Monthly Archives: November 2010

Good-Bye Toshiba Laptop. Hello Secondhand Sony Vaio.

Toshiba satellite laptop computerDear Toshiba Satellite S105 Laptop Computer:

I’m sorry I never gave you a better name in the 9 years that we were together. I was so sad last week when I traded you in at CeX in Berkeley for a bigger, faster, more powerful computer. For a second, I thought I might jump across the counter and grab you back from that sales dude who was checking all your buttons and parts to make sure you worked okay. I don’t think anyone else has had their hands on you except for Michael maybe and that computer doctor I brought you to a few times when you crashed. See? I loved you. I didn’t toss you away like most people would after two years.

With you, I learned to blog and create web sites and little Flash videos. Remember that stupid animation we made back in 2003 where we knocked off the Governator’s head with a baseball bat? Good times. And better — you were there when Michael and I got married. You helped me make the DVDs we inflicted on our friends and relatives afterwards. But even then, the work was slow-going.

Toshiba, I need more from a computer now. Programs are bigger. File sizes are massive. Remember what a hard time we had at the BlogHer conference this past summer? It took an hour to upload pictures from my camera. Your memory isn’t what it used to be, even with the upgrades I gave you, and neither are your processing skills. But don’t worry. This is not the end of the road for you, my friend. Because instead of tossing you away as just more e-waste, I have sold you back to CeX to be refurbished and resold to someone who will appreciate what you have to offer. You’re still great for email and web browsing and other basic tasks.

Goodbye little friend.

Love,

Beth

P.S. I can’t believe I’m crying over a stupid computer. I must be hormonal. Or materialistic in a good way?


Sony Vaio laptop computerDear secondhand Sony Vaio Laptop:

If I didn’t give the Toshiba a better name, I’m certainly not going to give you one.

It took a long time to find you. Why? Because I refuse to buy a brand new computer and add to the toxic waste stream resulting from our thoughtless over-consumption of electronics. Over the years, I upgraded my Toshiba and got the most use out of it I could.  Nine years is ancient in techno time. Then, I waited until I found the right secondhand computer. I searched Craigslist for months and never found what I wanted. Then, last week, walking past CeX, I saw you in the window. I couldn’t believe it. Your price was right. Your features were awesome. CeX paid me cash for the Toshiba so that you cost even less. And best of all: no plastic packaging waste. I took you home in my backpack. No padding necessary.

But you’ll have to prove yourself to me. Yes, we’re having fun now. But this is just the honeymoon stage. Are you going to hold up? One thing I notice is that you don’t get as hot as the Toshiba. That’s a good sign. Also? You don’t crash as much. Is that because of Windows 7?

Well, for better or for worse, you and I are a team. Are you ready to blog about plastic? Get ready to do a lot of that.  We’re writing a book on the subject, too!  (Oh, don’t feel bad. I know you are made from plastic. But you’re not brand new plastic, and secondhand is okay, according to the rules of my No New Plastic game.)  You will be my only computer from here on out.  I’m giving my desktop computer to Michael.  His beat up Compaq is even older and slower than my Toshiba, and sadly, I don’t think he’ll get money for that one.  We’ll have to find an e-Steward recycler.

Technology is a beautiful and scary thing.  I’m trying to be responsible with it.  Sony Vaio, I hope you’ll hold up your end of the bargain.

Sincerely,

Beth Terry (That’s Mistress Beth to you.)

Green Gifts Don’t Have to Suck

I’m starting to feel anxious already. The start of the holiday shopping season is upon us, with the stampedes of Black Friday coming up in just a few days, followed by the Internet shopping frenzy of Cyber Monday. I tend to put on my Grinch Face and hide at home during the holiday shopping season. I’ve never enjoyed the crowds and anxiety and Christmas jingles that get stuck in your head through the rest of the winter. And with the growing awareness of how our shopping habits impact the planet, I’ve noticed myself becoming just a little smug about my choice to opt out.

And that’s not fair.

Because there are ways to opt out of the madness and still enjoy the season. And gift giving can be a beautiful thing when you remove all the ulterior motives behind gift choices and concentrate on the happiness of all involved. With that in mind, here are my top ten guidelines for happily green gift giving.

1) Surprise is overrated. As a kid, I used to hunt for and secretly open all my presents before Christmas, careful to replace the tape and wrapping paper so as not to get caught. I wasn’t merely satisfying my curiosity, but I wanted to prepare my face ahead of time for that weird sweater from an aunt or pink gag wig from my dad. Once I’d said my polite thank you on Christmas day, those things would be headed for the back of the closet and eventually the landfill. Nowadays, I’d stand in line to exchange or find a way to donate or regift an unwanted present. But how much happier could we make each other if instead of giving what we think the person should have, we make an effort to give what they really want? The greenest gift is one the recipient will appreciate and actually use.

2) Leave the preaching to the preachers. There’s no better way to turn someone off of the green movement than using your holiday gift to send a message about how you think they should live. In her post, 10 Green Gifts That Suck, Lisa from Condo Blues bemoans “green” gifts like compact fluoroscent light bulbs and rechargeable batteries (unless, of course, the recipient has asked for those things) that have more to do with sending a message than making someone happy. A stainless steel water bottle in the back of the cupboard is a waste of materials and energy and isn’t doing anyone any good.

3) Value experiences over stuff. I love good food. I’d much rather have my friends chip in and give me a gift certificate to Chez Panisse than individual tchotchkes for my home. And I know people who would enjoy a membership at their favorite museum, movie passes or tickets to a show. These kinds of gifts require no packaging or shipping and leave nothing behind except for happy memories. Just don’t be like Larry David on the show Curb Your Enthusiasm who begrudged his friends the restaurant gift certificate he’d given after learning they used it to take another couple out to dinner. A gift is a gift, after all.

4) Secondhand can be better then new. Secondhand gifts not only create less impact for the planet but can be even better than new stuff if chosen carefully. Consider the sweet little thrift shop dragonfly tea cup and saucer I found for a co-worker who collects any and all things dragonfly. I spotted it while out shopping in June and kept it for months until her birthday in December. The gift was perfect. And how about the beautiful vintage Kitchenaid mixer my friend Jen gave as a gift one year? She found it on eBay in perfect shape and felt good about giving an appliance that was actually made to last and that could be repaired rather than tossed after a year.

5) Give gifts made by hand — yours or someone else’s. Aside from a crazy knitting phase I went through a few years back, I’m not particularly crafty. But I love it if you are! From cookies to bath salts to handmade jewelry, making our own gifts or buying them from craft fairs or online sites like Etsy.com can be a great way to shift our spending away from mass-produced junk, as long as we don’t forget the first guideline on this list: choose gifts the recipient will appreciate. Giving handmade jewelry is no good for someone who never wears the stuff. Bath salts don’t work for someone who only takes showers. Cookies are not helpful to someone limiting their sugar intake. Please don’t buy me a handbag made from recycled juice boxes, unless you want it back under your Christmas tree next year.

6) Donate with care. Around this time of year, my email inbox is flooded with requests from nonprofits to give gift donations in my loved ones’ names. These kinds of gifts can be very thoughtful if handled in the right way. Give to an organization that both you and the recipient feel good about. Once again, refrain from using the holidays as a means to push your agenda. And really think through the appropriateness of your gift. A vegan, for example, might not appreciate a donation to Heifer International.

7.) Offer your skills. Gift certificates to help with cooking, childcare, bookkeeping, gardening, etc. can be great, as long as you actually have the skills to do the job and are willing to follow through on your promise. And make sure the recipient actually needs the help that you offer! Make an appointment so your giftee doesn’t feel awkward about calling to “cash in” on the gift or you don’t end up with a last minute request for babysitting that you hadn’t planned on.

8) Choose greener electronics. Living green doesn’t have to mean living in a cave. While sales of computers, mobile phones, electronic games, and other gadgets skyrocket during the holidays, there are ways to reduce our impact while still having some of the things that make our modern lives better. Check out the Center for Environmental Health’s (CEH) 2010 Holiday Shopping Guide for Finding Greener Electronics (PDF) as a place to start. Consider a refurbished computer instead of buying brand new. Microsoft provides a list of certified refurbishers. CEH recommends Redemtech, which is not only acMicrosoft-certified refurbisher but is also an “e-Stewards recycler and a world leader in promoting sustainable computing strategies for businesses.”

9) Think about media types. Books, CDs, and DVDs are just some of the ways we consume information these days. Now, we can also choose e-Books, audiobooks, downloadable music, streaming videos, and probably other types of media I haven’t even heard of yet. Instead of buying a bunch of DVDs that will be watched once and stored on the shelf, why not give a membership to Netflix or other service that lets you stream videos directly to your TV set? A book is great, but not if the recipient never has time to pick it up and read it. Maybe your giftee would rather listen to an audio version downloaded from iTunes or read it on their iPad. Choose the medium that will give your recipient the most pleasure while creating the least environmental impact.

10) Bring Your Own Bag. Many of us are getting into the habit of bringing our own bags to the grocery store, but how many of us think about bringing our tote bags with us shopping for gifts and other stuff? And bags are just part of the holiday packaging problem. Wrapping paper, ribbons, Styrofoam peanuts, cardboard boxes, bubblewrap, clamshells that require special tools to cut into… the waste from holiday gift giving is staggering. Many of the gift ideas above involve little to no packaging waste. We can cut even more waste by requesting that online shippers (like Etsy.com sellers, for example) skip the plastic packaging or supporting programs like Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging, and wrapping gifts in reusable cloth gift bags.

What are your ideas for green gifts that your friends and family will actually enjoy?

This post is part of the November Green Moms Carnival hosted at The Green Parent and Lisa Sharp’s Green Holiday Blog Carnival.  A version also appears at BlogHer.com.

Plastic State of Mind Parody Video is extra fun today

Plastic State of Mind videoYesterday, L.A. County voted to ban single-use plastic bags. And this morning, Green Sangha — an organization I’ve been part of since 2007 — released an awesome new video by filmmaker Ben Zolno of New Message Media. Watch, enjoy, and please pass it on to your friends. The message is serious.  The medium is total, addictive fun.

(Click here to watch the full size video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koETnR0NgLY)  For those who can’t hear or who can’t understand the lyrics, the whole thing is conveniently titled, and the lyrics are also printed out on the Youtube page.

The Truth About “America Recycles Day”

Plastics Make It PossibleToday is America Recycles Day, brought to you by The American Chemistry Council, Pepsico, Nestle, and other mega corporations hoping that YOU will take responsibility for the plastic waste THEY produce so they won’t have to.

“America Manages To Toss Disposable Packaging Into The Recycling Bin When It’s Convenient” Day

When most people tell you they recycle, what they mean is that they put their bottles, containers, paper, cans, etc. into the recycle bin instead of the trash bin.  Then, they can forget about it.  That’s not recycling.  That’s sorting.  Recycling is what hopefully happens after the materials are hauled away and  sold to the companies that convert the “waste” materials into new products.  How much of what we put into our recycle bins is actually recycled?  It all depends on the market.

In the case of plastic, most of the material is downcycled into secondary products like carpeting and polar fleece that usually cannot be recycled further.  It’s  a slower process to the landfill.  But it does nothing to reduce the need for virgin plastic to keep producing more disposable bags and containers and bottles.

Recycling is necessary, but it’s not the answer to the plastic pollution problem!

As long as we are addicted to single-use disposable products and packaging, we will need recycling systems, just like we need garbage hauling for the waste that can’t be recycled or composted.  But where does our plastic “recycling” go after it’s hauled away?  Usually, to China, where whole communities are sickened by the toxic emissions from this supposedly green solution.  Take a look at this video tracking plastic recycling from a town in Britain to a small community in China.  It’s several years old, and this particular facility has been shut down.  But as long as the majority of our plastic recycling is shipped overseas, these are the kinds of conditions we will help to create.

Buying Products from Recycled Materials

The American Chemistry Council released a statement a few days ago: Most Americans Say It Feels Green to Buy Recycled. No one can argue that a shirt made from recycled bottles isn’t greener than a brand new shirt made from virgin polyester. And since there is already so much plastic waste polluting the planet, it’s necessary to find ways to recover and reuse all that material. But recovery is only necessary because there’s so much plastic crap to begin with!

Community Recycling Supports the Plastics Industry

The ACC’s statement mentions not one word about reducing consumption. And it also completely avoids suggesting that plastics manufacturers practice Extended Producer Responsibility and create take back programs for the disposable products it manufactures. They want to reap the rewards and stick us with the monumental task of figuring out how to clean up the mess. We pay for recycling programs with our tax dollars, while the ACC fights bottle bills and bag fees at every turn.

REFUSE!

Recycling is the LAST of the 4 R’s: REFUSE, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a last resort when we’ve done the best we can to get disposable plastics out of our lives.

Recycling is necessary. But it’s not the final solution.

Show Your Plastic. Make a Quilt.

Create Plenty logoIf you’ve been waiting to join the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge, this coming week is your chance to not only collect and analyze your personal plastic waste, but also to be a part of a gorgeous traveling exhibit — the International Plastic Quilt Project — which is encouraging people to live plastic-free and to make art from the plastic waste that they do end up with.

I met up with Oakland resident Amy Chovnick last month to be a part of the following video, explaining the idea behind the project and how you can get involved. It’s simple!

Video Link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDcfqKuOv6k

The quilt will be displayed on December 2 in Portland, OR, so Cheryl from Create Plenty requests that squares be delivered or mailed by November 22. What have you got to lose? Join the challenge this weekend! Complete instructions are on the Create Plenty web site.

I got a chance to see part of the quilt a few weeks ago at the Mini Maker Faire in Oakland. What I loved about it was the variety of designs, from simple to complex. See for yourself. (Click images to see larger.)

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

plastic quilt project

And here are some fake plastic fish…

plastic quilt project

The Story of Electronics: Planned Obsolescence Sucks

Story of ElectronicsOne of the strategies I use to acquire less new plastic is to fix stuff that breaks instead of replacing it with new gadgets and to use resources like Craigslist, Freecycle, and thrift stores to get it secondhand. So I get really irritated when despite my best efforts, I find that my broken gadgets are not designed to be repaired. I’ve ranted about the HP Monitor and the digital scale that I tried to have fixed. I bragged about working with my dad to fix my old hair dryer, but lamented the fact that it wasn’t made to be repaired and that only the fact that my dad is an electronics technician allowed us to open it up and replace the broken part.

Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff Project in conjunction with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and Center for Environmental Health have just released a new video today: The Story of Electronics. And it explains in 7 minutes the entire toxic life-cycle of gadgets designed for the dump and what we as consumers can do about it.

Video link: http://storyofstuff.org/electronics/

What you can do:

1) Buy less new stuff!

2) Use this form to send an email to two large computer companies that scored D’s on the Recycling Report Card to ask them to redesign their products.

3) Use this form to ask congress to pass legislation against toxic e-waste dumping.

4) Check out the action page for links on responsible e-waste recycling, buying a greener computer, and a whole lot more.

My laptop has finally died, and I’m going to be checking out these resources to figure out how to get the most responsible replacement. I’m a little hesitant to go the Craigslist route this time because I require a robust machine that can handle my video editing and communications needs. Until I find the right solution, I’ll just wait…

Read my interview with Annie Leonard here.

Plastic is a Social Justice Issue (Van Jones at TEDxGP2)

I’m back from the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch conference and feeling refreshed.  I’ve got many things to report about plastic toxicity, plastic and animals, plastics legislation, and even a new product that you’ll be excited about.  The videos will be posted on the web in a few days, and I’ll let you know when they’re up so you can experience the event for yourself.

Van JonesBut for right now, I just want to share my notes from what I felt was one of the most important talks of the day: Van Jones on Environmental Justice. (Van Jones is the author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.icon If you haven’t read it yet, you should.)

How many of us check the number on the bottom of a plastic container to see if it’s one of the “bad plastics” to avoid?  How many are still willing to use #2, #4, or #5 plastics (the “safe” ones)?  Well, besides what I always say about how we can’t know for sure that any plastics are safe without knowing what chemicals have been added to them, there is another factor to consider: the impact on the residents of the communities where the chemicals in plastics are processed.

According to Van Jones, plastic harms poor people in every stage of its life cycle: production, use, and disposal.

Plastic’s Toxic Life Cycle

Production: In the primarily African American town of Mossville, LA, surrounded by fourteen petrochemical plants, residents suffer from diabetes, liver cancer, kidney problems, and the incidence of endometriosis is so high that disproportionate numbers of young women have had to undergo total hysterectomies. Blood tests have revealed three times the national average of dioxin (a byproduct of PVC manufacturing) in their bodies.

Gulf communities of Southeast Texas like Houston and Corpus Christi are regularly subjected to disproportionate levels of benzene (a carcinogenic building block of plastics like PET, linked to leukemia and other blood disorders) and other hazardous chemicals used in the production of plastics and petroleum-based products, over and above safe standards.

Van Jones said that these illnesses “are the price poor people pay for us to have disposable plastics.”

Use: Poor people have fewer choices of products they can buy. Oftentimes, they don’t have the same options as those of us who can afford to buy plastic-free options. So poor people are more likely to suffer from the chemicals that can leach out of plastic products than wealthier people.

Disposal: When we toss our plastic waste into the recycle bin, thinking we are doing a good deed, many of us don’t realize that that plastic is being shipped to Asia, where it pollutes communities and where much of it is burned in open incinerators, harming the health of the poor in other parts of the world.

What those of us in the U.S.  might not realize is that by shipping our waste overseas to be burned, we are actually harming ourselves, as much of that smoke ends up right back here. According to Jones, air pollution from Asia has erased the clean air gains we have made here in California. We are truly “one planet.”

Disposable Products and People

Jones asserted that the root problem is the idea of disposability itself.

“In order to trash the planet, you have to trash people. But if you create a world where we don’t trash people, we can’t trash the planet.”

He also said that bio-mimicry (solving human problems by emulating nature’s models, systems, processes, and elements) is an important social justice idea and opens the door to zero waste production, since in nature, there is no waste.

According to Jones, we need Bio-mimicry (respecting the wisdom of all species) + Democracy (respecting the wisdom of all people) and to be as passionate about rescuing people as rescuing stuff from the landfill. “How can a movement be so passionate about not having throwaway stuff and not care about throwaway people?”

He closed by lamenting how many of us, when deciding where to focus our energies, have been asked to choose between “hugging a child or hugging a tree.”

“Most of us have two arms,” he said.  “We can hug both.”

We are the albatross

Every day for over 3 years, I have carried an image of a dead albatross chick in my head.  It’s there with me at the grocery store and walking down the street and sitting at my desk.  It affects the daily choices I make.  That photo = harm, harm that I am no longer willing to inflict.

I have no right to inflict that kind of harm on people either.  Even if a plastic container is safe for me to eat from, how can I buy it knowing that its production was so toxic to the workers and residents of the community in which it was manufactured? Why is an albatross more valuable than a human?

Watch it here: TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Please join me here on Fake Plastic Fish tomorrow (or today if you’re reading this on Saturday) for an unprecedented worldwide web event on plastic pollution. The TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch conference takes place Saturday, Nov 6 from 8:30am to 6pm Pacific Time. I’ll be joining an incredible lineup of speakers, including Dr. Sylvia Earle, Van Jones, David de Rothschild, Ed Begley Jr, Captain Charles Moore, Stacy Malkan, Arlene Blum, and many many others for this one day information marathon covering topics from plastic in the ocean to plastic in our bodies, and covering solutions from personal actions to global initiatives and getting businesses on board. See the complete agenda here. I go on some time after 1:20pm PT.

You should be able to view the live stream in the player below. If you have any trouble, please click to view at www.TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.com.

tedxgp2 on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

If you’d like to embed the livestream on your own personal blog (and I encourage you to do so!) you can grab the code from here:  http://www.livestream.com/tedxgp2/share

I’ll be checking comments throughout the day, so feel free to leave your thoughts right here. I’ll try to respond.

Or follow the #TEDxGP2 twitter stream. It’ll be like we’re all there together!

Good News! October 2010 Plastic Waste Tally

3.7 oz Plastic Waste [3.2 oz new/.5 oz acquired prior to June 2007]

I’ll get to October’s plastic tally in a minute, but first, a little story…

I finally got to deduct some items from my plastic collection! Every couple of months I end up with a plastic bottle of Balance IT cat supplement, which we use in our homemade cat food. I’m fairly okay with that plastic bottle because the homemade food is so much healthier for Soots and Arya and because we only go through one every couple of months. Carrying our own stainless steel pot to the butcher shop for ground meat means we avoid all the cans and bags we would have wasted buying processed food.

Still, the supplement automatically comes with two new plastic scoops in each bottle.

cat food supplement plastic scoops Balance IT

Two scoops every two months might not seem like much plastic when you consider that all the scoops pictured up above (from multiple years) only weigh 2.1 ounces. But what irritates me is that just like the plastic scoop you get in a box of laundry detergent, they are totally unnecessary. Who needs new ones with every bottle? Why can’t we keep one set and use it over and over?

I’ve written to BalanceIT but received no response, so last month I picked up the phone and called. The rep insisted it would be too hard to leave the scoops out of the bottle, but frankly I can’t see why the company doesn’t just sell them separately and add them to the order form on the web site.  That way, people who want them can opt in. But no.  And I don’t have the time or energy to push it.  So, changing the way the scoops are sold apparently not being an option, I asked if the company would reuse them if I sent them back. And the rep said yes they would. So today I mailed those suckers back.

I’m hoping he was right and that they won’t just end up in the trash or recycle bin (which is just a roundabout way to the landfill because community recycling programs will not actually recycle stuff like this.) But I think I’ve made my point and will continue to send them back. With that step taken, I’m deducting .9 ounces (the weight of the scoops used this year) from last month’s tally. It’s not the amount of plastic in question here but the principle of reducing waste at the source. Why is it up to communities to deal with trash that should never have been created in the first place?

Onward…

Beth Terry's October 2010 Plastic Trash Collection by Beth Terry, on Flickr

Beth’s October plastic waste collection

Plastic purchased before June 15 2007 and used up in the last month (.5 oz):

  • 3 plastic cards. One membership card from the now defunct Blockbuster Video, one from Stacey’s Books (another out-of-business store), and a plastic card from my old AT&T Wireless account. Read more here about what gift cards are made from and how they can be recycled.
  • Bubble wrap from a new full spectrum light bulb. I actually bought that extra lightbulb for a special lamp over three years ago and haven’t had to replace the old one until now. What’s more, the old one still worked until a little black furry monster broke it. I supposed I should have shown the plastic parts of the bulb in this tally, but they’ve gone to light bulb recycling heaven.

New plastic waste (3.2 oz):

  • 2 vials of Frontline flea treatment for cats. Read about our flea dilemma here.
  • 2 plastic envelope windows from bank notices.Learn about what plastic envelope windows are made from. And yes, I’ve requested online access, but this particular account doesn’t offer it yet.
  • Plastic bottle, cap, and foam seal from BalanceIT cat food supplement. Read about our homemade cat food here.
  • Plastic packing tape and Fedex packing slip pouch from a new shipment of BalanceIT. I order 4 bottles at a time to reduce packaging material waste.
  • Two prescription bottles and caps. This month, I am dead set on finding somewhere to send these back for reuse. I know the Gimme5 program will accept these #5 bottles for recycling. But recycling or reusing them for other purposes doesn’t cut it for me. I want prescription bottles to be reused as prescription bottles. Otherwise, we don’t cut down on the amount of new plastic used to replace them.
  • Seal from around the neck of a Ben & Jerry’s pint of coffee heathbar crunch ice cream. I needed it. No I didn’t. Yes I did. No I didn’t! Well, anyway, I had a mini melt down and turned to comfort from sugar and animal fat. It was good but kind of ruined my attempt at veganism for last month. I think maybe I can’t go all the way. Yes I can. No I can’t. We’ll see.

That’s it for last month. If it weren’t for those darned furry beasts in my house, I’d have next to nothing in my tally. It’s their fault. Them and their stupid cuteness. Ooh, listen to those tinkling keys. Arya’s excited by the new piano I got a few weeks ago.  And by new, I mean old. A friend gave me her old one, magic marker decorated keys and all. It’s zero waste and super relaxing, which I need right now as I prepare for the TEDx conference this weekend.

Please don’t forget to watch some amazing talks on solutions to the plastic pollution problem, as well as musical performances and some very cool new videos, this Saturday. I’m speaking some time after 1:30pm PST. You can watch right here on Fake Plastic Fish, or at www.TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.com.

Cheers!

Reusable Cloth Sandwich / Snack Bags Review

[January 2014 Update:  Sadly, my favorite cloth baggie company, Graze Organic, went out of business this year.  I'll be working on an updated post about reusable cloth baggies in the near future.]

Disposable plastic sandwich and snack baggies are some of the biggest sources of lunchtime waste. When I was growing up, I brought at least two or three of them to school every day: one covering my sandwich and a couple more protecting my carrots and Cheese Doodles. But we have a ton of reusable cloth baggie choices now. All of them are better than disposables. But they are not all created equal. Here’s the rundown…

Graze Organic Cotton Sandwich/Snack Bags

I love the Graze Organic bags because not only is the fabric natural cotton without any plastic lining, but it’s also organic. The bags come in several different sizes to fit sandwiches and snacks. While they may not be as leak-proof as plastic-lined baggies, I believe they are healthier.

cloth sandwich or snack bag

Graze Organic is giving away a set of 3 bags to a lucky Fake Plastic Fish reader. See the end of this post for instructions on entering the drawing.

Update:  The winner of the Graze Organic bags is Denise Yribarren.  Congratulations!

Also, Graze is offering a 15% off discount from now through 11/14/2010. Use promo code: fpf at the bottom of the Graze Organic check out page. After entering the code, you must click on “Apply” to redeem the coupon.

UpCycled Cotton Baggies

Sustainable Homestead makes baggies from repurposed cotton fabric. Not only do these bags reduce plastic waste but also cotton fabric waste. I’m offering one Sustainable Homestead cotton baggie to a Fake Plastic Fish reader. See give-away rules below. Update: The winner of the upcycled fabric bag is Anna@Green Talk. Contratulations!

cloth sandwich or snack bag

Recycled Umbrella Baggies

My friend Cat lives in New York City, where she scrounges for broken umbrellas. They’re not hard to find. She brings them home, gives them a bath, and turns the fabric into Blustery Day Flip Flap sacks — leakproof snack baggies. These baggies are not plastic-free and not for you if you won’t want any plastic in contact with your food.  But I do love that they are made of a material that would otherwise have been trash. And I love that there is minimal processing required since Cat is taking already existing fabric and repurposing it, rather than, for example, grinding down a plastic bottle to make into fabric.

cloth sandwich or snack bag

I’m giving away this set of 2 recycled umbrella bags to a lucky Fake Plastic Fish reader. See instructions below. Update:  The winner of the Blustery Day baggies is greg.  Congratulations!

Cotton/Hemp Wraps Coated with Beeswax

Abeego snack and sandwich wraps are made from “hemp/cotton fabric infused with a blend of beeswax and plant extracts.”  I like the idea of using beeswax to waterproof the wraps instead of plastic.  I haven’t tried this product, but I’d probably recommend it whole-heartedly if the company would disclose the plant extracts in the coating.

Citing proprietary concerns, Abeego does not make public all the ingredients in its plastic-free coating.  And how can I in good conscience condemn plastics manufacturers for refusing to disclose the chemical additives in their products and let “natural” product companies off the hook?  Just because something is derived from a plant extract doesn’t make it safe.  I want to know what all the chemicals are that are in contact with my food.

That said, Abeego wraps are certainly a better alternative than those with petroleum-based linings and coatings.

Cloth Snack/Sandwich Baggies from plastic

Now, here is a list of many other reusable sandwich/snack bags I found on the web or that have been sent to me.  This is not a comprehensive list as new bags are popping up every day.  And all  have pros and cons and varying amounts of plastic. But the fact is that choosing these bags over disposable baggies will save a lot of plastic waste in the long run.

Insulated Sandwich/Snack Sleeves made from Recycled Plastic: Blue Avocado’s Fresh Pak is made from post consumer (PET bottles) and post industrial fiber waste.  Pros:  Insulated.  Reduces waste.  Leakproof.  Recycled fiber.  Cons:  Some new plastic.  Plastic in contact with food.

Cotton Sacks lined with Nylon: ReUsiesReSnackits, and WasteNot Saks are 100% cotton bags lined with Nylon for water-resistance. Pros: Reduce waste. Leakproof.  Cons: Some new plastic. Fabric not organic or recycled.  Plastic in contact with food.

Cotton Baggies with Polyurethane Coating: Lunchskins are made from cotton fabric coated with a “food-safe polyurethane liner.”  Pros:  Reduce waste. Leakproof.  Cons:  Some new plastic. Fabric not organic or recycled.  Plastic in contact with food.

Cotton Baggies with Nylon & Polyurethane Coating: Snack Taxis are made from cotton fabric with a polyurethane coated nylon lining.  Pros:  Reduce waste. Leakproof.  Cons:  Some new plastic. Fabric not organic or recycled.  Plastic in contact with food.

Fabric Wraps with LDPE lining: Wrap-n-Mat wraps fold out into a placemat.  They are made from fabric (the exact type of fabric is not listed on the web site) with a low-density polyethylene (#4 plastic) lining.  Pros:  Reduce waste. Waterproof.  Cons:  Some new plastic. Fabric not organic or recycled.  Plastic in contact with food.

Nylon Resuable Sandwich/Snack Bag: ReUsit bags are made from 100% Nylon.  Pros:  Reduce waste. Waterproof.  Cons:  All virgin plastic. Plastic in contact with food.

LDPE Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bag: The Kids Konserve Food Kozy is made from 100% LDPE (#4) plastic.  Pros:  Reduce waste. Waterproof.  Cons:  All virgin plastic. Plastic in contact with food.

EVA Plastic Reusable Baggies: Fresh Snack Pack is made from 100% EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) and can be wiped clean. Pros:  Reduce waste. Waterproof.  Cons:  All virgin plastic. Plastic in contact with food.

Make Your Own Lunch Baggies

Why buy someone else’s lunch baggie if you’re handy and can make your own?  FreshLifeDesignCo provides patterns, pictures, and instructions for creating your own set of insulated reusable sandwich and snack bags.   The bags do seem to be lined with plastic. But the beauty of making your own is that you decide what materials to use.  If your priority is to do without any plastic, leave that part out.  If it’s important to you that the bags be waterproof, use what makes sense for you.

Support Etsy Sellers

As I mentioned, my list is by no means comprehensive.  In addition to the companies listed, there is a whole host of craftspeople like my friend Cat selling their reusable cloth sandwich and snack bags on Etsy.com.  Search for “sandwich bag” or “snack bag” and you’ll find thousands of listings.  You could spend all day perusing your choices.  But isn’t it nice that we do have so many alternatives to disposable baggies to choose from?

Win REusable cloth lunch bags

To enter the give-away, please leave a comment below with the order of your preferences (Graze Organic bag, Blustery Day Nylon umbrella bags, Upcycled fabric bag) and one thing you will do this week to cut disposable plastic from your life.  I’ll announce the winners in a couple of weeks. Update:  The winners have been chosen.  See updates above.

Disclosure:  Give-away products were provided for free by Graze Organic, Sustainable Homestead, and The Green Cat.