Plastic Monday: Ode to Reusable Water Bottles

The weekend of November 12 and 13, I traveled to San Francisco to work at our 10th annual Green Festival there.  On the way back to Washington, DC, I traveled through my hometown in Kentucky for a family visit, and I’m only just now arriving back home.  With the goal of an even more plastic-free life before me for the entire month of November, my ten days of traveling brought me into contact with a series of plastics choices I don’t face in my everyday life.

There’s the “stupid plastics” being pushed on the planes (those tiny plastic drink cups that hardly ever get recycled), plastic in my hotel rooms (plastic-wrapped plastic cups in the bathroom), and all the plastic involved in simply getting through airport security (the quart-sized plastic “liquids” bag filled with all kinds of small-sized plastic personal items).  Through it all, it’s my sturdy reusable metal water bottle that saved the most plastic from entering my life.

Carrying it empty through airport security is just fine, and in the San Francisco airport I even saw dedicated water-bottle-filling stations, apart from the water fountains and bathrooms.  I had way more refreshing water with me at my seat — at all times — than any of my traveling companions accpeting micro-sized drinks from the flight attendant, and I never had to purchase a bottled beverage during my ten days of travel.

The small plastic bag of personal products is another matter.  My too-large (but only half-finished) tube of toothpaste got confiscated, so not only did I waste toothpaste and plastic, but I also had to buy a travel-sized tube at my first destination (also packaged in plastic).  I look at my plastic contact lens case, bottle of contact solution, contact cleaner, dental-floss case, deoderant tube, travel toothbrush, and razor blades packaged in plastic, and realize I’ve got lots more steps to take.

I’ve learned about some toothpaste alternatives from commentors on this blog, and I bought a deoderant stone in San Francisco at the Green Festival.   So, hooray for next steps, and also I’m curious to hear others’ green-travel tips for going plastic-lite.  What next steps can I take to minimize the plastic I tote with me on the road?

Plastic Monday: Sarah and Tracy Talk Green Feminine Products

OK, ladies, let’s go there.

(Gentlemen, I’d tell you to look away, but this is important information for the women you care about, too.)

Over 12 billion single-use tampons make their way to landfills each year. One look at the feminine hygiene section of your local drugstore will tell you that most women’s tampon of choice in the US is individually packaged in plastic, with a plastic, single-use applicator.

Plastic + single use + easy-to-find, non-plastic alternative = Stupid Plastic.

Then there’s the fact that these items are also bleached with chlorine—the manufacture of which creates dioxin, a known carcinogen. WHY anyone would require a little piece of cotton and rayon that’s pretty much going to spend its entire lifespan “where the sun doesn’t shine” to be sparkly white instead of a natural-looking beige is beyond me, but just about every mainstream tampon company bleaches its products. And the same stupid plastic and bleaching concerns hold true for pads, as well.

I used to feel rather pleased with myself because I went to the trouble of using unbleached, plastic-free, organic cotton tampons and pads from an eco-friendly company. (Natracare, in my case.) I was well aware of the reusable feminine care alternatives on the market, but I have to confess, trying those out wasn’t a green step I was ready to take.

I’m a busy working mom who’s constantly on the go. In addition to my work at Green America, I volunteer to lead several of my daughters’ after-school activities and teach the occasional writing course. I simply didn’t believe I had time to deal with the mess and hassle of reusable pads and tampons. Plus, I’m embarrassed to admit I was a bit squeamish.

In the past several months, several things have happened to change my mind about trying reusable tampons and pads.

Continue reading “Plastic Monday: Sarah and Tracy Talk Green Feminine Products”

Take Action to Eliminate BPA from Canned Foods

As Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist reported in her “Plastic(-free) Monday” blog post last week, there’s a problem with toxic chemicals in our canned food.

The problem is bisphenol-A (BPA), a common additive in plastic products, including the plastic inner linings of food cans. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to an array of frightening health problems, including heart disease, reproductive problems, and cancer. Now, our allies at the Breast Cancer Fund have published the results of a new study that found BPA lurking in a number of the staples of a Thanksgiving table, having leached from the can-linings into the food itself.

The Breast Cancer Fund tested canned foods like turkey gravy, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, green beans, and cream of mushroom soup. They found that single servings of nearly half of the tested products showed BPA levels linked to adverse health effects. The study also found high variability in BPA levels even among cans of the same product. Their conclusion: Until BPA is phased out entirely from can linings, consumers can never be sure if their canned food contains BPA or not.

Some good news: Eden Foods has recently developed promising alternatives to the BPA epoxy resin that lines most canned foods. These alternatives must also still be subjected to rigorous testing for safety, however.

In the meantime, join with us and the Breast Cancer Fund to send a holiday “wish list” message to conventional food companies, asking them to phase out BPA from their products. Please take the action, check out the Breast Cancer Fund’s report, and weigh in on our blog with strategies for keeping your kitchen BPA-free.

Plastic Monday: The Challenges of Going Plastic-Lite

So, it’s been three weeks since the Green America editors started our challenge to purge “stupid plastic” from our lives. The “Take the Plastic Challenge” issue of the Green American should be hitting your mailboxes—or perhaps you’ve already received your issue. If you’ve had the chance to read it, let us know what you think!

As I’ve worked to get the unnecessary plastic out of my life, I’ve run into three major challenges:

  • I’ve discovered that by far, my worst challenge is packaging, especially food packaging. (Looking at Andrew and Sarah’s Plastic Monday posts, I’m sensing a trend with food-related plastic.) I am lucky enough to have a family-owned grocery store nearby that doesn’t wrap its produce in plastic (Trader Joe’s, I’m staring at you.). But here’s my problem: I hate cooking. Hate, loathe, despise it with the white-hot, fiery passion of a thousand suns. I envy all of you who love it—I wish I did. But there are so many other things I’d rather be doing—playing with my kids, reading, tackling one of my many unfinished art projects, or, chief among my options, eating something that someone ELSE has cooked for me. Unfortunately, my partner hates cooking just as much as I do, so the two of us have a habit of aimlessly opening and closing cupboards  around dinnertime as if hoping we’ll magically conjure up an organic, home-cooked, four-course meal by sheer force of will. That has yet to happen. Continue reading “Plastic Monday: The Challenges of Going Plastic-Lite”

Plastic (free) Monday: Getting BPA Out Of My Kitchen

Most of us are all too familiar with the dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been used commonly as an additive in plastic products. BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor linked to an assortment of frightening health effects, including heart disease, reproductive problems, and cancer, started making headlines a few years ago when study after study indicated that BPA can leach from food packaging (including baby bottles) and that it was found lurking in the bloodstreams of a shocking 93% of the adult population in America.

That last statistic really makes me stop and wring my hands — more than likely, I have some estrogen-mimicking BPA moving through my body right now. But worse, it’s not just in my body, but in the tiny, vulnerable bodies of my two young children.

Like many Green America members, I worked to purge our lives of BPA a few years ago, ditching any water bottle or sippy cup that didn’t bear a “BPAfree label. And avoiding BPA has gotten easier many large brands have done away with their use of BPA, and 11 states now have laws on the books prohibiting the use of BPA in products designed for children.

But while researching the current state of BPA for the “Plastics Challenge” Green American, I was reminded of one of the other ways BPA is making its way into my kitchen — in canned goods.

Continue reading “Plastic (free) Monday: Getting BPA Out Of My Kitchen”

Plastic Monday: Bag the bags.

When I started researching plastic bag laws for the “Plastics Challenge” issue of our Green American, I thought I was already aware of how wasteful and polluting plastic bags really are.  After all, I’ve carried my reusable organic cotton shopping bags to the grocery store for as long as I’ve been old enough to do my own cooking.  Aesthetically and practically, I simply prefer a roomy tote bag with a comfy shoulder strap to a fist full of flimsy plastic handles any day, so it’s always been an easy green choice to make.

But looking into the recycling statistics for plastic bags made me think even more about all the other plastic bags in my life – the plastic bags that I sometimes place into into those smugly green organic cotton totes (frozen veggies, or bulk grains, for example).   The plastics industry certainly thinks of them all the same, grouping them together in a category known as “postconsumer film,” which includes other waste like newspaper bags, food bags, pallet wrap, and plastic product wrappers.

This collapsing of the category makes it tricky to suss out a statistic on how many plastic shopping bags get recycled in this country.  The EPA’s most recent figure for the bags – 1 percent being recycled – dates to 2005, with all subsequent statistics addressing recycling rates for the overall “film” category.   And in 2009 (the most recent year for which we have the stats), the film category was ENORMOUS.   The American Chemical Council reports that the plastics industry produces about 854 million pounds of “film” annually, with amounts increasing every year. Of this category, the EPA reports that we recycle 9 percent.  Together these two statistics don’t tell a pretty story:  That’s more than 770 million pounds of packaging trash that was created to be used once, temporarily, to transport something, and then dumped onto our planet.  That’s insane!

Continue reading “Plastic Monday: Bag the bags.”

Composting Tuesday: A Worm Bin is a Great Solution for Urbanites

Commenter Maggie D weighed in yesterday, on Plastics Monday,  with the following comment, and we thought her conundrum deserved a proper blog post as a reply:   “My mom lives in the suburbs and I live in the city. We both hate plastic bags but find ourselves using them for garbage. Here in the City I have tried freezing stuff to take for composting but freezer space is limited & a worm bin scares me because I travel a lot. I can’t leave messy stuff around (mice & roaches would go crazy) and I’m required to bag garbage before putting it in the trash chute.” — Maggie D

Hi, Maggie!   As an urban-dweller myself here in Washington, DC, I had the same conundrum about composting, until I turned to a worm bin back in 2003, and drastically reduced my waste footprint by feeding my worms all of my organic scraps.  Worm bins are really doable, they’re not smelly or messy if you maintain them properly, and depending on your travel schedule, your concern about being away a lot could actually be a plus:  the travel time might give the worms a “rest,” if you’ve been producing too much waste for the worms to handle.

My experience has been that it’s actually a delight to get to know your worms and form a symbiotic relationship with them, as your own household waste recyclers.  I use the worms’ compost in window-sill herb pots, so the circle is complete, right there within my own urban apartment.  It’s not quite the same as having a yard and getting to dig in the dirt, but that’s what community gardens are for, so the worms do make a fairly acceptable garden-substitute for the urban apartment dweller.

The only times I’ve ever had a “problem,” with the worm bin is if I have overfed the worms.  If you provide them more food than they can consume within a reasonable time, then it’s true that the food could rot or grow mold in your bin, and then you have an ecosystem problem.  The rule of thumb for the ecosystem you’re creating is to follow a two-to-one ratio, i.e. two pounds of worms can consume about a pound of food per day.  I follow this schedule by saving compost in the fridge or freezer, if I need to spread out how much food I’m giving them, and in eight years of tending my bin, I’ve only allowed a mold problem to happen twice.   You can do this; good luck!

Continue reading “Composting Tuesday: A Worm Bin is a Great Solution for Urbanites”