No-Plastics October – Musings Week 2

Plastic reduction in my own little world has gone well this week. I have spent less than normal. In part because I am using up food wrapped in plastic in the freezer, but much because of truly making everything from scratch and predominantly vegetarian. My one fail this week is because I started dying my hair in August and I did buy a kit that contained three plastic bottles. I need to look where I can buy henna in different packaging. My one new eco purchase this week was laundry detergent. These strips have proven as effective as my previous detergent and not expensive at all, although a box of powder would work just as well too.

I love DIY and finding ways to reuse what I have to solve problems. As I mentioned last week, I have started to use baking soda to wash dishes with (by hand as I don’t have a dishwasher, and wanted to find a receptacle to keep the soda in by my sink. Tada, I found this old ceramic tea strainer one of 95% of my kitchenware which was gifted by friends and colleagues when I moved into my place three years ago. This works perfectly to sprinkle onto dishes and doesn’t go lumpy as I thought it might.

And here’s a bit of food porn from the farmer’s market and a couple of dishes this week.

I love how empty my recycling bag has been these past two weeks, but recycling can only go so far. Even in rich countries, recycling rates are low. Globally, 18 % of all plastic is recycled. Europe manages 30 %, China 25%—the United States only 9%. Part of the solution is to use less disposable plastic in the first place. The “zero waste” movement, which dates to the mid-1990s, is gaining favor. Hundreds of communities worldwide are embracing it—including the downtrodden industrial town of Roubaix, France, where the success of a citizens’ campaign shows that zero waste is more than an affectation of wealthy liberals.

Does my not using plastic straws make any difference faced with the global problem? I think it can. As communities act to ban single-use plastics and individual consumers reduce their usage and raise concerns, bigger actors pay attention. On other issues, like overfishing or deforestation, we have seen that big companies like McDonalds and Walmart can be sensitive to the concerns of their customers. Those global companies can be important levers in driving change and shifting to a regenerative, circular economy. Our little part can cumulatively up the pressure on these companies.

Individuals and communities thus can and should reduce their plastic usage but nothing substantial will happen really until government legislates that manufacturers be responsible for their own byproducts, they don’t generally pay their fair share in tax either. There are rays of hope on local and national levels:

  • SEATTLE BECOMES FIRST U.S. CITY TO BAN PLASTIC STRAWS AND UTENSILS – July 1, 2018
  • STARBUCKS TO DITCH PLASTICS STRAWS by 2020
  • CALIFORNIA BANS TRAVEL-SIZE PLASTIC SHAMPOO BOTTLES FROM HOTELS – to take effect for large hotels in 2023
  • in 2016 FRANCE BECAME FIRST COUNTRY TO BAN DISPOSABLE PLATES AND CUPS  new French law will require all disposable tableware to be made from 50% biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home by January of 2020. 
  • NORWAY RECOVERS 97% OF ITS PLASTIC BOTTLES – Its trick: deposits as high as 2.5 kroner (32 cents) and machines, found at most supermarkets, that ingest bottles and spit out refunds.

Bans go way beyond recycling and tackle the issues at the source, helping to curb greenhouse gases coming from the rapidly expanding petrochemical industry that uses fossil fuels to produce plastic. In all my reading on the subject, I am convinced by far the greatest change to reducing the global plastic pollution crisis is if governments implement sweeping national policies that restrict plastic use and hold manufacturers accountable for responsibly handling waste. In the USA, Congress must pass legislation that would hold corporations accountable for handling plastic waste at the end of its life.

We can support initiatives like the 2018 Save Our Seas Act, but I need to do much more research on how I can become involved in groups pressurizing the government for change. I hope more to come in my next post when I will look more at how plastic has become environmental enemy #1 in a very short time and why.

Here’s a link to week one’s musings.

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What A Waste – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Another review in my focus on plastic pollution this month. This one targets older kids than last Fridays, and is broader than just plastic pollution, but a real winner.

Title: What a Waste, trash, recycling and protecting our planet

Author: Jess French

 Publisher: Doreen Kindersley, 2019

64 pages

Ages: 6-11

Genre: nonfiction

Themes: plastic scrap, environment, conservation, waste management, refuse, recycling, community, plastics, single-use plastics, sustainability, pollution, waste, getting involved, solutions, our planet, deforestation, alternatives

Introduction:

As a child, one of my favorite things to d was to search the beach for washed-up treasure. I lived by the coast and spent hours looking through the sand for sea creatures and fossils. I found all sorts of amazing things but, unfortunately, I also found lots of trash. From balloons to toilet seats, I was often more likely to find a piece of plastic than a shell. Today, as a vet, I see first-hand the terrible effects that our garbage has on wildlife and pets.

Synopsis:

Everything you need to know about what we’re doing to our environment, good and bad, from pollution and litter to renewable energy and plastic recycling.

This environmental book will teach young ecologists about how our actions affect planet Earth. Discover shocking facts about the waste we produce and where it goes. Did you know that every single plastic toothbrush ever made still exists? Or that there’s a floating mass of garbage twice the size of Texas drifting around the Pacific Ocean?

It’s not all bad news though. As well as explaining where we’re going wrong, What a Waste shows what we’re doing right! Discover plans already in motion to save our seas, how countries are implementing schemes that are having a positive impact, and how your waste can be turned into something useful. Every small change helps our planet!

Why I like this book:

Vet and author Jess French introduces this jam-packed and thought-provoking book with, ‘humans are now producing more waste than ever before and our planet is suffering’ and presents a challenge ‘the power to make a positive change is in our hands.’

Presented with current facts, figures, graphic representations, photographs, dialogue boxes in the vibrant DK style, many environmental issues are explored. Did you know ‘92% of the world’s people are breathing polluted air?’ And of particular interest to me this month, she shares about ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ in the north Pacific Ocean, which contains plastic rubbish that weighs as much as 500 jumbo jets. Simple but effective solutions are shown as well to reduce plastic in the ocean, take three for the sea by removing rubbish on beach visits, organise your own clean-ups and join in International Coastal Clean-up Day.

Each double paged spread introduces a new topic, and the range is terrific. It covers areas like, electronic waste, single-use plastic, poop, air pollution, landfill… Each topic is defined and solutions are offered, ways in which children, students, families and communities can assist in recycling, reducing waste and protecting our environment. E-waste, food waste, water waste and industrial waste are key areas of concern. Bold statements and facts presented as percentages – 79% of plastic is buried in landfill or dumped on land or at sea!

‘What a waste’ is another visually outstanding DK nonfiction book which presents current environmental concerns and shows how people are developing solutions, which we can all be involved in. The breadth French covers is impressive, even pointing out details like because of gender bias we may trash a pink t-shirt instead of handing it down to a little brother. Food for thought. Bravo DK for a timely, thorough and beautifully presented book giving us facts and hope.

Activities/resources:

This book could be used for weeks of study on environment/trash. Schools should definitely add it to their Earth Day Collections.

The book contains organizations and charities which are active in conservation etc There’s a two-page glossary, a comprehensive index and tons of references.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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Plastic-Free October Musings Week1

Ginger and Turmeric Iced Tea

With just one week under my belt in my plastic-free month, there is SO much to say, but I will just try and share some highlights and keep this zippy.

Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, making the material a nonrenewable and unsustainable resource. Plastic has been in use since 1907, and it has become the preferred material for just about everything. And all of the plastic that has come into existence over the past century is still on Earth. So much of this plastic is ending up in the ocean that in just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea. 

Like many of you, I was already using tote bags to do my shopping, avoiding straws, rarely drink take-out coffee, use my water canteen etc, but after discussing with some 5th graders last week what we could all do to follow Greta Thurnberg’s call, I wanted to take things to the next level. I knew it would be a challenge, but OMgosh, until you start to avoid it, you don’t realize how pervasive plastic is in our daily lives. I realized quickly that zero-plastic waste this month might be ambitious but I would try. I also don’t plan on throwing away food/goods I have already bought that have plastic in them.

But y’all, did you realize nearly all tin cans are plastic-lined? Or, most cartons (think milk, soup, juice etc.) contain plastic, as do the tops of glass jars and metal twist-off wine caps, paper cups and plates, and the list goes on. Then there’s my monthly meds in their little plastic pots, and I am not even going to start yet on my clothes, books, chocolate wrappers, ice-cream cartons, jackets on hardback books, my glasses frames, phone case, air conditioner…. and on and on. For most of us, the best we can do is become a little more conscious about our purchases, and I certainly have been, doing grocery shopping this week. Trader Joe’s is a 4 minute walk from mine (and I love not having to use the car) and is normally my go-to store. This week, however, the only thing I have purchased there were some bananas. Tip, at the back of the bunches are usually 2 or 3 without that sticky plastic label. Instead, I shopped at: my farmer’s market on Saturday, to which I walked the 1.5 miles; Whole Foods in Rye; and a farm in CT for raw milk, for which they allowed me to bring my own glass bottles. The latter two required a decent drive (which is also polluting the planet so??)

My food consumption has changed a little for the challenge. I generally consume whole foods anyway, but this week has ended up meat and fish-free, which is rare for me. Things I have substituted: I made iced-tea instead of seltzer water, and bought fresh mint for hot tea too. I made my own soups (I often do but also like some of the fresh TJ soups), and I made a little sweet after dinner treat instead of chocolate, though I have found out that Lindt and Ghiradelli packaging do not contain plastic. At whole foods, I bought loose: oats, walnuts, coffee, lentils, chickpeas, pecans, flour, rice and almond butter instead of pre-packaged. I am still using some glass jars with plastic lids for storage though. Apart from the bananas, all my produce was local and therefore in season and reduced carbon footprint. I sure miss my veggie garden but I do think trying to get back to being more of a locavore is what I want.

This challenge has also been a great kick-in-the-butt to try and replace some plastic products I have been thinking about for a while. I have adapted well to my new bamboo toothbrush (about $1.50 per brush) after a week, but it has nylon bristles :(.) I love my shampoo soap bar, and am finding vinegar and baking soda are great cleaning alternatives for home/dishes. The all-natural tooth powder taste isn’t great but seems to clean real well. The beeswax food wraps are stellar, as I knew they would be. Would love to hear your toothpaste experiences.

Cost-wise, I spent about the same on groceries this week, but I didn’t buy any meat, cheese or fish, so that will go up. Also, I need to see how long soap/toothpaste etc lasts. Once again I am aware of my privilege here. I may be on a part-time salary but it is enough for my needs, and if I were struggling to feed my family and working two jobs, I don’t know that I would have the time, money and inclination to not just buy all the pre-packaged food at my nearest supermarket.

Failures this week: Didn’t realize the toothpowder had a plastic lid; the toothbrushes are in cardboard packaging that that was delivered in a plastic mail bag!! 🙁 I was asked today to foster two more feral kittens and I will be using old plastic bags I still have to dispose of their waste, but if I had my own cats, I would get biodegradable bags. This is a good article on being a plastic-free pet-parent.

Final Thoughts on Week One: I am aware of my privilege in undertaking this challenge. It takes time and money to reduce our plastic foot-print. If I were struggling to feed my family, I can see myself buying the ready-packaged quick meals from my nearest supermarket. I have spent hours researching products this week because I have the time and access to a computer. I wish there was more government regulation on packaging, and I hope companies like Trader Joe’s will get their act into better gear. I have enjoyed trying some new recipes and products this week. And I would love to hear your tips and thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and per chance an NPR podcast I listened to this week was about the rise of litter and how one organization changed the American public’s relationship with waste and who is ultimately responsible for it-the title is The Litter Myth. NPR also has a great article on Plastics, What recyclable, what becomes trash—and why.

Next week, I will share more about my thoughts on greater ways we can have an impact (maybe?)

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