April 18, 2011

Beatrice Giveaway Numero Deux

Guess what, peeps! Another Beatrice the Biologist Giveaway! Yes, this is actually happening. Yeesh, stop crying. You're kind of ruining the moment.

This month's prize is a set of ReUsies brand reusable baggies--a sandwich-sized bag and a snack-sized bag. Yes, you too can carry your lunch on the go in plastic-less style with these "tall timbre" (otherwise known as "green") reusable baggies. They are 100% cotton, lined with leak-resistant nylon and are secured with Velcro closures.

If you're at all confused about what is going on, and/or what these are, here's a video to help:

To be entered in the drawing, you have two options:

1. Write on the Beatrice the Biologist Facebook wall (www.facebook.com/beatricebiologist)
2. Mention me on Twitter and include #beatricegiveaway (twitter.com/beatricebiology)

Difference: This time around, you can enter multiple times. Each day that you post or mention counts as 1 entry. So if you want to stuff the ballot box, you have up to 19 opportunities. Insanity!

Prize drawing: Friday, May 6 at 5:00pm.

Get to work.

April 13, 2011

My Week without Plastic

My week sans plastic was like a personal voyage back in time, except I was still shopping at stores that existed in present, 2011 time. Not a single store decided to read my blog and rid its shelves of all its plastic-encased products. Not a one. I know, totally rude.

I already have reusable produce bags from flip and tumble, but I also ordered reusable cotton bags to go bulk aisle binging. They arrived in the mail on day one of my week without plastic.

And so it was, that what would save me from using plastic on my week-long journey was also the first thing that broke my plastic-less vow.

You see, this label...

was attached to each set of 3 bags with these:

And so my plastic-less week got off to a tiny plasticy start. I hate you, little plastic tag-attacher-thingies.

Nevertheless, armed with my reusable produce bags and cloth bulk item bags, I took on the grocery store. I knew I'd be missing my Greek yogurt and tortilla chips, but surely the dry bulk bins and naked produce selection would be nosh-worthy. Walking into a grocery store, looking down the aisles with anti-plastic lenses on, I saw big red x's over just about every product in there. And there was misleading cereal packaging like this:

This is the packaging equivalent of stamping something as "low fat" when it's pure sugar. Yes, buying things in plastic instead of boxes may save a tree, and it may be made with renewable energy, but that doesn't mean it's a great idea. Paper biodegrades, and we can replant trees, but we can't replant the ocean with fish when they all choke on plastic bags like this. Good day, sir... I said GOOD DAY!

It was all a little overwhelming. But I found solace hanging out in the bulk aisles. (Never you mind that the containers are made... of... plastic...)

Things you can subside on without using plastic:
Malt balls

Things you can subside on without using plastic that require you to quit your job because they are so time consuming to prepare from scratch:
(Since I can't quit my job, I didn't partake of these this past week.)

Things you can subside on without using plastic that require you to not only quit your job but also buy a farm and several cows:
(I miss you, dairy products. My landlord said no to dogs, but maybe he'll approve of an apartment cow.)

I made my own rice milk (from bulk bin brown rice) to replace the milk I'd normally buy in its plastic-housing. It tastes... eh, okay.

I had a hard time thinking of dishes I could prepare without plastic's involvement.

Shall I make lasagna? No, can't buy cheese.
How about potato salad? Mayo has plastic caps, even if the jar is glass.
Coconut shrimp? Yes, there is coconut in the bulk aisle, but good luck getting shrimp without a plastic bag.
Some sort of chicken? Any sauce you are going to put on it will have a plastic lid. Just give up.

I could, however, make couscous with bell pepper, cilantro, and avocado with a side of steamed broccoli. Although, if you count the sticker on the avocado... it was not altogether plastic-less.

That was the other problem. I wasn't always sure what had plastic on it. Do all labels have a plastic coating to keep them from fading? Do all cans have a plastic lining? (Yes, they do.) Even glass jars with metal lids--I think they have a plastic lining on the metal. I will admit to you, dear reader, that I did indeed use 2 cans this week, one of black beans and one of coconut milk. I hope you forgive me. I considered looking for a plastic-less flog with which I could punish myself, but instead I just cried to avoid the plastic packaging and shipping costs. Indeed that may be the only thing that doesn't ever have plastic packaging: tears (and melodrama).

Plasticlessness was hardest at work. While I have a basic place setting in my desk drawer to avoid plastic forks and spoons,

other parts of my work routine weren't so plasticless.

Problem: I'm hungry, and the office has cookies, but they are in a plastic container.
Solution: Stare at them, but do not eat them.
Solution difficulty: Considerable

Problem: My tea is in plastic.
Solution: Don't drink it.
Other solution: Buy tea that isn't individually wrapped in plastic.
Other Solution Difficulty: Easy peasy

Problem: I ran out of kleenex, and a new box is wrapped in plastic.
Solution: Don't open it.
Other solution: Wipe nose on sleeve.
Other other solution: Handkerchief or non-plastic-wrapped tissue.
Other other solution difficulty: Minor

Problem: Coworker has snacks that are delectable but wrapped in plastic.
Solution: Cry
Other solution: Cry some more
Other other solution: Sob
Difficulty: I'll tell you when I'm done crying.

Feeding myself was one thing, but my morning routine was far more plagued by plastic. Shampoo, conditioner, body soap, face soap, exfoliating scrub, hand soap, contact solution, contact case, contacts themselves, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizer, chapstick, foundation, eye shadow, mascara, lotion. These all have plastic containers, and I use them every day (although I don't wash my hair everyday... not that you really needed to know.) While I didn't find ways to replace all of them, I did find some cool things:

Did you know that soaps also come in BAR form? I actually don't know why I buy liquid forms of all my soaps, but no longer! Hand soap, body soap, face soap, consider yourself BARRED. I even found bar shampoo. I've used it several times now, and I totally love it. It's so mild that I don't even have to use conditioner, which eliminates yet another other plastic container.

I looked at several online recipes for making my own lotion, but they all looked annoying, and homemade lotion has to be refrigerated or used within a week or two. Instead, I've started using plain coconut oil on my skin. It moisturizes, involves no plastic, and now I smell like Hawaii. Win, win, win.

To replace deodorant, I found several websites that said a mixture of baking soda and cornstarch make a fine deodorant. After using it for several stink-free days, I can tell you that it's true.

If you want to read more about ways to cut waste (and not just plastic, either) out of your routines, check out the Zero Waste Home Blog: www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com

Okay, now cue the meaning and insightfulness:

This whole week, when I came across something that seemed impossible to do without plastic, I kept wondering what people did before it was invented. It wasn't that long ago, after all. So I talked to my grandmother about what her daily routine and grocery stores were like before plastic came on the scene. I went through every modern day use of plastic I could think of, and asked for its pre-plastic equivalent.

I first asked if she remembered when bread was first sold in plastic sleeves. She recalled buying it in waxed paper before there was plastic, but she said she didn't distinctly remember when all our food packaging went plastic. It happened so fast, she said.

We talked about milkmen who delivered glass bottles with cardboard lids in metal cages each day. She told me about buying fresh produce at roadside fruit stands in New England, not in the grocery store. She talked of homemade bread, and homemade root beer, bottled and kept in the cellar. People canned their own vegetables. There were no freezers, so no frozen food aisle. Just about everything at the store came in cardboard boxes. Cosmetics came in decorated boxes with tassels. Lotions came in glass jars or tins.

"It was a different world back then," she said. "But it's better the way it is now. Everything took so long back then, and now, everything is easy." I agree, but maybe these days, things are a little too easy. (Or too Raph. Ninja Turtles II? Anyone?)

The other big use of plastic is to-go type containers at restaurants or prepared foods to eat on the fly. What of these, I asked?

"There was no such thing as to-go," she said. You went to a restaurant and ate there. There were no Starbucks with coffee to-go. There were no doggie bags for restaurant leftovers because portions back then were actually meant to be consumed in one sitting. She also pointed out that drive-thru food wasn't possible yet, because all cars were stick-shifts. "I mean, how many arms do you have?!" she exclaimed.

Things were slower back then, she said. You actually had time to talk to people. People would sit on their front porch and greet their neighbors as they passed by. She said she recalled a sudden shift in the late 40s when people suddenly preferred the back patio to the front porch, so you didn't see people as often. Communication was pinched closed.

So it seems as we've gone from paper to plastic, and from porches to patios, we've embraced that to-go, ready-made, no-time-to-talk mentality that leaves a lot of us feeling anxious, stressed, and tired. It's funny that with all the time we're not spending baking bread or canning our own vegetables, we didn't find time to, I don't know, RELAX.

But apart from the historical perspective on plastic and the nature of our lives, I learned a lot of ways to cut plastic out of my day: I see no reason I should ever buy liquid soap or packaged deodorant again, and anything that is available in bulk, I'll buy in my cloth bags--rice, granola, nuts, etc.

I will continue my quest to reduce my use of plastics, and the stuff that I do use will always be recycled, even if it's at a post-acopalyptic-looking recycling center like this one, that I drive past on my way to work each day.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with a tube of goat cheese.

April 06, 2011

Beatrice vs. Plastic: CAGE MATCH

Plastic is like the friend you make at a party who seems really cool in the moment, but when you get coffee with him some afternoon and there's no booming music or dancing, you realize that he's actually just kind of a tool.

We met plastic in the 50s when chemists found cheap ways to make it, and we lost no time finding a million uses for it. Of course, now that plastic is impossible to avoid, we're becoming fully aware of just what a toolbag it really is.

This stuff never degrades. It can't go back into nature and be useful for anyone. Paper products can be broken down. The metal products we make like glass and ceramic can become harmless sand again. But plastic doesn't change.

All plastic can do is change its location. If you throw it away (as opposed to recycling), it might sit in a landfill (forever), or it could be moved by wind or rain or rivers or badgers to the ocean. And sadly, that is often the case.

When plastic winds up in the ocean, it floats on the surface where fish, birds, turtles, and sea mammals may eat it or get trapped in it. And because of circular ocean currents, there is a gigantic garbage whirlpool forming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The North Pacific Gyre has become the Pacific Garbage Patch. (Warning: Refrain from doing a google image search for "North Pacific Gyre" if you have a weak stomach.)

I don't want to harp any longer on what a poopface plastic is and how much I sometimes wish no one had ever thought of it. Instead, I'd like to discuss ways to lessen its consumption.

When plastics are reusable, such as plastic storage containers, or long-term fixtures in your routine, like your alarm clock, that's not so bad. They stay in your house, and odds are you'll recycle them when it does come time to replace them. The real threats to the ocean are plastic disposables, and these are maddeningly common.

I'm going to survive for one week without using any disposable plastic. I will not buy anything that comes wrapped in plastic. I will not eat out of plastic. I will throw no plastic away. (But I will type on this plastic keyboard.)

I'll let you know in a week how it goes. I already know that things like yogurt will be impossible to eat this coming week without a yogurt maker (which also happens to be made of plastic... ugh). But I'm sure there are things I haven't thought of yet that will be difficult. I'll report back in a week on my battle with plastic.

I don't know a whole lot about cage matches, but I think they involve folding chairs.