It’s the Little Things…

I spend a lot of time mulling over blog posts, that eventually get forgotten, stuck in the “draft posts” folder, accumulating dust and never seeing the light of day. But the beauty of a blog is that it can be anything: off-the-cuff musings and/or fully researched articles. I like a healthy combination of both and so, I have a new tactic: just write and publish the darned post, as it happens, even if the finished product isn’t perfect and beautiful.

That brings us to the point of this post. I find inspiration for this blog in the things others may find mundane or may typically overlook as something of a non-issue. Examples include:

  •  Food retail outlets using way too much plastic packaging (drives me absolutely mental while some may not even see the plastic as a problematic);
  • Coffee shops serving beverages in takeaway cups despite customers then sitting in the shop (what an absolute waste of resources!); and
  •  Recently, hotels and the way they accessorize their rooms.

It’s this last bullet I’d like to highlight. This past week, I’ve been traveling around BC with my better half, and we’ve stayed in a myriad of hotels, motels, and something called a “boutique hotel” (is “boutique” the new “in” word?). Given that we are both into the whole #plasticsux thing, we usually base our opinion of a place in part on what products the hotel leaves for guests. “What are they equipping the in-room coffee tray with?” and “What toiletries are provided in the bathroom?” are usually the first things we’re wondering as we step into the room.

Context: lately, I’ve become totally jaded by hotels that appear lovely on the surface, but then litter their rooms with plastic crap. I imagine a place that has nice beds, towels, and an excellent shower to also follow through on the little things but as it turns out, this is not always the case! Last summer, we checked in at The Best Western in Fernie, and were impressed with its outward appearance, but totally let down by the sheer amount of packaged stuff in the rooms. It made me want to vomit. ๐Ÿ˜ก


So when you land in a space, do a walk around the room and find no plastic, it’s like the stars have aligned. This week, that happened at every single hotel (and so far, we’re up to 5, so that’s saying something!). The coolest part about this is that 4 out of the 5 places have been little motels, no chain affiliation, in the middle of nowhere.

Funky accommodations in Revelstoke!
Which begs the question: if a small, one-off place is able to provide ceramic coffee mugs and actual glass water glasses, and paper-wrapped soap without any of the other unnecessary plastic tubes of bad shampoo, why is it that a mammoth corporation like Best Western, is offering lame styrofoam cups and plastic-wrapped plastic cups (I still haven’t figured out what the f*ck is up with that) and passing it off as cost-saving measures?! Surely they don’t need to cut costs, what with the amount of traffic they see and their clientele.

Authenticity is ceramic and glass. โค๏ธ
So to the small-town motels, still offering these little reminders that we are capable of drinking coffee out of a real mug without breaking it, I thank you. It is these little things that give me hope, and that make me want to come back, if only for the chance at holding on to a piece of something authentic.

And, if you find yourself in BC looking for a quiet, authentic place to rest your weary, adventure-filled body, here are some recommendations! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Candyland

And as someone who disdains frivolous plastic packaging, these bins are theย 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 withย thisย 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 beย 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. ๐Ÿ˜Š 

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.ย 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.ย The good news is that as of last month,ย 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! ๐Ÿ™‚