Monthly Archives: June 2009

Fixing my Blue Plastic Umbrella

Plastic is good for some things, right? Like keeping us dry in the rain. A few months ago, Treehugger posted an article about eco-friendly umbrellas ranging from those made from recycled plastic to one touted as the first biodegradable umbrella. So when my little blue umbrella broke, I considered replacing it with one of those — until I remembered that the most eco-friendly choice would be to repair the one I have!

The problem: One of the umbrella’s ribs was broken. (I now know it’s called a rib after finding an online diagram called Parts of an Umbrella.)

Upon close inspection, I could see that a Springy Part A needed to go back into Straight Part B.

But how to hold them together? Michael came up with the brilliant idea of using a straightened paperclip. And voilà!

I twisted the paperclip with pliers to hold it in place and bent it in a circle to keep it from puncturing the umbrella.

And here’s the finished product, complete with a few pieces of duct tape (which we already had) to patch a couple of little holes. The duct tape might not be beautiful, but it worked. Isn’t it nice when “green” and “cheap” get together?

This is nice too. Just because I couldn’t resist.

And now please check out Cat’s fantastic blog post about disposable umbrellas and an artist who makes unique clothing and bags from donated old umbrellas. Fix first! Donate later.

Kathleen Egan: Surfing the Plastic Wave

Kathleen Egan — surfer, artist, and environmental activist — heads up SF Surfrider’s Plastics Subcommittee, which is working to end the plague of plastic pollution in our oceans. I first met her last month displaying her Plastic Wave sculpture (made from the collected plastic of 12 friends over two weeks) at Adventure Ecology’s SMART Art competition.

We met again this past Friday and ended up hanging out at San Francisco’s Pier 29-1/2 (where David de Rothschild is building his Plastiki boat from recycled plastic) after an unfortunate collision between a U-Haul trailer and a metal warehouse gate. Sitting and waiting for the repair people to arrive gave us a chance to see a glimpse of the Plastiki in progress, play with a couple of cute dogs, and enjoy the sun while chatting about all things plastic.

Kathleen began surfing in 2001 after moving to San Francisco and having a surfer friend take her under his wing, and the practice has become life-changing.

“Every wave is unique. Every time on the board is a slightly different experience. Balancing is hard, but catching a wave in the first place is the first challenge. It takes hours of practice. You can’t accelerate the learning process. You just have to put the time in.”

She tells me that to surf is to be totally in the moment. Multi-tasking is not possible because the sport requires total focus. You’re aware of wind, water, other animals or people around you, and emotions like fear. These waves can be very scary. And then she says something I love so much, I have to make her pause so I can get the words down exactly right:

“You are where you are. You have to go through the waves to get out and through the waves again to get back in.”

It’s a metaphor, not only for life, but for the environmental movement and for finding ways to live sustainably. There are no shortcuts. My interpretation: we can’t wait for some miracle technology to save us from the mess we’ve made. Each of us must do our part, every day. We can’t bypass the waves; we have to go through them.

Kathleen became aware of the plastic pollution problem after a presentation given by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation over two years ago. Surfing in destinations all over the world, she’s seen the problem first hand in Indonesia, Mexico, Hawaii. Now, she points at an empty plastic bottle on the dock near our feet and says that when you first start noticing how much plastic there is, and then realize how fast the population is growing, you make the connection about how much plastic each person generates, and the amounts are alarming, the problem overwhelming. “We can’t reach everyone all at once, but we can focus on the people who are open to change and who just need the right information to get involved.”

(Perhaps we can start a “wave” that will pick up the others as it gains momentum and grows bigger.)

As for art, Kathleen has always been creative, but she started working with plastic trash around the same time she became aware of the problem. During a beach cleanup a few years ago, the colored shards of plastic strewn across the sand reminded her of mardi gras beads and gave her the idea to create mosaics. She collects plastic from the beaches wherever she surfs. In fact, the plastic in her blue wave mosaic (on the left) is from a trip to Indonesia. She plans to create her next piece with plastic from El Salvador.

But scooping up bits of plastic for art projects isn’t enough. And, Kathleen insists, all of our small personal changes will not be enough without cooperation and change from businesses. Our conversation becomes animated at this point — me arguing that we won’t get companies to change until individuals themselves change first and begin to vote with their dollars — and Kathleen insisting that not all individuals are going to change and that a handful of passionate activists can make a big difference.

We’re both right, of course. Look at the success of the Brita campaign. Kathleen wants to take a similar approach to urge Jamba Juice to give up using Styrofoam cups and plastic straws for its drinks. And she wants more visibility into what companies are doing. In addition to her avocations as surfer, artist, and activist, Kathleen has a day job involving some pretty large corporations. When she asks what motivates them to “go green,” she hears answers like brand image, efficiency, government regulation. But she never hears that they want to avoid negative press. She asks, why not? Why aren’t more of us out here letting companies know we won’t tolerate unsustainable products and practices?

What will it take to create this wave?

Kids Less Plastic: A Guest Post from Deborah Hladecek

Deborah Hladecek is newly committed to reducing plastic in her family’s life. And living in Northern California, she’s practically my neighbor. So I was thrilled when she offered to write a guest post about what she’s been doing about the plastic in her child’s world. Deborah writes the truly awesome Pure Mothers blog. She also participated in the Show Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge this month. It was an eye-opening experience for her. Check out her stash.

When Beth at Fake Plastic Fish asked for more bloggers to write about plastic, I thought, what could I possibly have to say that she hasn’t said already? She’s the plastic-free goddess! Then my toddler clamored and clawed his way on to my lap to see what I was doing on the computer and I realized that I have another perspective – the mommy view. Beth has her cats, and I have another human being using more resources and contributing to my plastic consumption. I’m a green mom trying to balance what’s good for us with what’s good for the planet, and I am learning that they don’t always co-exist.

Plastic tends to fall into five categories when it comes to babies and children; feeding supplies, food packaging, personal care products, toys, and gear.

Let’s start with feeding. Breastfeeding is the obvious green choice. My son got great nutrition and the planet didn’t suffer one bit. There was absolutely no packaging or energy used (other than my body burning up those extra calories to make milk). No bottles to sterilize and no formula bottles or cans to purchase and throw away. Once my baby started eating solid foods, I was able to make most of it from organic, local fruits and vegetables and I froze servings in reusable plastic baby cubes. Not much waste there either. I can continue to use the cubes for fruit ices and then pass them on to another mom. I did purchase a delicious, fresh, organic baby food called Homemade Baby, and it was packaged in recyclable plastic. I chose a couple of flavors from them that were more difficult or too expensive to make at home. If you buy pre-made baby food, fresh tastes better than jarred, but glass jars are more eco-friendly. The lids on glass jars are still a problem though, because they are lined with BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Homemade is still the greenest choice.

The biggest problem I see out there is the use of “Toss and Go” cups, straws and plates. What a terrible concept- use it, toss it and off you go, while the plastic doesn’t ever “go”. The more we can make at home and package ourselves in reusable containers, the less will go to the landfill or end up in our oceans. We use stainless steel bottles, stainless steel baby utensils, To-Go Ware containers and reusable snack sacks that we found on etsy. This helped us do away with Ziploc bags – a staple in most homes with children. And why do I want my child to eat with plastic utensils when Mom and Dad use stainless steel? Oneida makes a beautiful baby and toddler collection.

Once my son reached toddlerhood he got picky- like most toddlers, and it’s easy for me to grab a box of cereal bars, juice boxes and prepared, organic frozen meals – all laden in plastic. As busy as my son is, I do whatever it takes to get him to eat. And, today, who has time to make everything from scratch? I’m a SAHM and I still can’t find time to make everything from scratch. This is where the dichotomy comes in. There are plenty of organic, choices available that my son will eat, but there is always some plastic involved in the packaging. I can’t always make it to the farmer’s market or health food store to get fresh fruits and veggies. A child can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans and I have to account for illnesses when I can’t get out to the store. If you have a child, you’re probably like me and keep some frozen foods on hand. It’s a necessity because they ARE convenient. But here are some ways I’ve cut back on plastic associated with my organic foods:

- I always bring my own bags everywhere – including cotton produce and grain bags for fruits, veggies and bulk bin items. Why bring your own grocery bag and then proceed to put all of your produce in those clear plastic bags?

- I also don’t purchase pre-packaged chicken anymore, because it comes on Styrofoam and is wrapped in plastic. I ask them to just wrap it in the paper and leave out any plastic. Unfortunately, I can’t purchase hot dogs and sausages directly from the deli because they use pork casings. We only eat fish and fowl, so, I have to purchase the pre-packaged organic sausages – they’re the only choice with no casing.

- When in season, I purchase fresh fruits and berries from my farmer’s market and freeze some for later. I still purchase frozen blueberries, because my son devours them!

- I am reducing the amount of juice boxes and filling up a stainless steel kid’s thermos with juice from glass bottles to take with us when we are out.

- I make homemade muffins more often and sneak veggies in there, like carrots or zucchini, to bring with us when we are out. This cuts back on cereal bars.

- I’ve started making my own yogurt. I have to work on my recipe a bit. It was a little too tart for my son’s taste, but my husband and I ate them. So, that cuts back on our store bought yogurt, which comes in plastic tubs, and are not accepted into the recycling, where I live.

My biggest frustration has been with personal care products for my baby and me. There are actually quite a few organic choices available today, but almost all of them are contained in some form of plastic. And, if they’re packaged in glass, they usually have a plastic lid. Those lids bother me. They always have, because they cannot be recycled. How many little lids exist in the world? I would bury my head in the sand on that one, but would probably choke on a plastic lid. So, what have I done in this department? For myself, I have switched to solid shampoo bars and as soon as I run out of my pump hand soap, I am using good old-fashioned bars. I learned how to felt soap to make them look prettier and they don’t leave the soap dish a scummy mess. I also signed up to take a class to make my own soap and body butters/lotions. I will make some for my child too, because I simply cannot find baby stuff in glass. There is only one company, who I love, by the way, called BabyBearShop. They make an organic shea butter balm for babies in glass (with a pesky plastic lid), body oil in glass with a metal lid and my favorite organic lip balm in a little tin. I am never buying lip balm in a plastic tube again!

The biggest personal care item has got to be diapers and wipes. Cloth diapering has made a comeback – good news for the environment. I hate to say it, but we mostly use your run-of-the-mill disposable with a splattering of all-in-ones and organic training underpants. My son is so skinny; he always tried pulling the cloth diapers off and had difficulty walking in them. Sorry Beth. Sorry Earth. I tried. I really did. My saving grace is that we use 100% biodegradable, earth-friendly wipes packaged in a biodegradable compostable chalk-based package called Nature Babycare. No plastic involved!

Toys and gear are different from the other baby categories, in that these are longer-lived items. I have some solace knowing that a fish hasn’t swallowed a stroller or a baby car seat, but I still think about the amount of plastic when making these purchasing decisions. Legally, we have to use a car seat. But other than that, we really don’t need all the “stuff” that “they” say we need. I opted for eco-friendly slings over using the stroller, but I do have a stroller; I own two, actually. First time moms will probably empathize with me. We just don’t know what will work- and I fell for the “stuff” at first. Some babies like bouncers, some like swings. They all contain plastic. From crib mobiles to teething rings, plastic abounds. We limit our plastic by purchasing used toys made of plastic and new toys made of wood, fabric or metal. Learning more about Waldorf education and their toys has helped tremendously. Some of my son’s favorite toys are his carved wooden figures of people and animals from Germany.

There are a lot more ways I can cut down on our plastic and I am finding alternatives every day. Changes like this don’t happen overnight, but they can happen and life with less plastic is not as hard as it sounds. Just take it one item at a time. So, that’s my challenge to all you moms out there. Just look at where you could find an alternative that would eliminate some plastic. Day by day it gets easier and your kids will thank you for trying to make the world we are leaving to them, a better place.

And if you know if ways you can share with me, I’m listening.

Please Give Just $1 For The Charities That You Help To Choose

7/08/09 UPDATE: The poll and donation drive is over. The winning organizations are Water for People and Sustainable Harvest. A total of $643 was raised. Thanks for voting and contributing!

Hi all. A few weeks ago, I was approached by my friend David who blogs at He and Adam from Twilight Earth had the idea to create an easy way for a few of us bloggers to raise money for an environmental organization doing good work, asking our readers to contribute $1 and vote on which organizations will benefit. Below is the official campaign announcement. I hope you’ll find it in your hearts to participate in this easy fundraiser.

As writers, we know that part of good stewardship is sharing information, but even the most intelligent among us can not make change without DOING something. So
The Good Human,
Twilight Earth,
Grass Stain Guru,
Lighter Footstep,
My Green Side,
The Smart Mama,
A Little Greener Every Day,
Fake Plastic Fish,
Allies Answers, and
Natural Papa
have teamed up to carry our message with one united strong voice. The message is that there are great organizations out there which are suffering in this economic downturn through decreased donations…and they need our help! So we have decided to give you, our readers, a voice and a choice. We have decided to take on a very simple fundraising mission, and we are asking you to donate just $1.00.

A single dollar; that’s all.

Who cannot afford a buck even in these times? We know you can spare a dollar to help out our fellow humans!

But how do we all decide which charities to give 100% of all monies raised to? Well, we are going to put it to a vote and let you guys decide. The 10 websites participating have chosen 5 charities for all donors to vote for, and we are going to let you guys choose which two of them will receive the all monies donated.

Our purpose in doing this is three-fold

  • It gives YOU a voice. As loyal readers and stewards of our environment, we want to offer you the opportunity to make a difference without breaking the bank.
  • It gives the two charities with the most votes some much appreciated funds to continue their mission
  • It allows all of us an opportunity to connect as a community of like-minded people working for the common good of ourselves, our families and our planet.

If the community of folks who care about our planet cannot come together to rise up to a challenge, who will? That is why we are asking you for a $1 donation. While $1 may seem insignificant all by itself, by pooling our resources together we really can make a difference in these tough economic times. $1 is less than the price of a candy bar and can usually be found under the seat cushions of your couch. Won’t you help 2 of these charities with your $1 donation? (Now, if you want to give more, please – feel free. We won’t stop you! And by all means, send this to everyone you know so we can raise even more!)

Below you will find a poll and a Paypal donation link asking you to choose which of the 5 charities your favorite is. We ask that you please donate a dollar to the charity pool if you are going to vote, and know that even if your absolute favorite does not finish first or second, all the money donated will be going to worthwhile causes. If everyone we know who reads our sites, our Twitter feeds, our Facebook sites, etc. donates just $1, imagine the impact we can have as a group. And please, spread the word!

(Note: The poll and donation links have been removed as the campaign has ended. Thanks for your support!)

Please take a moment to vote for your favorite and to donate just a single dollar to these charities. Times are tough and our collective might can really help them out. The results will be tallied two weeks from today, and we will write another article detailing the amounts and the two charities who garnered the most votes and will be receiving the money collected. It’s only $1, so please donate!

Organic food in plastic packaging: Isn’t it ironic?

Arriving late to the Elmwood Theater Saturday night for the film Food Inc, Michael and I were stuck in the front row with our necks craning to see the screen. Believe me. It was worth it. Even if you’ve already read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation, seeing images of downed cattle, abused chickens, and mistreated factory workers up close brings the subject home on a visceral level.

But in addition to needing a reminder of why I should avoid fast food and support our farmer’s markets, I had an ulterior motive. I wanted to see if the film addressed any issues of plastics in the environment and in our food supply. And it kind of did, in a very subtle and ironic way. One of the interviewees in this film is Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm Organic, the third largest producer of yogurt in the U.S. A glimpse of the Stonyfield plant as well as a walk through the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA showed row after row of plastic containers. And it makes you wonder:

Why do producers and consumers of organic products, who are concerned about pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics in our food, ignore the packaging encasing the food after it’s produced? How can Muir Glen canned tomatoes, for example, be certified organic when the lining of the can contains BPA?

And avoiding packaging that contains BPA is not enough! That’s just one ingredient we happen to know about. How about what we don’t? We demand full disclosure of ingredients from food companies. How about possible ingredients leaching from the containers? Plastic is not just plastic. It often contains additives that affect its strength, flexibility, color, and even resistance to bacteria. And there’s no labeling law requiring disclosure of any of that.

When our current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, 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. And in 30 years, only 5 have been banned. The law is so weak, that the EPA has not even been able to ban asbestos.

How do we know that the chemicals added to plastics are safe if they are not required to be proven safe before entering the market? How can we make decisions if we don’t even know what these chemicals are??!!

And how can manufacturers of organic products tell us they want to protect the environment and “save the earth” when they are relying on plastic wraps, plastic containers, plastic bottles, and plastic bags without question?

I want to see safe product packaging added to the criteria for organic certification. I want producers to ask what “food grade” really means and for manufacturers of plastic products to be required to reveal all of their additives. I want all manufacturers to follow the principal of Extended Producer Responsibility and plan for a practical cradle to cradle life cycle for their products and packaging BEFORE putting them on the market.

So what can we do? Today, I’m going to share my thoughts with the following organizations:

1) Organic Consumers Association

2) USDA National Organic Progam

3) My senators

4) My representative

5) Stonyfield Farms. To Stonyfield’s credit, they have extensively researched their packaging and are working on finding a more sustainable solution. You can read what they have to say about their plastic yogurt containers here:

Still, I didn’t see anything in their packaging statement about what chemicals are in the plastic, so I’ll be writing to them as well.

Several Bay Area farmers markets have already taken the initiative to purge themselves of plastic. I’ll be writing about them later this week. And I plan to pursue the issue of organic food in plastic packaging on an ongoing basis. Plastic may be the lighter weight alternative. But unless we are told what chemicals are in the plastic, how can any of us know if it’s safe?

This is my post for the Green Moms Carnival for the month of July where we’re talking about Food Matters. Check out the full roundup of posts at The Milkweed Merchantile on Monday, July 13th.

Confession of a Fast Food Addict who ate at Amanda’s and forgot to BYO.

The theme of the Green Mom’s Carnival this month is Eco-Confessions. And I have a big one. I love fast food. Every time I pass a McDonald’s I have to close my eyes and count to ten to keep from going in and ordering a double cheeseburger. This fact probably grosses some of you out. And when I think about what a McDonald’s double cheeseburger is made of, it grosses me out too. But it’s hard to think about the cows and environmental degradation wrought by the meat industry (and the mono-culture GMO corn industry) when I catch a whiff of those burgers sizzling on the grill.

But that’s not really my confession. Because mostly, I manage to resist that McDonald’s urge that was instilled in me as a child through no fault of my own. I resist and resist. And the few times a year I succumb, I get out with no bag, no napkin, no cup or straw or ketchup pack. I do try to mitigate the damage as much as possible because I’m always prepared with my reusable to-go accoutrements.

Except a few weeks ago, I had this for lunch and didn’t include any of it in my plastic tally:

It’s not McDonald’s. It’s Amanda’s in downtown Berkeley. The fries aren’t actually fries. They’re baked. The burger isn’t meat (although Amanda’s does serve beef). It’s only the best veggieburger I’ve ever had in my life (made from walnuts and mushrooms.) The soda is homemade ginger ale very lightly sweetened. Because Amanda’s is part of Berkeley’s Eat Well program, which mandates that participating restaurants meet a set of criteria including using no trans fats, offering a fruit or vegetable side dish, and offering a drink option other than soda.

Amanda’s desserts include roasted nuts or very small cookies. Nothing is super-sized or soaked in grease. In fact, Amanda was inspired by the film Super Size Me and book Fast Food Nation to create this restaurant and make a difference.

And all that plastic? It’s compostable. Made from corn or potatoes or other natural fiber.

And that’s my real confession. I was out in the world. I was hungry. I didn’t have my to-go accessories with me that day because I didn’t plan to be out so long. And I had just successfully resisted the urge to slip into McDonald’s down the street. I knew that I could put all the waste from Amanda’s into the handy compost bin provided and that it would all actually be composted by the City of Berkeley.

But I still felt guilty as sin.

Because why waste all this material… even for compost… when we don’t have to? Why doesn’t a restaurant like Amanda’s that is trying to do such a good job (and IS doing a great job compared to fast food resturants) provide reusable plates and utensils for customers staying to eat their food in the restaurant? And why didn’t I remember to bring my own mug and utensils and napkin to avoid this waste myself?

As Captain Moore said a few weeks ago, “Refuse” is the first “R.” Well, we can’t refuse to eat. But we can follow the second R, “Reduce” before opting for Recycling or Rotting in this case.

And then of course, realizing that I was doing the very thing that I urge you guys not to do… i.e. feel guilty for not being perfect… I started to feel even guiltier! It’s madness. Madness, I tell you. All this eco-perfectionism. It doesn’t help, does it?

So, those are my confessions. I sometimes eat at McDonald’s when I can’t resist temptation. I sometimes forget to bring my own and end up generating unnecessary waste. And I sometimes feel guilty for not being perfect. In other words, I am human!

We had a great time sharing eco-confessions on this blog back in March. Do you have any more or new confessions to share? For inspiration, check out the Green Moms carnival which will be hosted on Wednesday, June 24, at The Green Parent blog.

The Discovery of a Challenge: A Guest Post from Carrick Bartle

The following is a guest post from Fake Plastic Fish reader Carrick Bartle who finds that pretending she’s on the show Little House on the Prairie is a fun green motivator. Carrick joined the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge a few weeks ago. Check out her plastic stash.

I’m a single girl in my twenties in Los Angeles, working in what’s essentially the legal department of an entertainment company. The building I work in is actually quite progressive in the “green” arena—they just installed a ginormous field of solar panels–and it was an article in the weekly company newsletter that jumpstarted my current obsession with minimizing my carbon footprint—which, of course, includes avoiding plastic. (Getting the word out DOES make a difference!)

The article was on green issues and mentioned a few blogs -— like No Impact Man —- written by people who weren’t content with just chucking things in the recycling bin like I was: instead, they took the leap to decide that if disposable items were bad, they would examine every facet of their lives to try to rid their lives of them completely. I had had no idea there was such a vibrant online community about this. And the more I read, the more apparent it became that I wasn’t doing nearly enough.

I just plain didn’t know exactly how damaging plastic -— and other consumer materials -— was to the ecosystem. Of course I knew enough to frown upon it, but I certainly didn’t realize, for instance, how damaging it was to ME, directly -— e.g. that it was soaking into my skin from cosmetics and could cause CANCER. I learned about a bunch of things that kick you right in the gut -— like the Mae West turtle and the Pacific Garbage Patch and the prediction from some scientists that the entire North Pole may melt completely in just a few decades. I realized that things like not buying a soda in a plastic bottle wasn’t just nice -— it was imperative.

I became an addict -— poring through every article of every blog I could find (like Fake Plastic Fish) for tips on changes to make. And I was surprised to find how maddeningly hard eliminating plastic was. Cans have a plastic liner?? You can’t get medication in anything other than plastic?? There are no electronics not made with plastic?!?!

It became an exciting challenge. One website, Crunchy Chicken, even runs awesome (hardcore!!) challenges that kickstart you into changing or amping up your habits. I’ve always been a bit of an ascetic, a bit of an eccentric, and a bit of a luddite, and this new obsession drew those qualities right to the surface. Not that you have to be those things in the pursuit of becoming more eco-friendly – —that’s just what I found most fun about it.

I love pretending I’ve entered the world of Little House of the Prairie. Instead of washing my dishes with a plastic sponge, I started using a hand-crocheted cloth -— just like in ye olden tymes! I brush my teeth with baking soda, line-dry my laundry, make most of my meals from scratch, buy only used clothing, use the bulk bins, etc., etc., etc.

(In the kitchen pic, I’m cooking with my used pot and new but bamboo cooking spoon and wearing a skirt I got at Goodwill for 5 bucks! The other picture is me holding my toothbrush (with baking soda on it) and my baking soda deodorant concoction -— recipe courtesy of Fake Plastic Fish.)

Of course, I still have a long way to go. My next anti-plastic project is to get a crockpot and a tortilla press so I can indulge in my craving for refried beans and tortilla chips without having to toss out yet another can and plastic bag. But at least I’m now fully aware of these issues, which is, of course, half the battle. And the changes I’ve made have become so ingrained that I barely notice them anymore—I don’t feel deprived or anything; I feel the same as usual.

Plastic-Free Stain Remover & other Laundry ideas

Lunch at Oliveto with my friend Simone last Saturday was great fun. Too much fun. I laughed so hard, I spilled coffee all over the table and all over my sleeve. Normally, I’d just take it home and “Shout it Out.” But not this time. This past week, I ran out of the plastic bottle of Shout I’d been using for the last two years and was determined to find a plastic-free alternative.

But the plastic bottle was not my only concern. Do you know what chemicals are in Shout? Terrible nasty ones or perfectly benign? Unless you work for S.C. Johnson, you’re as clueless as I am because the company doesn’t reveal it’s ingredients. Here’s the FAQ from the Shout web site:

Q. What are the ingredients in Shout®?
A. We can’t give away our “trade secrets,” but we can say that Shout® Laundry Stain Removers are detergent based with powerful cleaning agents. Shout® does not contain any phosphates or bleach.

Can’t? Or won’t? This is the problem with so many chemicals that we use on a daily basis. Not only are they not tested for safety before entering the market, but manufacturers don’t even have to tell us what they are in the first place! No thanks.

Here are the plastic-free, less toxic laundry products I’m currently using:

1) Ecover laundry powder comes in a recycled cardboard box and contains a recycled cardboard scoop, unlike most powder detergents that come with a plastic scoop. And the company lists its ingredients on the box as well as the web site: Sodium carbonate, Zeolite, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Fatty Acid Methyl Esters Ethoxylates, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Carbonate Peroxide, Sodium Poly Asparaginate, Sodium Disilicate, Sodium Citrate, Cellulose Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Subtilisin. Now, I’m not a chemist and this does seem like a lot of ingredients, regardless of the fact that they are plant based and not tested on animals. So we have been alternating with the next item.

2) LaundryTree soap nuts until recently came packaged in a plastic bag. No more. Read the awesome story about how Lisa at LaundryTree made the switch to plastic-free packaging. Soapnuts contain one natural ingredient: soapnuts. The only reason we don’t use them exclusively is that we stocked up on Ecover a while back and are still using it up. Also, I think the Ecover does a better job on seriously dirty gym clothes.

3) Borax turns out to be a great stain remover! I like that it comes in a cardboard box and also that it also contains only one ingredient: borax. Of course, it’s not without its environmental impact, as it’s a mineral that has to be mined from the earth. That’s why we use it sparingly only for tough stains.

To clean my jacket sleeve, I used the instructions from The Naturally Clean Home,icona little book I picked up a while back from our local bookstore. While I do a lot of research on the Internet, sometimes it’s nice to have a book handy to grab for solutions, and this is a good one. Here’s what the author says to do for coffee and tea stains: Immediately flush with cool water. Then soak in a borax and water solution before laundering.

Not having soaked my jacket immediately, I thought maybe something a little more intense was in order. So I actually made a paste of borax and water (stored now in a glass jar for future stain-removal needs) and and rubbed it into the stains with an old toothbrush. Several hours later, I rinsed off the borax, and the stains were gone!

Of course, there are other ways to get rid of stains, depending on what kind they are. Carbonated water (free of plastic bottle waste with my Soda Club soda maker) is another alternative. And The Naturally Clean Home lists more.

But lest you think our laundry room is completely plastic-free, think again. We still have a few more plastic bottles, acquired before I gave up buying new plastic, that we are very, very slowly working our way through:

WIN detergent for athletic wear, Seventh Generation oxygen bleach, and a can of spray starch with a plastic cap. At some point, these too will end up in the plastic tally, unless I finally just decide to give them away on Freecycle. (I’m not even sure if we use the spray starch. Maybe Michael uses it on his collars. Hmmm…)

What are your favorite non-toxic and plastic-free ways to clean clothes?

FPF Anniversary! Year 2, Week 51 & 52 Results: 6.9 oz of plastic waste

It’s Fake Plastic Fish’s 2-Year anniversary of collecting trash. Plastic trash. I’m planning to change things up a little after today, but here is the tally for the last two weeks.

Plastic used up this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 1 bottle Woolite plus cap. We’ve had this bottle for over two years and finally used it up. It will not be replaced. I’ve got info on plastic-free laundry products coming up in a blog post this week.
  • 1 bottle of Shout stain remover plus sprayer. Just like above, we’ve had this stuff for over two years and finally used it up. Will write about plastic-free stain removal this week as well. And I plan to reuse this bottle for the homemade air freshener I’m going to make when our current bottle of natural citrus air freshener runs out. (That bottle unfortunately can’t be refilled.)
  • 1 nasty chewed up synthetic sponge. We are using up a few more synthetic sponges for yucky jobs, but mostly use Skoy cloths now. See link below for info on Skoy.
  • 1 travel size bottle of hairspray plus sprayer. I don’t use hairspray anymore and haven’t since reading about all the toxic chemicals in personal care products (see below). But this has been sitting in the cabinet and I used it up this week trying to get paint off a sweatshirt. (It didn’t really work.)
  • 1 used up ball point pen. I mostly use pencils and a refillable fountain pen. (Info on fountain pen below.) But I’ll still grab the occasional disposable pen from our stash when I need something fast, and this one died this week.
  • 1 plastic bag of Trader Joe’s walnuts. Yes, this had been sitting in our freezer for over two years, and Michael finally added it to some banana bread last week. We now buy nuts from the bulk bins at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl with our own containers.
  • Plastic window from a box of cheap steel wool soap pads. I hate these things and rarely use them because they rust so fast. We finally used them up this week. I now use Chore Boy copper scrubbers instead, which come in a cardboard box with zero plastic and last a much longer time.

New plastic waste:

  • 7 plastic envelope windows. From Financial West Group (4), ING Direct, Franchise Tax Board, & GE. One of the Financial West Group envelopes is a proxy voting ballot for Winslow Green Funds, which now offers all their paperwork electronically. So I have made the switch this week and should have reduced this paper/plastic by at least one. The GE mailing list is another one I can remove myself from. Everything else is unavoidable at this point.
  • 2 plastic wrappers from Financial West Group. These are those biodegradable plastic wrappers I talked about a few weeks ago. One is from Winslow Green and shouldn’t come anymore. They are both made from petroleum-based plastics, so are added to the tally. Follow the link below to learn more.
  • Timing chip & 2 plastic ties from Bay to Breakers. These should have been added to the tally last time, but I forgot to take it off of my shoe. More on plastic running chips below.
  • Plastic packing tape. From a case of wine I received from a friend.
  • Piece of tape from a bar of handmade soap. Another of the bars we bought in Santa Cruz a few weeks ago.
  • 2 doses of Frontline flea treatment for the cats. Read about the Frontline saga below.

So, I end Year 2 with a bang. Next week begins Year 3. But I don’t think I’m going to post a tally every week. As you’ve seen, I haven’t actually been doing it weekly for the last couple of months, and I’d like the flexibility to post other kinds of things on Mondays. But I still think the tally is useful and valuable. So I’m going to switch to a monthly report. I’ll still collect it all, but I’ll only post it here once a month.

How are you guys doing on your own plastic challenges? A few more people have added their tallies to the Challenge Web Site. Please visit and give them your feedback!

What do you think about cell phones? Should I switch to Credo?

Cell phones. I have one. Through AT&T. It’s a Sony Ericsson Z525a that I bought 3 years ago, choosing this model because compared to the others offered at the time, it lasted the longest before needing to be recharged. (Talk time up to 9 hours and standby time up to 400.) It’s not special. It does have a crappy camera, but that’s about the only “extra.” No fancy keyboard. Not much in the way of web browsing. It’s fine. And it still works just fine.

Okay, now I know cell phones give off radiation and we are advised to keep them away from our heads. (I still don’t have a headset for mine. Just like I rarely use sunscreen. Tempting fate?) And I know there are all kinds of environmental issues around manufacture and disposal of cell phones, the very least of which is that they are made from plastic. Most of them are also full of toxic heavy metals.

I hadn’t even considered trading in my perfectly good phone (and am constantly urging others to really think before upgrading to the latest and greatest gadgets) until this morning, when I received an email from Green America (formerly Coop America) titled “5 Environmental Questions About Your Phone Company,” promoting Credo Mobile. Here’s what the email says:

If you’re concerned about the environment, you ask questions about the things you buy. Here are five questions to ask about your phone company:

1. How much has your phone company donated to Greenpeace?
2. Does it donate to plant trees for each ton of paper used?
3. Does it work to stop new coal-fired power plants?
4. Does it oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
5. Does it support legislation to drastically cut CO2 emissions?

Credo’s answers to all these questions is a resounding, “Yes.” And if that weren’t enough, check out their Green Statement.

For those who don’t know, Credo used to be called Working Assets. It’s a socially responsible company that gives large amounts of money to progressive causes. In fact, Credo/Working Assets has been my long distance carrier for “16 long years,” according to the customer service rep I spoke to this morning, and I’ve always felt good about this ethical choice. But back when I bought my first cell phone, Credo wasn’t in the cellular business, so I went with AT&T (then Cingular.)

Seems like a no-brainer to switch to Credo for my cell plan, right? But there’s a catch. I’d have to trade in my old, perfectly good phone, for a new one. Why? Because Credo is on the Sprint network, which uses different technology from AT&T. I asked. I was all set to write a post about how I opted to forego the brand new free phone this morning. Not possible.

Question #1 — What do you think is the greener choice? Obviously, not having a cell phone in the first place. But I’m not willing to do that. So should I turn in my 3-year old phone (which will be refurbished & donated — Credo participates in Collective Good’s cell phone re-use/recycling program and offers several refurbished cell phones to customers to minimize cell phone waste) or should I stick with AT&T until this phone dies, even though it is a multinational corporation that may not share my values?

What would you do?

Question #2 — If you do think I should go ahead and switch to Credo, should I choose one of the very basic refurbished cell phones or should I upgrade to a smart phone like a Blackberry or Motorola Moto Q in order to be able to access the Internet and blog while away from home without having to lug around a laptop? Have any of you used one of these gadgets? Are they a good idea? And since I would have to replace my phone anyway, wouldn’t this be a good time to upgrade as well?

I’d love to find a used phone via Craigslist. Unfortunately finding a Credo-compatible phone via Craigslist will be difficult. Right now, there are none listed. And the customer service rep at Credo tells me that simply finding a Sprint-compatible phone will not work. Here is a list of the phone choices available to me if I switch. Should I pick one of these?

Or do nothing and continue to support AT&T. Would that be so bad?