Monthly Archives: February 2009

Showing Some LunchBots Love & Quitting My Tupperware

Holy crap! Just last week I was having a nervous breakdown over buying new stuff, and here I am promoting a new product. Again. What can I say? I am human, and this product is awesome.

100% stainless steel LunchBots containersare the brainchild of Jacqueline Linder, a kindred spirit who was sick of plastic and wanted to do something about it. She developed LunchBots as an alternative to plastic lunch containers and plastic baggies. Her approach is an example of the Precautionary Principle in action, as demonstrated in the “Why Avoid Plastic?” section of her site. It’s also very reasonable.

Jacqueline sent me two LunchBots models to try out: the LunchBots Uno and LunchBots Duo. The Duo is divided into two compartments — great for small snack or side dish portions. The Uno is one single sandwich-sized compartment. Before she sent them, I asked about one of my favorite subjects: shipping materials. Here’s what she wrote back:

I ship LunchBots in a box sized to fit the number of containers well in order to eliminate or minimize the amount of stuffing needed. Each LunchBot is wrapped (no tape or stickers) in a small sheet of tissue paper to protect the surface during shipping.

In addition, for retail accounts, we have no box, the containers stack on the shelf and our packaging is merely a 1″ strip of recycled paper that wraps around the base of the container.

On the subject of tape, my boxes self close and I use just a few inches to protect it from being opened by the wrong person. I will definitely look into paper tape, especially since I need more tape for larger wholesale orders.

And just as she promised, the containers were shipped nearly plastic-free:


You might be wondering why I’m so excited about LunchBots when I’ve already written about other great stainless steel containers like those from Life Without Plastic and To-go Ware. Without a doubt, those containers are great for food storage.

What makes LunchBots different is their shape. Flatter than the other containers, LunchBots fit easily into a purse while traveling (although they are not completely leak-proof, so best not to carry them sideways with wet food inside.) The lid does snap on pretty tightly without the need for a silicone seal. In fact, I wondered about whether small children might find the lids difficult to manage. Jacqueline reponded, “Sometimes the lids are tricky the first 1-2 times that kids use them. Once they get the hang of it there are no problems.”

Their flat shape is what enables me to finally give up my Tupperware sandwich container, the last piece of plastic foodware to which I still clung. LunchBots are not quite as square as the Tupperware. I’m hoping Jacqueline (or someone!) will develop a square version in the future. But for now, I’ll be carrying my sandwiches in a LunchBots Uno instead of plastic. And the guys at the Green Bean Cafe who sometimes make my lunch can quit asking me why I have them put my sandwich in a plastic container if I’m so against plastic.

Jacqueline would like you to know that LunchBots have been independently tested at a California lab to certify that they are lead-free. You can use the coupon code FREESHIP09 to order from www.LunchBots.com and get free shipping.

OR if you’ve read this far, you might be in luck. While I’m keeping the LunchBots Uno for myself, I’ll give away the LunchBots Duo to a random Fake Plastic Fish reader. To enter, please leave a comment on this post with your name and the funniest joke you can remember. We can all use a little levity, right?

Antimony: Another reason to avoid bottled water… and polar fleece?

Bottled water sucks. Aside from the moral issue of privatizing what should be a public trust, the plastic containers are made from oil, a non-renewable resource, and last virtually forever in the environment. We know this. We know about the waste from plastic water bottles and the fuel that it takes to ship them. We know we should be drinking tap water and filling up our reusable bottles if we want it to go.

But some of us, taking the REDUCE, REUSE mantra to heart, refill those disposable plastic water or soda bottles instead of using a non-plastic container. It’s one way to keep plastic out of the landfill, right? True, but it might not be the healthiest idea.

Last night, Martin from Plasticless posted a video demonstrating how to boil water in a plastic bottle (the typical #1 PET disposable bottle) and wondered if this practice was safe. He, like most of us, had heard that heating food in plastic is a no-no, yet he had stumbled upon instructions for doing just that.

At some point in my plastic travels, I learned that antimony, the catalyst for PET (polyethylene terephthalate), had been found to leach in very small amounts from disposable water bottles. But I didn’t really worry about whether or not this leaching was harmful because to me, there were already so many other reasons to avoid bottled water, I simply didn’t need another one. Martin’s post started me wondering again, especially considering how many people have told me that they reuse disposable PET bottles.

A Google search turned up two relevant studies. A 2006 University of Heidelberg study found that antimony leaches in greater amounts from PET bottles the longer they are stored. And a 2007 Arizona State University study showed clearly that antimony leaching increases significantly as the temperature increases and that bottles stored in hot cars and garages during the summertime can leach more antimony than the 6ppb allowed by the EPA.

I haven’t found a study of PET bottles refilled and reused. I don’t know if reuse of bottles would cause more or less leaching than storing water in them for long periods of time or, um… boiling water in them! But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

In fact, I wondered aloud about this very topic last night on Twitter (well, aloud in my own head as I typed) and Jennifer Taggart, aka thesmartmama, responded: @fakeplasticfish Antimony shows up when I test fabrics such as the fleeces made from recycled PET.

Jennifer is indeed smart. In fact, she’s one of the smartest women I know. In addition to working as an attorney, she also blogs, has written a soon-to-be-released book, and tests homes and the objects in them for toxic metals like lead with her Niton XRF analyzer. And now she tells me that she’s tested clothing made from recycled PET bottles and found antimony in them.

For many years, Patagonia has manufactured polyester fleece jackets from recycled soda bottles, as well as recycled Patagonia clothing. The company has led the way in product stewardship and environmental responsibility. Other companies followed. And now, even Sears has begun selling the world’s first suit made of recycled PET bottles.

But you know, as good as it sounds, I’ve never been thrilled about the idea of clothing made from recycled bottles. Yes, something needs to be done with them. But doesn’t creating another use just encourage production of more disposable bottles in the first place? And if chemicals from the plastic can leach from the fabric onto us, is this such a great alternative?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking the questions. Maybe the amount of antimony leaching from recycled PET clothing is negligible compared to pesticides and flame retardants that can leach from even traditional fabrics. I’ve been writing this blog for well over a year and a half, and the more I learn, the less I know for sure! But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to Martin’s original question: if you want to do a cool experiment to see if you can boil water in a plastic bottle without melting the bottle, watch the video and try it (carefully!) Just don’t drink the water afterwards!

Mowing My Weeds: Why Buy When You Can Borrow?


This was our postage stamp-sized front yard on Saturday. Michael and I thought it was pretty. But I was concerned that neighbors would report it as a hazard. The flowers weeds were over a foot tall and harboring who knows what furry little beings. Something had to be done, and I was not ready to pull it up and start our veggie garden.

I decided to just mow the weeds and leave some green. But we don’t own a lawn mower. Remembering my success with the Craiglist crockpot, I once again subscribed to a Craislist search, this time for “push mower.” But after several weeks without success, I decided to just go ahead and buy a new one. Michael, bless his conscientiously frugal heart, talked me out of it. “Beth,” he said, “How often do we ever have to mow? You’re going to buy a mower for the one time a year when we actually have rain and the plants grow by themselves?”

He was right. Still, I didn’t want to pull up the weeds and leave a yard full of bare dirt to dry out and look like crap. And then I remembered my own post from October of 2007: Learning to Share (and Borrow). I’d written all about tool lending libraries but had not as yet needed to use ours. This was a great opportunity!


The Temescal Tool Library is part of the Oakland Public Library System. It’s one of many tool libraries in the world. Check out some of the offerings:




The guy in the photos is the library’s Ty Yurgelevit, who showed me all the tools available and explained that broken tools are repaired right there at the library. But being short of hours and staff, they don’t have time to fix everything that comes in broken, so please be careful with the items you borrow!

Anyway, I wheeled the little push mower home (yes, I was on foot!) and mowed those weeds into submission — for free. In a week or so, I’ll pull some of them up and start a new veggie garden, hopefully sooner and with more success than last year’s. But like I whined in yesterday’s post, I’m not so very domestically-inclined. These projects are always a big deal for me and miraculous when they turn out right. So, we’ll see what happens.

For a comprehensive list of other alternatives for borrowing or buying secondhand, check out Green Bean’s recent post on The Green Phonebooth Blog. To her list, I would add tool libraries and car-sharing. (We belong to Zip Car.)

What are ways that you avoid buying new stuff?
 

Fixing my Fake Plastic Pillow


As part of the spring cleaning that happened in our house last week, and to rid our space of the germs that have been plaguing us, I decided to wash my pillow. In the washing machine. And then dry it in the dryer. Which turned out to be not such a great idea, actually. The (fake plastic) stuffing did a little dance and ended up completely discombobulated.

Unable to bear the thought of tossing the pillow (which of course means adding it to my plastic collection), I slept on it like this for several nights and ended up with a sore neck. It was like laying my head down on a cinder block.

Not being the DIY queen that many of you are, sometimes I am oblivious to the obvious. Thankfully, there are other bloggers who can help. And fortunately yesterday, while browsing the entries in this week’s Carnival of the Green hosted at My Zero Waste, I came across a post about this very topic: Craft Stew’s Recycled Pillow Tutorial.

The author of that article used a fresh pillow case to create a newish pillow from the old stuffing because her pillow’s original case had actually ripped in the wash. My pillow’s cotton case was in fine shape, so I was able to reuse it after fixing the stuffing inside.

I realize the following instructions will be super basic for those who sew and mend on a regular basis. But I assume (hope) that there is at least one other reader of this blog as domestically-challenged as I am who might benefit.

First, rip out one short seam with a seam-ripper. This is the seam-ripper I inherited from my grandmother. It’s plastic. I plan to write about plastic and sewing in a future post.

Remove the stuffing from the pillow and rearrange it properly. My stuffing, as I’ve mentioned, is plastic — 100% polyester batting. If your stuffing is made out of something else, your procedure might be different.

All I had to do was unfold it and place it back in the pillow case. Luckily, it had stayed pretty much in tact and simply needed rearranging.

Sew the pillow case back up (This part took me all night while I watched episodes of Reaper on DVD. I’m a very slow sewer.) and voila!


My neck feels so much better this morning.

Year 2, Week 36 Results: 49.6 oz of plastic waste. Why do kitties eat plastic?


Why oh why do kitties eat plastic fleece? Last August I retired a holey red fleece blanket that the kitties had been chowing down on. Now, here’s the blanket we’ve used as a throw on our sofa for several years. I bought it long before I began avoiding new plastic. 100% polyester. Yummy!

Here’s the tally:

Items bought before the plastic project began:

  • 1 holey 100% polyester fleece blanket. I think this is the last plastic blanket. We have plenty of others in our home made from natural fibers. This one will be replaced with a wool blanket that Michael bought back when he first moved to the Bay Area. It’s still in good shape, and so far, the kitties have not tried it for dessert. (Although we have found some suspicious holes in a pair of wool slippers I knitted for Michael, so we’ll see.)
  • 2 ancient ant traps. Found by the housecleaners last week while cleaning the kitchen.

New plastic waste this week:

  • Plastic bag of World’s Best Cat Litter. I’ve written before about my inability to find a plastic-free cat litter that the cats will actually use. SwheatScoop doesn’t do it for them. This month, we’re going to try Smart Litter Organic and Safe, which despite the plastic bag in the photo on the web site, we found in a paper bag at Pet Food Express. I notice that the web page says, “Improved packaging and formula,” and I wonder if that means they are switching to plastic from paper. I’ll ask the next time I’m over there.

That’s it! Only 4 items this week, and only 1 of which was new.

After my Guilt & Gratitude post, Michael and I had a conversation about buying new things. He’s even more frugal than I am when it comes to avoiding new purchases, preferring to support thrift stores and often bringing home the rejected items that neighbors leave out “for free.” I told him about The Compact. I kind of feel like we already live a Compact-like life without joining or verbally committing to anything.

This week, I have another story to share about finding a way to avoid a new purchase. And this one doesn’t involve any guilt at all.
 

House Cleaning, Carpet Cleaning, & Kid-Safe Chemicals

HOUSE CLEANING

I don’t think our toilet was this clean when we first moved in to our apartment. I personally have scrubbed and scrubbed with a brush and been unable to remove the mineral stains. Not that I’m a great housekeeper. I’m not. In fact, I suck. And Michael does his best, but you know, we just have other priorities. So Monday, to celebrate President’s Day, we had our place cleaned from top to bottom by the eco-friendly members of Natural Home Cleaning Professionals.

I say “members” because Natural Home Cleaning is a worker-owned cooperative whose goal is to support families to be economically self-sufficient. The company serves the San Francisco East Bay from Southern Richmond to Fremont. Workers are trained in natural cleaning techniques, encouraged to start with the least toxic products (like vinegar and water) and slowly work up to stronger products as needed. The strongest cleaner used is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.

One of the company’s goals is to prove to clients that natural cleaners can work every bit as well, if not better, than their harsh synthetic counterparts. And man, did they ever prove it to me! Look how the kitchen sparkles!


And the best part is that afterwards, the apartment didn’t smell like chemicals. It just smelled clean.

I spoke with the scheduler about methods and products and finally… plastic. I’m not sure NHC goes out of its way to avoid plastic containers and products like I do. So I focused on sponges. The rep wasn’t sure exactly what their sponges and scrubbers are made from, so I told her about Skoy cloths and expressed my hope that NHC will look into biodegradable options for wipes and scrubbers.

Natural Home Cleaners is supported by an organization called WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), which is dedicated to empowering low-income women through cooperative businesses. The WAGES web site lists several other sister co-operatives serving different regions of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, the Peninsula, and South Bay.

For those of you who live outside the Bay Area, The Ecology Center has a great list of green home and carpet cleaning services, as does Co-op America’s Green Pages.

So, how did NHC get my toilet so clean? A natural pumice stone!

CARPET CLEANING


Soots is confused. And not just because his mouth and nose disappear every time he looks at us straight on. He’s concerned that the dirt and fleas have disappeared from the carpet and that the place smells like oranges.

The day following our house cleaning, we had our carpets professionally cleaned. I chose a company called Chem-Dry which, despite its name, uses very few chemicals. Chem-Dry’s process relies on the power of carbonated water (about 1/5th to 1/10th as much water as traditional steam cleaners, they claim), heat, orange oil, and a heavy duty machine that scrubs the carpet into submission. OMG, as the texters say. You should have seen the hunks of black cat hair that thing sucked out. And we do, in fact, vacuum! (Well, Michael does.)

Chem-Dry offers stain protection treatment as well as carpet sanitizer, both of which I refused. I’m happy with carbonated water. I almost wish I could have skipped the orange pre-treatment, but it was on before I knew it. For protecting the legs of furniture, Chem-Dry normally offers Styrofoam blocks. This time, the technician had run out of Styrofoam, which I would have refused anyway. We substituted aluminum foil, which worked just fine.


Both the Ecology Center directory and Green Pages list eco-friendly carpet cleaners. Chem-dry, which has recently been purchased by Home Depot, is not one of them. But since California is in the middle of a major drought right now, I feel pretty good about choosing a company that uses much less water than most.

KID-SAFE CHEMICALS ACT

Kid-safeChemicalsActAfter my experiences with green cleaning this week, it was appropriate that I listened in on the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act conference call this morning. Presented by the Environmental Working Group, the call highlighted all the ways that our current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, has failed to protect us and why we need stronger legislation to require manufacturers of chemicals to prove that they are safe.

When TSCA was passed, 62,000 industrial chemicals were grandfathered in, meaning they were never required to be tested for safety. Since then, another 20,000-30,000 chemicals have gone on the market. In 30 years, only 5 have been banned. The law is so weak, that the EPA has not even been able to ban asbestos.

The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act would require manufacturers to pay for safety assessments of chemicals before they go on the market, and they must prove reasonable certainty that chemicals will not cause harm from aggregate exposure, meaning that if a chemical is found in formula cans and baby bottles and sippy cups (I’m thinking of BPA here), manufacturers must consider its cumulative effect from all sources, not just individual products.

 

I’m hoping a law like this will help to reduce the harm we are seeing from many plastics, including BPA and phthalates, as well as those in fragrances, dyes, and preservatives that manufacturers are not even required to list on labels at this point. If the chemicals are found to be unsafe and removed from the market, there will be nothing to reveal on labels in the first place.

This post will be included in the Green Mom’s Carnival, hosted at Tiny Choices on March 10. Please stop over there and read more ideas for green cleaning.

Guilt, Gratitude, & Glass

A couple of weeks ago, I bought ten brand new Anchor glass refrigerator containers, similar to the vintage variety mom had. I found them at my local Container Store for the lowest price, and if there had been more of them in stock, I might not have stopped at just ten.


The containers and lids are made of glass, packaged in cardboard, with zero plastic. Nada. And they are sturdy, able to survive freezer, oven, microwave, & dishwasher without complaint. Each holds exactly one day’s worth of homemade cat food for Soots and Arya, unlike the repurposed plastic containers I had been using which were all different sizes and shapes and generally a pain in the neck to fill and to stack.


So why the guilt?

Because I don’t buy new things unless they are necessary! I found a used crockpot, used computer monitor, used litter boxes and cat carriers. I certainly could have found truly vintage glass containers similar to these on eBay or Craigslist or in thrift stores. Or I could have just kept using the plastic containers. I’m only filling them with cat food, for crying out loud. And… and… what will Clif say when he finds I’m not making use of the plastic I already have? He once gave me holy sh*t for whining about how tired I was of washing out plastic bags.

Oh, I worked myself into a bit of a lather over these little glass containers, which kind of surprised me. Because in addition to thinking of myself as someone who avoids buying new things, I consider myself someone who has progressed beyond unhealthy emotions like guilt. Ha! As I write all this, my tongue is literally pressed against my cheek because it all just sounds so ridiculous, silly to have such fixed ideas about who I am in the first place. My identity. My ego.

So anyway, for two weeks I’ve been planning to write this post and ask if any of you ever feel guilty for buying new things… guilty to the point that you don’t actually enjoy the new things you bought. That was going to be the whole point of the post, until tonight after spending two nourishing hours with some very, very wise teachers.

This evening, I attended a conversation between Jon Bernie, my meditation teacher, and Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and founder of ANG*L (A Network for Grateful Living), “a worldwide community dedicated to gratefulness as the core inspiration for personal change, international cooperation, and sustainable activism in areas of universal concern.”

Cultivating an attitude of gratefulness is all about living in the present moment, appreciating what is here for us, allowing whatever arises to be, and finally, saying “Thank you.” And as I walked home afterward and started thinking about writing this post tonight, I laughed out loud. Because I realized that all I feel about these little glass containers now is gratitude. Gratitude for how perfect they are. How they stack so well in the freezer…


and in the refrigerator…


and that they are designed so well and so beautifully. And then the gratefulness expanded to include the humans who had physically created the containers and those who had sold them to me. And when I looked around at the street and realized that my hands weren’t actually holding a glass container but were firmly stuffed in my jacket pockets, I started feeling grateful for empty pockets, and for the thread I used the other day to patch the holes in them, and for the couple of coins that could no longer fall out.

I could go on and on about all the things I felt grateful for tonight as I walked home, but I think I’ve made my point. What’s the use in feeling guilt when gratitude feels so much better?
 

Saving the Planet (aka Plastic, a**holes!)

If you haven’t seen George Carlin’s infamous rant about the arrogance of thinking we can “save the planet,” you should. It’s here on YouTube. But I warn you: it’s not for the faint of heart, delicate of sensibility, or young of age. I haven’t embedded it in this post because I don’t want to be accused of corrupting the young. Again. (Hi Hayley.)

Here’s a sample, (one of the few bits without four-letter words) as Carlin begins his unique rap about plastic:

The planet has been through a lot worse than us… been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages, and we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?

I was reminded of this monologue twice this week: first, in the comments on Fark.com and then this weekend while visiting a friend’s father who is living with terminal cancer, and who is just as salty and irreverent as Carlin was. AO’s war stories were mesmerizing, and his jokes had us in stitches as he held court from his bed.

Tonight, I’m thinking about the visit and the video as I try to write my blog post for this month’s APLS (Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) Blog Carnival. The topic is “Nature.” What is it? “What makes nature so powerful or meaningful? How has your experience with the natural world shaped your own environmentalism? Is love of the natural world an essential motivation for sustainability?”

And to that last question, I feel myself channeling my own inner crusty old man as I mutter, “Of course it is, but not how you think!” Because I am the natural world. So are you. So is plastic. Just ask Clif. Every breath reminds me that there is nothing separating me from anything else. My senses, as I walk down the street, ride on BART, stare at my computer, or pull weeds in my garden, let me know constantly that I am not alone.

The nursing home room where my friend’s dad is spending his final days is anything but “natural” in the traditional sense of the word. It’s sterile. Artificial. Efficient. And full of plastic. Yet in this man’s wryly optimistic presence, I felt a deep, deep connection to humanity, to the body, to the miracle of each heart beat and to the constant thread of life, the thread of which death is a natural part. And there’s that word again.

I’m not saying getting out to the woods or mountains or local park isn’t a good idea. We know our bodies and minds do better when we give them space and clean air and earthy smells. And we ought to be working to even up the playing field so that no one has to breathe smog and drink contaminated water. Children should be taught where their food really comes from and how the many non-humans on the planet live.

But compassion can arise anywhere in any situation. I was casually browsing the Internet when I stumbled upon the photo of the Laysan albatross carcass full of plastic pieces, the photo that broke my heart and caused me to question the unconscious way I had been living. We don’t literally have to hug a tree to care about life on planet earth.

But actually, it probably does help.

Because for some reason, most humans today do appear to feel separate from “Nature.” Why else would we have created such a word in the first place? A word that implies something other than what we are. Our minds can be such tricksters, desperately holding our personalities together, convincing us that we are special, that we are different and in charge. But our monkey minds are part of nature too, having evolved in just this way to ensure our survival. And it’s these brilliant, deluded minds telling us we are separate that may be also ensuring our destruction as a species.

So let’s get out, stick our noses in the grass, squish our toes in the mud, watch a group of ants for an hour and maybe even taste one (my little sister used to eat them off the kitchen floor!) And then let’s go inside and watch Planet Earth on TV, all the while reminding ourselves that nature isn’t something out there to be saved. It’s us. Right here. Wherever we are.

George C. says the planet will be fine without us. We’re just another species. Ultimately as expendable as all the other forms of life that have gone extinct. And I have to agree. Death is part of life, after all.

He also seems to think we’re already screwed. I hope not. I like being part of this world. Don’t you?
 

Year 2, Week 35 Results: .3 oz of plastic waste.


Happy belated Valentine’s Day. If I hadn’t bought a bottle of wine this week, I’d only have a few plastic windows from envelopes in my tally. And here it is.

All new plastic waste this week:

  • Plastic stopper from a bottle of Gnarly Head 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel. I’ll be adding this bottle to the Wine List and won’t buy it again. If you weren’t a Fake Plastic Fish reader when I wrote about natural cork stoppers vs. plastic stoppers, please click here.
  • 4 plastic envelope windows. 3 Kaiser Permanente envelopes & 1 more Peace Action.

Back in September I wrote about learning to sleep. I still have not mastered the hang of this skill that most humans seem to perform effortlessly. But this article I recently read in Glamour Magazine (while hanging out at newsstand waiting for friends) has given me a new incentive to get more rest. Melatonin is helping, even though it comes in a plastic bottle. (Prescription sleep aids have all failed me so far. Even the one Clif recommended.)

Tomorrow, we’re having our apartment professionally cleaned (for the first time) by a green cleaning company. And the next day, we’re having our carpets professionally cleaned. I’m thinking that between the fleas and the viruses that I just can’t seem to kick, having someone come in and give our place a thorough scrubbing is not a bad idea. I plan to write all about the green cleaning company and the methods they use in a few days.

Spring is almost here! My goal for this year: taking better care of this body that has been entrusted to me. I’ve been kind of neglectful lately, staying up too late, eating crap, forgetting to get out and move. No wonder I get so sick. If there were an agency called Self Protective Services, I think my self would be removed from me and placed in foster care.
 

Gimme5, Brita, Preserve, and You!


Can you believe that the day this photo was taken I was so sick I could barely stand up?

I wrote all about the culmination of the Take Back The Filter campaign in a post on the Take Back The Filter web site, but I forgot to write about it here… until today. Michael woke me up from a sound sleep this morning with the news that I and the campaign had made the front page of a very important newspaper. Better than the NY Times, I made our local East Bay Express.

Seriously, the article “The Blogger and the Bleach Company” is very well-written and balanced, describing the reasons behind the campaign as well as its results. And reading it, I realize how important it is now that the recycling program has been created that we support it and make sure Brita users know it exists. If no one actually returns their filters for recycling, the program could fail and be discontinued.

Here’s the deal: Preserve has created a recycling program called Gimme5, collecting not only Brita pitcher filters but all #5 plastic containers (like yogurt containers and prescription bottles) as well as all Preserve products. Preserve is a U.S. company that manufactures toothbrushes, razors, and housewares from #5 (polypropylene) recycled plastic. The recycling happens here in the U.S., creating much-needed jobs domestically rather than exporting the plastic overseas, as is the case with most of our plastic recycling.

There are two ways to return #5 plastics to Preserve. Drop items into Gimme5 bins at select Whole Foods Markets or ship them back via U.S. mail to:

Preserve Gimme 5
823 NYS Rte 13
Cortland, NY 13045

The Gimme5 web site has complete instructions for how items should be packaged. And here is the official Brita recycling web page.

I’ve been collecting my used Preserve toothbrushes to mail back en masse, saving postage and fuel. I’m happy that I can instead drop them off in the Gimme5 bin at Whole Foods (using my feet or bike pedals for transit.)

So what about recycling #5 plastic? Haven’t I been arguing that we should find alternatives to plastic rather than relying on recycling as the answer? I sure have. And I still feel that way. But I also feel that this program provides a way to deal responsibly with certain plastics that might be unavoidable for many people.

I personally don’t use any water filter these days. We had our water tested and found it to be perfectly fine as is. But unfortunately there are people whose tap water is not great or who have lead pipes or who just don’t like the taste and would otherwise purchase bottled water. For these people, filters like Brita are a fact of life, and having a way to recycle them is important.

While I may not use Brita filters anymore, I do end up with the ocassional prescription bottle. In California, they cannot be refilled by the pharmacy. Knowing that they will be recycled responsibly by Preserve, a company that happens to be a member of Co-op America’s Green Business Network, rather than shipped to China is reassuring.

The Gimme5 program is not a free pass to go crazy buying disposable #5 plastics. But it is an important player in the field of Extended Producer Responsibility, the philosophy that companies that release their products into the world should provide for the full life-cycle of those products, providing cradle to cradle systems for extending the useful life of the materials, reducing waste, and conserving energy and resources.

Here in Oakland, we’ve just been informed that we can now drop wide-mouthed containers into our curbside recycling bins. Previously, we could only recycle narrow-necked bottles. So we have a choice. We can recycle #5 containers at the curb or take them to Whole Foods. Which method is better?

Right now, I’m thinking Gimme5 beats the curb because we know where the materials are going and who is responsible for them. The plastic left in our curbside bins will most likely be shipped to various companies in Asia. We don’t know what products will be created from the materials, what safeguards will be used in the process, what toxins will be released, or even if the plastic will be recycled at all.

Finally, AND MOST IMPORTANT, if we want the Gimme5 program to succeed, it’s up to us to promote it. Let your friends and family know. If you have a blog, let your readers know. And the idea that came to me this morning as I read about the campaign in my local paper: write a letter to the editor!

How about this for a sample?

Editor:

Plastic waste is a serious environmental problem. It is made from fossil fuels and does not biodegrade, lasting virtually forever and wreaking havoc in the natural world.

Fortunately, a new program called Gimme5 is attempting to deal responsibly with some of our plastic waste. Customers can return used #5 (polypropylene) plastic containers as well as Brita pitcher water filters and used Preserve products to select Whole Foods markets or mail them back to Preserve for recycling. Full details of the program are at http://www.preserveproducts.com/gimme5/.

I am not personally associated with Preserve, Whole Foods, or Brita, but as an individual attempting to live responsibly on the planet, I highly recommend this program.

Sincerely,

YOU!

I came up with that letter off the top of my head. I’m sure you could do even better. Or just copy mine. Most newspapers these days have ways to send letters to the editor through their web site. You don’t even need a stamp! Whatever you do, please come back here and leave a comment. Let us know what paper(s) you contacted and what you wrote.

Yes, I know Preserve is a for-profit company, and this is like free advertising for them. So?