Reusable bags are where it’s at. Are you in? Have you committed to using reusable bags whenever you can? Making an effort to use reusable bags is a simple change we can all make which will have a big impact on our environment. These days it’s pretty easy to accumulate a substantial stash of reusable bags. Most business are readily handing them out with their logo proudly embossed on the side of each bag. My favorite reusable bags are small and fit easily into my handbag. That way I’m assured that they’ll be with me most of the time.
If you still haven’t jumped on board the reusable bag train it’s not too late. Check out these plastic bag facts to help bring you over to the world of reusable bags.
An estimated one million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags.
It’s not only the birds and turtles. In my friend Beth Terry’s book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, she talks about how so many cows in India have died from ingesting plastic that many states in the nation have banned plastic bags altogether as a way to avoid it. Beth goes on to explain how in the United Arab Emirates veterinarians have seen goats, camels, sheep and other endangered desert animals dead because they’ve ingested plastic garbage.
According to the Wall Street Journal, only 1% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide; the rest are left to live on indefinitely in landfills (or worse, in the environment).
Plastic bags don’t biodegrade and can instead photo-degrade and dissolve into toxic particles. Most often, when this happens, it happens in the ocean. Toxic particles can enter the food chain when they are ingested by unsuspecting animals.
The United Nations Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean.
Recycling isn’t the answer. The cost to recycle plastic bags so outweighs their value that most recycling facilities will not take them, leading more and more to just be thrown out with the rest of the trash. According to Beth Terry recycling should be a last resort after we have reduced our plastic consumption as much as possible. Recycling is problematic because first, it doesn’t close the loop. For example, a plastic bottle generally gets recycled into something like polar fleece or carpet or other polyester produce, so virgin plastic must still be used to create new bottles. Also, most of our plastic recycling is shipped overseas to countries like China, where it is processed in some environmentally-unfriendly ways, and third, plastics can only be recycled so many times. When plastic can no longer be recycled, those non-biodegradable molecules linger in the environment virtually forever. Plastic recycling is necessary, but we should first focus on turning off the spigot of new plastic products and packaging.
It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the amount of plastic bags the US uses per year.
Did you know that the average reusable bag has the lifespan of over seven hundred disposable plastic bags?Check out this fantastic map which describes the evolution of various solutions to the plastic bag problem throughout the world.
After forgetting my reusable bags more times than I care to admit I finally figured out a simple solution for remembering them most of the time. I keep a few smaller bags in my purse and I throw the big, supermarket sized reusable bags in the front seat of my car.
What’s your trick for remembering your reusable bags?
This past week was school vacation week for many families on the east coast. We are big alpine skiers and try to spend our vacations out on the slopes. Although there hasn’t been much snow this season, we still managed to get some skiing in. Most of the days were spent gearing up three children in snow pants, ski boots and helmets so we could spend the majority of the day outside on the mountain.
For those of you who are non-skiers, skiing generally entails being outside, in a remote area, for hours at a time. When you need a bathroom break there’s not always a bathroom in close range. Finding one can take a while and then using it can be a big production. The skis need to come off, the multiple layers of ski gear needs to be shed and somehow you need to get to the bathroom in those big, clunky ski boots. Not a small effort. Add changing a tampon or pad to the mix and there’s no question I would have been sitting in the lodge with a cup of hot cocoa (for those of you not interested in hearing about tampons, pads and reusable menstrual cups now’s your chance to opt out of the discussion).
As some of you know, I started using a reusable Softcup a few months ago. I’ve been reporting to you on my progress and it’s been slow and steady. This month I’m feeling a bit more comfortable with it and can finally say that I have successfully greened my period.
What does “greening” your period mean?
Fifty to 70 percent of American women use tampons. A typical woman can use anywhere between 8,000 to 17,000 tampons in her lifetime. The number varies quite a bit since every woman is unique and her cycle is different. The average woman throws away up to 300 pounds of feminine hygiene related products in a lifetime. That’s a tremendous amount of waste. Then there’s the plastic wrapper around the tampon box or pads and the paper or plastic packaging around every box and individual tampon or pad. I haven’t even mentioned the cardboard or plastic applicator. So much waste.
The process to make each and every tampon and pad also involves a lot of waste. The cotton alone is resource intensive as the farming of cotton requires large amounts of water, pesticides and fertilizer.
Using organic tampons and pads reduces the amount of waste on the production end, but doesn’t solve the actual waste of the product and packaging.
Reusable Softcup is a menstrual cup that can be worn for up to 12 hours and reused throughout one menstrual cycle. The cup is worn internally, around your cervix, and it collects rather than absorbs menstrual flow. It’s non-toxic, hypo-allergenic, latex-free and completely safe when used as directed.
Softcup is affordable and an eco-friendly alternative to conventional tampons and pads. Think of all the waste that’s avoided by using a resuable menstrual cup.
Back to skiing
I still have to make the occasional trip into the bathroom with one of my boys, but I don’t have to carry extra, bulky tampons or pads in my ski jacket. The best part-I can stay out for hours and there’s no worry about leaking.
Ready to give it a try? Let me know how you do.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have been hired by Evofem, the parent company for Softcup, in their Softcup Brand Ambassador Program. This is a “sponsored post.” Evofem sent me a sample of Softcup and compensated me via a cash payment for this post. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers and only share my honest opinion. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
[Photo used under Creative Commons from Laffertyryan/Flickr]
Photo used under Creative Commons from Ace Solid Waste
Every year people get rid of billions of tons of trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, or a total of 29 pounds (13 kg) per week and 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year. All of this garbage has to go somewhere and that somewhere is usually a landfill. We are running out of space!
Where does all this garbage come from? Most of the stuff that we send off to landfills comes from single-use products and product packaging. Our society is all about disposability- “use-and-toss” products are filling our garbage cans. Let’s face it, we are a trash culture. The only way to reduce the amount of garbage we contribute to landfills is to learn how to reduce our consumption of use-and-toss products.
Check out these 20 things you can do to reduce your trash:
Let me know which are keepers……..
Paper towels-try out a cloth that can be washed.
Paper plates and cups-use the real deal whenever possible or opt for reusable.
Silverware-metal is the way to go.
Plastic grocery bags-reusable bags are a great alternative.
Bottled water-reusable bottles will hold all sorts of drinks.
Individually packaged snacks-buy snacks in a regular sized bag and put single servings in reusable bags.
Disposable Napkins-try reusable.
Plastic baggies-replace with reusable bags that can be washed.
Garbage bags- try to reuse bags that are not messy inside by emptying the garbage out and reusing the bag.
Cotton balls-try using a cloth instead.
Printer cartridges-get the old ones refilled rather than buying new cartridges.
Batteries-invest in rechargeable batteries instead of disposable batteries.
Mail-opt to receive statements and bills electronically when possible.
Bubble wrap-Beth at Fake Plastic Fish suggests trying to reuse something you already have for packaging-try newspaper or old rags.
Plastic wrapand foil-use a container with a cover instead for food storage.
Aluminum foil-use a pot with a cover or for storage, use a glass container.
Razors-get reusable instead of single-use razors.
Liquid hand soaps in plastic containers-get a few reusable, decorative containers and refill them.
Disposable diapers-consider changing to cloth.
Juice boxes- although easy and convenient these boxes could take 300-400 years to decompose in landfills and they are not recyclable. Reusable bottles are the way to go.
Don’t forget to recycle. Such simple ways to make every day earth day!
Reusable bags fill many car trunks, swing from the arms of environmentally savvy shoppers and can be seen in countless shopping carts exiting local supermarkets. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors; displaying advertisements and statements supporting eco-conscious choices.
But the bags and their makers have recently been confronted with an ironic problem-many have been found to contain lead.
NEW STUDY CONFIRMING LEAD IN SOME REUSABLE BAGS
The non-woven polypropylene bags that are sold by most retailers and complimentary from others encourage patrons to steer clear of plastic bags. GREAT. But studies have shown some reusable bags contain lead. Another study was released last week showing more reusable shopping bags contain excessive levels of lead. Health experts have found any exposure to lead can be dangerous.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM LEAD IN REUSABLE BAGS
Take these few simple steps to take to make sure your reusable shopping bags are safe to use:
Check to see if your reusables have been recalled due to lead contamination. Visit the stores website or go to the Center for Consumer Freedom’s website to see if your bag was one of the brands tested.
A few stores have voluntarily recalled their bags: CVS, Lululemon Athletica, Sears-Canada, and Wegmans have all recalled bags due to high levels of lead. Check on the stores website to see if you have one of these bags and return your bags to the stores for a replacement.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Magdogs
In the study often it was the bags’ inserts at the bottom of the bag that contained the high lead levels. Pull those inserts out and throw them away.
Wash your bags regularly-yes, they can be washed.
Use nylon reusable bags such as BAGGU
or Envirosax that are lead free and can be folded away in a convenient pouch for storage. These fit easily into a backpack or pocketbook.
The Holidays undoubtedly challenge our “greenness”. Reduce, reuse and recycle can get pushed aside while we succumb to overeating, overspending and overdoing. With some effort it is possible for the holidays and a green lifestyle to coexist. There are a few simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint while enjoying all that the holidays have to offer.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO HELP YOU CELEBRATE IN THE GREEN:
BUY LOCALSupport the little local business rather than the big box store. Go for gifts that don’t travel far to get under your tree. Head to a thrift or antique shop for a unique gift with a back-story.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Jay Bock
SUPPORT COMPANIES THAT GIVE BACK Do a little bit of leg work before buying-look at the company’s mission statement and see if it jives with you. Some companies give a percentage of their proceeds to charity, others are generous with their employees. Its all around good to know where your purchases are coming from.
GREENER HOLIDAY CARD OPTIONSWhere do all those holiday cards end up? In the garbage-unless you are like me and love to look at them a year down the road. Time to make the switch to a greener option such as an eCard. For more green holiday card suggestions check out Green Talk.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Shimelle Laine
WRAPPING PAPER AND RIBBON I know they look pretty-but all that paper and all those ribbons end up in the trash. Use and reuse what you already have in your house. Here is a very cool way to make bows from magazine pages and chip bags.
CUT BACK Reevaluate the gifts you “need” to buy. Maybe a name draw would work rather than buying a gift for every adult in your family. It would ease the stress, cost less and probably be more thoughtful.
VOLUNTEERNothing will help you feel the holiday spirit more than helping someone in need. There are volunteer opportunities all over-check out VolunteerMatch for all sorts of suggestions in your community.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF Gasp! Who has time for that? You do. That might mean stopping for a cup of tea or coffee, taking a yoga class in the middle of the most crazy day, going to sleep early or taking a bath (bubble bath of course!). It doesn’t mean eating fast food, skipping your workouts or pulling all-nighters to wrap those gifts.
GREEN YOUR TREE Wondering which is greener-real or artificial? There are lots of factors to take into consideration. If you opt for a real tree- try to get something locally and organically grown. Artificial tree-make sure it was made in the US to reduce the amount of petroleum used to get it to you. Also, if it is made in the US it is less likely the tree was exposed to lead or other toxins. How about renting a tree? The tree comes to you in a pot and after the holidays it is planted. Now that’s green.
PARTY WITH A PURPOSE Have your guests bring a canned food or other donation to your holiday party. Don’t use disposable plates, cups and flatware-use the real deal.
HOLIDAY LIGHTS Most of you already have your lights hung and shinning- so for next year, save energy, and money by switching your old strands of incandescent bulbs with new LEDs (light emitting diodes). Make sure your lights are on a timer to save some additional pennies.
Got tips? Do share.
*Top photo used under Creative Commons from Wendy Harmon
This year I had a few goals in mind when buying gifts for my family:
Keep it simple
Buy gifts without a lot of packaging materials
Use my reusable bags as much as possible
Try to buy things that don’t need batteries
The only major mishap was the shocking realization on Tuesday that Hanukkah started on Wednesday night. I had one day to pull it all together. Somehow I did it and we are ready for the 8 crazy nights.
During my speedy shopping experience, I was really focused on getting the job done. In hindsight, I was able to stick to most of my goals. I was surprisingly successful in finding gifts that don’t need batteries- with one exception, my son’s new watch.
Batteries are a necessity in so many ways, making our lives convenient and portable. With this need comes a tremendous amount of waste. Americans toss almost 180,000 tons of batteries each year, most being single-use batteries.
A car battery contains 18 pounds of lead and one pound of sulfuric acid.
Household, disposable batteries come wrapped in plastic packaging-adding more plastic to our overflowing landfills.
Don’t throw any used batteries in the garbage. Save them for a hazardous waste pickup in your community, or take it to your local hazardous waste management facility (call your local Department of Public Works for the closest location to you). You can check check with Earth911 for a listing of local drop off locations.
Your batteries come wrapped a lot of excess packaging-wrapped in plastic and cardboard-all of which end up in a landfill.
In most cases rechargeable batteries are the greener choice
Rechargeable batteries are more costly upfront, but can be used reused multiple times. They, like single-use batteries, still contain heavy metals so be careful about disposal. Green Batteries is a great site for all your rechargeable battery and charger options.
For rechargeable battery recycling options check with Call2Recycle for a location near you. California is a special case when it comes to recycling batteries-requiring recycling of more types of batteries than other states-always ahead of the game, aren’t you California?
Recycling batteries keeps heavy metals out of landfills and the air. Recycling also saves resources because recovered plastic and metals can be used to make new batteries.
Photo used under Creative Commons from John Seb Barber
Disposable v. Rechargeable
It is impossible to avoid the need for batteries- cell phones, remotes, flashlights, hand-held games, cameras-the need is far and wide. If some of your holiday gifts need batteries, Earth911 suggests we think about what type of gadget will be using the batteries. If the device isn’t used often and doesn’t use a lot of power (i.e. remote) it might be best to use a single-use battery. If the gadget needs portable power on a regular basis (i.e. cell phone) go rechargeable.
Buy gifts that don’t need batteries. If your gift requires batteries, try to include rechargeable batteries. If you are feeling really generous include the charger too.
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That’s right; November 15th is America Recycles Day. Since 1997, communities across the country have celebrated this day as a way to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling and buying products made with recycled materials.
For many of us recycling is second nature-we place our recycle bins curbside on a weekly basis. Recycling is certainly an important part of living sustainably., however, a nagging question lingers: Is recycling really the best option? What about the other 2 R’s-reduce and reuse? Perhaps recycling is a symptom of a much larger problem: the creation of an unbelievable amount of waste that then needs to be recycled. Lloyd Alter of Planetgreen.com says that the bigger issue “… is the energy made producing things that don’t last, replacing bottles that get recycled instead of refilled, picking up shopping bags that get tossed instead of reused.”
So who are the brains behind this nationally recognized day of recycling? Among the many sponsors organizing this annual event are bottled water companies, soda companies, garbage disposal companies, bottled juice companies, breweries and plastic lobbyists. Notice a common theme among them? Plastic and aluminum comprise a big chunk of their livelihood. Their products come in bottles or cans or they lobby for plastic, plastic and more plastic. Hmmmmm-no wonder they are advocating for a recycling day; more plastic and aluminum used means more of their products are being sold which translates into more money in their pockets.
There is a whole movement that goes way beyond promoting recycling called the ‘zero waste’ movement. The ‘zero waste‘ movement imagines a future where everything is a renewable resource and reusable so the amount of trash sent to landfills is minimal.
Photo used under Creative Commons from D'Arcy Norman
So can we, as a community, step beyond America Recycles Day and shoot for Zero Waste Day? Here are some ideas on how you can celebrate:
Don’t buy any single use items-at least for today and then work towards everyday. No plastic bottles of water, no single serving snack bags, no coffee or tea in a plastic or paper disposable cup
Recommit to using reusable shopping bags
Try to buy products with little or no packaging-shop locally or buy food in bulk
Eat food and beverages using reusable cups, bowls, plates, utensils, and trays-no paper or plastic disposables
Refuse single-use straws in your drinks
Try to reuse something that you would normally thrown out
Support and compliment businesses that have a program in place to reduce, reuse or recycle
Bottom line: Less is the new black. Use less today and everyday.
What are some other ways to celebrate Zero Waste Day?
Can’t get enough about zero waste? Here’s more to chew on:
I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I embark on a journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I might make a few pit stops to fight for issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.