The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, Buy Nothing Day, & My Travel Mug

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. This post is not really about today but tomorrow:  the day the media insists on calling “Black Friday.”  I’m choosing instead to honor “Buy Nothing Day.” And to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, I am not going to replace my lost travel mug. And I’m not just going to wait until Saturday to replace it either. Here’s a little background…

This was my travel mug. Nice, huh? Stainless steel outside and in. Yeah, some plastic, which at this point seems to be inevitable with travel mugs. I lost it a few weeks ago and have been carrying a big ceramic mug with me, which is not so practical since it has no top and could be easily broken. But this is not the first travel mug I’ve lost. I lost the previous one, which looked exactly like this, back in October of 2008.  I’d had it for about a year.

See, I lose things. A few years ago, I left an iPod in the back seat of a taxi cab. I left a camera tripod on BART and then retrieved it from the lost and found, only to lose it again in the San Francisco airport on the same day. I have lost more umbrellas than I can count. I lost $40 in an ATM once when I walked away without taking my cash with me. And I lost my camera at the Oakland Earth Expo when I set it down on a table and found it gone a few minutes later. But the thing I miss the most, still to this day, was a homemade lunch I had packed for work containing the leftovers of a delicious pasta with broccoli-pine nut pesto. Maybe it wasn’t that great. But after watching the BART train pull away with my lunch on it, I remember it longingly as the best meal I’d ever made.

I know I’ve lost many more things. But losing this travel mug reminded me of an article I read a while back comparing the manufacturing impact of various types of cups: stainless steel, ceramic, and disposable Styrofoam, titled, “Ask Pablo: The Coffee Mug Debacle.” After going through a whole bunch of calculations that I don’t completely understand, the author asserts that you would need to use a stainless steel mug at least 369 times to make it less resource intense than the disposable cup. And you would have to use a ceramic mug 46 times. I’m sure I didn’t use that mug 369 times. I’d have had to use it every day, which I didn’t.

(I don’t know what the comparison would be with a paper cup rather than Styrofoam, but the short film For the Price of a Cup of Coffee, which I watched on an Earth Cinema CircleDVD [see disclosure at bottom] a few nights ago has me committed more than ever to refusing paper cups.)

travel mug sweater sleeve cozySo, a few mornings ago, waking up at 4am and unable to go back to sleep, I had the brilliant idea to follow No Impact Man’s lead and repurpose a glass pasta sauce jar instead. The trouble was, I’d need some kind of cozy to keep from burning my hands from hot beverages. No problem. My sleep-addled brain decided to create one right then and there from the sleeve of an old sweater. I added a strap to keep it from slipping out of my hands. Then, I went back to sleep.

Sadly, in the bright light of day, the cozy didn’t seem like the brilliant idea I’d thought it was at 4am. I should have covered the bottom to cushion and insulate the jar. Michael took one look and said I should have just used an old tube sock instead of cutting up a sweater. I’d have to agree.

travel mug sleeve cozyAnd then, he remembered that a while back, he’d found and brought home an actual bottle cozy, one with a pocket for my jar lid as well as a strap to slip my hand through. Yes, it’s synthetic fabric: not something I would buy new. But this cozy is used. Michael found it on the street. Some other unfortunate soul had lost theirs so we could use it. So here it is. My new travel mug and cozy. RobJ posted on his blog a while back about how to add a sipping hole to the lid. But I think I’d rather be able to close the jar completely and avoid spillage.

I hope the people who found my lost things make as good use of them as I will. Especially the person who found my lunch. Nom nom nom.

Anyway, happy Buy Nothing Day.   I won’t be blogging again until next week because turning off our computers is part of the BND fun.

(Now, I wonder if I’ll be able to reattach the sleeve of that old sweater.)

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12 years ago

Hah! I found this post doing a search through your archives hoping to find a good suggestion for a travel mug as I just lost mine. Or my husband did. It depends on who you ask. I really like the idea of the glass jar and cozy, but I want to use it to make yogurt and I loved how the insulated mug made it so thick and yummy! I didn’t even have to strain it. For now I have added the insulated 20 oz Klean Kanteen (think of all the delicious yogurt smoothies!) to an Amazon Wishlist called “things I’m considering” and will try to sort out in the next few weeks before my birthday if I want it because it will actually be helpful or because I want to just buy a new thing.

12 years ago

Come to think of it, you are right. I was thinking I see a lot of Stainless ones, but they are probably plastic-lined. Nope, I wouldn’t buy one either. Hmmm…it is sad.
That is such a bummer about your glass mug. Great warning. Stupid rule. This is an example of where common sense has taken a back seat to unfounded fears and convenience. I can see them not wanting a bunch of glass beer bottles being brought in the park, but you were obviously being careful, and if you happened to have a most unfortunate breakage accident, haven’t they ever heard of a broom and dustpan? Sheesh! I would have been MAD!

12 years ago

Love your reuse here. I, like you, lose things terribly. If imitation is the sincerist form of flattery, consider yourself highly admired. When I lose my current stainless bottle (notice I did not say “if”), I will use a sock and jar combo until perhaps I will be lucky enough to find a used cozy like yours at a thrift store. I am not as adept at finding random useful things in the street like Michael is. He is a treasure himself, yes? (Love the video of you and him talking on the couch).
A word on Ask Pablo’s calculations: I understand them, but there is a factor left out: someone not using a reusable drinking vessel on a daily basis will likely be using a disposable one, perhaps even multiple times per day. Even if we assume said vessels only receive one use per day (an underestimation to be sure), it would only take one year (plus half a week into the next) to make that reusable vessel worthwhile to purchase. But these calculations only consider the manufacturing cost of these various vessels, not the cost and impact of the waste they contribute to (Not to mention the impact of the type of manufacturing needed to make each). And like you said, hopefully the someone who found your lost bottle was able to use it (or at least someone down the line). You didn’t throw it away to add to the local landfill (I would hate to think that we are so programmed to dispose of things that your very useful bottle was fed to a refuse receptacle). Used wisely, reusables are clearly preferred to reduce environmental impact over disposables, wisely being the key.
That said, your glass jar solution is brilliant. And for those afraid of breakage, I see plenty of travel mugs in the thrift stores I visit. (I have donated a few myself in the past – ugh! That’s the real problem – two people only need two travel mugs, not ten!)

13 years ago

My friend actually did that, too! Not the losing an iPod, but the jar thing. He used an old insulated sock and kept milk in it. I’m thinking of imitating, but with a jar that’s not quite so big.

13 years ago

buy nothing day is such a good idea

Carol Beebe
14 years ago

The wool sweater sleeve would work better if you felted it to fit…

you could even attach a handle.

I knit a “sock” for my Kleen Kanteen after a similar catastrophic failure to Meagan’s mine hit the floor in a shower room when it was less than a month old. Container store exchanged it cheerfully and I have had the new one for over a year. I think it is just an inherent weakness in the spun steel.

Condo Blues
14 years ago

Nice creative reuse project Beth! I pour leftover coffee in a tall glass salsa jar and put it in my fridge to drink later as iced coffee.

I agree with Nick. Because for every person who says that they want to send a “message” and not shop on Black Friday, they still end up buying holiday gifts – just on a different day. So you’re not really sending a message at all because you’re still giving the retailer of choice your money, just on a different day of the year. So I say, IF you want to brave the crowds in order to purchase something you know your loved ones will use and like and not trash then by all means buy it at a discount on Black Friday. Maybe you’ll be able to make an extra donation to a charity with the money you saved by shopping that day.

Nick Aster
14 years ago

Thanks for the link to Pablo’s Coffee Debacle posts. The other day I posted some additional thoughts on ‘buy nothing day’ that you might find interesting. Basically, I suggested that it’s got great symbolism, but given the current nature of our economy, if we actually did buy things that day in a conscious manner we could do more good than a boycott. More here:

14 years ago

Fortunately, disposable coffee cups have never really caught on here in Spain, so I don’t have to carry my own mug around with me.

I carry a Klean Kanteen on my bicycle, which I keep it in an old woolen sock. In warm weather I wet the sock to keep the Kanteen’s contents cool through the process of evaporation. Works great!

14 years ago

I really appreciate you and Deanna’s thoughts. Many of us ( I struggle with this too) try to buy our way into greeness. I am swimming in a mountain of possesions and have been trying to use what I have and when I do have to purchase something, to be thoughtful about it. I am also trying to distinguish between needs and wants. I have found it I am really craving some item, if I wait a month or so the desire to possess the item passes. So a big thumbs up to consuming less and using what you already have.

14 years ago

Wool makes an excellent insulating layer for drink containers. I made a cover out of it for my Klean Kanteen last year. Last night I filled my kk with hot chocolate to drink at the beach and the liquid stayed warm for a while and the cover in my hand was never uncomfortably or unsafely warm. I’ll admit I used new wool for this cover (in random colors of green so that I can easily patch it in the future without having a perfect match), but you could easily make something from a wool sweater that has been fulled/felted to make the material more sturdy and dense.

Lara S.
14 years ago

I suppose the impact of the mugs also has to do with where they were made. If your ceramic mug comes from China and the steel mug is local, their impacts would change a little. Also, it would have to do with how contaminating is the mine where the metals were extracted. Here in Argentina, all the mines have absolutely no respect for the environment, but I suppose things can be done differently in countries with real environmental policies.
The idea of the glass jar is a good one, specially because of the airtight lid (which my steel mug has not).

14 years ago

you are such an inspiration

14 years ago

Be careful putting hot beverages in your glass jar. Make sure it is at least warm first, otherwise, the heat will cause it to break; which defeats the purpose entirely. I reuse many of my glass jars to store bulk food purchases.

14 years ago

Apropos of this and your previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about a recent experience with Klean Kanteen. I felt a similar pain after a woman ran into me at the gym, and sent my Kanteen flying onto the tile floor. When I picked it up, water was running down the side from a tiny little fissure. Prior to that, it had never even had a dent! I did the quick calculations and figured I hadn’t yet made it to the 369 times, especially considering I bought the Kanteen only after I had re-used a collection of plastic bottles for at least 18 months.

I checked when I had purchased it, and my blood pressure rose: exactly 13 months earlier. Their guarantee? 12 months. Was this another company offering a product that would fail right after the warranty was up? I tossed off a letter suggesting as much, and enclosed my busted Kanteen. I made sure to let them know how much my purchasing decisions mean to me.

Well, KK didn’t disappoint. They wrote me back with an apology for a bad weld and asked where they could send a replacement. It arrived right away, and THEN, I received a check covering the postage for my initial letter and bottle. Faith restored. Thanks for introducing me to a great company.

Happy BND!

susanna eve
14 years ago

an issue for me is that a glass jar is too heavy. I carry around lots of things and carrying a glass jar for my daughter and I would be too much extra weight:( I also carry plastic fold up sporks for us too (along with chopsticks if we are going to need them:)) because of the same reason.
By the way, most of those fancy looking travel mugs don’t keep stuff warm anyways and a lot of them leak. If you lose them, a jar is a great idea.
I do have a great metal thermos/water bottle for my daughter that keeps ice frozen for 12 hours:)
p.s. after reading about them on your website I asked for glass straws as a holiday gift but am getting metal ones instead because the person buying the gift wasn’t convinced that glass would last or was safe.

Kathy G
14 years ago

Your travel mug is a very interesting concept. However, I’m so klutzy I’d be afraid to carry around anything made of glass.

The only shopping I’ll be doing today is at a Fair Trade market at a nearby church. It’s a Black Friday tradition.

14 years ago

sitting this day out as well.

14 years ago

Hi beth your new travel mug reminded me of my trip to china a few years ago. There you see tons of Chinese citizens with their old jam jars filled with green tea. A handle? An old shoelace tied around the top. Your “new” water jar seems quite fancy in comparison. ;)

I really admire your passion towards your cause… I will guiltily admit that I am going shopping tomorrow. I will try to be good and not go to overboard…

14 years ago

Man, losing an ipod in the back of a taxi sucks! I would be regretting that for a long time after. That’s one massive tip for the cabbie.

Deanna Piercy
14 years ago

We are so ingrained with the consumerism concept that even when attempting to “go green”, our first thought is to purchase another product. In reality, the greenest option is not to buy…period. Good for you!

14 years ago

I lose handy packaging all the time.
I often fill glass bottles and pop them in my carry all where they cool off slowly.
I figure someone gets to use what I lose at least 369 times!

14 years ago

That’s some excellent re-purposing. I’m impressed!

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Buy Nothing Day! :)

14 years ago

I think one of the stainless water bottles w/ a cozy would be good. I could sew you a cozy from a n old sock as Michael brilliantly suggested.

14 years ago

Good use of Up Cycling there beth!