December 19, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Kay Pere, Week 1


What changes have you made this holiday season to make your celebrations more earth friendly?

What has been the most effective way you’ve found to encourage your significant other to use reusable shopping bags?

Any suggestions for hypoallergenic face lotions with minimal packaging or make-it-yourself alternatives?

Location:Mystic, Connecticut, United States

Name: Kay Pere

Week: 1

Personal Info:

Week 1: here’s where the rubber meets the road. Instead of looking at pictures of other people’s plastic waste and getting discouraged, this week I began to collect my own. It’s an impressive pile, but not in a good way. The good comes from being able to see where changes can be made. Then making them!

I have to admit that I began the Plastic Challenge at this particular time to feel a greater sense of control over one aspect of my life at a time when other things are making life more chaotic. Since the beginning of November I’ve been dealing with health distractions. I won’t bore you with details. Nothing scary or serious, just increasingly limiting. This coming week will bring action that I hope will move things toward a positive, lasting solution.

Because of this my kind husband has been doing most of the grocery shopping and running errands for me, but—as demonstrated in this week’s plastic collection—I have yet to convince him to make use of my vast collection of reusable bags.

Other items in the collection reflect temporary lifestyle adaptations: protein drinks in place of regular food (Did discovered powdered protein drink mix to use in place of Ensure, 1 canister replaces 24 plastic bottles!), prescription & OTC pill bottles, rubber tourniquets from 2 blood draws, a 20 year old microwaveable gel heating pad that sprang a leak, and store-bought tapioca putting in a tub in place of homemade.

Then there are the Christmas tree lights. An entire tree’s worth. Dead.

It had been coming for several years. We bought a prelit faux tree about 6 years ago after realized that out allergies to indoor evergreens were making us to lose our singing voices just in time for the holidays. It was all lovely at first, but for the past 3 years the lights have increasingly been on the fritz. This year we plugged the tree . . . nothing. Not a flicker. So we got out the wire cutters and performed an illuminectomy.

We came to the conclusion that we could do without Christmas tree lights from here on out.

I can’t justify buying new ones knowing how quickly they break. They’re cheap to buy, but not to make. The price is paid in damage to land and water from copper mining, air and worker health in manufacturing, and precious petroleum drawn from the earth to make the plastic, package them and transport them to the store.

[Yes, that is a copy of “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard in the upper right corner of this week’s photo, there quite by accident. I’ve just returned from the library this afternoon where I renewed it to finish reading it in the coming weeks.]

I’m trying to decide whether it’s best to take the broken Christmas tree lights to Best Buy and tuck them into the cable recycling bin where they’ll likely be shipped to some 3rd world country, the plastic coating burned away in the open air so the small amount of copper they contain can be reclaimed. Or whether it’s better to just put them in the trash, the copper wasted and plastic buried forever in the ground.

It’s not an easy choice. But one I will never have to make for this particular item again.

I’ve realized that misfortune often carries within it the hidden gift of insight.

If I’d been in optimal health this year, I might not have stopped to think before running out to buy several new sets of lights. Luckily—yes, luckily!—being sick made me cognizant of the effort required to put these little twinkly things onto the tree, take them off again, then put them away. By this I was opened to the awareness that changing this one small thing could also ease the ailing health of our planet. By saying “no” to Christmas tree lights I could feel better all the way around.

Being sick gave me pause. This pause contained a chance to take a deeper look, make different choice, and move a little closer to my deepest values.

This Christmas Eve when we sit side-by-side looking at our tree, as we always do, and talk about the blessings of the year behind us, we’ll mark the missing lights as something lost that was also gained.

I am a multidimensional performing songwriter, visual artist, activist, writer, and educator whose work embodies a message of hope, healing, humor & humanity. Along with my husband, we live a quiet little life in our Mystical corner of New England.

Kay Pere’s personal blog:

Total items: 53

Total weight: NA

Items: Recyclable
-1 gallon milk jug
-1 Ensure drink bottle
-6 plastic grocery bags (Ugh! There may have been more snuck into the trash.)
-3 plastic produce/bakery bags
-1 Mary Kay lotion bottle
-1 acetaminophen bottle
-1 plastic honey bottle
-8-10 strings broken Christmas tree lights (not sure whether to recycle or trash)

-1 deli coleslaw container and 1 lid (reuse for storage or starting seedlings for garden)
-1 tapioca pudding container and 1 lid (reuse for storage or starting seedlings for garden)
-1 pair 3-D glasses & 1 bag from “Hugo” (loved the movie, will save glasses for next 3-D)
-2 prescription pill bottles (we use these to collect change, also washed can send to medical missionaries)
-2 rubber tourniquets from blood draws (asked for these so they wouldn’t get thrown away, will use to tie up tomatoes or ???)

Items: Nonrecyclable
-2 plastic thermometer tip covers from doctor’s office visits
-1 broken microwavable gel heating pad (20 years old!)
-1 plastic label from jar of local honey
-LOTS of plastic packing tape from holiday packages received (only sample shown)
-1 protein bar wrapper
-6 plastic envelope windows
-1 plastic hook & several plastic connector thingies from 4 new pair of comfy fuzzy socks

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
-Solgar soy protein drink mix canister makes 24 serving to replace bottles of Ensure AND without all the funky ingredients
-honey in plastic pour bottle from grocery store and difficult to pour glass jars of local honey from farmers market transferred to a repurposed olive oil bottle. Easy to pour and safe to reheat in a pan of water when crystals start to form. Glass honey jars saved for storage of dry goods.
-applesauce comes in glass jars (which I reuse), but I discovered this week that peeled, cored, sliced apples drizzled with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon, and microwaved for about 3 minutes in a covered Pyrex casserole dish taste even better! Healthier and less expensive, too.

-Set up online banking and bill paying to reduce inflow of plastic windowed envelopes.
-Find and purchase organic microwavable heating pad.
-Homemade tapioca pudding when I’m feeling better

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
-No more new Christmas tree lights
-Maybe find an alternative to the Mary Kay face lotion I’ve been using for years. Everything else I’ve tried either doesn’t work or makes my skin break out

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
-milk jugs: no glass bottles available without 10-15 mile each way drive
-plastic prescription bottles: our pharmacy won’t reuse
-vitamin & OTC med bottles
-plastic associated with medical appointments and procedures

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
I have been very aware this week of the choice between convenience and conservation. When not feeling well, it’s easiest to lean toward convenience. I’ve found that looking for creative alternatives has restored some of my sense of control over my life. In several instances, the more environmentally friendly alternatives weren’t any less convenient, beyond the initial investment of effort, were actually better for me, and more satisfying in other ways.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
See above under DID THIS WEEK.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
The pictures in this Plastic Challenge DON’T show the life challenges each participant may be working to overcome while learning to live more environmentally friendly life.

Outside the frame of each picture stands a person with a set of circumstances we will probably never know.

Experiencing this struggle for myself in this first week has made me more understanding of the choices others are making. I’m more aware of many things beyond our control that keep us from living as we might ideally wish to.

I’ve also been awakened to the unique opportunity for creative change that our individual and universal struggles present.

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