Monthly Archives: September 2007

Plastic Art

Watch this video. It’s kind of a horror show because we know how detrimental this plastic will be to wildlife when it finally detaches from the fence, and there’s not much we can do about it. But it’s also kind of beautiful because, well, just watch how the sheets blow in the wind like that grocery bag in American Beauty. I have no idea where this plastic came from. I recorded the video on July 13 from the platform of the Rockridge BART station, and today about half of the plastic is still there, blowing as the cars race by on Highway 24.

This painting hangs on my wall. My brother, Will Terry, made it. He’s an illustrator. He uses acrylics, plastic paint, for a living. His work is lively and beautiful… and plastic. The work itself may not pollute like the plastic blowing on the fence, but the production of the paint undoubtedly caused some environmental destruction.

I don’t have anything wise or even ironic to say about these things tonight. We live in a world full of contradictions. There are no absolute rights or wrongs. I believe we are all just doing the best we can with the limited knowledge and resources that we have. I have to go to bed now and get up early to help out some friends involved in a terrible car accident yesterday. And I may not have time to write tomorrow.

I guess I’m just awed by this universe where the terrible and beautiful collide every day, and most of us survive and carry on without noticing until something jolts out of complacency. Good night. Don’t forget to look around you tomorrow. And breathe.

Some of my best friends are plastic bags!

Recently, I’ve been reading quite a few anti-plastic bag articles that contain statements like, “Plastic bags are evil,” and advocate taking all your plastic bags to the local recycler and replacing them immediately with reusable bags.

Now, as you know, I’m all for refusing new plastic bags while shopping and bringing my own reusable bags with me. I don’t see any need for the creation of new plastic bags in this world, not with all the environmental problems associated with their manufacture and disposal.

But once a bag has been created, once it’s already here in this world, is it really evil? I don’t think so. In fact, a few weeks ago I posted an ad to my local Freecycle group requesting used plastic grocery bags from anyone who had a bunch they weren’t going to use. Why? Because far from being evil, plastic grocery bags are quite handy.

Look at it this way. If we’re all trying to reduce the amount of new plastic we buy, what will we use in place of things like plastic cling wrap, freezer bags, sandwich baggies if we’ve given away all our plastic grocery bags to the recycler? Sure, we’ve got our reusable tote. But it doesn’t take the place of produce bags for our cherries and grapes and dirty potatoes.

I’ve already written about the convenience of plastic grocery bags to be reused over and over again as grocery bags. They fold up small, fit in a purse or backpack or even wallet, and can be used in a pinch when we’ve forgotten to bring our organic cotton tote bag into the store with us.

If we switch from buying bread packaged in plastic bags to fresh-baked bread wrapped in paper (or even bake our own), we can store the loaf in a reused plastic grocery bag to keep it from drying out. (It does dry out mighty fast otherwise.) In fact, we can use plastic grocery bags to store all sorts of food in the cupboard or refrigerator or freezer. For freezer storage, I think it’s best to use several layers of bags.

And as I’ve also mentioned, plastic bags can be washed and reused many times before they are ready for the recycle bin. Just rinse them in the sink and hang to dry. I’ve even heard of some folks hanging them on the clothes line. Once you get used to it, cleaning a plastic bag is no different than washing the dishes.

I’ve found quite a few web sites listing alternative uses for plastic grocery bags. And while many of these suggestions are helpful, a few of them seem to miss the point. Plastic grocery bags are too valuable to be used for trashcan liners or for cat litter or dog poop or anything else that will be thrown into the garbage. Let’s use old newspaper or other biodegradable alternatives for that. The landfill is not the place for items that last virtually forever.

Instead, let’s use old plastic bags to carry wet bathing suits, or to separate clean from dirty clothes in a suitcase, or as makeshift rain hats or covers for wet umbrellas, or as packing material for shipping (you could include a note asking the recipient to further reuse or recycle the bags). Check out the following links, but be careful about whether the recommended use will prolong the life of the bag or doom it to landfill hell:

And these are just a few links. The Net is full of them. Just Google “uses for plastic bags” to find ways to reuse plastic grocery bags in place of new plastic items that you might otherwise buy.

What’s that? Oh, Tina wants to chime in about all the crafts we can do with plastic bags, like knitting or crocheting or weaving or even sewing. But I already wrote that post back in July. I’m planning to turn a whole bunch of grocery bags into one knitted reusable tote bag. Soon. When I have nothing else to do.

My point is that in our haste to become “green,” we need to keep our common sense and refrain from discarding things, even into the recycling bin, that might not seem eco-friendly on the outside but could actually help us to save precious resources. Reduce, by not taking home any new plastic bags; Reuse, by finding as many extra uses as we can for the bags we have; Recycle, after our bags are thoroughly used up.

After all, most of the plastic that already exists is not going away. We might as well make friends with as much of it as we can.

Week 13 Results: 10.7 oz of plastic. Yikes!

Pretty heavy this week. But most of the weight comes from a giant Hershey’s chocolate syrup container we bought ages ago. We do have our priorities, after all. So here’s the weekly tally:

Non-recyclable items used this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 8 Refresh Endura single-use eye drop containers (#4 plastic).
  • 1 Emergen-C packet. I thought I’d used these up but found one more in my suitcase this week.
  • 1 Brita pitcher filter. We have retired the Brita pitcher. We’re filling up a pitcher from the filtered tap water from now on.
  • 1 Ultra Dishmate liquid dishwashing cleaner cap. See below.
  • 1 New Chapter Organics Every Woman vitamins lid. The bottle is glass. Only the lid is plastic. I will continue to buy these and add the lid to my collection.
  • 1 plastic shelf hook from a pair of socks I bought and hadn’t yet worn.
  • 1 lid from a container of Hershey’s syrup. See below.

Recyclable items purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 1 128 oz. container of Hershey’s syrup (#2 plastic). This came from Costco, of course. We’re avoiding the big C these days. Believe it or not, we do have one more smaller plastic bottle of Hershey’s syrup to use up. Then I’ll try making my own using this chocolate syrup recipe from Epicurious.
  • 1 Ultra Dishmate liquid dishwashing cleaner bottle (#1 plastic). I’m switching to a combination of Dr. Bronner’s unscented liquid soap and lemon juice. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Dishmate. It’s all natural. But Dr. Bronner’s comes in a recycled plastic container instead of new plastic. And I’ll keep this container to refill.

Now for the new plastic waste:

  • 1 wrapper from a wedge of Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold bandage-wrapped cheddar. My one weekly cheese purchase. It’s local and delicious.
  • 1 Haig’s spicy hummus container (#5 plastic) & lid. Only the best hummus in the world. We’ve cut down to buying this once a month or so instead of every week. I’ll keep the container to reuse.
  • 1 plastic cork from a bottle of Boissonneau Chateau Moulin de Ferrand Bordeaux Blanc. I have 6 bottles left. Once they’re gone, I’ll try to find only bottles with natural cork stoppers.
  • 2 prescription bottles (#5 plastic) & lids. Unavoidable and unrefillable. But I’ll keep these for multiple reuses.
  • 1 plastic ribbon from a bunch of organic chard. It didn’t even occur to me that I was buying new plastic until I got it home. Wow. I have to be so much more observant. It’s one thing to make a decision to buy plastic. It’s another to do it by accident.

Other new plastic purchased this week? Nothing that I can think of.

I had another appointment with my doctor. This time, I didn’t use the plastic sheet that was offered. I should have brought the one I saved from last time, but I didn’t think of it until I’d left the house. So instead, I just held my pants across my lap until the doctor arrived and then explained to her that I didn’t see any need to waste the plastic. She seemed a little surprised, but “got it.” (Hopefully, there won’t be too much more of this personal stuff to share with you!)

That’s it for the week. Hey, Radical Garbage Man. If you’re reading this, can you please send me an e-mail? (My e-mail address is in my profile.) I have some questions to ask about recycling tetra paks, and since you’re in the waste management business, I’m hoping you can help me out.

Weekend Discussion: 8 Random Facts

Britt Bravo of Have Fun * Do Good tagged me to participate in the 8 Random Facts About Me Meme.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate because it felt like a chain letter. But since I usually throw out a discussion question on weekends, I thought it might be fun for readers to comment with any number of random facts about themselves. If you do choose to leave a comment, please tell us at least your first name.

Okay, the rest of this post will follow the instructions for the meme. At the end is a list of blogs that I am tagging. Please know that there is absolutely no pressure to participate. If you are too busy or don’t like this kind of stuff, just ignore it.

First the rules:

1) Post these rules before you give your facts

2) List 8 random facts about yourself

3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them

4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged.

Then the facts:

1. When I was in first grade, I wrote my first play called “Ploshin, Ploshin.” That was how I spelled “pollution.” It was about three kids, Beth, Betty, and Billy, who noticed all this litter on their street and sang an original song while picking up the trash together. We tried to perform it in my class, but I hadn’t thought up a melody for the song, so we all ended up singing something different. This was the beginning of my environmental consciousness and also love for karaoke.

2. My favorite dessert as a little kid was a tiny bit of ice cream covered in mounds of Hershey’s fudge sauce. My grandmother was the only one who let me have as much fudge sauce as I wanted. She served it in little green china bowls. When she died, the bowls were passed on to me, and I still use them for eating ice cream.

3. I have two sisters and two brothers. The youngest, David, has Down Syndrome. He lives with my parents and calls me regularly to discuss plans for his next birthday party, whether it’s a week away or a year away.

4. I met my husband Michael online, but not through a dating site.

5. I get obsessed with certain albums and play them over and over until I can’t stand listening to them anymore. One album that I doubt I’ll ever get tired of is Demon Days by the Gorillaz. I’m serious. Nothing else comes close. Not even Radiohead.

6. My first job was at McDonald’s when I was seventeen. McDonald’s was a big treat for us when I was growing up. And I confess that I still get some overwhelming cravings for double cheeseburgers once in a while, even though I know all the reasons that the mainstream beef industry sucks.

7. I’m a sucker for karaoke. Luckily, Michael is too. In fact, we had our wedding reception in a karaoke bar. We sang a duet to a version of “Suddenly Seymour,” but we changed the lyrics.

8. Try, try as I might, I can’t completely get over my obsession with Madonna.

I’m tagging:

Least Footprint
Just Ducky
First Grade Rocks!
Conserve Plastic Bags
Urban Botany
Make-A-bag Along
Note To Self

My Disney Adventure, Part 3: Racing & Riding

Thanks to Michael (er… I mean, the polar bears) for filling in for me yesterday. I’m wide awake and ready to write the final installment of my Disney adventure story. But actually, I’m having a hard time coming up with the words. All I really need to do is talk about plastic and environmental issues at Disneyland and during the Disneyland Half Marathon. But every time I start, I’m stopped by a kind of cognitive dissonance. Part of me is repulsed by the whole corporate engine of Disney and the vulgar consumerism it promotes.

But another part, the little kid that loves dolls and stuffed toys and pretty lights and music, is fascinated by the park itself and all the make-believe worlds within it. I and my inner child had such a good time with our friend David, and his inner child, rushing from ride to ride and laughing and screaming our heads off, that it’s hard to settle down and get serious about recycling bins and plastic containers and non-toxic paint. Can’t we just go on one more ride, please?!

No? Okay. Well, maybe starting with the race will bring me back down to earth. Because that was no magic tea party. It was all sweat and stress. You know, the way grownups have fun without alcohol. Don’t be fooled by the smile in the photo. It lasted just until I passed the cameraman. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


The day before the run was the Health & Fitness Expo. That’s the first place that plastic necessities and temptations get you during any big race weekend. First, you pick up your race number and timing chip.

Race numbers are generally not made from paper, but from DuPont Tyvek, a material made from high-density polyethylene fibers (aka, #2 plastic) bonded together with heat and pressure. That’s why they don’t rip or soak up sweat. On its web site, DuPont says that Tyvek is recyclable, and in fact, it gives an address where folks can send used Tyvek envelopes back to DuPont to be recycled. The site doesn’t mention whether DuPont will take back any other Tyvek product besides envelopes for recycling, so I’ve left a message with that department and will let you know what I find out. I would have checked earlier, but it didn’t occur to me that the race number was plastic until just twenty minutes ago! (I guess I should include my race number in my plastic tally for this week!)

The timing chip is also made of plastic, but it’s a loaner. You give it back at the end of the race. Pat asked what I used to attach the timing chip to my shoe, since they give you a little plastic tie thing that gets cut off and thrown away. Actually, I didn’t have to use anything but my shoe laces because I bought my own timing chip at the Disney world Marathon in January and am able to use it at any races that use Champion Chips. But he had a good idea for folks who don’t own their own. He has a Velcro tie that he reuses so that he doesn’t have to waste a new plastic tie each time.

Once you have your number and chip, you head to the goodie table to pick up your shirt and swag bag. Of course, the bag is plastic. And the Disney shirt is a technical tee made from synthetic fibers. (Should I have included my shirt in the tally too?) Running wear is one of the biggest issues facing runners who want to avoid plastic. We’ve learned that running in natural cotton just doesn’t work. Cotton soaks up moisture and leads to chafing, blisters, and overheating. Technical fibers wick moisture and make exercise much more pleasant. So what’s an environmentally conscious runner to do?

Honestly, I haven’t done a whole lot of research on running wear because up to this point, I haven’t needed any new clothes. I’ve got enough water-wicking tank tops, shorts, and socks to last a good long time. But receiving this tee shirt has started me thinking again. Where would I turn if I needed new clothes?

It seems that Patagonia leads the pack in creating athletic wear from recycled materials. Much of their synthetic clothing is made from recycled plastics (eg. soda bottles) or recycled clothing through their Common Threads Garment Recycling Program. This is great if you’re a mountain climber or hiker. But Patagonia doesn’t produce much clothing for runners. In fact, a month ago I wrote to Patagonia about their recycled clothing and received the following response from Peter in Patagonia Customer Service:

Thanks for your email. Many of us do use capilene 1 for our running needs here in the sierras. Our goal is to have recycled content in all of our garments in the next 3 years but some products are easier than other. The Long Haul runners are currently 100% recycled polyester but that seems to be the exception at the moment. As we find the opportunity to introduce more recycled content we will. We want the recycled content but also do not want to hurt the performance either by making compromises.

But you’ll notice, the URL I’ve linked to for the Long Haul shorts is not on the Patagonia web site. Those shorts are no longer listed on their site. So it’s possible they’ve been discontinued altogether. Do any of you have advice or information about athletic wear that is made from either recycled polyester/plastic or some sort of miracle water-wicking natural fiber? Please let me know! Once I’ve gathered enough information, I’ll devote an entire post to sustainable athletic wear.

But now, it’s time to address that plastic swag bag: I just said no. To the bag and to everything inside it. I had my number, my chip, and my shirt. What could I have possibly needed that was inside that bag? Just because stuff is free doesn’t mean we need to take it. Of course, once you leave that last table, you are beset on all sides with temptations in the form of vendors hawking their wares and giving away free stuff, often plastic. My advice is just to get the heck out. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, but do we really need anything new?

Little Beth’s Interlude of Impatience: Oh my god! The Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror is the scariest and best ride I have ever been on!

And we’re back.


Synthetic tank top, shorts, socks, & shoes; nylon waist pack; plastic band aids; DuPont Tyvek race number; plastic containers of Body Glide and sunscreen; plastic bag in hand carrying EVA flip flops; plastic Timex Ironman watch; plastic iPod in a Neoprene sleeve with plastic headphones. I was a running billboard for the plastics industry, no different from most of the other runners. Except that instead of a plastic water bottle in my waist pack, I carried my stainless steel Klean Kanteen. And except for the race number, all the plastic on me was something I had acquired before starting this plastic project. As things wear out or get used up, I’ll have to find alternatives.

Pat asked me another question about the race itself: the cups at the water stations. They were paper. In fact, I’ve never seen plastic cups at any water station during a race. Can you imagine them rolling around in the streets? And no, it’s not good to waste so much paper. But it is good to stay hydrated in 90 degree weather. I filled up my Klean Kanteen as often as possible. But the water itself was poured from large plastic bottles, so what’re you gonna do?

I ate a banana before the race began and nothing else until the end. The only food on the route were energy bars wrapped in plastic. If I’d been thinking ahead, I might have stashed some granola in my waiste pack to munch on. But I wasn’t. So I wolfed down bananas and oranges and bagels at the finish line and then wandered back to the hotel in a daze.

Not much else to say about plastic during the race, except to reiterate that runners wear and use a lot of plastic, and we really need to find alternatives.

Little Beth’s Interlude of Impatience: Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are just as much fun as I remembered!

Back again.


I’ll get the environmental stuff out of the way so little Beth can gush a bit more about how much fun she had.

Disney has an entire section of their web site called Enviroport, which is the annual environmental report for the Walt Disney Company. The report lists progress in recycling, composting, education, energy conservation, and all kinds of other efforts that the company is making. I’ll let you read that on your own if you want. I’m just going to focus on what I actually saw during my visit.

First of all, there are recycle bins throughout the park. According to Disney’s web site as well as what I’ve heard from people who’ve taken the Disney tour, Disney not only provides separate recycling bins for guests but also has staff that go through the regular garbage and sort out recyclables. My one question about their system is why they seem to have more bins for garbage than for recycling. If there were a recycle bin next to each garbage bin, guests might be more likely to put items in the correct one, creating less work for the sorters.

But although Disney seems to encourage recycling, they also provide quite a bit of plastic waste. In every park restaurant, children’s meals are served in what seem to be black plastic microwave trays shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. And there is no place to recycle these. When I was finished eating my meal (which had been served on reusable plates) I asked about a container for my leftovers and was presented with a choice of plastic or Styrofoam. David and I ended up stuffing ourselves with cheesecake instead of waste it or pack it in plastic. Any reasonable person would have done the same under the circumstances. We had too, right?

I didn’t bring my Klean Kanteen with me to the park because I was just so hot and couldn’t bear the thought of wearing that waist pack for another minute. So I got an iced tea in a paper cup when I first got there and carried that paper cup around with me all day, from 1pm to midnight, refilling it at each water fountain I passed. (Remember the days before plastic bottles when we all drank from public fountains?) I nearly lost it when an employee in Soarin’ Over California told me I couldn’t take water into the theater with me. So I drank the whole thing down in front of him and walked through with my empty cup.

I thought I’d made it through the whole day without buying anything more than food and throwing away only one paper napkin and my well-used cup. But at the final moments of the park closing, the mad desire to have a souvenir overcame us as it did all the other guests thronging into the Main Street shops to buy buy buy just one last thing! I ended up with a nice big coffee mug that I will use over and over. No, I didn’t really need it. But I carried it out of the park sans packaging or bag and was happy that the damage wasn’t any worse. Consumerism can be contagious.

So little Beth, was there something else you wanted to say?

Disneyland rides are the best anywhere! I love being dropped down and shot up and flown and whipped and careened. I don’t like the lines. Well, sometimes it’s fun to watch the people and imagine what they’re like in real life. I love getting in to a little car and riding into the dark. Disney rides are like bedtime stories, even the ones with a big splash at the end. And I love escaping from the heat into their cool innards. I love running from ride to ride, hoping to experience them all at least once that day, while knowing that it’s impossible. I love staying all day and watching the changes that come over the park as night comes and a million stars twinkle. And then parades and fireworks. And I love going home utterly wrung out and exhausted and hearing in the back of my mind my grandmother’s voice saying, “You kids are really gonna sleep good tonight!”

You have to forgive her. Little Beth doesn’t know anything about global warming or energy conservation or capitalism. She just knows she had a rockin’ good time and is a little sad that Big Beth won’t take her there every day.

A Special Message from the Polar Bear Community

While Beth is taking another night off from blogging in order to get some much-needed and well-deserved sleep, we bring you A Special Message from the Polar Bear Community:

Hey Humans:

Our habitat is shrinking due to global warming. If current trends continue, TWO-THIRDS of our population will be driven out of existence.

On top of that, this past week saw the publication of a report about how the Canadians are asserting THEIR claims to the Arctic. Not to mention the Americans, the Norwegians, the Danes … (Much as we like the Canadians, being nice people who generally don’t invade anyone and have those cool Tim Horton’s restaurants, we feel that the best claim to the Arctic is OURS.)

We think the governments of these countries are actually excited that the polar ice is shrinking because that will make it easier to send ships up here to look for resources.

Oh, did we mention what these resources are?


Oil and gas.

Of course.

And what’s one of the reasons you humans need so much oil and gas? What do you spend 2 million barrels a day of oil to make?




Here’s the deal: if things keep up the way they’ve been going, the only polar bears left will be we stuffed ones (and terrible people dressed up as them.) In other words, fake plastic bears.

Oh, and maybe a few in the zoo, lying around without much to do in an environment that bears — excuse me, has — very little resemblance to our natural Arctic habitat.

Now, maybe you don’t think losing two-thirds of your species is such a bad thing. Alan Weisman, in his new bestselling book, The World Without Us, speculates that maybe a human population of about 1.6 billion, down from the current 6 billion plus, might be sustainable for the planet. It wouldn’t be that hard; you guys could stop having so many kids. We certainly wouldn’t mind having a lot fewer people around, since we don’t really eat you human beings. But that’s up to you. And our population is up to us. So, stop using so much plastic. This will cut the demand for oil. And then there will be less economic motive to destroy our Arctic habitat.

We’re not saying this would solve everything, but it would certainly help. And then we can get back to being

Yours very truly,

The Largest Land Carnivores in the World, the Acme Predators, the Furry, the Cute,

The Polar Bears

A note from Beth:


Going to bed now…

I know I promised stories of fun and adventure in Disneyland. But I had to work late tonight, and I have to go in early tomorrow. So the fun will have to wait a day. Until then, ponder page 43 from the August 2007 issue of the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine, “Spirit”:

Click the image to see it larger and read the text. I’m not sure what to make of this. As I said, I saw a lot of plastic on my Southwest flight, and I saw it being collected in plastic bags. I’ve sent a letter to the company via snail mail inquiring into their environmental practices. Does this one page in their magazine reflect the company’s thinking on environmental issues or simply those of one magazine contributor? We’ll find out…

My Disney Adventure, Part 2: Eating & Sleeping

As I mentioned in Part 1 of My Disney Adventure, I rushed to reserve transportation and accommodations at the last minute without planning ahead. This is not recommended.


If I had done some research, I might have found a more eco-friendly place to stay. Instead, I went for availability and price, booking a room at the Alamo Inn & Suites on Katella Ave simply because it had the best rates through

On the plus side, the hotel is located just across the street from Disneyland, so no driving is required to get to the park. As far as I can tell, that is the only environmental plus. And since there are so many other hotels also within walking distance, there’s sure to be another with a better eco-philosophy.

Now, here are a few negatives:

  • Coffee service in the lobby with Styrofoam cups and plastic stirrers.
  • Plastic drinking cups in the room.
  • Plastic-lined waste cans in the rooms and no means of recycling.
  • Plastic packets of shampoo and lotion in the room. And even though we never opened and used the packets, each day the staff brought us more!
  • Old air conditioning units in the walls that had to be run continuously in order to keep the room from becoming an oven.

We tried to gather recyclables (newspapers, tourist info, glass bottles) in a paper bag and find a place to recycle them, but while we were out, the cleaning staff threw out our bag with the rest of the garbage, even though we hadn’t put it in the waste can. When I asked the hotel desk clerk if there was a way to recycle or if items from guest waste cans are separated out for recycling, she helpfully answered, “No. We just dump it all out.”

After that incident, I resolved to save any recyclables in my backpack and bring them back to Oakland. As it turns out, I could have taken them into Disneyland with me. Disneyland is one of the few businesses in Anaheim with a robust recycling program. In fact, there are bins for paper and bottles throughout the park. I’ll talk more about Disneyland’s environmental pluses and minuses in my next post.

So how could I have found a more pro-environment hotel beforehand? Fortunately, there’s a great site, Environmentally Friendly Hotels.Com, which is an ongoing database of hotels throughout the world rated using a checklist of 33 environmental criteria. Users can browse the site to look for hotel ratings, and they can also post reviews and add listings to the database.

Looking at the Anaheim page, it turns out that the hotels in Disneyland itself are the most eco-friendly. Unfortunately, they are also out of my price range. But I could have used the checklist itself as a guide for what to ask before making a reservation. There are many more hotels in Anaheim than are listed on this site. The site also offers a form that you can print out and take with you to evaluate a property during your stay.


Eating healthfully and plastic-free was another challenge. Anaheim, Orange County for that matter, consists of street after street of fast food and chain restaurants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many McDonald’s restaurants in one place. There is a Farmer’s Market in Anaheim, but it only operates on Thursday mornings. We arrived on Friday.

So our first night, Michael and I found a Vons Supermarket (part of the Safeway chain) and purchased produce and bread, which we stored in the small refrigerator in our room. Being a little disoriented from traveling, I left my backpack, which always contains a supply of reused plastic bags, in the hotel, so we were going to need a paper bag. Little did we know, Vons in Anaheim does not have paper grocery bags anymore! Plastic is the only option offered at the checkout counter. Michael was preparing to carry everything out in his shirt, when we spied some thin paper bags near the bakery case, which were meant for bread and bagels. They did the job for us. Next time I’ll remember to bring my own bags, I swear!

One ecologically-friendly option is Native Foods, a vegan restaurant, but you have to drive thirteen miles to Costa Mesa to eat there. It was on our way to the beach on Saturday, so we stopped in. Native Foods is located in a shopping complex called The Camp, which is a mix of outdoor stores, natural product retailers, and unique restaurants set among native plant gardens and outdoor gathering places. It’s a tiny bit of “green” in Orange County. A very tiny bit.

Up the street from our hotel was a little Mexican restaurant called Tacos Mi Pueblo, where I had some of the best vegetarian burritos of my life. I’m sure the secret ingredient must have been lard. But I felt better eating there than at the chains because the food was authentic and the restaurant small and locally-owned. I did end up with a couple of straws when I wasn’t paying attention.

I’ve found that my main challenge for remaining plastic-free while eating in restaurants is remembering to specify, “no straw.” In take-out places where everything is served in disposable containers, it’s not hard to remember to specify, “no lid, no straw,” and if I’m getting a cold coffee drink, “paper cup.” But in a sit-down restaurant where everything on the table is made from durable materials, those ubiquitous straws leap out of nowhere and catch me with my guard down. If the straw is still wrapped in paper, I can send it back. But if the server has kindly unwrapped it for me, I’m screwed.

While I’m pretty happy drinking without a straw, I realize it’s sometimes easier to use one. Especially for cold drinks with ice. For those who really want to use a straw, there are plastic-free options:

  • Stainless steel drinking straws. If you can carry your own reusable water bottle and cutlery, why not carry your own reusable straws?
  • Biodegradable Straws. These are made from cornstarch. If it were me, I’d opt for a reusable product over a disposable one, but biodegradable is better than plastic.
  • Paper Straws, the old-fashioned kind. If you want a bit of nostalgia, you can still find paper straws in antique shops for a pretty price.
  • Paper drinking straws, the new kind. Aardvark, the company that invented paper drinking straws, is still making them. Now, however, the straws are coated with something that makes them waterproof. I don’t know what the coating is, so I’m not recommending them until I find out. I did send an e-mail to the company and will let you know when I hear back.

I guess the main idea I want to stress when it comes to reducing plastic waste while staying in hotels or dining out is to plan ahead. Whether traveling or at home, I find I run into the biggest challenges when I haven’t planned what I’ll eat and where and haven’t left the house prepared. Being tired and hungry makes me much less mindful about what I’m consuming. Procrastination seems to be plastic’s best friend.

Week 12 Results: 5.5 oz of plastic

Yikes! This was a rough week, plasticly speaking. Between trips to Southern California and my doctor’s office, I unintentionally picked up a lot of plastic. Even (gasp!) a Styrofoam cup! How did that happen? Hold on, and I’ll tell you. Here’s the tally:

Non-recyclable items used this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 6 Refresh Endura single-use eye drop containers (#4 plastic).
  • 1 spray pump from a bottle of Fantastik household cleaner. We’ll be using homemade spray cleaner from now on.
  • Label, pump, and lid from a can of Gillette Satin Care shave gel. This was my last can. I’ll be experimenting with shave soaps in the next few weeks and let you know which one works best for me. Right now, I’m using Lush Emperor of Ice Cream soap, which is very rich and moisturizing.
  • 1 bag of Sunspire organic chocolate chips. These are all gone, and I’ll be buying bulk chocolate chips in the future.
  • 1 Garofalo spaghetti wrapper. I still have 1 more package to use up.
  • 2 more plastic wrappers from Wholphin DVDs. I received these a while ago but had never opened them.
  • 5 Band aids. I used these to protect my feet from blisters during the half marathon. I still have quite a few plastic Band aids left. Not sure what I’ll use when they are gone.
  • 1 Rene Furterer Naturia shampoo sample. I found this in the bathroom cabinet and used it for traveling. No idea where it came from. Maybe another hotel at some point?
  • 1 plastic box from an assortment of Dolfin Belgian Chocolates. I believe that this box and the chocolate chip bag are the last of the plastic-covered chocolates in the house. From now on my habit will be plastic-free.
  • 1 plastic wrapper from my Disneyland Half Marathon packet. This came with my race registration, which I made back in February. It could have been worse. I could have ended up with a plastic swag bag, too. But I was able to refuse that one.

Recyclable items purchased before the plastic project began:

  • Fantastik spray cleaner bottle (#1 plastic). It’s recyclable, but I plan to reuse it for homemade spray cleaner for as long as it holds up.

Now for the new plastic waste:

  • 1 wrapper from a wheel of Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese.
  • 1 Styrofoam coffee cup and 1 red plastic stirrer. Yep. That’s right. It was 5am, just an hour before the start of the race. I must have been out of my mind. I poured some coffee in the lobby of the hotel while waiting for Michael and my friend David to join me and didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late. I am not a morning person!
  • 1 plastic “tie” used before the race to attach my race number to my checked bag. I reused a grocery bag to hold the flip flops my feet would be craving after the race. They used this little plastic tie thing to attach my number to it.
  • 1 plastic grocery bag. Another piece of plastic that ended up in my hands before I knew what was happening. David and I ran in to a corner store to get some things just as they were closing, and I didn’t have the heart to ask to switch to a paper bag after the guy handed me my purchase in plastic.
  • 2 plastic straws from a Mexican restaurant in Anaheim. All weekend long, I was conscientious about asking for drinks without lids or straws. In fact, I tried not to buy drinks in disposable cups at all. And here we were in a sit-down restaurant. I never thought about straws when I ordered a glass of water and a separate glass of ice. But both were served with an unwrapped straw sticking out.
  • 1 disposable sheet from my doctor’s office at Kaiser. Stop reading if this is too much information. That pretty blue background in the picture is actually a big plastic “sheet” I had to use to cover up during an appointment on Friday. It wasn’t until the thing was opened up and draped across my lap that I realized I was covered in plastic. I didn’t need it. The room wasn’t cold, and it wasn’t like the doctor wasn’t going to see everything anyway. It’s kind of a funny mind game they play… cover up for modesty and pretend that they’re not seeing anything while they’re actually seeing everything? Weird.

    So knowing I had to add the sheet to my plastic collection, I stuffed it into my backpack really quick as I was getting dressed. And then I had this paranoia that the doctor would notice the disposable sheet was missing when she came back into the room and ask me what happened to it, and I’d have to explain. I just wasn’t in the mood to educate my doctor about plastic after she’d just seen everything there was to see of me. Plus, she works for Kaiser. She probably doesn’t have any say in the matter. But of course she had more important things on her mind than keeping track of a plastic sheet, and my secret was safe.

Now I’m back at home in Oakland, where I don’t have to be quite as vigilant about plastic as I did in Southern California (unless I’m in my doctor’s office, apparently.) It’s not that Oakland is plastic-free. But when I’m at home, I know where to go to buy things without plastic. And I’m not eating out as much. And the guy at the corner store knows that I don’t want a plastic bag. And in general, people here “get it” when you opt out of plastic. And that’s nice.


The Wine List

This will be an ongoing list of wines and the types of stoppers or caps used on the bottles. I’ll list them as I drink them.

Last updated: 04/20/2009




  • Dibon Cava Brut Reserve: Natural cork stopper.
  • Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs: Natural cork stopper.
  • Actually, I think most sparkling wines come with a cork stopper. So far I haven’t found one with plastic.