Monthly Archives: July 2014

Necessary Evil: The role that businesses can play in waste reduction

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Necessary Evil: The role that businesses can play in waste reduction

As I mentioned a few blog posts back, I found that during the plastic free challenge the majority of my plastic bags we coming from our local produce delivery service. I ended up emailing them and asking if they could refrain from packing my produce in plastic, to which they replied that they will put a note on our account but they could not guarantee the people who pack the produce would see it. However, they suggested we simply return the bags with the bins and they would be glad to reuse them.

The following week’s bin came with this message in the newsletter:

“Plastic bags, the necessary evil.

Trust us, we hate packing your items in plastic as much as you hate receiving them that way. Be sure to remove any berries, tomatoes, beans and beets ASAP. Plastic will actually help lettuces and zucchini stay fresh.”

Now, I understand that they probably have an efficient routine figured out to try to deal with the boom in business that they are experiencing this year, and my request probably throws a wrench into how they do things. If I’m the only person who made this request, I feel like it’s slightly overboard to put it in the newsletter for everyone, so I have a feeling I’m not the only one who asked. While I appreciate the fact that changing their procedure may be a challenge, doing it now, while they are a growing business, would be way easier than down the road when they are a bigger business.

The reason I chose to give my money to this business as opposed to a conventional grocery store is not because I’m lazy and want my groceries delivered, but because it is the best option available to regularly get local produce, which helps in my efforts to support local businesses and be a more sustainable consumer. If your business does not meet those needs, then I must look for an alternative.

Businesses, especially local ones, have the challenge of competing with corporations who can undercut them in many ways. But one thing that corporations can’t and don’t do is be flexible and respond to the needs of the consumer. Businesses should acknowledge and embrace sustainability as a selling point and use it to attract consumers. They would also be a major force in mitigating climate change in their communities.

Think about it, businesses are important contact points within a community. Many people use their services, meet other people in the community through their services, and talk about things that are important to the community. If your business promotes sustainability, it helps hundreds of your customers waste less and it communicates to them that sustainability is important.

So no, I don’t buy the notion that plastic is a necessary evil. Plastic is an unnecessary evil. That’s what makes it worse. No one is going to stop using their delivery service because they don’t provide enough plastic bags with their produce that already comes in a bin. But they may do the reverse.

The concept of stress, sponsored by Big Tobacco

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The more you know…

Mind Hacks

NPR has an excellent piece on how the scientific concept of stress was massively promoted by tobacco companies who wanted an angle to market ‘relaxing’ cigarettes and a way for them to argue that it was stress, not cigarettes, that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

They did this by funding, guiding and editing the work of renowned physiologist Hans Selye who essentially founded the modern concept of stress and whose links with Big Tobacco have been largely unknown.

For the past decade or so, [Public Health Professor Mark] Petticrew and a group of colleagues in London have been searching through millions of documents from the tobacco industry that were archived online in the late ’90s as part of a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

What they’ve discovered is that both Selye’s work and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers…

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Plastic Free July Update

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Plastic Free July Update

Well, it’s almost two weeks into my one-week Plastic-Free July challenge 😉

The biggest lesson I learned from taking the challenge (for the first time) is that it will take several tries.

Mostly, I think the value of doing the challenge is to help yourself see areas of your life where you use a lot of plastic, and where you may already have solutions but are maybe putting off implementing them. One thing that was majorly noticeable for me was that a) there is so much plastic that I don’t consciously bring into my life but sneaks in anyway. Like the fact that I thought I never use straws, but over the course of the week counted several in my drinks. I also noticed that we use way more plastic bags than I was consciously aware of. In the plastic bag case, I know what the solution to a big part of the problem is: bring a container to the store for meats, cheeses, strawberries, or whatever. I have super nice glass containers, I wouldn’t feel super awkward whipping them out, and yet I have not yet gotten over the hump of bringing them to the store. There are other things that I don’t foresee I will solve very soon, such as: bags for kitty litter, trash bags, pita bags? We love pita bread, and it always comes in a bag.

In terms of reactions from other people, I will say it is pretty positive. Many people have told me about their efforts, and just about everyone seemed intrigued when we told them we were doing a Plastic Free July challenge. Some people giggled, wished us luck, or would applaud our efforts and tell us about how they do the exact opposite. But it always started a conversation! Some of our favourite vendors at the market have now been “trained” that we don’t want plastic. The fish and meat guy, Jerry, may sometimes even leave a tuna stake unpackaged for us :). Other vendors are frustrating, like the woman from whom we get hummus. We go to her business at least once a week, and routinely ask for no bags, and instead she double-bags, and ties the bag, when she hands it to you. I have handed her the bag back so many times now, that I think I’m just going to give up on her… mostly because I recently realized that I can MAKE hummus in my Nutribullet and it is astoundingly easy, and quick, and infinitely customizable, which means infinitely delicious 😀

It is no surprise that weeding out plastic will be a journey that will mostly happen gradually and through thoughtful effort. But it is worth taking on the challenge. Here’s why:

Much of the garbage including bags, plastic rings, facial microbeads, etc. end up in the ocean. One of the things that was interesting about the search for that missing airplane was how often the media latched on to “leads” of “spotted debris” only to realize it was just floating garbage. The ocean is FULL of garbage. Scientists exploring new depths in the ocean are finding the garbage made it there first, that’s how much garbage there is. And lots of marine animals either get caught in, or swallow trash and die. Pretty much anything that eats jelly fish would swallow a plastic bag, they look alike!

Plastic is also made from oil. Reducing plastic is a measurable way that you can reduce your carbon footprint. And it’s not all industry’s fault. Something like 40% of carbon pollution is from individual use.

When you buy a product, you’re buying the packaging too. It is not enough to “buy green”, we have to think of the life cycle of the things we use. You likely use a bag once or twice, before it will inevitable either get thrown away or filled with garbage/pet waste and thrown in the dump… WHERE IT WILL REMAIN for a minimum 500 YEARS. There might not even be people in 500 years, but our trash will be here. And companies will keep making more and more of it, unless WE refuse to use it!

Let me know if you want to join me in the challenge, I’m sure we could swap ideas. Or send me your hummus recipe.

 

 

 

Plastic Free July Day 2: You won’t like me when I’m Hangry, and why I have to break up with my hummus lady

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So, I’m not gonna lie – plastic free challenge is more like a lesson in how goddamn hard it is to avoid plastic.

I was mostly prepared today – I even brought a container for take out at the office (I am clearly too lazy to make my own lunch, but perhaps I should start). What I wasn’t prepared for was what actually happened: my coding meeting started way late and then went really long, and not having eaten anything beforehand I was extremely hungry when we finished, and also in a big hurry because I had other places to be. So what did I do? I ran out for a late lunch without my container, and all the places where I usually get lunch that are relatively plastic-avoidable were closed. At that point I just wanted to shove the first food I saw in my mouth, so not only was I not thinking about the package it would be coming in, I also made poor choices in terms of picking something relatively healthy. So count me down for plastic sauce container, fork and knife.

When I got home, I saw that my partner has done the grocery shopping: chicken came in a plastic bag wrapped in another plastic bag. Pitas in a bag; and he said that the hummus lady AS USUAL refused to hear anything about us not wanting bags and purposefully put all his stuff in a bag and TIED it before handing it to him. I guess he felt uncomfortable untying it to take everything out so he decided not to make a fuss. Fair enough, but I’ve had enough with her. She does this all the time, and she knows better; she just does it regardless. What gives?? I think that means it’s time to break up with my hummus lady. Now where will I get delicious hummus???

On the plus side, my veggie delivery guy said that they will “try” to not pack my groceries in plastic, but if it still comes in a bag we are welcome to return the bags with the bins and they’d be happy to reuse them. Better than nothing?

Today’s total: 1 fork, 1 knife, 1 small container, FOUR GODDAMN BAGS. Ugh.

Plastic Free Canada Day and sneaky sources of plastic

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Plastic Free Canada Day and sneaky sources of plastic

With the first day of Plastic Free July behind me, this is what I learned:

– Tell people right off the bat that you are doing the plastic free challenge/going plastic free before they hand you a delicious Canada Day drink with a straw in it! D’oh!

– I bragged in my first post about the challenge that I’ve already eradicated straws from my life a long time ago, and the first day made me realize that just because *I* don’t buy straws, doesn’t mean they don’t sneak into my life. When I ate at a restaurant later in the day there was yet another straw in my water 😦

– The other source of sneaky plastic yesterday was my veggie box delivery. Even though everything comes in a box, the potatoes, kale, and lettuce were all wrapped in individual plastic bags. I’ve since emailed my grocery delivery and politely asked if they can nix the plastic from my box, but some of the produce is from the States and likely comes that way to them (but the potatoes and lettuce are local, so why the heck were they bagged???)

But that was all the plastic I encountered in the day, so… not too shabby?

Today I am on campus, armed with my reusable water bottle and a container for takeout if I go out to eat. Let’s see if I can do better on day 2 😛

I’m doing the Plastic Free July challenge

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In an effort to practice what I so often preach, I am joining the Plastic Free July  challenge! The challenge is to attempt to refuse as much single-use plastic as you can.

Now I’ll admit, I immediately balked at doing a whole month. That seems daunting… However, you have the option to take the challenge for as many days as you like, so I pledged a week and intend to go for as long as I can for the rest of the month. I also considered doing only the main Top 4 offender elimination. The top 4 single use plastic items are: plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and coffee lids. But then I realized I’d be cheating because we’ve already eradicated straws and 95% of plastic bottles, I mostly use my S’well bottle for water and coffee, with plastic bags still being the problematic one, though we’ve dramatically reduced their use.

There are some problems for which I’ve had solutions for a while but have been lax on implementing:

– Bringing a reusable container for meats/grocery and takeout

– Getting canvas/cloth bags for bulk item shopping, which is where the majority of my plastic bags are still coming from

– Getting cloth for plastic-free storage of greens and veggies in the fridge

My biggest challenges that I don’t really have solutions for are:

– Cat litter

– The garbage

For the purpose of the challenge we are asked to keep a “dilemma bag” where all the plastic that we were not able to avoid during the challenge will go. This is a neat idea because it will help me figure out other challenging areas where I may not have realized I was using throw-away plastic. I will keep you updated on my progress as I go! Wish me luck 🙂