Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

So what does aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly, cyclopentasiloxane, PPG-14 butyl ether, C12-15 akyl benzoate and phenyl trimethicone have in common? Besides being completely unpronounceable, these are all ingredients in the common antiperspirant deodorant. Some studies have linked these compounds to cancer and to boot they are completely packaged in plastic. So we did a little web research and it turns out that that there are 101 ways to make deodorant and none of them call for aluminum zirconium.

Hear is a link to the recipe we used:

The recipe has a total of 4 ingredients:
coconut oil, corn starch, baking soda, and an essential oil

The baking soda acts as the order neutralizer, the coconut oil is the base (we used refined-it was thicker), the essential oil is the smell and I don't know what the corn starch does (thickener?). How easy was it to make? It took a total of 5 minutes: we microwaved the coconut oil for 30-60 secs. mixed in the rest of the ingredients, let it cool a little, then poured it into an old roll-on container. How safe is it? Well, our friend Lee ate some! But how well does it work? Well I am a believer! Both Brooke and I gave it a test run today and after a full day of work and a trip to the gym, we both stayed stink free.

We were also going to make some toothpaste, but one of the ingredients was hydrogen peroxide and we couldn't find it not in a plastic container. At least for now, we figured the footprint of the plastic cap of Tom's of Maine toothpaste is smaller than the hydrogen peroxide container.

We have also been doing some research on toothbrushes. There are several choices that strive to lower their plastic use, like Radius toothbrushes that uses cellulose for the brush handle and say they have a 9-month life span. However we have not found any plastic free toothbrushes (at least not yet). We feel the best choice so far is an Ecodent toothbrush, available at the Bellingham Co-op. It has a replaceable head and it blister pack packaging is 100% recyclable.

This paragraph is for the ladies only (seriously gentleman, you probably will want to stop reading now). Okay, Brooke reporting here. I just want to tell you that the Bellingham Food Co-op carries some great alternative "lady products" including a brand called Natracare which are all natural, biodegradable and completely plastic free!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chasing Arrows-Chasing the Truth

I can't tell you how many conversations this past week have started with someone saying something to me like, "I was feeling so guilty today when ______ (fill in the blank here) and I realized how much plastic I was using". I want to reassure you that I am in no way judging you (I mean, just take a look at our pile of plastics in the first posting), but these kinds of conversations give me a little thrill because it means that folks are thinking about it more. That's the first step to change and that's pretty cool.

We've all learned the three "R's" right? Reduce, re-use and finally recycle. I think in the past I've tended to jump straight to the third "R" without thinking too much about it. But I've learned some interesting things about plastic recycling in the past few weeks that I thought you would like to know about (maybe).

Let's start with the basics. Plastic is a petroleum based product. Yes, that's petroleum the same non-renewable resource that countries get into wars over. According to an article published by Scientific American, "about 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process." So essentially 8% of the world's annual oil use is going into making plastics, and that amount is increasing every year.

So maybe you're thinking, "well if everyone was better about recycling their plastic, maybe we wouldn't have to keep making so much!" Sadly that is not the case. Even though your plastic containers have the recycling symbol of three arrows going round and round, your plastic yogurt container will never end up as another yogurt container. All of that plastic that you are so diligent about recycling goes into making secondary plastic products like carpet, textiles, jacket fill, plastic lumber and industrial plastic strapping. And these things are not recyclable themselves, (so maybe they should straighten out those three arrows into a line that ends up pointing at the landfill or ocean). To learn more about common misconceptions about plastic and plastic recycling check out this article by the Plastics Task Force.

Are you surprised and maybe even shocked? I was too. But that being said I am NOT saying don't recycle. A longer line to the landfill is better than no line at all. For those of you who live in Bellingham we have a great resource in the Sanitary Service Company that collects our recyclables. Find out here the ins and outs of what they will take. For those of you who live in other cities I recommend checking out your local recycling service's policies and if they don't recycle all plastics maybe knowing what they will take will have an impact on what you purchase.

If you are feeling a little down after reading this posting check out this link to The Plastiki Expedition to learn about an inspiring plastic recycling project. I find it very hopeful that there are such creative people out there thinking about better ways to do things. Maybe you're one of them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Say Cheese! (Is that title cheesy?)

For those of you who know Mike and I you probably know that we are serious cheese lovers. This has been somewhat of a problem because for most of the foods that we eat on a regular basis (except for yogurt), we've been able to find a plastic packaging free option but not cheese. So we decided to go on a field trip to visit a local dairy this weekend with our friends Ian and Emily to get some cheese straight from the source.

The cheese shop that we went to was at the Pleasant Valley Dairy located on Kickerville Road in Ferndale (they don't have a website, but you can get their address and phone number by clicking here). The woman running the cheese shop was very friendly and did a tasting for us. We tasted a delicious cheese called Farmstead, and several equally scrumptious kinds of Gouda. She ended the tasting with a Gouda that had been aged for six years which had a very intense flavor and kind of felt like it was burning a hole in my tongue (not exactly my cup of tea, but I bet stinky cheese eaters would love it). The best part is that if you buy a round of cheese it comes dipped in wax instead of wrapped in plastic, hooray!

Another wonderful thing about buying straight from the farm is that you get to meet the cows that your cheese comes from. When we were there the calves were in and Ian and Emily showed us how if you stuck your thumb out they would come up and suck on it (warning-this is not for those of you are sanitarily inclined).

Visiting the farm was great and we will certainly go back again soon or try out some other nearby dairies, but we had heard that making cheese at home was not too difficult so we thought we'd give it a try. Here is a shout out to our friends Susan and Magill (a.k.a. our foodie friends), who lent us their supplies and cheese making book. And guess what...it was super easy and so much fun! In less than an hour from start to finish we had a beautiful ball of fresh mozzarella. We kept it pretty simple this time, but I'm excited to start experimenting with adding herbs and spices and braiding it as well. One of my favorite hour devours in the summer is to put little fresh mozzarella balls on a toothpick with a fresh basil leaf and a cherry tomato. For those of you who want to try making cheese at home, I'm not exaggerating at all about how easy it is. Here is a link to a short YouTube video on making cheese. It's not the recipe that we used, but it's similar and it does show you just how simple the process is: How To Make Cheese. Happy cheese making!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vote Early, Vote Often!

About 11 or 12 years ago, I saw the owner of Stonyfield Yogurt speak. He said something that really struck a chord with me. He said: "Every time we shop, we are voting". By what we buy, we are endorsing that product or that lifestyle. Companies spend great effort looking at their sales trying to determine what consumers want and then providing it. Since then, organic food sales have grown exponentially. Now you can even buy "All Natural" Doritos. I can only imagine what that conversation was like at Doritos: "Hey Bob, have you looked at the ingredients in these things, what is this stuff? We need a healthier choice!" ....or maybe they just noticed that all natural chips sales were up and they figured that they could increase sales by a couple percent.

That's the beautiful thing that the organic food movement has shown. It does not require a 50-percent market share to cause large scale change, it only requires a relatively small shift in purchasing. Companies have determined that using plastic packaging saves them a couple pennies per unit. However, if the sales of their competitor who uses non-plastic packaging started increasing, they would be quick to notice. So far, with a few exceptions (which we will talk about later), most things have a non-plastic alternative. Now sometimes there are 100 choices and 99 are in plastic, but luckily there is that one. Sometimes that one is a little more expensive, but like organic food, it has added value.

So after our first shopping trip, who did we vote for? Here are a few choices we made:

- Cereal: We typically buy it in a box, we changed to bulk

- Milk: Of all the organic varieties, only one did not have a plastic cap...that's Trader Joe's brand

- Fish and beef: This was cool, instead of buying pre-packaged meat, we got it from the deli at the Co-op and had it wrapped in wax paper. There is something really nice about getting your meat that way.

-Sausage: This was a little more difficult. The Co-op deli didn't have any, so we went to a traditional grocery store deli and got some. However, it wasn't hormone or nitrate/nitrite free (not something we want to endorse either). I am sure with a little petitioning, we could get the Co-op to get some.

-Toilet paper: We bought individual rolls wrapped in paper vs. the mega-pack wrapped in plastic

-Spinach: bought in bulk vs. the plastic bags or plastic clam shells

-Tortillas: Bought corn masa and made our own instead of buying packaged ones. No plastic and way tastier!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tools of the Trade

Many of you are probably quite familiar with the amazing bulk food section that we have at the Bellingham Food Co-op. We feel pretty lucky to live in a community with such a great resource, and purchasing bulk foods seemed like a logical way to begin a plastic free grocery shopping trip. In the past we've tried to use and re-use the plastic bags provided in the bulk section. This works okay for awhile, but after a time the bags get kind of grungy, or get holes in them and ultimately they end up in the trash/landfill. So we decided to make our own bulk food bags out of muslin (a huge thanks to Mom for this great idea!).

I have pretty minimal sewing skills, but this is a great project for beginners and requires very little measuring or anything like that (honestly no one will judge you if your bags are a little funny shaped). I made bags that were three different sizes. Large ones for things like veggies and cereal, medium ones for our regular bulk items like rice, dried fruit, nuts etc., and a couple of small ones for tea and spices. The muslin is sturdy, but very light weight so we didn't worry too much about it adding to the overall cost at the checkout counter and the great thing is these bags can be thrown in the wash if they get dirty, and can be easily repaired if they get a hole in them. Pretty great huh?

Here is a picture of our haul from our first grocery shopping trip. I have to tell you it felt awesome going through that checkout line completely plastic free. I was a little curious to see if the checker would mind that our bulk foods and veggies weren't in see-through bags, but it was actually quite the opposite. She loved them!

In addition to the regular bulk foods you might think of our community food co-op also carries in bulk things like shampoo and conditioner, lotion, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent and dish soap. If you forget your own container there are usually spares available that people have brought in. If you have extras containers in good condition taking them in for other people to use is a great way to recycle. We were happy to discover that you can purchase soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and parmesan cheese in bulk. I'm sure these things have always been available, but it's surprising sometimes what you don't see until you are motivated to take a closer look.

On a side note I just wanted to say thanks to all of you for your overwhelming support. We are only on day four of this experiment, and already we've had an incredible amount of positive feedback and encouragement, plus lots of great ideas to include on the blog. Thanks to you our New Year's resolution is not only good for the planet, it's lots of fun to boot. More to come soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"A moment on the lips, a lifetime in the landfill"

This year we felt inspired to make a different New Year's resolution above and beyond our usual, "we will eat better and exercise more". We wanted to make a resolution that would have a positive impact, some sort of lifestyle change that would lessen our environmental footprint.

In taking a hard look at our day to day life we were recently struck by the amount of plastic that was ending up in our recycle bin and trash can. Even things that we bought at places that we consider to be environmentally friendly like Trader Joe's, and natural food stores it seemed were increasingly carrying products packaged in plastic. As an experiment we decided to collect all of our plastic throughout December to get a better idea of just how much our small household generates in one month. We went about life as we generally do without changing our usual habits (which isn't easy when you know you are going to be writing a blog about it and sharing it with the world). Here is a picture of our plastic usage for the month of December.

Crazy huh? And keep in mind this is the amount of plastic used in a two person household for just one month by a couple who most people would consider to be fairly eco-conscience. It's pretty shocking! It's easy to come up with excuses as to why our plastic consumption was so high in December. Things like, "it's the holidays" or "it's harder when you are traveling" come to mind. But there are always excuses that can be made and our goal is to be honest about it and to focus on finding solutions. (Try collecting your plastic for a month and we bet you will be surprised at how much you use).

In the past we didn't think too much about using plastic. After all we are avid recyclers, but we were stunned by just how much of it can't be recycled and will end up in a landfill or the ocean somewhere. In the picture above we've split out the recyclables (on the left) from the non-recyclables so that you can get a better idea. Packaging for cereal, energy bars, cheese, meats, spinach, coffee beans (used to be paper), bread, dried pasta, electronics, destroyed dog toys, tortillas, toothbrushes, frozen veggies, lids from everything, etc. cannot be recycled. Think about it, those ramen noodles that satisfy you for a half hour come in a plastic wrapper that will be in the environment forever.

We know we can do better! We're counting on you for your support and ideas as we blog about it. Throughout January we'll share with you what we learn about plastic, as well as tips for using less and we'll appeal to you for your ideas and advice when we're stumped. Here are the ground rules:
  • No purchasing of items packaged in plastic (including containers with plastic safety seals)
  • Reuse of plastic containers and bags that we already own is allowed
  • Purchasing items/tools that are made of or contain plastic with an anticipated use life of greater than one year is allowed
  • Corn based plastic packaging that can be composted is allowed, however we must compost it ourselves