February 21, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Becca Ryals and Gordon Bennett, Week 1

Becca's & Gordon's plastic waste

Name: Becca Ryals and Gordon Bennett

Week: 1

Personal Info:
We are both graduate students in the environmental sciences at UC Berkeley. We spend our time fighting for environmental progress through science, and we make this a personal goal as well. We appreciate living in a place where it is so easy to shop and eat locally, and we started our own modest garden and worm compost outside our tiny apartment. Despite our efforts, we easily get wrapped up in the hurried, convenient plastic-wrapped ways of life.

On a recent field campaign to Hawaii to study native insects, we saw beaches lined with plastic of all shapes and sizes. It was alarming, but not surprising. We had read about the plastic sea before and seen countless pictures of bird guts filled with plastic bottle caps. But, seeing it in person really struck a chord. We did a mini-plastic challenge a few years ago but didn’t go long enough to really change our behaviors. This time we’re all in and excited to make some big changes!!!

We also have two cats, and we will count their plastic paw prints with our waste stream as well. We will not, at this time, include our plastic contribution from our research. Unfortunately, lab work generates a lot of plastic waste (pipet tips, gloves, etc) which seems largely unavoidable. Any suggestions for how to tackle that beast would be much appreciated.

Total items: 13

Total weight: 0.278 pounds

Items: Recyclable
1/2 cat litter container (we cut it and now use the bottom half to store our scoopers)

Items: Nonrecyclable
-Wrapper for magazine that came in the mail (for the people that used to live here)
-Bag from frozen potstickers
-Label from brussels sprout stalk
-wrapper from tofu burger package
-wrapper from Daiya vegan cheese
-scoop and lid from protein powder
-flea medicine packets (2)
-ziplock bag from some old Tofurkey from the fridge
-one old plastic grocery bag used for scooping cat litter (not shown in picture)
-wrapper for yeast
-a few produce stickers

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
Almost of the items can be avoided.

We’re cutting out the frozen foods completely and taking more frequent trips to Berkeley Bowl and the farmers’ markets.

We’re also cutting out the processed/prepared vegan foods (Tofurkey, Daiya cheese, tofu burgers). It’s not too difficult because we have some great cookbooks, like Veganomicon, but the Daiya vegan cheese will be missed. It came out just last year, and it’s actually really tasty.

We get a ton of mail for people that used to live in our apartment still – more than we get for ourselves! We’re going to let the post office know to that we don’t want to be held responsible for someone else’s plastic windows!

We have a few more plastic bags to use for cat litter. We switched to Swheat Scoop cat litter (made from wheat and in a paper bag) to avoid plastic litter bags or containers in the future. Our cats go outside sometimes and are at risk of carrying Toxoplasma gondii, so we feel uncomfortable flushing their waste down the toilet. After we run out of old plastic bags, we are thinking about composting the litter in a separate compost from our food compost.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Daiya vegan cheese is delicious, but we are willing to give it up.

We’re thinking about getting a soymilk maker to make our own soymilk. We can then use the pulp to make veggie burgers. (Beth – I saw that you purchased one. Have you been using it? How well does it work? I really only use soymilk to bake… but I bake a lot!)

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
The only thing we are unwilling to give up is the flea medicine. We have two cats and they both pick up fleas easily. Stoker is missing a back leg making it impossible to scratch behind her right ear, and the fleas know it!

We’re starting to make our own bread. I only know of yeast in little packets that are lined with plastic.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
We are changing the way we eat. We started making a weekly schedule for meals and shopping for ingredients every 5-7 days. We completely stopped buying meat alternatives. We recently made our own seitan which was super easy, and noticed that you can buy tofu at the farmers market and bring your own container. We’ve also been baking our own bread, but need to look into plastic-free yeast packets.

I think many of our plastic problems can be solved simply by planning ahead.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Goodbye, Daiya vegan cheese.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
Going plastic free is fun and gets people talking!!

Please help:
1. I am new to bread making. Are there yeast packets that aren’t lined with plastic?

2. We have to buy toothpaste soon, and we’re hesitant to just use baking soda. What are the best toothpaste options?

3. Deodorant?

4. I would love to talk to other scientists who use plastic for lab or field work.

6 Responses to “Plastic Challenge: Becca Ryals and Gordon Bennett, Week 1”

  1. Becca Ryals says:

    Yes, vital wheat gluten is available in bulk from Berkeley Bowl, and its pretty cheap.

  2. Becca Ryals says:

    EcoCatLady – thanks for sharing your experience on composting cat litter.

  3. Becca Ryals says:

    Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful comments!
    The lab-related post is interesting, but frustrating. I suppose those are the realities of doing scientific research.
    Swheatscoop works well! We haven’t started to compost our cat litter yet. We still have a bunch of old plastic shopping bags that we’re using up for now. I read several posts on Grist.org about composting cat litter: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-07-26-ask-umbra-on-sustainable-choices-for-cat-litter. They say that if you wait one year before applying the compost, that is enough time to deem the toxin not viable. I don’t know if that’s true or assumed. Unfortunately, I don’t have any space to dig a deep hole. Our garden is built on an old concrete patio, so the soil is very shallow.
    On a good note, we found a glass jar of yeast with a metal lid. I guess I just never thought to look for it before. The jar is equivalent to 16 packets of individually wrapped yeast, and I think its readily available at most grocery stores. The yeast in bulk at Berkeley Bowl is nutritional yeast (which we also use a lot).
    I’m still debating the soy milk maker. I probably go through 50 cartons of soymilk a year – mostly for baking. I still have an old carton in my freezer, so I’ll weigh out the options while that one runs out.
    The seitan recipe comes from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Here it is:
    Ingredients (seitan):
    1 cup vital wheat gluten
    3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
    1/2 cup cold vegetable broth (you can get dehydrated veggie broth in bulk at Berkeley Bowl or make your own)
    1/4 cup soy sauce (my bottle has a plastic top!)
    1 Tablespoon olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, pressed
    Ingredients (broth):
    8 cups cold water + 3 veg bouillon cubes, or 4 cups water + 4 cups veg broth
    1/4 cup soy sauce

    1. mix together gluten flour and nutritional yeast in large bowl.
    2. mix veg broth, soy sauce, olive oil and garlic in separate smaller bowl
    3. pour wet into dry, stir with wooden spoon until moist.
    4. Knead the mixture with your hands for 3 minutes, until dough is elastic.
    5. divide into three pieces and knead a little.
    6. Fill stockpot with broth ingredients. Add gluten pieces.
    7. cover & bring to boil.
    8. as soon as it boils, turn heat to low to simmer for an hour.
    9. turn off heat, remove lid, and let sit for 15 minutes.
    10. sietan is ready to use once cooled, or store it in the fridge in the broth.

  4. I too would LOVE The seitan recipe!

    I’ve been composting kitty litter for over a year now… we use it on ornamental plants in our yard, but if you don’t have a yard… hmmm…. Anyhow, the biggest challenge we’ve had is mice, they LOVE the wheat! I thought they were crazy at first… I mean mice surrounding themselves with the most intense cat smell around, but they’re multiplying like crazy back there!

  5. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Becca and Gordon!

    I actually published a guest post from a reader about lab-related plastic. You might find it interesting, even if it has few answers:


    I’m glad you found Swheatscoop. Composting the waste separately sounds interesting, but what would you do with it once it’s composted? I guess burying it deeply would be okay. The concern is not letting it get out to the ocean, right?

    We make our own cat food. There is some plastic involved from the supplement powder we use, but it’s a lot less packaging waste than if we were buying cans or bags. Here’s the recipe:


    I’ve got those same Frontline flea treatments in my plastic tally. Sadly, the Frontline really doesn’t seem to be working. I think the fleas are resistant to it. So our vet gave us a different med: Vectra. And getting it home, I discovered it comes w/ way more plastic than the Frontline!

    I think you can get yeast from a bulk bin at Berkeley Bowl. But I could be wrong. It might just be nutritional yeast. Nevertheless, there is yeast in a glass jar, which might have a plastic seal around the lid, but it’s a lot less waste than individual packets.


    I’ve seen it at Safeway.

    I have to admit I don’t use the soy milk maker as much as I thought I would. But your mileage may vary. The worst thing about it is the cleanup afterwards. Thinking of cleaning it makes me just say, forget soy milk. I don’t need it anyway.

    Will you post the seitan recipe? I’m very interested!