Eco-Challenge: Week 1/2

Arm wrestlingWe’ve only had two days of our eco-challenge and already we’ve fallen behind.

My very first thought yesterday morning was to empty our trash cans so that we’d be able to see every time we messed up. Unfortunately, our trash bags are plastic, so that would violate the “no plastic” rule. Instead, I plan to use a paper grocery bag. Since our wet garbage gets tossed to the worms, it’s not as important to use plastic and I’ve been meaning to switch over for a while.

I also had trouble picking up some food at the grocery store. I wanted some soup and some peanut butter. The soup was no problem. Everything was in cans, so I could pick whatever I wanted. Peanut butter was surprisingly problematic. Only one brand (Smuckers) had a glass container and it had a plastic wrap around the lid (for my protection, I guess). I considered going with apple butter, since it was in a glass jar without the little wrapper, but decided to take the hit and go with peanut butter.

Maggie’s had similar little problems, the sort that we hadn’t expected when we signed up for this. Ironically, she’s had to throw away a couple of “organic” stickers from her fruit. Tonight was also a fundraiser for the Sycamore Land Trust, so her nametag eventually found itself in the trash.

We’ve also thrown away the little strip from Netflix envelopes that covers the sticky part. I think we could recycle it, but Maggie’s not sure.

I’ve also made a couple of compromises. For example, I had a sandwich today from bread in a plastic bag. Since I bought the bag weeks ago, I figured it was better to eat the bread I’ve got and then get a different type rather than just throwing it out (more trash!). In the shower arena, Maggie is continuing to use her plastic shampoo bottle since she can refill it at Bloomingfoods.

At the moment, I’d say that we’re at about 1 to 1 in terms of difficulty. Let us know if you’ve got any tips!

Current difficulty: Plastic 1 vs. Trash 1

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9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Student Doctor Green said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 2:57 am

    Bioplastics are super popular but I use Biobags instead of plastic bags. You could also get seventh generation recycled plastic bags which would be a compromise. It’s hard to leave the store and not end up with ridiculous amounts of plastic.

  2. 2

    Andy said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 6:30 am

    Here’s some thoughts, but I’ll warn you they might be depressing:
    1) There’s actually a plastic lining to most cans (which also tends to contain more of that delicious bisphenol A than your standard plastic bottle).
    2) Processed food is pretty much always packaged. If you bought peanuts, you could make peanut butter without the plastic container.
    3) Even many glass containers contain a plastic lining on the underside of the lid. Many glass containers have labeling printed on plastic that is shrunk to fit on the container. (Seems impossible to get away from plastic huh?)

    4) I send my netflix strips back inside the next envelope. Maybe if enough people did this netflix might come up with some ingenious design that avoids that trash. But I did count it towards my trash output because I know it was getting there whether or not I threw it out.

    -Andy

  3. 3

    Emily said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

    If you rent from a local (preferably non-chain) video store, you don’t have any of the Netflix garbage.

  4. 4

    Jessica said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

    You could make your own peanut butter. I know at Wild Oats they have a grinder so that you can grind peanut butter yourself into a container of your choosing. I’ve been coveting a Vitamix Blender for years, and making my own peanut butter would be one thing I did with it. Of course, you couldn’t buy a Vitamix right now, because it has plastic in it, but it might be an investment you consider in the future.

  5. 5

    Linnea said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

    A few of the grocery stores here (and some smoothie shops) have peanut grinders. I dunno what crops are like in the midwest, but can you get peanut butter from the farmer’s market? I get honey at pike place sometimes, and it’s just a glass bottle with a metal lid on it. I also get tea from the market, you bring in your own container and they fill it for you. Then you use a strainer so you don’t chuck tea bags or the plastic the boxes come in (tho I guess the bags can be composted, too…)

    Any idea how I can get to Raleigh with minimal plastic/waste?

  6. 6

    Maggie said,

    May 4, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    Plastic seems totally ubiquitous! It’s crazy!
    I usually get peanut butter from the peanut-grinder at Bloomingfoods but Will doesn’t like the way it tastes and the fact that it’s really not very spreadable when you pull it out of the fridge. Perhaps we should try some experimentation on mixing in extra oil to make it smoother. Peanuts can be grown here but it’s on the edge of their climate zone and boy do the local critters love them!

    As for waste/plastic-free travel, that’s even tougher. I have a friend who believes we need to set up a hitchhiking system to allow people to hitch rides with folks who have been certified safe (and the drivers to pick up safe riders) but I’m not sure that will get figured out anytime soon. And traveling from Seattle to Raleigh by road is a long trip, even without the hassle of hitching. I think your best bet is to fly and purchase carbon offsets. You can also take minor steps to minimize your waste generation like bringing your own water bottle (just make sure it’s empty when you pass through security and fill it up on the other side) and snacks. And you can check out public transportation options to/from the airport.

    I hope that some day there will be a way for us to maintain a relatively high standard of living while generating only biodegradable waste but I believe we’re in the era of baby steps, with occasional leaps as technology and economics shift around to make bioplastics more feasible and waste more expensive. It’s just hard to be patient. :)

  7. 7

    Jessica said,

    May 4, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

    Microwaving the peanut butter for about 20 seconds or so will soften it right up.
    You could also try adding a little honey. Yummy!

  8. 8

    Andy said,

    May 4, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

    The whole liquid thing on planes is in no way safer than before. As a diabetic I usually carry soda or juice on me, especially while traveling. The last flight I took was shortly after these new rules about liquids. I’ll paraphrase what happened:

    Security Dude: “Sir, you can’t take liquid if it’s more than 3 ounces and in a zip-lock.”
    Me: “I’m diabetic.”
    SD: “Oh ok, step through then.”

    How secure can it be when they just let people evade a rule with two words? I felt like being diseased was a secret password though. :)

  9. 9

    Will said,

    May 4, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

    SDG: Biobags are cool, but the Kroger didn’t have any. I’ll have to check at Bloomingfoods next time we go.

    Andy: Yeah, it is pretty depressing. Everything has plastic in it. Cans, bottles, even rubber is mostly plastic now. Bloomingfoods has a make-your-own peanut butter section, but we wouldn’t be able to store it without using some plastic. The glass containers I’ve used have the minimum of plastic (used as a seal rather than underneath the entire lid), but I admit that’s still annoying. I’m not sure about sending Netflix their strips back because then it’s getting shipped across the country, which seems bad.

    Emily: There are only chains within walking distance, so if we didn’t have Netflix, we’d either drive or have to shop at a chain. Maggie and I have also started watching the online movies at Netflix, which means no garbage (and, since my laptop is more energy-efficient than my TV, uses less electricity as well).

    Jessica: Yeah, the make-your-own peanut butter is cool. Bloomingfoods even has honey roasted peanuts that you can grind there into peanut butter (although I can’t taste much of a difference).

    Despite what Maggie says, I like the taste just fine, I just hate how hard it is to spread. Microwaving is a good idea, though. I’ll try that in the future. The bigger issue is that to grind our own peanut butter, we have to go to Bloomingfoods rather than Kroger, which means a 30-minute round-trip drive rather than a 30-minute round-trip walk. It’s really starting to seem like a zero-sum game.

    Andy: Maybe the security guards knew that the liquid rules don’t actually make any sense! Or diabetics are like the stonecutters, which explains a lot…

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