Plastic

Who is Bea Johnson?

While most people involved in reducing their waste have heard of her, most of my friends and family who read this blog have no idea who Bea Johnson is.

Well, Bea Johnson, of Zero Waste Home, started the whole Fit-My-Entire-Family’s-Annual-Waste-in-A-Mason-Jar trend.

That’s right.

Her family of four can fit all the waste that they produce annually in one jar.

 

This is her family’s waste for 2017. Source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/bea/

The reason I am bringing her up is because I had the opportunity to hear her speak on Monday at the Shedd Aquarium thanks to an event put on by my buds over at Zero Waste Chicago.

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I have not been to the Shedd in ages, mostly because I am terrified of fish and only like free museums, but they are super involved in conservation through their Great Lakes Action Days and plastic waste reduction through their Shedd the Straw campaign.

beajohnson2

The evening started out with an action expo of numerous local organizations and businesses striving to reduce their waste. I knew most of the organizations in some way or another and got to see a lot of familiar faces.

I did get to pick up some low-waste powder laundry detergent from Meliora Cleaning Products, which I am super excited to test out. That’s a post for another day.

After the expo, we filed into the auditorium to hear Bea speak about living without waste.

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Bea’s journey to a zero waste lifestyle started in 2006 when her family first moved to be closer to town and it’s walkability. She outlined her failures with making her own cosmetics, shampoo, and even toilet paper.

She and her family follow the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, & Rot, which I have posted about before.

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Her family refuses what they do not need and say no to single-use plastics, promotional freebies, junk mail, business cards, and more.

Then they reduce what they actually need. One thing that she said really struck me, “Once we pass our comfort level, anything beyond that becomes excess.” That is absolutely true. She has 4 kitchen cooking utensils, uses only white vinegar and Castille soap to clean, and her entire wardrobe can fit in a carry-on suitcase.

The family approaches reuse by swapping out disposables for reusable alternatives, which means glass jars for food, an old pillowcase for bread, and buying secondhand.  Everything they buy is from a thrift store or from E-Bay for super specific purchase you can’t easily find.

After that, they recycle what they cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse. Contrary to what people believe, living a zero-waste lifestyle encourages you to recycle less. Whatever is left is composted, or rot.

Overall,  Bea Johnson finds the best benefit of her lifestyle is the simplicity, which is something I can get behind. Although I understand and support her lifestyle, I know that for some people, it is just not attainable, which is totally fine.

You may never be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a jar and that’s okay (I know I won’t). Every small step or implementation of one of the R’s is a step in the right direction.

 

 

I advise you to learn more about Bea and Zero Waste Home. It is really interesting. And with that, I leave you with these two pieces from Monday:

“When you live with less you have more time to do what is important to you.”

“It’s a life based on being instead of having.”

 

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Short-Term Challenge Leads to Long-Term Changes

There is one more week left in my Lenten challenge of not eating packaged snacks.

It has been going pretty well so far and I am pretty surprised at my ability to cut out my daily crunchy pretzel/goldfish/pita chip/Wheat Thin snack.

I’ve replaced that snack with a handful of almonds and dried cranberries and it has been satisfying enough.

To be honest, I am definitely going to continue with this new habit. That also does not mean I won’t indulge in a box of Cheez-Its every now and again. Just now there won’t be a need to be purchasing packaged snacks every week or so at the grocery store.

Saving money, saving packaging, and saving calories.

Talking Trash: Garbology

You know you are nerdy when the current book you are reading is a book from the library on garbage.

garbology

But hey, whatever.

I am reading Garbology by Edward Humes as part of Zero Waste Chicago‘s BYO Books March Book Club, and so far it has been a bit challenging to get through.

“Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Across a lifetime that rate means, on average, we are each on track to generate 102 tons of trash.”

-Edward Humes, Garbology

It is an informative book for sure and definitely eye-opening, but I often have trouble reading (and watching) about things that are just so darn negative. It is why I haven’t watched Cowspiracy.

The best part of the book was finding another, more meaningful book.

Let me back up and explain.

I hang out with my grandma a lot and when I go over there, she tries to give me stuff. I love old things and usually take what she offers me (we have started a collection of old cookbooks from her now). A while ago, I was helping her clean out a room and we went through books that had been on a bookshelf for probably 40 or more years. I took a couple that sounded interesting and a few that just looked cool.

Fast forward.

As I was reading Garbology, Humes referenced a book from the 60’s called The Waste Makers.

“Vance Packard…wrote a prophetic follow-up in 1960 called The Waste Makers. In it, he accused his industry and marketing critics of sparking a crisis of excess and waste that would exhaust both nation and nature, until future Americans were forced by scarcity to ‘mine old forgotten garbage dumps’ to recover squandered resources.”

-Edward Humes, Garbology

I sat on the couch pondering this book he referenced. It sounded so familiar. So I got up, and I peered into our bookstand TV case.

Sure enough, The Waste Makers was stacked between Catching Fire and The Martian. It was one of the books I had taken from my grandmother’s.

tv stand with book

I immediately called her and asked about the book, curious about who was the original owner. Unfortunately, she couldn’t entirely remember, but we deduced that it was most likely my great grandfather’s, a German immigrant who was adamant about planting trees.

The Wast Makers

I can’t wait to read this book that my great grandfather read. Even though it is 58 years old it is absolutely ahead of its time and scarily accurate.

“Wastefulness has become a part of the American way of life. [The people of the United States]…must be induced to step up their individual consumption higher and higher, whether they have any pressing needs for the goods or not. Their ever-expanding economy demands it.”

-Vance Packard, The Waste Makers

Snacks Sans Packaging Leaves Me Hangry

I am almost a week into my package-free snack Lent challenge.

During the workday, I have been doing okay. I stocked up on fruits and nuts and double downed on carrots and hummus.

Now that I look back on the week, it is cool to open my lunch bag (which is more than just lunch, I pack food for the entire day) and see that everything in it is a whole food.

My troublesome area so far is when I come home from work. I am pretty famished and just want to eat the first thing I see when I open the kitchen cabinet. The usual bag of popcorn (or pretzels, wheat thins, whatever it may be that week) is off limits and I have eaten enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day that I don’t want to snack on an apple when I get home.

On Friday, my third day of this challenge, I made stovetop popcorn for my after work snack. As annoying as it sounds, and much more time consuming than opening a packaged bag of popcorn, it really isn’t that much more work. It takes maybe 5 minutes and tastes way better.

It may just be my saving grace.

So I will share it with you!

popcorn recipe

If you don’t end up eating it all (which is hard), I was able to keep it fresh until the next day by storing it in an airtight container.

Do you have any other snack suggestions? Please share!

See Ya Packaged Snacks

It’s Lent for you practicing Catholics out there, a time to give up something that you are accustomed to, or make a sacrifice.

I tried giving up plastic for lent the other year and that was rough.

This year, after much discussion, I have decided to give up packaged snacks. It is not that I eat individually wrapped granola bars every day, but like snacks that come in a plastic bag or in a box.

I am looking at you pretzels and wheat thins.

Those are my go-to for a snack at work. Not only will this be a challenge of my own will, but it will help reduce waste and my processed food consumption. A win-win right?

Now, what should I eat for the next 40 days!?

Your Single-Use Water Bottle Probably Isn’t Recycled & If It Is, It’s Not Helping

Once a single-serve plastic water bottle is consumed it does not just disappear when it is tossed into a garbage can.

 

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Source: Treehugger

 

Of the 80 million single-serve bottles of water consumed daily, 30 million end up in landfills. That stat is old data as of 2009. As of 2018, I can assure that it is much much more.

If those > than 30 million bottles do not make their final resting place in a landfill, they could either be incinerated or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. I see them all the time!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be so reliant on bottled water, but we are.

We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.  While not purchasing bottled water is the best option, recycling the bottles is the second best option because it reduces demand for landfill space.

Unfortunately, it does not help reduce the demand for oil because bottlers are not using recycling content anyway (Royte, 2008). Ironically, it is cheaper for bottlers to use virgin PET than recycled PET.

Great…

In an effort to combat criticism of high environmental and energy costs, some companies have turned to a new approach. The new approach, called ‘lightweighting,’ reduces the cost of production, the energy required for shipping, and the mass of plastic in landfills (Gleick, 2010).

These are the new eco-friendly water bottles with the flimsier plastic and smaller shape.

Regrettably, lightweighting does not increase recycling rates or reduce the number of bottles in landfills (Gleick, 2010). It definitely does not decrease the amount of bottles American purchase; it only helps them feel less guilty about it.

A Zero Waste Super Bowl?

I don’t really care about the Super Bowl.

Commercials are good and I generally enjoy eating the food associated with a Super Bowl party.

But you know what really gets me pumped about a Super Bowl? Waste reduction! This year will attempt to divert 90% of the stadium’s waste.

Which is awesome!

Back in the day, while interning at the U.S. EPA, I had the chance to interview the NFL’s Environmental Program Director about that year’s Super Bowl. It was a really neat experience.

Check out the post below.


Science Wednesday: A Sustainable Super Bowl XLVI

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Marguerite Huber

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, thousands of people descended upon Indianapolis, Indiana to watch Super Bowl XLVI. While millions watched the game, they were probably unaware of the sustainability actions that were put forth at Lucas Oil Stadium.

I spoke with NFL Environmental Program Director, Jack Groh, about what his job entails. He describes his job as incorporating environmental principles into sporting events, all the while making good business decisions. In the 18 years Groh has been with the NFL, they have kept expanding their sustainability actions, moving from just solid waste recycling to green energy seven years ago.

This year the NFL will be offsetting the energy for the stadium with Renewable Energy Credits for an entire month! “We are renting the stadium for a month, so we believe we are responsible for our tenancy,” states Groh. In addition to the stadium, the program will be offsetting the city’s convention center and four major hotels. That’s an estimated total offset of 15,000 megawatt hours.

“Every year there is something new and exciting. We want to push the envelope and look for new impacts and strategies,” Groh proclaims. For example, diverting waste from landfills by promoting recycling and reuse, collecting extra prepared food for donations for soup kitchens, donating building and decorative materials to local organizations, and reducing the impact of greenhouse gases from Super Bowl activities. My favorite is the 2,012 Trees program, which will help plant 2,012 trees in Indianapolis to help offset environmental impacts.

What I found most interesting from talking with Mr. Groh was that he does not spend a lot of time with publicity, which is why many of you may have never heard of this program. “People are amazed that we have been doing this for two decades. We don’t do it to create an image or green presence in the media, but do it because it’s the right thing and a really smart way to run things. Our goal is make the Super Bowl as green as we possibly can make it.” Groh admitted.

Sustainability and sports is a growing trend, even if it is not seen on the surface of our favorite sporting events. I am excited to see how professional leagues will mold the core of their existence into a new form of competition that is not just for teams, but for the professional leagues themselves. With sustainability, everybody wins!

Bottled Water Didn’t Exist Until 1989

Decades ago, portable, plastic water bottles did not exist in the United States.

According to Elizabeth Royte, author of 2008’s Bottlemania, people did not start walking down the street, to the gym, and anywhere else with their bottled water until 1989 when water could be put in clear, lightweight bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Like before I was born, getting a 24 pack of bottled water was not a thing.

After that, bottled water sales in the 90’s tripled in size.

 

 

 

Pretty much all of the stats from my thesis are now horribly outdated. But one thing is for sure, that Americans love bottled water, like really love it, even more than when I wrote my thesis in 2010.

It is truly insane.

Americans are also chugging those bottles and then tossing them into the landfill.

One quote from my thesis that did stick out was this:

“Every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy and open up a plastic bottle of commercially produced water, and every second of every day in the United States, a thousand plastic bottles are thrown away, 85 million bottles a day. More than 30 billion bottles a year at a cost to consumers of tens of billions of dollars,”

-Peter H. Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water

To put that into perspective, if it took a reader 20 seconds to read this blog post so far, 20,000 bottles have already arrived in the landfill…

 

 

Bottled Water is Dumb

I love water. It is basically all I drink.

Do I need to drink water from commercially produced disposable plastic bottles to stay hydrated? Uh, No.

I have access to high-quality Lake Michigan water flowing out of my faucet, but some people don’t have this luxury and bottled water is the only safe drinking water option for them. In that case, bottled water is OK.

Water is not something I am willing to pay the marked up $6.00 for at a sporting event. The water fountain is fine, thank you.

But there needs to be a water fountain…and it should not be full of lead

Anyway, this is not the first time I have taken to writing about bottled water. I wrote my senior honors thesis about it in college a whole 8 years ago (That is terrifying). I remember sitting at my desk, letting the words flow out, but they sounded too casual, too informal, too dare I say, like a blog.

My advisor made me lose the conversational tone and it made my thesis seem less like me. I didn’t want to talk at people with loads of science jargon about what makes bottled water a threat to our health, environment, and our wallets. I wanted to talk with people and engage with them about it.

So here I am. Eight years later. With a blog. That some people read.

Therefore, it is finally the time I discuss this topic how I wanted it to be discussed in the first place.

Each purchase and consumption of bottled water could be dangerous to one’s health, damaging to the environment, and adds up to water that is 1,900 times more expensive than tap water.

It doesn’t seem like common sense to continue purchasing bottled water due to the enormous ramifications it causes, but millions upon millions of people keep buying, keep drinking, and keep polluting every single day.

Stay tuned for more fun facts that I learned while writing my thesis!

An Audit of Our Recycling

Yeah, our recycling in Chicago is pretty much the pits.

I am pretty skeptical that anything we put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled, and that is why many people don’t even bother. I totally get that.

But recycling is a habit that I don’t plan on breaking.

We have a legitimate recycling bin in our house and it was one of my most favorite Christmas gifts. That’s right, I wanted and received a recycling bin for Christmas a number of years ago! I feel no shame!

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Our bin gets filled up every week or so, depending on what is going on. When it is full, I take it downstairs and dump it into the recycling tote sans bag like you’re supposed to.

Since I basically recycle on autopilot, I wanted to actually pay attention to what is in my recycling bin by taking an audit of what’s inside. 

Below is probably about a week’s worth of recycling. 

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 We have:

  • 1 dishwasher detergent bottle
  • 1 cardboard beer caddy
  • 4 glass bottles
  • 1 aluminum can
  • 2 plastic salad containers
  • 3 cardboard boxes
  • 1 plastic bottle
  • 1 aluminum takeout container
  • 1 milk carton
  • 3 paper bags
  • 1 pile of junk mail, envelopes, newspaper and paper

That’s not too bad. We can definitely do a better job of buying plastic-free lettuce, and we usually get milk in returnable glass bottles. 

Each week is different and I am going to start noticing what goes into my bin more and see where I can make changes.

Up next, a waste audit! Yup, going to go through the garbage. Stay tuned!