Bulkin’ Up

Let’s talk about how amazing the bulk section of a grocery store is. Remember when we would go to stores as kids and the idea of bulk candy was both overwhelming and so freaking exciting? I think the bulk foods section is the adult version. Think about it: you get to choose whatever you want and however much you want! Kid in a candy shop, 2.0. 😊


And as someone who disdains frivolous plastic packaging, these bins are the perfect solution because you have the powah to choose what to put your sweet, sweet cinnamon powder in. Did I mention that this amazing wonderland happens to be within biking distance of my house? No? Well, welcome to Rising Tide. Come visit, sometime!

My happy place!

Once you’re presented with this spread though…you can’t just take a plastic bag and start fillin’. I mean, you definitely can but should you? Think about all the stuff you likely have laying around your kitchen right now: reused bread bags and ziplock; old pasta sauce jars, leftover takeout containers…turns out all these vessels are just waiting to be filled with rice, nuts, and snacks!The great news? Most stores usually have a scale near the bulk goods which allows you to tare containers and weigh product without confusing the cashiers. So really, the only things really stopping you at this point are organizing and the worry that you’ll piss off the impatient guy in line behind you. But come on! You’re saving the planet and shouldn’t we all slow down over food anyway?

Well? What are you waiting for?! Go getcha bulk on!

Plastic-free goodness!
microbeads infographic

Watch Out for Those Microbeads!

microbeads infographic
5 Gyres Infographic

If you’re a Crest toothpaste fan, and especially if your paste of choice comes in that blue-gel form with itty bitty dots of who-knows-what in it, listen up! Those dots? They’re microbeads. Guess what they’re made of? Yep…plastic! Argh! Not only have microbeads infiltrated facial cleansing products, they’re being swished around our mouths every time we think we’re doing our teeth a favor. “They’re so tiny, though! How much harm could they really do?” Good question…what’s a dental enthusiast to do?

Read up on the issue, of course! 5 Gyres put together a great, simple infographic detailing exactly what this whole microbeads debacle is all about and why we might choose to care about it. The good news is that as of last month, Crest has agreed to slowly phase out the use of microbeads in its pastes. Better still, Proctor and Gamble, the parent company to Crest, has already declared that it will rid its product line of microbeads by 2017 at the latest which is pretty amazing considering it’s one of those mega-corporations. Just goes to show you what some sound science and solid citizen action can do!

But don’t wait for P&G to drop the beads! In the meantime, do some homework and find a brand that will clean your pearly whites, without the addition of plastic particles. Blech!

Ban the Foam, Maine Edition

What happens when you eat ice cream too late in the evening? Well…blogging happens. This post is just shy of a month overdue, so I guess it was high-time for a sugar-fueled session. Here we go…

Recently, I joined up with the Surfrider Foundation, but more specifically, the Maine Chapter. Surfrider has many campaigns aimed at protecting one of nature’s best playgrounds (the ocean) but the one I most closely identify with is their Rise Above Plastics (RAP) campaign. It’s through this that a lot of bag bans and ordinances surrounding legislation targeted at reducing single-use plastics happen. For anyone who follows these bans across the country, you might recall seeing blips from the state of Maine, as we attempt to ban EPS. What’s EPS? In simple terms: Expanded Polystyrene. The ban that the city of Portland, Maine is considering taking up aims to ban only EPS foam food packaging. Remember that time you got Thai takeout and it came swaddled in squeaky white clam shells? Yeah, that stuff. It’s an ugly pice of litter, it gets into our oceans and wrecks havoc on the marine environment. For those that read my “Photo Seen Round the World” post, you might have noticed a small piece of styrofoam amongst all the contents on that tray…even on Midway Atoll, we find EPS. Problem? You betcha.

And so it was that on September 16, the City Council of Portland, Maine heard public comment on this proposed ordinance. I, along with fellow Surfrider members, attended the meeting to lend our voice in favor of the ban. This was my first foray into the world of politics and public hearings and what I found that evening sort of surprised me. I was told two things before the meeting: 1) there would be lots of lobbyists there, doing a lot of pandering and 2) despite that, most of the council seemed to be in favor of the ban and it was probably going to pass.

Thinking that this was going to be a cake walk, I crafted my 3-minute public statement to the council with Midway on my mind. I talked about how EPS is an outdated packaging material and that recycling it is a futile effort. I shared my Midway story and told the Council members about the albatross being affected by our trash in the middle of nowhere. It was a very nice bit of writing…but it didn’t really resonate with any of the council members. Maybe I spoke too soon, allowing too many lobbyists to speak after me, but mostly, I think what spoke very loudly that night were two things: money and economics.

Herein lies the lesson, and the rub. First, the rub: I am, first and foremost, all about the environment. This is the reason I joined up with Surfrider in the first place and what I focus on in my anti-plastic pollution advocacy. However, there is a large percentage of the population that does not think this way, and this is what I learned that night at the hearing. People want to know how things will affect them, their business, and the economy…back to money and economics. The message driven home, loud and clear, was that if you really want to get a council-member’s attention, you have to mention those things. Of course, we don’t need to all turn into smooth-talking lobbyists, no, no, no…but we have to get on the level.

Something I heard repeatedly that night from the lobbyists and small business representatives in the room was that switching from EPS to alternative packaging would be too expensive. And yet, only one person who testified in favor of the ban gave any evidence that alternative, cost-effective packaging even existed. This is the problem! The small businesses who oppose this ban don’t want it to happen because they maybe aren’t aware of the alternatives, and have been told by industry lobbyists that switching would be disastrous for business. We can talk about the impacts of EPS on the environment until we’re blue in the face, but until we give this group actual alternatives and hard numbers as evidence, we might as well be shouting into the breeze.

Lobbyists are really good at convincing pretty much anyone that their product is just fine and all we need are more recycling programs. They are smooth talkers and when they outnumber those in favor of any legislation that would ban their product, their voice is suddenly the loudest and most heard. What happens then is that a group of council members who are no longer sure an EPS ban is what the City of Portland needs sends the legislation back to committee for further review…at least, this was the case in Portland, that night.

So as advocates of a plastic-free lifestyle, what do we do? We all care about the environment and the well-being of ourselves and future generations and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice that message. What if we crafted our messages in a way that addressed all of these things? After the hearing last month, it became clear to me that as advocates, we can do a better job. It’s not enough to give a statement to the city council on why we think a ban is necessary. We need to be talking to those opposed and figure out how to solve these issues. Only when we take that next step can change really happen.

Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter

My Bodum Experience

While cleaning out the grounds from a recent French Press, I being my usual spastic self, somehow managed to chip and crack the glass beaker of the press. I was not happy. It wasn’t my French Press to break and now I had a fully functional lid and handle to go with a destroyed beaker. I pulled out my wallet and went to Bodum’s website, fully prepared to buy a whole new setup.

The wonderful Shin Bistro French Press!

Then I got the best surprise ever. It turns out, Bodum has a whole section on their site devoted to replacement parts. Everything is on there, down to the last screw and mesh filter. After a quick search to find the right size, I was able to find a replacement glass beaker and purchased it on the spot. It arrived yesterday and I enjoyed a delicious French Press along with some homemade banana bread. In the future, I will be much more careful when composting those coffee grounds…

Replacement Glass Beaker

So that’s the good news. The semi-frustrating bit is that Bodum is definitely making a killing on this replacement parts thing. The beaker we ordered was $20 with $7.95 for shipping and handling. A brand-new all-parts-included Shin Bistro Coffee Maker (pictured above) is only $30, which makes it tempting to buy a whole setup. Someday I’d love to see companies charge less for replacement options, but if spending that $27 means not wasting perfectly good pieces (i.e. the lid and handle of our existing press) and not buying new materials, then I’ll fork over the extra dough.

Side note: they also sell a plastic replacement beaker, for $22. Which is awesome for 2 reasons: a) it creates a small demand for glass and b) coffee would taste terrible and brew horribly in a plastic carafe. Glass carafes are a win:win for Bodum and make for very satisfied customers (read: a household who craves French Press on Sunday mornings).

To top it all off, their tagline is “Make Taste, Not Waste.”

I like that. 🙂

*All Photos courtesy of the Bodum website!

Plastic and…Fungi?

Love Earth.

Something we all know: Nature. Is. Awesome.

Why are we leveling rain forests for corn and cattle, when there exists fungi that have the potential to partially solve the growing global waste-management crisis? Why are you ruining nature, big faceless corporations?! *shakes fist*

Because we are in a crisis. If you weren’t aware of it five minutes ago, you most certainly should come to terms with that fact now. We humans produce too much trash, too much waste and too much of it never sees the inside of a MRF (that’s Materials Recovery Facility to you) or a compost heap. And what do we do with all that waste? We bury it…in the ground…where it sits, for eternity. Maybe it was a great idea 50 years ago but we live in the 21st century! It’s time to step up our game and come up with a better solution.

So this fungi, this plastic-eating Amazonian wonder is a solution. Note the ‘a.’ As in…not the only one. One of the biggest things I took away from the 5th International Marine Debris Conference is that in the world of plastic pollution, there really is no silver bullet solution. No one way to deal with this problem. There is, however, silver buckshot. Many solutions to one problem. This fungi is one in many.

Pestalotiopsis microspora will be most useful in already-existing landfills, where right now there sits tons upon tons of plastic trash that are going nowhere anytime soon. For that part of the waste stream, this is a great solution. It would be totally awesome if scientists could figure out a way to safely multiply the fungi and apply it to the nations (dare I say the world’s?) landfills. Less plastic in the landfill means less chance of contamination of groundwater, healthier environments and healthier communities. Hip-hip, hooray!

BUT. (There’s always a but, isn’t there?)

We have a solution to something we’ve already created – landfills full of trash that literally just sits there, day in…day out, releasing methane and generally causing a ruckus underground. This fungi, if it comes to market, will be useful in breaking down all those undigestables taking up space in our hillsides.

So yes: get excited that nature is once again kicking ass and taking names but don’t get blinded by science. We can’t rely on nature to fix all of our problems (I think that’s asking quite a bit from Mamma Earth) but we can do something about our over-consumptive lifestyle. It would do us all a lot of good to take a step back from that and perhaps take note of things we have the power to change. How about producing less waste in the first place? We can’t let this fungi become a crutch  to our current way of life, because that is just not sustainable. Eventually, we’ll have to face our waste problem and the sooner, the better.