Plastic

Behind the Scenes at Meliora Cleaning Products

What does Meliora mean?

It means better (in Latin) and it means knowing what ingredients are in your cleaning products.

Earlier this week, I attended my first Chicago Women in Green event held at Melioria Cleaning Products.

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Available Meliora products.

For over a year now, I have been using their unscented powdered laundry detergent that comes in a cardboard canister and is made right here in Chicago.

Before making the switch from our standard Method free and clear detergent, I asked K how he would feel about it. He didn’t care as long as the clothes got clean. And they did, so we have been using it ever since.

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Founder, Kate Jakubas, lead us through the factory.

So I was thrilled to go behind the scenes, learn about their factory and manufacturing process, and see where the products I purchase are made.

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Look soap!

They list every ingredient in their products, are a certified B-Corp, avoid synthetic fragrances, use plastic, glass, and cardboard wherever possible, and even repurpose berry boxes from Costco throughout the factory!

 

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We got to take home a “mystery” bar of soap made up of the ends and beginnings of different scents. No waste here!

On top of Meliora laundry detergent, I also use their all-purpose home cleaner that comes in a little tub and all you have to do is mix it in a spray bottle with water! I love not having to continually purchase a new plastic bottle of cleaner every time one runs out. All I have to do is keep refilling.

While on our visit, I was able to purchase their new solid dishwashing soap. Yay to no more plastic bottles sitting on my counter! In the future, Meliora will hopefully come out with a plastic-free dishwasher detergent, but right now they are still working on the formula.

If you are in Chicagoland, their laundry detergent can be purchased in bulk at the Dill Pickle Co-op and Sugar Beet Food Co-Op, but you can also purchase refills in paper bags. You can find their products in a handful of stores and on Amazon.

Now excuse me while I go clean!

I was not compensated for my review of Meliora Cleaning Products, I just happen to really like them! 

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Does Chicago Require Grocery Stores to Provide Plastic Bag Recycling?

It all started the other week.

I had two bags full of all types of plastic bags and plastic film, which I take to recycle when one of the bags underneath the sink starts to overflow. I was stopping at Whole Foods for a different reason and brought my bags of bags along with me inside.

Now, I don’t usually shop at Whole Foods and was not sure where their plastic bag recycling was. At most grocery stores, it is by the door. I looked around and did not see anything, so I walked over to the customer service desk and waited until an employee could help me. When it was my turn I asked where the plastic bag recycling was and in the most joyous tone, the employee responded that they did NOT have plastic bag recycling, and then he turned to help someone else.

Stunned, I turned around and walked out of Whole Foods, completely forgetting what I had actually gone in there for.

In the car, I sat and tweeted at Whole Foods. I got no response. I was pretty peeved and wondered a whole bunch of things like:

How could a store that touts its amazing environmental stewardship not provide recycling? It sells items wrapped in plastic, should they not provide a proper way to dispose of it? 

Don’t all grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling? Jewel-Osco does, so does Target.

I was so confused, so I started looking more into it.

Plastic grocery bags and most any kind of plastic film, like bread bags or the plastic shrink wrap around toilet paper, cannot be recycled in Chicago’s blue bins. They get wrapped up in the machinery and cause a whole big mess. Learn more about that here and here.

According to the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Chicago Recycling Guide: A-Z, “plastic shopping bags can be recycled at grocery stores, pharmacy’s and many big-box retailers.”

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And then further down it says “All Chicago grocery stores are required to accept plastic shopping bags for recycling. Bags from other stores are also accepted.”

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There seems to be some disconnect. Obviously, not all grocery stores, pharmacy’s and big-box retailers offer plastic bag recycling given my own personal experience.

So I started sleuthing…

To figure out where you can bring plastic bags/film, you could use Earth911‘s Where to Recycle tool. When I search “plastic bags” based on my zip code I get Jewel, Kohls, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowes, and JCPenny (and that was only from 5  of the 11 pages of results). Mariano’s, where I usually bring my plastic bags is, amazingly, not listed.

You could also use Plastic Film Recycling. This search brought up Jewel, Target, Mariano’s, Walmart, Kohls, and 17 pages of results for my zip code.

But Whole Foods is not listed in either repository. Why?

I did some more digging into the Municipal Code of Chicago and found under Title 7 Health and Safety, the Chapter 7-30 Plastic Bag and Film Plastic Recycling Ordinance. The Code states that if a store does not provide plastic bags to customers, it does not have to provide recycling for them (based on my basic understanding of the code).

According to the Code:

   (j)   “Store” shall mean a retail or wholesale establishment, other than a food service establishment, where twenty-five percent (25%) or more of gross sales include prescription or non-prescription medicines and/or any cooked or uncooked article of food, drink, confection or condiment used for or intended to be used for human consumption off the premises, is stored, sold, prepared, cooked or offered for sale at retail such as candy manufacturers, confectioneries, fish markets, fruit and vegetable markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, meat markets, nut stores, dressed poultry markets or retail bakeries, bakery outlets or any similar place and provides plastic carryout bags to consumers in which to place these products.

It turns out Whole Foods does not actually provide plastic bags to their customers, thus exempting them. I would not know that Whole Foods does not give out plastic bags because I do not shop there and even if I did, I bring my own reusable bags. Go figure!

So to answer the question stated in the title of this blog post, yes, Chicago does require grocery stores to provide plastic bag recycling as long as it fits within the definition of a “store.”

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Read Recently

I have been on a library kick lately.

So much so that I went into my Amazon list and removed all the books on my wishlist and added them to my “For Later” shelf in my Chicago Public Library account.

While basically zero of my books have been cozy-up-by-the-fire-and-finish-in-one-day-books, they have all been really enlightening and I read them on the bus commuting to work.

Here’s what I have been reading. Have you read any of these?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By: Michael Pollan

omnivores dilemma

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. His absorbing narrative takes us from Iowa cornfields to food-science laboratories, from feedlots and fast-food restaurants to organic farms and hunting grounds, always emphasizing our dynamic coevolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on.” – Michaelpollan.com

What I learned:

  • Next time you eat a chicken nugget really think about the taste. Does it actually taste like chicken?
  • Organic agriculture is almost as bad as conventional agriculture
  • Buying local is better for everyone involved

Dress with Sense

By: Christina Dean

Dress with Sense

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“This four-chapter guide will cater to your appetite to have a more conscious dress sense and will take you through how you can:

BUY better and make more responsible choices when hitting the shops

WEAR your clothes more creatively, and rescue hidden treasures from the depths of your wardrobe.

CARE for your clothes by learning better more environmentally friendly ways to wash

DISPOSE of them by swapping, gifting, donating or recycling – anything but throwing them in the trash!” – redress.com

What I learned:

  • Take care of your clothes
  • I need to learn how to sew more than a button or fix a hole
  • Avoid low-quality clothes, go for high-quality and then make it work for you
  • If your clothes don’t fit, take them to the tailor! I have a skirt and dress pants with the tailor right now

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By: Florence Williams

the nature fix

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, Williams investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”- florencewilliams.com

What I learned:

  • Take the more scenic route to work, its better for you even if it is longer
  • Listen to some nature sounds, birdsong preferably
  • Basically living in the city is terrible for you

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste

By: Bea Johnson

zero waste home

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“In Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson shares the story of how she simplified her life by reducing her waste. Today, Bea, her husband, Scott, and their two young sons produce just one quart of garbage a year, and their overall quality of life has changed for the better: they now have more time together, they’ve cut their annual spending by a remarkable 40 percent, and they are healthier than they’ve ever been.” – zerowastehome.com

What I learned:

  • The zero waste queen didn’t start this lifestyle until later in life, so that means it’s never too late to start
  • Lots of good resources and recipes

Life Without Plastic: The Practice Step-by-step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep your Family and the Planet Healthy

By: Chantal Plamondon

life without plastic

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy strives to create more awareness about BPA-based products, polystyrene and other single-use plastics, and provides readers with ideas for safe, reusable and affordable alternatives. By removing plastic from your home, you can reduce your environmental footprint, minimize threats to wildlife, support local businesses and live a healthier, simpler life.” – lifewithoutplastic.com

What I learned:

  • I really don’t like reading about all the ways plastic can kill us
  • That’s it so far, I just started this one!

Other books on my radar:

  • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, by Daniel Goleman
  • The More of Less: FInding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, by Joshua Becker
  • Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, by Susan Strasser
  • Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and A Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

Going Back to The Way We Used to Shave

After nearly 15 years of using disposable razors and a couple years of waxing, I finally bought a menacing looking, old man, old-school safety razor.

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I was a tad overwhelmed with the information available on the internet and wanted to speak to a real person in a physical store about all of my questions and concerns. So I turned to the resources at Zero Waste Chicago on where to shop for personal care products in the city.

I visited the downtown Merz Apothecary location and asked for help with the safety razors. Right away, I was given the employee’s undivided attention and he answered all my questions! What type of safety razor is good for a woman? What kind of blades do I get? If my husband also got a safety razor could we use the same type of blade? How often do I change the blade? How do I care for it? And on and on.

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I ended up with a Merkur long handled razor. The longer handles are better for women and shaving legs, but even when the employee handed it to me, it didn’t seem that long at all. Being able to physically hold the razor and feel how it felt in my hand before purchasing it was invaluable.

As for the blades, the employee provided me with 2 different types that are good for first-time safety razor users. I have only tried one so far, but he suggested switching the blades out after 4-5 uses. While you can’t just toss the used razors in the recycling bin (safety hazard!), you can collect them in a “blade bank” such as a little jar, tin, or pill bottle. After enough blades have been collected, it can be thrown away or specially recycled depending on where you live.

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I was pretty scared the first time I used it, but I watched a few YouTube videos and got in the tub. I didn’t immediately start bleeding and thought that was a good start. Now that I have been using the razor for a couple weeks I am happy to report that I have not cut myself once.

Pros:

  • Ideally, if I take care of my razor, which is made of steel, it should last forever
  • The blades are SO CHEAP
  • Since only one blade is running over your skin, there is less irritation, bumps, and ingrown hairs

Cons:

  • It takes a bit longer and requires a bit more attention
  • You need to disassemble your razor and let it dry after every use otherwise it will rust
  • Can be difficult to fly with (I have heard different things about not packing the blades in your carryon or being upfront with security about it, or just buying new razors wherever you land, or people using their old disposable razors when they travel instead to avoid that)

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So far it has been going well, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when switching from a 5 blade lotion covered pink plastic disposable razor.

Things to Remember:

  • Hold the razor at a 20-30 degree angle
  • Do not apply pressure
  • Use short strokes
  • Be careful around knees, ankles, and shins
  • Rinse your blade after each stroke

Have you used a safety razor? Any thoughts or suggestions? Let me know!

**I was not in anyway compensated by Merz Apothecary or Merkur for my review

Moving Box Madness

Almost immediately after our wedding, and then our honeymoon, K and I packed up our tiny apartment and said goodbye to our first place together.

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I was pretty sad about it because I get emotionally attached to things and places. There were so many good memories in that apartment!

What was even sadder though was the amount of waste that could have been if I had not been conscious of it the entire moving process.

The Boxes

We had some boxes saved in the basement from the previous move and purchased many, many more to pack up our belongings. On top of those boxes, we had tons of boxes from all of the registry items that we could finally fit into our apartment.

Just so many boxes.  Everywhere!

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Just a small sample of the amount of boxes

Luckily, I was able to give away pretty much all of the moving boxes for them to be reused again. I gave some to my mom to pack up all those lanterns for our wedding, I posted some on Craigslist and gave some to a friend who was moving shortly after us.

The Plastic Bags

What was worse than the boxes, was the plastic packaging! As we opened new small appliances from our registry the amount of plastic bags just piled up to the point where I filled an entire gigantic bag with them.

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Recyclable plastic bags can be brought to your local grocery store and usually are not accepted in curbside recycling because the bags get caught in recycling machinery. So I just saved all the little bags until I filled up a big one and kept it in my car until I went to the grocery store next.

The Bubble Wrap

On top of the boxes and the plastic bags was the bubble wrap. So much if it. I have given some away, but still have plenty that I have posted on Buy Nothing Facebook groups. There have been a few leads, but no follow-ups so far. Any readers need some bubble wrap?!

While we usually purchase furniture pieces secondhand (we already bought a desk from Craigslist), we did get some new pieces that reminded me of why I hate ordering stuff.

For instance, our new bed frame was delivered 2 days early when K was out of town and was for some reason put down this unfinished set of stairs in the front of our apartment. It was so heavy that I couldn’t get it out alone and had to call in reinforcements. Thanks, Amazon.

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At least the bed frame came early because our new mattress didn’t show up at all. Through countless calls and legitimate hours on the phone with UPS, we ended up having to pick up our mattress from the customer pickup center. Not ideal.

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As destroyed as the box was, fortunately, the mattress itself was okay. Ugh, eye roll.

I am so glad that we are basically done with finding pieces we were missing for our new apartment. The boxes, the plastic, the styrofoam, it was just so overwhelming.

If you aren’t convinced yet, read Buzzfeed’s recent piece, “The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping.” I for one am not a Prime member and happily accept the standard shipping.

The Oops Tag

I have been “recycling” in Chicago for over two years now and the other day finally saw something I had only heard of on the internet…

The Oops Tag.

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First of all, I say recycling in quotes because I do not fully believe that even half of what I have diligently cleaned and separated makes it to a recycling facility.

But anyway, these oops tags were rolled out by the Department of Streets and Sanitation last summer in an effort to educate Chicagoans about what can and cannot go in the blue bin.

The tag is supposed to be marked with what contaminant was found in the blue bin but looks like that did not happen in the above case.

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These blue bins were obviously not mine, but of a neighbor’s down the street. I noticed the tags as I walked through the alley, but I did not snoop in the bins to see what the issue was to warrant the tags.

While Chicago’s recycling rate is the pits, I am not sure these tags will do much to combat that. Now that I live in a building with an alley, people’s blue bins are much more accessible and people toss stuff in other people’s bins all the time. So controlling what happens in your bin is kind of difficult.

 

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.

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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.”

 

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.

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…