll calm down and I'll be able to do more research.
So for the next two week summary, I hope to have an even more detailed list.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me list a few things that I have done:

- I did bring my own cup to the smoothie place, though it was not my reusable one, it was a cornstarch one I had saved from Lark Burger. It also was smaller than their smallest smoothie, so I kinda got the short end of the stick that time.
- I continue to use my own bags at the grocery and other stores.
- I've even started being more insistent on clerks that I don't need a bag (even when they've put stuff in it).
- I've been trying to avoid straws and plasticware.

But most of all:
- I've become more aware of things I do that lead to waste.  Two weeks ago, I didn't think of what was happening when I was given a straw at a restaurant. I'd become so lazy that I'd use two-three disposable dishes/utensils in just one day w/o it even occurring to me what was happening.  But now I'm thinking about it every day (and probably annoying my Honey and my Mom. :-P). And that is the biggest impact of all, I think.

I'm going to New Orleans (or as they say N'awlins) this weekend, but I hope to get another post off before I leave.  I have been asked several times about why I'm doing this  blog.  And apparently the "why" in my first post isn't good enough. Apparently I appear to be somewhat of a capitalistic consumer. Well, that appearance will be discussed in the next post. So stay tuned!
We need to tell this little guy that what he's eating is not food!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Change the World Wednesday - Reduce Packaging!

I got the title from a post I found on the Little Green Blog and since this is the reason why I started my blog I thought I'd post the tips from that site here and comment on how I'm doing with them.

Tip 1). Ditch the plastic carrier bag
Hopefully you’re all doing this already; but if not, why not treat yourself to a reusable bag this week? Find one you can keep in your bag, briefcase, car or pocket and set yourself the goal of remembering to use it. You might like an Onya bag which folds up inside itself and comes with a caribiner clip to attach to your belt loop, handbag or key ring. Or you might like to get a recycled bag, like these made from recycled rice sacks.

Me: Yup, I'm working on this. See my post "How I learned to stop worrying and love my reusable bag."

Tip2). Take your own container
If you use a local butcher, fish market or deli counter, take your own lidded containers with you. When y0u make a purchase as them to put your goods into your own container. This can reduce your packaging by a massive amount.

Me: I haven't done this yet, but I don't use a butcher/deli/fish market very often. I do buy stuff from the bulk bins and have been starting to save the plastic bags I get from there to reuse for the stuff later.

Tip 3).  Buy in bulk
If, for example, you buy one 5 litre container of fabric conditioner, the packaging weighs much less than five 1 litre containers. You’ll have to trust me on this - I’ve bought the goods and weighed them. I don’t remember the results now, but they were pretty impressive!

Me: I never thought of this before but I do try to buy things in larger containers b/c it's also a better value. So I guess I'll try harder now. And again, I've started using the bulk bins at the grocery store, so I think that helps too!

Tip 4).  Refills
Refills are not as popular now as they used to be, but they do exist. In ASDA some stores refill their own label fabric conditioner. Bio D and Ecover have refill stations around the country at health food stores and organic farm shops.

Me: I had no idea that this existed and I don't know if there are any around here, but it may be worth researching sometime. Has anyone heard of anything like this around the Boulder/Denver area? If so, please share!!

Tip 5). Shop naked
Buy loose goods wherever possible; sign up for a box scheme or use a farmers market. Use a company like LUSH who sell soap and shampoo bars without packaging.

Me. When I first read title of this tip I was like "WHOO-HOO! OH YEAH! Only in Boulder!" However, the author was obviously not implying that *I* shop naked (don't really know how that would help the environment anyway) but that I should buy good w/o packaging. I guess I can say that I do this w/ vegetables since I don't usually get bags to hold them in (unless they're really wet like lettuce or fragile like tomatoes). And I found recently that Ellie's Eco Home Store in boulder sells a 3-pack of mesh veggie bags for about $7.99. Which I definitely intend to buy soon. Also, we do have a Lush in Boulder on Pearl St. and I do love me some soap. Although, if you really get down to it, I could just make my own soap.  And I do also love me some summer farmer's market. CAN'T WAIT TILL SUMMER YEAH!

Tip 6).  Returns
When I was a child, many glass bottles has a 10p deposit on it. Alas this is no longer the case, but you can return your empties to Neals Yard and you’ll get something towards your next purchase. Elin at Nothing Nasty will accept your glass bottles for refilling and give you a huge 20% discount off your next purchase.

Me: This tip makes me think that the author of this post is living in England. Unless America switched its currency and I didn't even notice....Again, I don't know much about doing this around here in America, but it would be worth researching. I do have a friend who makes bath stuff and lotions and she will give you a discount if you return her bottles/jars - check her out at Om Shanti Handicrafts!

Here's the link in case the post title link is too complex for some: http://littlegreenblog.com/blog/green-news/reduce-packaging-waste-this-week/#more-2165.

While writing this post I thought of a couple other ways to reduce packaging but haven't had a chance to do any extensive research on them yet. If anyone knows anything about these, again, don't be shy! Post away!

7). Reusable mugs and cups would also be good way to reduce your waste. Also drinking/eating "for here" rather than "to go" at a restaurant. Some places will give you a ceramic mug or ceramic/reusable plastic dishes and silverware. (I want this cup, btw. It's totally cute!! I'm sure you're definitely seeing a trend in me putting cats into every single post?)

8). One thing that I was wondering about is the packaging for children’s toys. My Honey's daughter got a lot of birthday presents this and each one was plastic wrapped in plastic. I would love to find a way to reduce this plastic waste. I’d also be open to the idea of recycling it, because at least that’s better than it going in the garbage. I was thinking Ebay might be a good place for kid’s toys, especially if you’re buying gently used toys. Then your child could still get the benefit of the latest toy and you can feel good about the lack or reduction of plastic you’re receiving. I also heard that it’s possible to make package-less purchases on Amazon (I think the dog bags I bought, while not corn starch, are just packaged in 1 cardboard box). Does anyone know anything about this?

Anyway, I'd love to hear what YOU are doing to reduce your waste (eating less or holding it all day doesn't count!) so please post!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Compostable Bags - How much is too much?

On a side note, I'm going to try to title every post with some over-used catchphrase because I think people like that....or something.

(I was hoping to save my compostable bag post for a time when I learned more about them, but I had an experience yesterday that needs attention)

One of my ECO-goals is to go back to buying biodegradable bags instead of plastic shopping bags for scooping my cat litter. (And also using these for the trash can as well). Aside from being more eco-friendly, they also never have holes in them like 90% of grocery bags seem to. I was originally using BioBags that you can buy at Safeway, Sunflower Farmer's Market, McGuckins and other supermarkets or home-improvement stores.  These are slightly expensive at around $5.00-$7.00 for 30, though that is expected.  These come in a cardboard box, which can be recycled.

Recently, I have noticed how many bags my boyfriend (we'll call him M.a.t.h - Man around the House) uses for picking up his dog's waste so I decided to check the Whole Pets store in my area (a store that specializes in all natural/sustainable/eco and pet-friendly food and accessories) to see if they had biodegradable bags in the little rolls.  I thought these would also be good for the cat litter, so we could kill two animals' poop with 1 kind of bag (as they say).   Well, whole pets does sell several different brands of these bags and I opted with Bags on Board.  They were more expensive than I would like at $14.99 for 120 bags (8 rolls) so I also bought a package of Pooch Pickup, 30ct for $3.99 that weren't in the rolls so were slightly cheaper.   

When I opened up the box of Pooch Pickup here is what I found. YES! The BIODEGRADABLE bags were packaged in a presumably NON-BIODEGRADABLE plastic zip-bag. Why? It's not like these bags are food that will go stale if they're not sealed properly. What's the point in making biodegradable bags then store them in regular plastic?  Why couldn't they have made the bag holding the bags biodegradable? Or, why not just skip that whole step and store them in cardboard? At least that's recyclable.  Then as I started to think about it, the Bag on Board that I bought were also encased in plastic. I guess, maybe, if they are trying to let the consumer SEE what the product is, and since biodegradable products are not as strong as plastic products, then I can sort of understand the reason for the Bag on Board plastic. I guess the reasoning is "Well you're throwing away one plastic bag, but you're saving 120 plastic bags." Even so, I am thinking about writing the Pooch Pickup company and letting them know that they are going against their advertisement by using plastic at all.

Interesting factoid: In doing research for this article I learned something very interesting about biodegradable bags. The Bag on Board and Pooch Pickup brands are actually two different kinds of biodegradble. I found an article on The Compost Bin that breaks it down (pun intended) in great detail, but I will sum up here. There are 2 kinds of "biodegradable" bags. One - Pooch Pickup/BioBags- is made of corn starch (no petrol products) and breaks down in around 180 days and is ok to throw in the compost. The other - Bag on Board - is an additive-based plastic bag which has a chemical that causes it to break down in 6 mos-2 years (vs. ~100 yrs or whatever) but release CO2 into the environment while doing so. The former seem to be the "good" kind whose only drawbacks are that they are not as strong or rugged as plastic and they may reduce the amount for consumption of the foods they're made from (corn/potatoes). The latter seem to be known as the "bad" kind because they're still made of plastic.

HOWEVER.....thanks to Amazon.com, you can get 880 PURPLE bags on rolls for $23.93.  And the 120ct that I bought at Whole Pets for $14.99 goes for $7 on Amazon. Whereas, on PoopBags.com (not kidding about the name, check out the link!) you can get 480 BioBag dog bags for $82.99!!! Yikes. And double yikes. Especially when you have to pick up every single mess your dog makes individually.  My M.a.t.h. says he uses about 2/day  which equals 60 bags a month! That's 1/2 of the Bag on Board package (~$7), 2 Pooch Pickup boxes or 3 BioBag rolls, so roughly $8-$14.25/mo or $84-$171/year just on dog bags. Throw in use for cat litter boxes and you've got another 3-5 bags/week. That's A LOT of bags. Who has that kind of money?

Well, after reading the reviews on Amazon, I went ahead and bought the 880 purple bags.  I figure that on my budget it's better to do this (for now) than not do anything.  Also after reading the reviews, I think more people need to be made aware of the difference between "biodegradable" and "compostable" because I would think that the Bag On Board bags WOULD NOT be good for a compost bin. (Though, I'm sure very few people put dog poo in their compost. Yuck.) I still believe that everyone should use these bags at least, and the starch ones if you feel you can afford it, because every little bit helps.

I will, however, stick with BioBags when I start buying trash can bags and also if/when I start composting.  For dog and cat bags, though, the number of bags + the price + the still lessened impact on the environment still make these bags a win for me. And who knows? Maybe someday I'll be able to afford not only the corn starch bags but also an assistant who will pick up the poop for me. A girl can dream. ;-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Reusable Bag (With kitties)

My cat Sherman may make a good case for disposable bags, but I have to speak to the contrary. Even though paper bags ARE slightly better, (at least they were in the past) b/c they're more reusable (hamster cages)/recyclable than plastic (though now if you take your bags to the grocery store they will supposedly "recycle" them for you. There will be a whole other rant about this later...).

But what's even better than paper bags? Canvas bags! These bags can be reused time after time after time. The ones you buy from stores are usually fairly large and sturdy and most have a plastic bottom(though, you can really get any type of cloth bag which means that they can be any size you desire). Also, they are cheap - usually $0.99 or less. I got a really cute one on sale at Pier 1 for $0.69! SO they can also be stylish (for those of you who are concerned with such stuff) and look MUCH better than those white, gray and brown crinkly plastic ones. The bag on the bottom right, in particular, was apparently designed for Whole Foods by Sheryl Crow: pop-singer extraordinaire. Or whatever. They also fold up relatively small. Whole Foods sells an amazing one - the bag w/in a bag. I got one of these recently and LOVE IT! It was slightly more expensive at about $3.99 but has miraculously lessened my no-bag-carrying woes! It has really paid for itself and more in lack of stress. Mine is similar to the bottom left bag, but has one crucial improvement: It's made of more tent-like material rather than canvas and its little carry sack is attached right to it so that it just folds into itself when you're done using it. It also has a draw-string on the carry sack and a mini caribener so you can clip it onto your belt loop if you want to look *really* cool. Canvas bags in general are also just plain useful for schlepping stuff to and fro. GO CANVAS!

EDIT: Also, some stores give you a discount like $0.10 total or per bag on your purchase if you use canvas. At Whole Foods I think you can also donated that bag credit to their charity du jour. (Thanks Kirin).

Ok, now you're probably thinking "OK, I got the bags - now how the HECK do I remember to use them?" Well, it's going to take some practice but I know you can do it! What I do is keep them all in the trunk of my car at all times and when I take them home w/ groceries, I make sure to put them someplace really obnoxious (like right in the walk way) to help me bring them back out when I make my next trip to my car. Then you'll always have them when you decide to do that spur-of-the-moment shopping trip after work. Also, if you have lots, it'll even the odds of having one in your car EVEN IF you've left some at home.

"Well that's all well and good" you say, "But what if I go in only planning to buy 1 thing but end up with 5 or 10?" If you're a woman or a man who has a man-purse affinity (or if you carry a backpack, satchel, baby backpack, briefcase whatever), you can make the tiny Whole Foods bag a permanent fixture in your bag b/c it's really light and very squishable. I have come to depend on my squishy little bag. Like today, for example, I pulled out ALL the contents of my purse at the checkout count in Whole Foods to find my bag for my items. And as it turned out, I had forgotten it and had to use a paper bag anyway. D'OH! OH well, nobody's perfect!

"But you're assuming that everyone is so together that they always remember their bags." No, I'm not assuming that at all. Actually, I'm assuming that since you're reading this blog, you are dedicated enough to give this a try. There has been many a time when I've grabbed a cart-full of groceries and then realized: "CRAP! My bags are in the car!" So what did I do? I told the lady that I was going to park my cart by her aisle to run out and get my bags. I've done this in the rain, snow, sleet, 10pm, etc. You just have to have enough discipline to do it. There have also been times where I just plain forgot a bag and had to hand carry out the stuff I bought.This is why big purses are GREAT!

I've also been that obnoxious customer who's told the cashier AFTER they've bagged my stuff "OH, I brought my own". As long as you apologize sincerely they shouldn't be jerks to you. And if they are, well, that's their deal I guess. (ok, only 1 or 2 bags. If I forget and get 10 bags worth of groceries I'll take the hurt not the nice cashier). The key to all of this is that you really just have to do it. Spend the extra $1-$4 and recognize the guilt you get when you forget them. And you WILL forget. Lots. Especially at first (I still do). But just keep at it and eventually it'll become (almost) second nature. And if you don't use reusable bags? Then you're a bad person...ok, not really. But if you make yourself feel bad for not doing it, then don't not do it!.... And if you don't feel bad then...why are you still reading?

And as for Shermie, well, these bags don't make as satisfying of a crackling sound, but they are still big and dark and fun to crawl into. We all win.

This Video is from Lucrezia and it's brilliant:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Start! (Insert dramatic music here)

Ok, I'm going to try to update daily or weekly with my waste numbers and with anything I've done to cut back. I'll also (hopefully) continue to update my goals as they are completed. Eventually, I will go into more detail about each of these things and give tips and other experiences I have.

So here's the first installment.

What I've done already to be green:

1). Use my own bags at the grocery store or don't get a bag whenever possible. I do this to the point of carrying a collapsible shopping bag in my purse at all times.
1.5). When/If I do need a bag, I try for paper.
1.75). Try to avoid even produce bags for anything not wet/loose/fragile.
2). Don't drink bottled water whenever I'm near a tap (and the water is decent/good. Boulder water, for example, is quite nice!)
3). Use ceramic dishes or tupperware instead of paper/plastic/baggies.
4). Rinse/reuse Ziplocs if not too nasty.
5). Take stairs instead of elevator - this is good for my health too!
7). Donate used cat toys/supplies, blankets, clothes etc. to the Humane Society, shelters and thrift stores
8). Recycle glass, paper, plastic, metal
9). Turn off lights whenever possible
10). Use dish towels/sponges instead of paper towels as much a possible.
11). Bought a reusable "take out" cup for cold drinks (and have some for hot).

My ECO-Goals:
1). Compost - apartment complex might have this soon.
2). Buy biodegradable bags for kitchen, cat and dog waste
3). Bike/walk/carpool more places including sharing 1 car w/ my Honey.
4). USE my reusable mugs.
5). Carry a water bottle around to avoid need for plastic water cups.
6). Cut Ziploc/plastic wrap useage down as much as possible.
7). Switch to mostly glass storage containers.
8). Buy local/organic produce more
9). Help other ppl see the benefit in doing at least one of the things in either section.

Waste for Day 1:
1). Bought Honey's daughter new shower curtain and hooks which came with 2 separate pieces of (non-recyclable) plastic. Curtain came with cardboard that I can recycle and a zippered bag that can be reused.
2). Got salad which came w/ tinfoil for pita and a plastic container with sauce. Didn't have a recycle number on it.
3). Got Styrofoam takeout container at lunch. That will be trashed.
4). Various other plastic-food packagings and paper napkin trash.

Ok, well that's a start. I will also be posting YOUR green solutions on this blog (anonymously) so send 'em in!

What Going Green Means to Me

When it comes to conservation, no one is perfect. We're all busy, preoccupied, broke and lazy. But if you stop to think, for just a few minutes, about our impact on the environment you might be surprised at all the waste you produce and all the little ways you can avoid it. Statistics like "The average person produces 4.4lbs of waste a day or 29lbs of weight a week" (source) are all over and sound big but don't really hit home with many Americans.

Why is this?

Because I doubt that most people can really conceptualize 4.4lbs. A bag of flour and a newborn baby, for example, are usually bigger than 4.4 lbs. "Besides, those things are so SMALL. So what's the big deal anyway?" They think. Well then, how about 29lbs? A toddler, maybe? I can't really think of anything else off-hand at that weight. Even if you did the ol' 29lbs/wk * 52 weeks in a year = 1,508lbs. How much is that, really? The number looks big but do you know if it is a ton? I sure don't. And even if I did, would a ton really mean anything to me either? All I think of for "a ton" is one of those cartoon anvils falling on Wile E. Coyote. So, that's not helpful.

Hence my point that statistics are not all that useful. However, I dare you to catalog all the waste you make every day for a week - all the "disposable" kitchen ware you use, all the plastic wrappers, office supplies, packaging for kids toys, tag attachments etc. etc. That's not even including all the paper, glass, metal and food waste. Now THAT hit home for me.

What hit me even harder is how so much of that stuff can be avoided. How many times to do go to a fast-food type place and just get water? There's one disposable plastic cup right there. Why not just bring a water bottle? It's still water. Or how often do you just get absolutely fed up with plastic shopping bags exploding from whatever receptacle you try to cram them into and just throw them away? That can be avoided with cloth shopping bags - they hold 2x as much and can be used for SO many things.

These were the little things that I thought of and said "Hey, I can do that!" Of course, it takes a bit of remembering and discipline to overcome my laziness and go back to my car when I've forgotten my reusable bag, but the satisfaction I have when I return with a week's worth of groceries in 3 non-plastic bags is totally worth the extra 5 minutes. And even though sometimes I am too tired to care or forget and end up with a plastic bag or two, I've gotten into the habit. Nowadays it seems very hard to forget this.

However,, I've noticed the amount of waste that I still produce and am looking for other ways to cut down on that. So welcome to my blog where I'll log all the waste I make and try to find solutions. I'll also post the anti-plastic things I'm working on doing with tips on how to do them effectively as well as my future green goals.

Like I said, no one's perfect but if we strive to be a little MORE perfect, it'll make a world of difference