The Culture of Disposable

The problem with creating a culture around disposable products is that it creates a habit that is really freaking hard to break. We aren’t addicted to the packaging per se, but we also can’t shake it either. In this day and age, it takes work to eliminate plastic crap from our daily lives…like, physical and mental work that makes dieting and exercise look like a cake walk. (Is that a pun or just a bad joke? Neither? Hm…)

So when an entire country votes to ban a major source of this disposable lifestyle; of COURSE we get psyched! More awareness about the problem, less use of stupid, single-use plastic crap, and less stress over eating out and grocery shopping (plus win win for the planet!) Victory at last?

But then I read this and sort of lose it:

The Associated Press reports that France has enacted a ban on all plastic dishes, cups, and utensils. The ban goes into effect in 2020, after which all disposable utensils and dishes must be made of biological, rather than petroleum-based, material.

Let me preface this rant by saying that I think it’s amazing, truly, that France has declared this kind of ban (even if it doesn’t go into effect for 4 more years. Sigh.) The fact that an issue like this is gaining political traction is amazing and only speaks to how much more aware we are as humans that we are finally realizing our impact on this planet and want to take action to fix our mistakes.

So why create bandaid legislation? Why not attack the issue of waste and our culture of disposables head-on, instead of saying “no” to plastics but “yes” to something that walks, talks, and perpetuate the idea of plastic? Have we really ventured too far down the rabbit hole of single-use that this is the best solution?

Having no idea what went into this decision or how many plastic industry reps are fighting this, I can’t speculate on the whys or how’s and I realize that in me crying out for stronger legislation, I’m labeling myself some kind of idealist. Fine, I’ll take that on but man-oh-man, am I ever tired of this consumer culture. We need to evolve beyond using something for 5 minutes just to throw it away and never see it again. Plastic forks are seriously getting old. This is 2016, people!!

Where’s the plastic? Oh right…its’s 2016!

So we switch to compostable forks and cups. Great! At this point are there actually viable products on the market that can be mass-produced at low costs that will actually break down in a compost heap? Like a regular Joe-shmo pile? If not, then are we creating more problems for ourselves?

This ban leaves me with some hope and optimism but in the end, more questions (clearly). I want to live in a world that relies less on the concept of single-use…France, can ya help me out?

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. 😊

Candyland

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!

Freaking Out Over Mason Jar Coffee

You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’ve been living in Maine for almost three years now and have done a surprisingly poor job at publicizing my exploits across the state. I wait to post something, then forget, then think it’s too late to do anything about it and a year goes by. Oy!

So here’s something: almost every morning, I drive through the odd little village of Wiscasset and stop at my favorite, favorite place to get coffee: Treats. It is truly heaven on earth. Croissants, coffee, and a killer view to boot!! How can you lose, really? Go if you haven’t been, return if it’s been a while. 😊 

Wiscasset, ME
 Up until very recently, I carted my trusty Klean Kanteen around with me for coffee pit stops but that’s taken a backseat while I reacquaint myself with my freaking Mason Jar set up. By “freaking” I mean “Freaker” and by “Freaker” I mean “modified awesome sock.” (Or #awesomesock for all you #hashtaggers out there). Because I have a tendency to mutter “Good Grief” one too many times, it seems only fitting that my coffee stay snuggled in Charlie Brown attire. 
Good grief! Is that enough coffee?!
 Why am I telling you this? As I get back into my favorite topic, railing against single-use plastics (looking at you, #6 plastic coffee cup lid!), I also want to talk about funky alternatives! A jar and a sock are a pretty weird combination (let’s just admit it) but a) they work and b) all the people in whatever coffee shop you visit will remark upon how fun your #awesomesock is. 

Consumptive Vacation

Why is it that we always seem to assume the worst in people? We plan for a mess and then create more of a mess in the process. I’m speaking this time of the wastefulness of outdoor bars and restaurants. At some point (and I haven’t done a ton of research so can’t point to an exact year or decade) bar owners thought that combining outdoor establishments with alcohol in glass vessels wasn’t a good idea and with good reason, I suppose. Patrons break glass, other patrons step on broken glass, lawsuits abound. Or, people steal the glassware. Or it falls into the ocean/waterway next to the bar. The solution? Make everything plastic. That way, we can throw everything away (easy cleanup), there’s no risk of breakage (no pissed off customers) and if it blows away? It’s not our problem anymore! Right?

At an outdoor bar yesterday, I and my friends gathered for a few drinks. It was situated on a marina (outdoors + water = recipe for plastic haven), but it had a nice, classy vibe so I thought maybe we’d luck out and avoid the plastic. Not so. We were immediately presented with these #5 (polypropylene, e.g. Tupperware) cups, complete with a plastic straw. The interesting thing about these cups was that they were actually designed to be reused (on the bottom of the cup: “Top rack dishwasher safe”)! This seemed pretty cool to me; a halfway solution to the plastic-bar-cup dilemma. “Hey, if we’re going to use plastic, let’s at least wash the cups and reuse ’em!”

Missed opportunity to class a place up and help the environment.
Missed opportunity to class a place up and help the environment.

Naturally, we became curious: did the restaurant intend to use the cups for their designated purpose? After watching a bartender chuck a #1 (PET) cup that had previously held water straight into the trash, I was having second thoughts, but we decided to proceed anyway and flagged the bartender down to ask. To our dismay, it turned out that this place didn’t reuse the cups. In fact, they didn’t even recycle them. Nope, everything got thrown away after one use. GAH!

On a purely monetary level, how is it even cheaper to buy endless sleeves of #5 cups when you could also invest in a set of pint glasses to wash and reuse again and again? In our attempts to avoid disaster, we choose a product that ends up being a disaster further on down the line and in the process, waste so many resources. Plus, we create this system where we assume humans can’t handle something breakable. I realize sometimes we all get a little crazy and thing break, but to just blindly categorize all people drinking as dangerous is unfair and stupid. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Let us make mistakes and break a glass so we know not to do it again. By giving us plastic, you’re letting us continue with our wasteful ways and there is no reprimand.

The worst part? Nobody seems to think this is a big deal. How do we change this perspective? I think the first step might be to hash it out with Skipper’s Dockside Key Largo but there are countless places like this in the world. Any other solutions out there?

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!

Garbage, Garbage, Garbage

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger

I’ll be honest and admit that before today, I didn’t know who Pete Seeger was*. Sure, I’d probably heard his tunes in the background of various TV shows (Weeds, anyone?) but I never knew that he was so forward thinking and all about big issues like women’s rights, civil rights, and…yep, environmental stewardship. Folk singers, they’re the coolest. I’m only sad that I came around to him too late. Bummer…

So why mention him on a blog devoted to all things plastic pollution? Well this harkens back to my Bill Nye post about garbage and realizing yet again that people have been talking about this issue for a long time. In 1996, Seeger released a song entitled “Garbage” and there’s a verse in it that goes like this:

In Mister Thompson’s factory, they’re making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic’s mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That’s been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, “Why, don’t you see?
It’s absolutely needed for the economy,”
(source: Lyrics On Demand)

Hearing this song was like a shock to my brain: plastic pollution, pollution in general is such a critical issue! When it comes to pollution, I think people often get bogged down in the details and the nitty-gritty of “Well, this issue is too big and there are too many moving parts so why bother?”

Why bother? Because it keeps happening. People are still writing songs about garbage. Haven’t we learned yet? We tend to write off plastic pollution in favor of larger, “hot topics” like oil exploitation and climate change but the reality is that all of them are connected. We suck petroleum products from the ground, turn them into single-use items and plastic Christmas trees because “it’s absolutely needed for the economy” and in the process pollute our homes, our air, and our water.

I like that these songs exist, because they reinvigorate my excitement about this issue and are good tools to help raise awareness but it would be so awesome if the idea of “garbage” as the focal point for a song became a true thing of the past.

*Many thanks to my Mom for pointing me in the direction of this cool cat! 🙂

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