It’s the Burning Man Plastic Footprint Project!

IMG_8917-smLast year was my first trip to Black Rock City and the annual Burning Man festival of art, fire, and radical creativity, as well as dust storms, cracked feet, and dry, bloody boogers.  I can’t wait to go back. This year, I’ll be part of the Earth Guardians’ Plastic Footprint project — combining art and education about plastic-free living.  Today, I’ll tell you about the art and associated workshops we have planned. Tomorrow, I’ll share all the new plastic-free solutions I’ve discovered for Burning Man this year. I’ve been researching my head off.  Really, my brain hurts right now.

Plastic Footprint Project — At Burning Man and Incline Village

SCROLL DOWN the page for the list of our Plastic-Free Workshops and events next week.  But first, the art…

Annie Clark, an artist and art teacher in Nevada’s Washoe County School District, contacted me this past spring after being inspired by my book and asked if I had ever been to Burning Man and if I would consider coming this year and being a part of a giant plastic-related art/education project. My response:  Oh my god!  Have I been to Burning Man? YES! Would I go again?  In a freaking heartbeat!

So Annie tells me that she wants to get her local community involved in creating a giant sculpture made from plastic trash.  She was thinking of something pretty like a tree.  Last year, the Earth Guardians had a pretty tree sculpture  in front of their camp.

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But I thought the plastic trash sculpture should be something scary to send the message that plastic trash is not pretty.  A few days later, she contacted me with the most brilliant idea ever:  A giant plastic foot stepping on the planet with the question, “What is your plastic footprint?”

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Perfect.  So she and the kids have been working on this thing all summer, and with Burning Man only a week away, they are still working on it.  We don’t know if it will be done by the time it travels to the playa, but if not, maybe other Burners can help add to it.  I can’t wait to see it.  And you can see it too, even if you are not coming to Burning Man.  The sculpture will be on display at the Incline Village High School, and I’ll be coming to Incline Village the last weekend of September to give some talks.  So, if you’re in the area, please check my calendar or the Plastic Footprint Project Facebook page for details.

Here are a few pix of the process.  You can see full size images and follow their progress on the Plastic Footprint Facebook Page.

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Plastic-Free Workshops at Burning Man

I’ll be camping with the Earth Guardians and am available to show my tent and plastic-free setup at specified times during the festival.  I don’t yet know when those times will be, but I do know when our events will take place.  Here are the plastic-related ones.  Click here for the full Earth Guardians schedule.

Wednesday – August 28, 2013, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM: Plastic-Free Burning Man Workshop - What is your plastic footprint?  Take a walk through your house (or Burning Man camp).  From plastic-packaged food in the kitchen to toothbrushes and shampoo in the bathroom, our world is full of plastic.  And at Burning Man, we sleep in plastic sleeping bags in plastic tents and wear plastic goggles.  And how much of our food and water is packaged in plastic? Although some plastics make our lives better, much of it is a problem — polluting our oceans and beaches and harming our health with toxic chemicals. But what can one person do to be part of the solution? Join us for inspiring stories and practical tips to reduce plastic in your home and on the Playa.  Author Beth Terry will share her journey from self-confessed plastic addict to empowered plastic-free activist and explain why we can’t just recycle our way out of this mess.  You may even get to peek at her (nearly) plastic-free campsite.

Thursday – August 29, 2013, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM – More than just one word on Plastics -  Plastics: we love them and hate them.  Rebecca Braslau, organic chemistry professor will help us examine the history of plastics, what they are made of, health, environmental and societal issues, and future green possibilities.

Saturday August 31 , 2013, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Plastic-Free Burning Man Workshop - If you missed the workshop on Wednesday, or if you have friends who missed it that you want to bring back, you have one more chance!

Every Night:  The Earth Guardians will be showing environmental movies on the playa.  I’m hoping that some of them will be related to plastic.  Check the schedule when you arrive for details.

 

Dear Lotus Foods, Why Package Healthy Stainless Steel in Toxic Styrofoam?

Dear Lotus Foods:

broken-rice-cooker-18My husband and I used our old rice cooker a lot.  We used it so much, that we burned out the fuse and had to replace it.  I was pretty stoked about being able to fix our appliance and make it last longer instead of tossing it out.  So recently, when the connection between the machine and the power cord started to get loose (and we had to lay something heavy on the power cord to keep the machine from cutting off each time we used it), I told Michael that I was going to see if I could fix it again.  But Michael’s reply surprised me.  This time he said, “Why don’t we just recycle it and get a new stainless steel one?”

Repair vs. Recycle

See, there is a trade off sometimes.  It may be gentler on the planet to fix things and make them last as long as possible rather than replacing them when they break.  But if the old things are made of materials that might possibly be toxic to our health (plastic containers, for example, or aluminum cookware), then it might be a better decision to replace them with newer, safer materials.  Alzheimer’s disease runs in my family.  Both my grandmother and my mother died from it.  Scientists still don’t know if aluminum plays any role in Alzheimer’s disease or not.  According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the jury is still out.  So, with my history, I’d just as soon exercise the Precautionary Principle and avoid it.

When it comes to rice cookers, there are only a few choices… ones with aluminum pots, ones with non-stick coatings, or the stainless steel version from Lotus Foods that I had seen a few years back at the Green Festival in San Francisco.  So, a couple of weeks ago, Michael and I dropped off our old machine at Green Citizen in Berkeley (a company that will fix and resell as much as possible before even considering recycling, and then will recycle responsibly without shipping e-waste overseas), and picked up a new Lotus Foods rice cooker from Berkeley Natural Grocery.  We were happy to be able to find it locally instead of having to order through the mail and generate even more packaging waste.

After all that effort at being as mindful as possible about our environmental footprint, I was shocked when I opened the box and discovered a great big chunk of Styrofoam.

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Really, Lotus Foods?  Styrofoam?

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Styrofoam is Toxic

On your site, you have gone out of your way to explain why stainless steel is the healthier option when compared to aluminum or non-stick choices.  But you package your healthy product in unhealthy packaging.  Styrofoam is made from styrene, a chemical listed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be a human carcinogen.  You may argue that we are not really exposed to leaching styrene from the packaging in your box because it is not in direct contact with our food.  But workers in the plants that produce this material are very susceptible to it.   And toxic chemicals like styrene end up in the environment, where we are all susceptible.

What’s more, polystyrene is hard to recycle.  As I wrote in my book, Plastic-Free:

According to the EPA, only 1 percent of all polystyrene waste was recycled in 2010.  Second, when littered, it crumbles apart easily and blows everywhere, making it very difficult to clean up.  The wind carries it out to sea, where it can mimic food for marine animals.  A California Department of Transportation study conducted during 1998-2000 found that polystyrene foam represents as much as 15 percent of the total volume of litter recovered from storm drains.

No Need for Plastic Wraps and Plastic Cups Either

In addition to the Styrofoam on the top, the rice cooker is covered in plastic wrap, and inside the pot is a plastic rice scoop.

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Why is that necessary?  People who can afford to buy rice cookers will certainly have at least one cup in their kitchen cupboard with which to scoop rice.  Like Styrofoam, which is a kind of plastic, other plastics are not biodegradable and are made with very toxic chemicals.  Why use these excess plastics at all?

One of the companies I profile in my book is called Life Without Plastic.  They sell lots of stainless steel containers.  And they don’t wrap them in plastic.  Life Without Plastic’s products come in a cardboard box without inside plastic wrap because they know that the environmental impact of the packaging is as important as the product inside the packaging.

We want healthy products AND healthy packaging

There seems to be a disconnect sometimes between the healthy product a company makes and the packaging it is shipped in.  Organic foods are another example I ranted about back in 2009 and have continued to be mystified by to this day.  Why take care to reduce the chemicals used to grow and process foods and then package them in a material that not only can leach harmful chemicals back into the food itself, but are so toxic in their manufacture in the first place?

Lotus Foods, please don’t allow your packaging choices to undermine the health benefits of your product.  There are some great alternatives to polystyrene foam out there these days.  For example, packaging made from mushrooms that replaces plastic foams.  Or packaging made from recycled paper pulp.

Thank you for listening.  I hope to hear back from you soon.

Sincerely,

Beth Terry
Oakland, CA

Click here to contact Lotus Foods and let them know your thoughts.

Happy Plastic-Free July!

Today is Independence Day in the United States.  In Australia and growing numbers of countries around the world, the entire month is Plastic-Free July, so let’s celebrate our independence from single-use disposable plastics!

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What you can do

  • Register to participate on the Plastic-Free July Web Site (I know, it’s already July 4.  So what?  Better late than never.)
  • Try to eliminate disposable plastics during the entire month of July, and hold onto the things you couldn’t avoid in your “Dilemma Bag.”  You’ll be getting updates and tips during the month.
  • Follow Plastic-Free July on Facebook.
  • For more inspiration from other plastic-free activists, check out the On Air Google Hangout panel discussion, which we called The Plastic-Free July International Help Desk, including me, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz (Western Australia) of Western Earth Carers, Danielle Richardet (Wilmington, NC, USA) from It Starts with Me, Tim Silverwood (New South Wales, AU) from Take 3,  Taina Uitto (British Columbia, CA) from Plastic Manners, Merren Tait (Raglan, NZ) from A Year Without Buying Plastic, and Paul Sharp (Perth, AU) from the Two Hands Project.
  • Take a minute to share this short, 2-minute promo.

 

What is Plastic-Free July and How Did It Get Started?

A few minutes ago, I had a little Google Hangout chat with Rebeccca Prince-Ruiz of Western Earth Carers in Western Australia (technology makes this world smaller and smaller!) to ask about how and why she started Plastic-Free July.

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While those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are dealing with the heat of summer, folks in Australia are donning their winter garb.  Anyway, Rebecca said that two years ago, she heard about a local person who was attempting to go plastic-free for a month.  Rebecca had recently visited a recycling facility and seen the sheer volume of plastic waste we produce and must deal with everyday.  Until then, plastic recycling had been sort of a “feel good” measure for her.  But as she was tossing something into her recycle bin, she thought, “What am I doing with this in the first place?”  She also noticed that when Western Earth Carers did presentations on the 3 R’s and asked school children what was the most important “R,” most of them would say, “Recycle,” probably because it was the only one they had heard of or practiced at home.

So Rebecca turned up to work one day in 2011 and said, “Hey, let’s go plastic-free next month.”  They put the word out in their newsletter and got 40 households to participate.  At the end of the month, several participants got together and shared what they had collected in their “Dilemma Bags” — the plastics they hadn’t been able to avoid.  They gave each other support and tips and several people went on to found other plastic-related projects.

The next year, in 2012, they created a Facebook page, showed the film “Bag It” in a local school, and organized a workshop with demonstrations on things like making your own yogurt and toothpaste and making reusable produce bags from old t-shirts.  More and more people joined in.

This year, Plastic-Free July has its own website and has spread across the world.  Rebecca told me that this year, only 47% of participants are from Australia.  She started listing all the countries participating, and I couldn’t write fast enough to get them all down.  Suffice it to say, there are a lot! I’m so encouraged and inspired by the idea of so many people across the planet refusing single-use plastics at the same time.  We ARE part of a huge movement.  The times are changing.  Doesn’t it feel great to be part of the solution?

 

So many cool, plastic-free innovations; so little time and blog space

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I attended the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Think Beyond Plastics Competition conference two weeks ago and have been trying to find the time to sit down and write about it ever since! There were so many cool plastic-free innovators and activists there, I barely know where to begin. If you will recall from my previous post, the competition sought to reward and support creative start-up entrepreneurs working to be part of the plastic pollution solution.  Such as…

Pulpworks

Pulpworks was one of the grand prize winners. The company wants to replace the frustration of the plastic blister pack with a more eco-friendly option made entirely from recycled paper.  Instead of this…

wouldn’t it be nice if, in situations where packaging is necessary, that packaging was made from compostable, 100% post-consumer waste paper?

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As you can see, there isn’t even any glue in this package.  Just paper pulp and cardboard.

 

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Now if only we could get the manufacturers of the products that go into the packaging to use less plastic for their containers.  Lip balm does not have to be sold in a plastic tube.  Compostable cardboard lip balm tubes have existed for several years.

I got to meet Pulpworks CEO Paul Tasner and ask him some questions.

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But the packaging speaks for itself.  The only real question I had–one which many of you are probably wondering–was… since there is no plastic encasing the items, aren’t they easier to steal?  Paul said that actually, if someone is going to steal something, they are not likely to try and get it out of the packaging in the store but slip the entire package into their coat or bag.  So a blister pack is not necessarily the theft deterrent that you might think.

Truly Raw Gourmet

I was so excited when this cute, energetic woman recognized me and came bounding over.  It was Kippy Miller from Truly Raw Gourmet.  If you’ve read my book Plastic-Free, you may remember her as one of the heroes in the Grocery Shopping chapter.

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Truly Raw Gourmet makes delicious organic sorbets packaged in returnable glass jars.  At least I’m guessing they are delicious.  Truly Raw Gourmet is only in Southern California right now, and it’s important to Kippy to only use local ingredients, so this product is not shipped all over the country.  If Truly Raw Gourmet does expand, its new locations will make sorbet from the local produce that is in that location.

So, how do you freeze sorbet–which starts out liquid–in glass without breaking the jars?  Avoiding plastic (including the plastic that lines all cardboard ice cream containers) was such a priority, that Kippy invented a special process.  By first churning the mix in a big gelato machine, she allows the mixture to expand as it partially freezes.  Then, she can fill the jars with the already-expanded sorbet, and they won’t crack.

Want to know more about Kippy and how she got started?  You’ll have to read my book.

in.gredients

Another guy I was super excited to meet in person was Christian Lane, one of the founders of in.gredients grocery store in Austin, TX, and one of the winners of Think Beyond Plastic’s Most Promising Emerging Business award.  in.gredients sells most of its food (except meat and dairy) in bulk bins and actively encourages its customers to bring their own containers to fill.  What’s more, these guys are not just interested in the consumer packaging we would see as customers, but in the packaging of the foods as they are delivered to the store.

 

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Here’s the thing that Christian said during his talk that impressed me so much I had to tweet it:

“It’s important to educate customers.”  That one statement is truly disruptive to the status quo because too many businesses, when questioned about their plastic packaging, say that they can’t switch to X, Y, or Z because their customers won’t like it.  Their customers expect a certain level of packaging.  Well you know what?  If you’re a business owner who truly cares about the planet, be part of the solution and educate your customers.  The in.gredients website is full of all kinds of information about food and packaging in the United States.

I can’t wait to actually visit the store this coming October when I’m in Austin for the SXSW Eco conference.  If you’re going to SXSW Eco, let me know.  I’ll be one of the panelists in the session called “The Sustainability Health Nexus: Consumers Rule” and am working on organizing a plastic-free living talk at in.gredients while I’m in the area.

MBA Polymers

MBA Polymers is a plastics recycling company.  Yeah, I know what I’ve said about recycling plastic… it isn’t the entire answer to the plastic pollution problem since it’s primarily downcycling into secondary products and since most of our plastic recycling is shipped to China.

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Mike Biddle, the founder and president of MBA Polymers, is all too familiar with the way recycling is done in China.  He has toured Chinese recycling facilities and witnessed workers burning the plastic and smelling the fumes to determine what type of plastic an object is made from.  He wants to change the way recycling is done.  I didn’t have a chance to talk to him in depth at the conference but hope to interview him soon for this blog.

Old Friends

Other people I was happy to hang with (and act stupid with) were Jay Sinha from Life Without Plastic (a long-time sponsor of this blog and another one of the heroes mentioned in my book — he’s on the far right)…

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and Michael Davis from U.S. Pure Water (in the middle) who provides bulk purified water stations for events all over the Bay Area and sells water treatment systems for not only homes but also natural grocery stores and coops, so people can bottle their own filtered, local tap water.  (Yep, both companies are in the book.)

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Green Royalty

Alice Waters has been a pioneer in the local food movement for decades, and her restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was one of the first to eliminate bottled water from its menu.  In fact, I remember when it happened.  The move was so revolutionary, it made the news.  I think it was the first time I ever considered the idea that there could be something wrong with bottled water.  So I was really happy to see her at the Think Beyond Plastic conference.  Here we are along with Dianna Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, who had actually just introduced me to Alice Waters a few weeks before.

 

 

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During that initial conversation, we started talking about avoiding plastic bags at farmers markets, and Alice launched into  an explanation of how you can organize your baskets and reusable bags to avoid plastic ones and still keep your produce intact.  I’m hoping to interview her soon as well and post pix of Alice with her produce basket.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Another face of the green movement is actor and eco activist Ed Begley, Jr.  Ed was the Master of Ceremonies for the Think Beyond Plastic conference.   Here we are with his daughter, Amanda, an ardent anti plastic pollution activist with whom I hope to strategize in the near future.  You can follow her on Twitter at @AmandaBegley77.

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Many, Many More

It was awesome to be in the same room with so many like-minded people… too many to mention them all.  But if you would like to check out some cool companies creating solutions to plastic pollution, look at the full list of contestants for the Think Beyond Plastic competition.   The competition/conference organizers plan to make this an annual, international event.  So if you have an innovative solution to propose and would like to present your idea to investors and get some coaching, keep checking the website for an announcement of the 2014 competition.

 

P.S. For a much more in-depth run-down of the conference and speakers, please check out Jay Sinha’s post on the Life Without Plastic blog.

 

Take Action — No More Plastic Micro-beads in Facial Scrubs!

ClearasilSix years ago, I posted a rant about the fact that many commercial facial scrubs contain tiny plastic (polyethylene) beads meant to exfoliate the skin.  These beads are too small for water treatment plants to filter out, so they end up in our waterways and eventually the ocean.  In the ocean, tiny plastic pieces mix with the zooplankton to enter the food chain.  What’s more, plastic in the ocean acts as a sponge, absorbing and concentrating toxic chemicals.  It’s one thing when plastic ends up there inadvertently, but it’s inexcusable for companies to produce plastic products intentionally meant to be flushed down the drain.

Now, it turns out, plastic particles aren’t just in facial scrubs, and they aren’t only made of polyethylene.  According to a recent position paper (PDF) published this year by a coalition of ocean advocacy groups lead by 5Gyres:

Microplastic particles and microbeads can be found in facial scrubs, shampoos & soaps, toothpaste, eyeliners, lip gloss, deodorant and sunblock sticks. These micro particles are made of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. PE and PP are the most common.

The paper is really informative.  I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Take Action

Microbead_LogoBack when I wrote my original article, my main intention was to let people know which scrubs contained plastic and which ones didn’t, so readers of the post could make informed choices.   I wanted people to stop buying this stuff.  But now, 5Gyres has spearheaded a campaign to urge companies to stop adding microplastics to their products, and they are succeeding!  Several companies have already committed to removing these ingredients and are looking for safer alternatives.   But there are still others who have not yet signed on.  Please visit the Beat the Micro Bead Campaign page for more information and to take action.

If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your face

I could do more research (like I did 6 years ago) to find out what current products use natural exfoliants and list them here.  But it would be pointless because this blog is about avoiding plastic, and all those products, natural or not, come packaged in plastic tubes and containers.  They also contain a crap load of other toxic ingredients.  And it’s really easy (and often less expensive) to make our own!

In the interest of saving time, I’ll just copy and paste from the personal care chapter of my book, Plastic-Free:

Make Your Own Scrubs and Facial Products. Plain baking soda is a great exfoliant/facial cleanser. It’s probably the cheapest and simplest as well (aside from plain water). Just make a paste in your hand with a little water and scrub away.  Other ingredients for skin cleansers are sea salt, oatmeal, finely ground almonds, flax seed meal, ground lentils, brown rice flour, coffee grounds, citrus fruit peels and mashed fruits, honey, and sugar, most of which you can probably find in bulk. Search the Internet for recipes using these ingredients. Or get a copy of the book Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold-Bond (Three Rivers Press), which contains a wealth of ideas for DIY personal care products without toxic chemicals. (Plastic-Free page 221)

My favorite website for natural personal care recipes is Crunchy Betty (whose tagline is “You Have Food on Your Face”).   Do a search for “exfoliate” and “scrub”  and you will find a treasure trove of stuff to slather and scrub on your face, most of which is already in your kitchen.  The only reason I didn’t mention her site in the above paragraph is that I already raved about Crunchy Betty in another section of the book.

Update:  Cory from Aquarian Bath just sent me a link to Shanti Aromatherapy, a company selling all natural, plastic-free scrubs in glass jars (for those who don’t want to go the DIY route.)  They look beautiful.

Change Requires Personal Choice Plus Action

As Annie Leonard says, “Conscious consumerism is a great place to start, but it’s a lousy place to stop.”  So please take a minute to sign on to the campaign to urge companies to remove microplastics from their products and then share with your networks.  A few of us eschewing products with plastic is not enough to stop the influx of microplastics into our waterways.  After all, not every shopper is as conscious as you are.  We need these companies to stop putting these materials in their products in the first place.

 

 

From the Waste Up – A Movie About Learning to Live Plastic-Free

taina-filmAmong all the depressing environmental films out there, wouldn’t it be great if there were a funny, entertaining one about what it’s actually like to try and live without plastic?  Taina Uitto, who has blogged at Plastic Manners since 2010 about her own plastic-free experiment, has been filming her process since day one.  And last year, she invited 6 Vancouver families to join her.  Now, she is putting the footage together into a feature film called From the Waste Up: Life Without Plastic, which will follow the adventures of these families as they try to navigate modern life without plastic.  (There may be a few other people that you recognize in the film!)

But the filmmakers need your support to get it finished!

Check out the trailer:

Who Is Taina?

Taina is not just a blogger and activist.  She’s also a new mom.  And yesterday, she and I had a really fun Skype conversation to catch up on our lives since we saw each other last at the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch event in November, 2010.    She showed me her bucket of plastic-free baby toys, including this cute wool fox that she made herself using a needle felting technique…

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And then she sent me possibly the cutest photo I have ever seen… her baby in a plastic-free bathtub…

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I remember my mom giving me baths in the sink when I was little.  Okay, maybe I don’t actually remember it… but I’ve seen pictures.  There are so many ways to reduce plastic if we just go back to doing things the way we used to.  Not all things… I will concede that some plastics do indeed make life better.  But there are too many stupid uses for this material, and that is what the folks in From the Waste Up discover.

Cliff Hangers

I asked Taina what she hopes people will gain from watching this film.  She said she wanted to do 3 things:

1) Educate people about the problem (although there will not be too much of this since there are already good documentaries out there about plastic.)

2) Inspire people to make personal changes and show how their quality of life can actually improve.  That is her hypothesis, anyway.  You’ll have to watch the film to see if that hypothesis actually turns out to be true.

3) Entertain.  She says that some of the lengths she has gone to are pretty extreme, and we have to have the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Will you help support this film?  It will be the only way to find out what happens on Halloween when a little girl goes to the door and calls out “Trick-or-Treat.  I can’t have any plastic.”  Or to find out what happens to the woman who swore she would go back to using plastic when the year is up.  Does she really do it?  Taina wouldn’t tell me.

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The Beauty of Picking up Plastic

2013-05-18-Damon-Slough-01Dr. Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres, an organization dedicated to researching ocean plastic pollution, has said, “If you want to clean the gyre, clean your beach.” He meant it literally, since “if we stop adding more plastic to the ocean, in time the gyres will kick out the plastic pollution they currently hold.”  But I choose to think of the statement metaphorically.  Spending a morning cleaning plastic from a beach or river bank or roadway doesn’t just remove a fraction of plastic trash from the environment, it heightens our personal awareness of the problem and gets us in touch with the physical reality of plastic pollution — both beautiful and terrible.  We understand how vast the problem is compared to our tiny efforts at mitigation.  Sure, we might feel overwhelmed.  But hopefully, the exercise can our revitalize our commitment to reducing plastic at the source.

Yesterday Morning at Damon Slough

If I want to see plastic pollution, I don’t have to travel all the way to Midway Island or even up the coast to Kehoe Beach.  I can just jump on BART and ride a few miles south to Oakland’s Damon Slough, one of Save the Bay’s Top Five Trash Hot Spots year after year, which is what I did yesterday morning with other members of Green Sangha.  Armed with a pair of hemp gardening gloves (to avoid the disposable plastic gloves I knew would be provided to us by the park service) and my good intentions, I set off down the shoreline to pick up trash — and take a lot of pictures. (Click on pictures to see larger versions.)

From a distance, the area looks pretty clean, right?

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Until you look closely at your feet and notice how plastic has infiltrated seaweed so closely that it’s hard to tell anymore what is natural and what is man made.

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Signs of what humans have done naturally for millennia, preserved in plastic.

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The evidence of how we both enjoy and destroy ourselves.

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Plastic straws camouflaged to match the surrounding sticks.  I’m both amazed and aghast.

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No plastic here?

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Not so fast!

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What about here?

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Look more closely…

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Turn over handfuls of twigs, leaves, sand, and earth.  You won’t find an inch without some kind of plastic.

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Some of the stuff flaunts itself brazenly in the morning sun.  The bright colors entice me despite all I’ve learned about plastic and its drawbacks.  I feel like I’m on a treasure hunt… but the “treasure” is a lie.

 

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It dares me to laugh in spite of myself…

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Other bits seek shelter in cracks and crevices…

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In return, living creatures attempt to make plastic their home.

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Some of these things have been here so long, they crumble in your hand when you try to remove them… reminding us that plastic never goes away, it just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces.

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Alison Vogel, a Green Sangha member, sent out an email the evening before our Damon Slough outing to encourage people to come.  Her words made me cry.  Not being one to hoard my tears, I thought I would share some of her email with you.

This shoreline we are cleaning up on Saturday is a beautiful part of the East Bay Regional Parks, with gorgeous views of the Bay, San Francisco and Mt. Tamalpais. And it’s terribly polluted with empty alcohol bottles, plastic cigar holders, crumbling Styrofoam that breaks into little fish egg size balls that get mistaken for food, plastic Halloween size candy wrappers by the hundreds, plastic bags, plastic toys, tons of little broken bits of plastic….and worst of all….lots of syringes. We found 8 last time in just two hours. There is no paid staff to get out there and clean this stuff up.
This area is home to hundreds of birds.
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Last time I got to see an incredibly gorgeous Snowy Egret through my friend’s binoculars. Something I had never seen up close like that, or maybe ever for that matter. Not that I recall. It was so majestic looking, standing on one leg to conserve energy with it’s fluffy white feathers blowing in the wind. I was filled with a mixture of awe and respect and amazement, along with shame for our ignorance, disconnect and destruction as a species, and then more gratitude, inspiration and hope that all of us cared enough to be cleaning this stuff up! This is their home and ours too. Though they live in harmony in a closed loop that keeps it in balance, we with our “higher” consciousness have not yet evolved in a way that is non harming. It’s always deeply puzzling to me that the most intelligent species, other than perhaps dolphins and whales, have come to this place in history and our Earth, our only home, is in such a crisis.
It comes up a lot, in a waxing and waning sort of manner, “What is the point of my existence here? How can I make this life mean something?” And it always comes back to selfless service. Just get out there and do something that needs doing that will bring peace, joy, happiness or simply less suffering for others.
It’s so simple, so easy, so rewarding and the options unlimited.

Last night, walking to dinner with Michael, I picked up a smashed blue dental floss container and several plastic Easter eggs that were lying in the gutter.  What will you pick up the next time you leave your house?  What will you notice?  And how will you let it change you?

Win a Plastic-Free Book! Take the Quiz & Make a Pledge

2013-04-20-Earth-Day-SF-wigHappy Earth Day everyone.  It’s been a busy weekend, what with the plastic sea monster out and about.  I spent several evenings at home braiding plastic bags into a new doo.  What do you think?  At San Francisco’s Earth Day Festival on 4/20 (probably around 4:20pm), a somewhat wobbly-looking guy with an equally impressive head of hair stared at me for several minutes, then held out a funny kind of cigarette and said very earnestly, “YOU can smoke this.”  Really?  Is that how I come across these days?  I said no thank you and continued on my mission.

That mission?  To spread the message that we can refuse disposable plastic! And that there are lots of great alternatives.

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Take the Quiz. Win a Book.

Plastic-Free-3D-cover2-300x364I also wanted to disabuse people of some common fallacies about plastic.  So I asked people to take the Plastic-Free Quiz & Pledge for a chance to win a copy of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.  Now I offer you guys the opportunity too. Please leave your answers in a comment below, and I’ll choose a winner next week.

1)       True or False: Most of the plastic in the ocean comes from ships at sea.

Answer: http://www.cleanwater.org/feature/problem-of-marine-plastic-pollution

2)       True or False: A number in the arrows at the bottom of a container means the container is recyclable.

Answer: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2007/09/wait-are-you-sure-thats-recyclable/

3)       True or False: Plastic labeled “BPA-Free” is always safe to eat or drink from.

Answer:  http://myplasticfreelife.com/2011/04/bpa-free-does-not-mean-safe-most-plastics-leach-hormone-disrupting-chemicals/

4)       True or False: Airports will not let you bring your own water bottle on a plane.

Hint:  http://myplasticfreelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/airport-water-bottle-security.jpg

5)       What one change will you make this week to use less plastic?

I can’t give you the answer to number 5, but I can help.   How about choosing a alternative from the Plastic-Free Guide?  Or collecting your plastic for a week and taking the Show Your Plastic Challenge?  How about writing a letter to a company?   And while you’re at it, how about signing the petition to urge Trader Joe’s to reduce plastic produce packaging?  There’s a lot to be done this week.  Get to it!

 

Tips for Creating Zero Waste, Plastic-Free Events

Zero-Waste-Event-10Whenever I give my plastic-free presentation, I’m interested to see what the hosting organization will do to ensure the event itself is as plastic-free as possible.  I try to give tips beforehand so I don’t walk in on a table full of plastic cups (which has happened more than once, ironically.)  But lately, I’ve discovered some really ingenious ideas, some of which I wouldn’t have thought of myself.  Some are about reducing plastic, and some are about reducing waste in general.  So I thought I would share my favorites.

1) Ask attendees to BYO: bring their own reusable cups, bottles, utensils, containers, and even shirt!

Green Sangha’s website announcement of its Plastics 360 event in Lafayette last month included the following:

Refreshments:  Light, earth-friendly snacks will be provided at registration (9:00-9:30 am).  BYO lunch!  We will provide coffee and beverages.  (BYO mug if you can.)

And at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence in San Francisco the next day, attendees were ask to do the following:

Bring: $15, plate/tupperware, fork, cup/mug and a plain, light-colored T-shirt for screen-printing your conference t-shirt. Don’t forget a notebook and pen, if you want to take notes; together we will redefine Zero Waste; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.

Yes, in addition to asking the kids to bring their own foodware, they also asked them to bring an old shirt so that instead of acquiring yet one more tee shirt, they could screen-print the conference logo onto a shirt they already had.  For kids that forgot to bring a shirt, the organizers provided second hand tee shirts from thrift shops.  I thought this was the coolest idea ever.  (Yes, the acrylic textile ink comes in a plastic jar and is itself a kind of plastic, but any tee shirts would have been printed with similar ink, whether ordered from a tee shirt company or printed by hand.)

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2. Provide durable dishes, cutlery, and glasses.

If  people don’t bring their own foodware, or if you don’t want to ask them to, it’s easy to provide durable, washable dishes.

You can go all out, like the Reuse Alliance’s ReUseConex in Portland, Oregon, last year, where all the foodware was reusable and the spread was amazing.

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Or keep it simple and provide finger foods with reusable mugs from thrift shops.  That is what Save Our Shores did at their event a few weeks ago.  More on that later.

3. Charge a fee for compostable paper cups.

Zero-Waste-Event-07Although Green Sangha asked attendees to bring their own mugs, the organizers did provide compostable paper cups for those who had forgotten.  The key was that they charged $1 donation for each cup.  That donation not only benefits the organization but hopefully will encourage people to remember to bring their own next time.  (Note: the compostable paper cups contain a corn-based plastic lining rather than a polyethylene lining like most paper cups.  They are not perfect, but better than plastic cups.  Another alternative are cups made entirely from plant fibers with no lining.  )

4. Provide filtered tap water.

At all the events I’ve attended recently, water was provided in bulk containers rather than plastic bottles.  Containers were glass or metal or plastic.  (Life Without Plastic makes a cool stainless steel bulk water container.)  Green Sangha provided water from U.S. Pure Water, which came to the event and set up its water bar filtration system in the venue’s kitchen.

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5. Provide zero waste or plastic-free food.

Save Our Shores‘s Marina Maze shopped the bulk bins at Whole Foods to provide food for my plastic-free talk in Santa Cruz last week.  No one thought to take a picture of the spread, so this photo of Marina shopping for the event will have to do.  Marina said:

We purchased bulk almonds and put them in an old aluminum cookie can. Bulk dried cranberries and put them in an old glass honey jar. Bulk yogurt covered pretzels we put in an old glass spaghetti sauce jar. Tangerines from the produce section, no plastic bag necessary :). 2 loafs of bread in paper sleeves (the only waste we created). Lastly we ground fresh peanut butter and put it in an old glass applesauce jar.

It was so easy to get it all plastic free! Just takes a bit more planning.

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6. Save paper by finding multiple uses for each sheet.

In addition to the ingenious tee shirt idea, the organizers of the Zero Waste Youth Convergence figured out a way to give everyone name tags and also make sure they held into their program agenda.  They printed the agenda on the back of each fold-out name tag.  I think this is a really cool idea.

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7. Collect plastic name badge holders to reuse.

I know you were wondering about that plastic name tag holder and wondering if I had gone nuts.  But if organizations would just make a point of collecting them at the end of events instead of letting people walk off with them (people who really don’t want them anyway but just forget to take them off), then they could be used over and over again for future events.  I try to remember to give mine back at whatever event I go to, but it’s nice when the organizers, like those at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence, plan for it.

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There are just a few of the steps organizations and individuals can take to reduce waste when planning events.  I plan to use this post as an example for organizers who would like to schedule a plastic-free talk in the future.  What is missing from this list?  What strategies do you use to reduce plastic or waste at large gatherings or public events?

Plastic-Free Diapers – Change Them, Donate Them

Since I’m not a mom myself, I rely on the wisdom of other parents who are working to reduce plastic in their families’ lives. Cloth diapering is one way to cut down on the amount of plastic contacting your baby’s skin and ending up in landfills or incinerators. Here are a couple of guest posts: one is about a cloth diaper event coming up this month, and the other is about a project to donate cloth diapers to families in need.

The Great Cloth Diaper Change

by Janice Roodsari of Momma Words

2012GreatDiaperChangeFinalLogo_SM_nob-1Have you heard about the Great Cloth Diaper Change? All around the world people are learning about how using simple, reusable, cloth diapers can make a BIG impact on a family’s finances, environmental waste and pollution, as well as the health of your baby. To help spread the word about the benefits of cloth diapering, an event called The Great Cloth Diaper Change was dreamed up and the Real Diaper Association turned this dream into a reality.

The Great Cloth Diaper Change is an annual event (in its third year) where parents and caregivers gather with their babies to change a diaper in an attempt to set a world record for the most cloth diapers changed in one day. You don’t even need to be a cloth diaper user to participate because most sites will let you borrow a cloth diaper for the event (and once you try it, you might find it’s easier than you think!)

All around the world local hosts set up a location for “the change”. Some locations will be intimate, smaller gatherings, and some events are so large that they need multiple venues to contain their hundreds of participants! Many locations, like my Ventura, CA location, take this opportunity to invite relevant people and businesses from their community to make this event a baby/parenting fair where parents can learn about businesses and services that will benefit them. All events focus on cloth diapering advocacy and education. We also collect donations for the Real Diaper Association so that they can continue in their efforts to advocate and support local advocates in cloth diapering. Last year there were 8,251 qualifying participants!

If you are a parent of a child in diapers, are expecting your first child or are a business that supports natural minded parenting, I encourage you to visit GreatClothDiaperChange.com and search their map to find a location near you! Your local host would love to have business sponsors and as many participants as possible!

Save the date on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 for the Great Cloth Diaper Change and meet your local cloth diapering resources and community. Talk to cloth diapering families and see how much money they have saved. Ask about laundry, leaks, poop and blowouts. I think you might be surprised at how doable it is to use cloth diapers. I cloth diapered twins! P.S. What’s a blowout? (Cloth diapering parents might not even know what a blowout is!)

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Read more from Janice about twin parenting, cloth diapering and green living at http://mommawords.com.  

 

Share The Love

by Toni Keltner of Toni the Chic Momma

 

STLAvatar0912I first began cloth diapering back in 2011 after meeting Jennifer Labit the owner and CEO of Cotton Babies and creator of bumGenius, Flip and Econobum cloth diapers.  I had been curious about cloth diapers and Jennifer graciously gave me my cloth diaper start by personally sending me some bumGenius cloth diapers.  She introduced me to the world of fluff and I have been cloth diapering full-time ever since.  When I first heard about the Share The Love program, I knew I just had to be involved.  Jennifer Labit was such a blessing to my family and I wanted to help pay it forward.
This past fall, Cotton Babies’  Share The Love program officially launched. I’m the proud Host Site for the Greater Tulsa, Oklahoma area.  I’m thrilled to be working with such an amazing company helping families in need. Share The Love is a Cotton Babies program created to receive donated used clothdiapers and distribute them to families in need of a little extra support. No family should have to choose between diapers or food, when you Give Love we will be able to share that with others.
With caring donations from the cloth diaper community, we are able to provide cloth diapers to families in need through Share the Love. Many of the Cotton Babies staff and friends have been through difficult circumstances and in need of help. So, it is from a place of experience and understanding that we desire to reach out to others, because we know the power of a caring, helping hand.
As the Host Site for the Greater Tulsa Area, I’m currently building our cloth diapers stash to help families in need. If you would love to lend a helping hand and help share the love, please send an e-mail at cblove.brokenarrow.ok@gmail.com. Gently loved cloth diapers, cloth wipes and all other cloth diapering accessories are greatly needed and so appreciated. You can also visit www.cottonbabieslove.com for more info!