On a typical grocery run I have an empty glass milk bottle to return for the $2 deposit, and perhaps my own beer growler, draft root beer bottle, and/or kombucha bottle, too, all to refill.
Reusable Homestead Creamery Milk Bottle
Refillable Dominion Draft Root Beer and Barefoot Bucha Kombucha Bottles
Local Craft Brewer Starr Hill Growler
Local craft breweries and many bars and markets are quite happy to fill (and refill) your growler with what’s on tap. We’ve filled our beer growler with a wide variety of brews, not only at Starr Hill, but at Whole Foods Market, and in local restaurants like Mellow Mushroom. In Oregon and Washington, you can even refill reusable wine growlers.
And evidence is mounting that this lifestyle tweak makes perfect sense to a lot of people: 7-Eleven– the world’s largest convenience store chain– has opened a concept store in Manhattan’s financial district where you can buy your own reusable glass growler for “locally hand-crafted microbrew soda” by New Hope Premium Fountain.
Isn’t it interesting that local dairies, breweries and other small scale beverage makers exhibit an eco-aware appreciation for refillable/reusable bottles that the multi-national beverage giants abandoned decades ago?
Soda Growlers from New Hope Premium Fountain at the 7-Eleven in Manhattan
If reducing your environmental impact and living more sustainably are your goals, the beautiful, reusable glass bottle can get you there. So bring that glass bottle and reuse it well; end your personal contribution to the glut of plastic beverage containers landfilled, incinerated, littered into the oceans, or downcycled into more plastic junk.
You may bear a slight burden in and out the market door, but you’ll bear it with a lighter heart!
February 9, 2014
by Peggy Comments Off on Refuse It! Just Say No to Plastic Dry-Cleaning Bags
No Plastico – reject plastic bags for dry cleaning
In 2005, not long after I had made a New Year’s resolution to stop accepting plastic shopping bags, I decided my family didn’t need plastic on any of our dry cleaning either.
If you are keen to live more sustainably, but still need a dry cleaner from time to time, I will first exhort you to find a service that provides “wet cleaning” methods, using cold water and mild detergent.Conventional dry cleaners still use perchloroethylene (aka “perc” or PCE) as a cleaning solvent on clothes. This is not an environmentally safe chemical, and when we employ it, inevitably some of it escapes the system—getting into groundwater, soil and air.When clothes have been steeped in perc, they off-gas. Suffice it to say, that’s a completely unnecessary thing to introduce into your home or your lungs. Check this directory to find a wet cleaner in your area: http://www.nodryclean.com/wet_cleaning.htm.
According to Edward Humes’s book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” plastic covers for dry-cleaned clothing replaced plain brown paper starting in 1958—long before plastic shopping bags turned up in grocery stores (that was in 1977). Following the death of eighty children from suffocation in plastic dry-cleaning bags, the state of California attempted to ban them in 1959, but the plastic industry prevailed. And here we are today, still using them, but perhaps wondering why we are beating up the Earth and atmosphere to extract more non-renewable oil and gas to manufacture millions of disposable, single-use dry-cleaning bags.
I hope you will try my easy approach: Simply ask your dry-cleaner politely not to put your dry-cleaning in plastic.My dry-cleaner was more than happy to accommodate my request and I’m pretty sure you’ll get the same reaction. If they are interested and curious to know why, feel free to explain.
Admittedly, there’s a chance you might brush your newly retrieved, crisply pressed clothing against something dusty on the way home, but the odds are far better that you won’t.
Take it from this refusenik, you don’t need any plastic on your dry-cleaning. Next time, give it a try.
November 15, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on Fluorinated Chemicals in Food Contact Materials
Recently I listened in on the first in a series of free webinars organized by the Green Science Policy Institute covering six classes of chemicals that are of particular concern because they are common in consumer products, but not adequately regulated.
The first webinar in the series was on fluorinated chemicals (aka PFCs). These are of interest to me because they are used on paper food packaging to make it resistant to moisture and grease. The mystery is which paper products are made with fluorinated chemicals, because there’s no requirement to disclose this information to consumers. Fluorinated chemicals can be used on baking papers like cupcake liners, french fry cartons, and pizza boxes; the most commonly cited food contact use is on the interior of microwave popcorn bags. Fluorinated chemicals are also extensively used to make carpets and fabrics stain-resistant, to make apparel waterproof, to make cookware “non-stick,” and even to make dental floss glide between your teeth.
The most concerning of these fluorinated chemicals, known as “long-chain” or C8 chemicals, are PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), which was banned from production in the U.S. in 2002, and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is being phased out in the U.S. by 2015. Two similar “short-chain” fluorochemicals–called C4 and C6–are currently being substituted for PFOA. Recently DuPont declared that it was on track to end its use of PFOA in its Teflon products, yet it will continue making products with fluorinated chemicals.
The traits that make PFOA and its relatives, C4 and C6, most useful—their durability and resistance to degradation—are also the features that make these synthesized chemicals a danger in the natural environment. Fluorinated chemicals don’t break down easily or quickly; they are persistent, and the residue stays in the human body for years. Scientists believe that food is an important means of human exposure.
Due to their widespread use, fluorochemicals are now detected globally in soil and sediment, seawater, surface waters, groundwater, air, snow, rain and in land-based and marine wildlife, as well as in humans. Water treatment plants are unable to remove fluorinated chemicals from water. Although a host of negative health effects in humans have been linked to C8 exposure, there is little toxicological data on the closely related C4 and C6 chemicals now being broadly used as substitutes.
In light of the persistence of fluorinated chemicals and the negative human and environmental health effects linked to them, we must ask: is it really necessary to use long-lasting fluorocarbons for applications such as microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers? And the answer is: no!
For specific instances where grease-or water-proof traits are absolutely critical, the Green Science Policy Institute believes we should be actively researching safe, “green” alternatives. One route to finding safe alternatives might be biomimicry, studying Mother Nature’s remarkable ability to create impermeability where needed, without harm to life. If you are unfamiliar with the term biomimicry, I urge you to take the time to watch this fascinating Ted talk by Janine Benyus:[ted id=614]
Upcoming webinars organized by the Green Policy Science Institute will cover solvents, heavy metals and green chemistry. If you are interested in these topics, join in to learn more.
September 13, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on Sustainable Consumption and Production
In a recent webinar, I learned that the United Nations and other groups from all around the world are looking at ideas and templates for delinking economic growth and environmental degradation.
Some of the quickest fixes include:
Sustainable public procurement initiatives. Since governments control a lot of money (15-20% globally), how they choose to spend that money can move us toward better products and practices. California has jump-started this movement in the U.S. with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council.
Applying Life Cycle Analysis. Considering the entire life cycle of goods and the greenhouse gas emissions involved, from extraction and processing to shipment, use, and disposal, promises a more accurate means of weighing true costs.
Increasing Efficiency/Decreasing Waste. By far the greatest driver of unsustainable resource consumption in human society is economic growth. Second, though with not nearly the same impact, is human population. We have to continually acknowledge that there is an ethical and moral dimension to how we use resources.
To state the obvious, we need to have economic growth in ways that put the least pressure on the ecosystems and ecosystems services that ultimately support us. But as Lars Mortensen of the European Environment Agency put it, sustainable consumption is harder than rocket science; it’s not just technology we need, but insight into human behavior. Changes in human behavior are essential to one planet living.
August 23, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on SodaStream Shakes Up the Status Quo
Concerned as Brng.it is with waste and litter, we like to see a company that dispatches with the outdated resource consumption of older and more established competitors. When it comes to the beverage industry, we think SodaStream is on the right track.
SodaStream allows you to make your own carbonated beverages at home. They sell you a “machine” to fizz up your own tap water, using a reusable aluminum canister of carbon dioxide and a reusable one-liter plastic carbonating bottle or glass carafe. If you want flavoring, they offer dozens of concentrated mixes, and you add a capful. When you use up the canister, you take it back to the store where you purchased it and receive a discount on the replacement. Returns go to SodaStream for refilling. The heavy duty carbonation bottle is intended for repeated reuse and doesn’t need to be replaced unless it becomes worn or damaged.
Contrast the SodaStream system with the massive one-way container-filling operations of the biggest beverage makers. We got a little queasy watching National Geographic‘s 2012 Ultimate Factories episode featuring Coca-Cola’s Baton Rouge bottling plant (see below). The factory truly is a marvel. It operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, and puts out 4.5 million beverage servings each day. But now consider that in the U.S., a great majority of the containers speeding down the conveyor belt won’t be recycled. And that’s just the output from one of Coke’s hundreds of bottling plants. Sending containers out the doors at such an impressive clip, is it any wonder that both landfills and oceans are filling up with these things?
Near the end of the 45 minute episode, they cover the washing and refilling of glass bottles, something which still occurs in Spain. The narrator states that these glass bottle are reused 15 times on average. It begs the question of why this efficient system, with reusable containers, no harmful packaging chemicals, and minimal wildlife-harming potential, constitutes such a tiny proportion of Coke’s packaging today.
We hate to burst anyone’s bottles, but if we’re going to come closer to the ideal of sustainable consumption, we simply can’t accept the existing big beverage packaging model of endlessly producing containers to (mostly) be thrown “away.” Companies like SodaStream, and upstarts like Freshie, are successfully demonstrating less wasteful and less polluting business models, and are steadily gaining customer attention and approval for their efforts. Further shake-ups to the big-beverage-as-usual business are inevitable, and we believe that’s a very good thing. Stay tuned!
July 31, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on Harry Potter and the Magic of Perspective (or How to Make Plastic Pollution Disappear)
Recently my 8 year-old daughter has been swept up in the Harry Potter novels, like her brother before her. Seemingly over night, she’s been transformed into a speed reader, scarcely able to put down The Deathly Hallows. J.K. Rowling’s captivating writing, her lovable and loathsome characters, the weird and wild settings, the daring escapades, the classic battle between good and evil—the series has it all.
I often read Harry Potter with her, and I find I’m enjoying the novels as much as, or more than, I did the first time.
How fantastic would it be to create change by waving a wand, casting a spell? “Scourgify!” I’d proclaim, and instantly the oceans would be scrubbed of plastic trash. How cool would that be?
I experience no such flights of fancy reading the white paper. It’s full of plain facts about the unique problems plastics and plastic waste pose:
Significant economic externalities are present in the phases of plastics production, use, recycling and disposal. These include litter, marine ecosystem impacts, chemical emissions, and known/unknown health risks.
It’s also full of ideas about how California might address the problems (although of course the problems and proliferation of plastic waste is not the fault of any state). But clearly it’s squeamish about limiting plastics in any way:
Do not eliminate plastics. Instead, develop management systems to optimize plastics use, recycling and disposal while benefiting from the positives of plastics and minimizing their negatives.
It’s rather dry reading, and frankly depressing. But I’m not getting sucked in by the white-paper-thinking, because it seems to me that the proposed outdated solutions don’t go nearly far enough, and that’s really a matter of changing perspective.
The white paper for the CIWMB was written in 2003. It may be a Harry Potter-induced fantasy, but I believe general perceptions about plastics have changed immensely since then. After all, it was just this year that scientists declared that measurements of plastic pollution in the ocean might be many times greater than previously supposed. It was just months ago that L.A. gladly kissed single-use plastic bags goodbye. California, and many other places, are deciding that they will, in fact, eliminate some plastics.
It’s clear to me that in 2003 the CIMWB was already scrabbling desperately for remedies to a plastic problem bounding out of control. And unfortunately, plastic waste remains a problem that has not been satisfactorily dealt with.
Source: CalRecycle Via: Surfrider Foundation
But perspectives do change over time, and I want to suggest that today we are beginning to recognize that we are in charge, not the plastics industry. It comes down to us. We are in control of the future of plastics, because we can change the extent to which we use them. We can change the status quo, by refusing to accept the externalization of plastic problems–pollution and toxicity– onto our society and environment.
So you see, the wand is in our hands; the spell is on our lips, and we are flipping the table on plastic pollution through the magic of a new perspective.
We are in the catbird seat, solutions are at hand, and we can do all of the following to be rid of the plastics inundation:
Recognize that the indiscriminate use of plastics has serious implications for the future
Refuse and/or ban single-use disposable plastics
Return to reusable and non-toxic packaging (such as glass bottles for beverages)
Adopt strategies to get and keep land-based and coastal litter out of waterways and oceans
Adopt Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation, making the producer responsible for the safety of their products, from sourcing and manufacture to reuse/recycling/disposal
Adopt the Precautionary Principle, requiring elimination of undisclosed and/or toxic ingredients in consumer products and packaging
What do you think? Can you think of other ways to exercise our power over plastics? We want to know!
July 11, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on More People, More to Worry About
The United Nations recently revealed an updated forecast of worldwide population. Latest statistics show that human population growth is occurring faster than previous projections had estimated. According to the UN’s current best guess, we are headed for 9.6 billion by mid-century (up from the previous estimate of 8.9 billion) reaching 10.6 billion by 2100. (World population is presently 7.2 billion.)
Scientists have been concerned for decades about the effects that rising population and consumption are having on the world. The Earth has amazing regenerative capabilities, but as is documented by Global Footprint Network, we have been in “overshoot” since the 1970s. That is, we have been taking more than the Earth can provide us at her measured pace– more groundwater, more trees, more fishes, more metals, more fossil fuels, etc.. We quickly spend the natural dividends, and each year go deeper into the capital. First world nations, despite having smaller populations, consume the lion’s share of resources.
In the last 10 years, 1.7 billion people around the world gained access to electricity. But the world’s population grew by 1.6 billion over that same period, nearly wiping out the gains. Similarly, rising energy demand effectively eliminated half the energy efficiency savings and 70 percent of the gains from growth in renewable energy over the past decade.
In addition to pressure on resources to keep us fed, clothed, housed and “energized,” one of the saddest things about our population boom is the unintended impact our unplanned expansion has on other earthly creatures. The journal Human Ecology just published a study by Dr. Jeffrey McKee and colleagues from Ohio State University confirming– if you had any doubt–the effect of our continual growth on Earth’s biodiversity. From The Telegraph, Dr. McKee:
There is no doubt that a multitude of factors go into diminishing the availability of resources that mammals and birds need to survive as viable species.
Our results demonstrate that human population density is at the core of extinction threats to both mammals and birds.
Resource depletion and extinctions don’t have to become a major crisis if we plan expeditiously for population stability– a replacement fertility rate, or even a rate aiming for a gradual population decline. If we made a conscious effort to match the rate of births to the rate of deaths, human population would stabilize, perhaps allowing us to find a sustainable balance with Earth’s generous ecosystems.
Why aren’t we going all out for population stability goals then? An article by Robert Engelman in Yale environment 360 lays it out:
The truth is that few of us are comfortable addressing either the need to improve family planning services and sexuality education or the growth of world population itself. Population, in particular, has been off the table of public and governmental discourse for two decades. By unspoken agreement, world leaders have come to see the issue as too sensitive to bring up. The worry appears to be that it offends the anti-contraception Catholic Church, as well as some women’s rights advocates and leaders of high-fertility countries, who argue that the consumption of the wealthy is a far greater threat to humanity than continued population growth.
The new UN population projections are a blunt reminder of the consequences of our silence. No end to global population growth is in sight. Nor will one be until we resolve to act on women’s autonomy, the dignity of sex without reproduction, and the importance of a non-growing population to environmental sustainability.
Meanwhile, there are some high-profile efforts to expand the availability and use of birth control worldwide. The New York Times recently featured extensive coverage of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenge” to develop next generation condoms that couples will actually be excited to use.
And in its efforts to preserve threatened species, the Center for Biological Diversity has gotten into the birth control advocacy game too, distributing condoms in colorful packaging designed to remind us of our power to act.
Let’s hope fun, prize-winning condoms wow us soon, but let’s not stop there. We can all do more to advocate for the empowerment and education of people and the thoughtful planning required for our best future.
I recently tuned into an EPA webinar about valuing “stuff,” featuring Madalyn Cioci of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The main point of her presentation was that for far too long, we have considered reuse simply a means to divert waste from the landfill, when the real value of reuse goes well beyond that. Fortunately, savvy individuals, governments and businesses everywhere are beginning to recognize this.
Among Americans, there remains some confusion about reuse. It’s NOT recycling. Recycling is reprocessing materials, while reuse means using something repeatedly. Reuse encompasses repurposing things, as well as restoring, reselling, salvaging, renting and sharing goods–so everything from shoe repair to antique shops to Zipcar. There’s no question reuse keeps things out of landfills, but most significantly, reusing stuff reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in a big way.
The life cycle of stuff begins with the extraction of resources, material processing, and product design and manufacture. A lot of energy is embedded in the transformation and transportation of stuff. A lot of water is used, a lot of pollution is generated. (If you haven’t seen Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” her short video gets at this quite well.)
The MPCA knew reuse was important, yet they often encountered the belief that reuse was a drag on the economy. So they undertook an analysis to measure the actual contribution of reuse to Minnesota’s economy. What they found was a robust segment of the economy, employing thousands of workers and doing billions of dollars of transactions annually. They also discovered that more of a dollar spent on a reuse service stayed in the local economy than a dollar spent on a new good. It’s not that surprising when you stop to think about it, but their report confirmed the many benefits of reuse that had been unrecognized. And as a result, the MPCA is now brainstorming about how they can support and grow the reuse sector.
Word to the wise: if your goal is to do the most you can to reduce your environmental footprint, help your local community, or save money, concentrate your efforts on reuse. Consider the many options you have before buying something new, like refurbishing something you already own, sharing, renting, or buying secondhand through eBay, Craigslist, thrift or consignment shops or other resale venues.
Remember that our forebears strongly believed in conservation, saving and thrift. The culture of consumption was engineered to weaken those social norms, but we can make our way back if we once again appreciate the full value of reuse and how maximizing reuse can help us. In 1941, reuse helped us win WWII; in the 21st Century, reuse can greatly improve our chances of winning the battle to limit global climate change.
WWII poster circa 1941 “Wear it out, use it up, make it do!”
May 19, 2013
by Peggy Comments Off on The Brng.it App
We are a work in progress, dedicated to helping you make your good intentions into good habits.
Brng.it app available now in the Apple iTunes store
Bring your bag, bring your water bottle, bring your tumbler, too!
Milk bottles, chopsticks, growlers: pick a few…
You don’t have to throw “away” when reusables will do.
It’s cleaner for the Earth, and safer for you.
Brng.it is a location-based application for iPhones. We plan to add an android version as soon as we can. Check in on your phone, quickly note what reusables you’ve brought, and watch the number of disposable goods you’ve saved grow. Combined with the efforts of other Brng.it members, you can prevent a lot of waste by using your own reusables in place of disposables.
You can share your BYOR action on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare if you want to. Be a proud Refusenik (a person who refuses or declines something) when it comes to creating waste.
We hope you will give the Brng.it app a whirl and provide feedback. Please give it a try and leave us a comment!
The University of Virginia has a Lifetime Learning program called “More than the Score,” that plans educational lectures in conjunction with the home football games each fall.
I was particularly interested in one talk from the series this year by Professor Stephen Macko, entitled “Is our Ocean in Crisis?” I wasn’t able to attend in person, but I recently discovered that all the talks are available free as podcasts, so I just had a listen.
Professor Macko starts out by saying that he’s not going to answer the question for us. He’s simply going to cover the facts and let us decide.
The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, but though it is hard for us to imagine, the ocean is actually a rather thin veneer of water. The ocean supplies myriad services that we mostly take for granted, including providing us with food, energy, minerals, oxygen and of course, recreational and aesthetic pleasure.
In tandem with human population growth, there has been a dramatic increase in threats to the oceans’ overall health. Warming and acidification caused by higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, overfishing, and pollution from plastics and chemicals are all problems affecting the life of the oceans today.
A large part of Professor Macko’s talk is devoted to the importance of maintaining fisheries, with the observation that our failure to control fishing could mean empty seas in the future. One-sixth of the world’s protein comes from the ocean, but in spite of advanced technologies like underwater radar to find fish, we basically “flat-lined” on harvests around 1990. The fish simply aren’t out there anymore. And the world over, there has not been a significant effort to reduce bycatch (fish, turtles or marine mammals that are not the intended catch but are caught and die anyway). According to Professor Macko, a pound of wild shrimp comes with 5 pounds of bycatch. Stocks of large fish such as halibut, tuna, cod and sharks are in steep decline due to overfishing and careless fishing methods that result in high quantities of bycatch and/or destroy underwater habitat.
Did you know that more than half of the world’s oxygen comes from plant life in the oceans? There are some plant forms, such as ice algae, that grow on Arctic sea ice, and as we know, sea ice is shrinking at an unprecedented rate, so the ecosystem for these plants is disappearing.
The oceans’ health and productivity are adversely affected by toxic spills—some accidental, such as BP’s giant oil well rupture in the Gulf, or Fukushima’s massive radioactive dumping. But much is due to chronically poor planning and containment on our part; eutrophication is caused by excess nutrients from fertilizers, storm water runoff and sewage. There’s also mercury, most likely caused by burning fossil fuels. Last but not least, there is damage caused by widespread plastic pollution.
According to the professor, the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has caused a rapid increase in the acidity of the ocean. Ocean acidity has increased about 30% in the last 50 years. Limpets in Alaska already exhibit extremely thin shells, because the calcium carbonate of the shell forms less readily in a more acid environment. The more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, the more the oceans will absorb, driving further change in their basic chemistry.
The answer to the question, “Is our Ocean in Crisis?” is as plain as the nose on my face. Not surprisingly, then, one of the first audience questions was “What can we do?” The good thing is, there are many things we can do as individuals:
Pick up plastic trash when you see it to prevent it getting into waterways.
Think about disposal of your waste and handle it responsibly, especially things like motor oil.
Contact your representatives. Ask that the U.S. become a party to the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”), an international treaty to safeguard the oceans, which the U.S. has not signed.
Keep abreast of ocean advocacy and research through an organization like Oceana or Mission Blue.
Tell a friend what you’ve learned about the state of the oceans.
The Earth’s oceans have been harmed by our ancient assumption that they can absorb any amount of human use and abuse. Recognizing that we are having real, measurable, and undeniably detrimental effects on the health of the oceans is a first step. Then we must join with others in calling for international cooperation and leadership to begin reversing the damage.