Posts Tagged ‘waste’

Posted on March 4, 2011 - by

A Plastic State of Mind: Ban the Bag

Image: 30gms

One day, retailers across China awoke to discover that the government had banned giving away plastic bags for free. From June 2008 on, consumers would be required to pay explicitly for plastic bags, and the cost had to be clearly marked and could not be hidden in the price of the goods.

The production, sale and use of ultrathin plastic bags (less than 0.025 mm thick) was banned outright. Consumers were urged to use shopping baskets and reusable cloth bags instead.

Can you imagine what life would be like if plastic bags were banned in the U.S.?

We lack the sweeping legislative power of a centralized government, but San Francisco has long had a ban on plastic bags, and a congressional battle is underway in Oregon for the state to become the first to ban plastic bags. Shoppers would then be required to bring their own bags, or pay a nickel for a paper bag. But it is not obvious that paper bags are any more environmentally friendly than plastic bags—they require 4x the energy of plastic bags to produce and in a covered landfill, they do not degrade substantially faster than a plastic bag (Reuse It). On the other hand, the push for paper bags can be seen as a move to support Oregon’s timber industry.

The real solution is reusable bags. Bringing your own bag guarantees that you will not be adding to waste streams in the near future, is cost-effective and can be stylish to boot. Color-coordinating shopping totes with vegetable color, anyone?

Finally, I recently came across a music video titled “Plastic State of Mind,” a parody of Jay-Z’s “New York State of Mind.” With the smooth rhymes and hip aplomb of the original, director Ben Zolno explains exactly why we should ban single-use plastic bags.

Plastic State of Mind / Ben Zolno


Posted on March 3, 2011 - by

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

Image: Chris Jordan

Bottles, saran wrap, sneakers, car bumpers and beach balls. We are living in a plastic world, and though the ubiquitous amounts of plastic may be fine for people on land, there is one place where plastic definitely does not belong—the ocean.

In the L.A. Times’ “Altered Oceans” series, Kenneth Weiss investigates the mountains of plastic and trash clogging our seas. Almost 90% of the trash floating in the ocean is plastic, and 80% of this comes from land, washed into rivers and then out to sea. The remaining waste comes from ships, which illegally throw floats, equipment and other trash overboard to avoid paying disposal fees in port (LAT).

What happens to plastic that gets washed into the sea? When exposed to sunlight, plastic photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, but never fully breaks down. The polymer fragments remain in the upper column of the ocean, creating a “soup” of suspended plastic particulate.

Hidden in the flyover zone between San Francisco and Hawaii lies the Great Pacific Trash Patch. This floating vortex of plastic pollution drifts in an area twice the size of Texas. Here, the currents bring plastic debris from all corners of the Pacific, where it will lazily sunbathe and disintegrate into fragments. “It moves around like a big animal without a leash,” said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. “When it gets close to an island, the garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic” (LAT).

Tragically, some of the plastic will end up in the bellies of seabirds and around the necks of marine animals. Albatross chicks are particularly vulnerable because they are inadvertently fed plastic by their well-meaning parents. The bits of plastic can puncture a chick’s esophagus and fill its stomach, leaving no room for food or water. And they are not the only victims. It is estimated that one million seabirds choke or get tangled in netting or other debris every year, along with 100,000 seals, sea turtles, sea lions, whales and other animals (LAT).

Disturbed by the amount of plastic that collects in the stomachs of birds? What can you do to use and throw away less plastic?

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Posted on February 14, 2011 - by

Valentine’s Day: Green is the New Red

It’s Valentine’s Day. And though this may fill you with giddiness or groans, take a moment to step back and consider someone who needs more lovin’ from all of us: Planet Earth. So, whether you are celebrating Valentine’s Day with a significant other, friends or family, keep the following guidelines in mind for ecofriendly festivities that everyone can feel good about.

  • Think carefully about how you source your gifts. That means: locally grown, pesticide-free flowers, fair trade chocolate, conflict-free diamonds.
  • Better yet, rather than giving cut flowers that will shrivel in 2 days, give seeds or a potted plant that will grow and bloom for months to come, while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Consider not sending a paper card. The 2.6 billion greeting cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high (Clean Air Council).
  • Bypass the cheesiness of Hallmark. Pick up a wedge of local, artisanal cheese instead.
  • Beat the crowds and harried servers at restaurants. Open up a bottle of organically produced wine, and make dinner at home.
  • Recycle and upcycle old materials into gifts. Bike wheel clock, anyone?
  • Or maybe your significant other doesn’t really need more stuff anyway. How about gift certificates (to the hair salon, golf course), tickets to a sporting event or play, or IOUs for a last-minute errand or cleaning the bathroom?

What (if anything) are you doing to celebrate today? Do you compost your dried flower cuttings? What do you do when you can’t eat all that chocolate?

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Posted on February 1, 2011 - by

No Rubbish Ideas: Rethinking Household Waste

How much trash did you generate last week? In an impressive feat of conservation, last year the Strauss family managed to pare down its waste disposal to merely one bag through vigorous recycling, growing their own food, and buying directly from producers.

To minimize packaging waste, the family opts to bring their own containers to the butcher and deli, and puts loose fruit and vegetables into reusable bags. All food leftovers are turned into new dishes or composted, and the lights run partly on solar energy. Cereal packaging is transformed into sandwich bags, and plastic ties from toys are used to stake tomato plants.

The average American produces 4.5 lbs of waste every day. About 31% of that is packaging and container waste. Food scraps account for 12.7% of waste, and only 2.5% of that gets composted. Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled each year. However, it costs $4000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags, while the recycled product can be sold for only $32. (Source: Clean Air Council)

Rachelle Strauss reflected on the progress they’ve made since they first embarked on their zero waste project.

”It’s taken us 18 months to get to this level and we’ve put a lot of determination and effort into it. But if everyone just takes a few more steps towards recycling they can make a huge difference across the globe. A simple first step is not taking plastic bags at the supermarket and finding out from your local council where recycling points are.

”You can’t just buy something because it’s on offer or because it looks nice but you need to think seriously about how you’re going to throw it away when you’ve finished with it.”

At the end of the year, the only things that were thrown out were a few razor blades, broken toys and old felt tip pens.

You may not be ready to commit to that level of packaging austerity, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the amount of food and packaging waste you produce.

  • Find out how you can take advantage of municipal recycling programs.
  • Support local farmers and green retailers who use ecofriendly packaging.
  • Purchase products that use smart packaging, with biodegradeable polymers and minimalistic design.
  • Reuse packages to store other products.
  • Talk to your friends and family about the magnitude and consequences of our waste problem.
  • Think ahead when purchasing groceries and plan meals so that your food is used before it spoils. Take inventory of your refrigerator regularly.
  • Cooking can be a community experience! If you are a single-person household, pot luck with your neighbors to share excess food.

Is the Strauss family batty or ingenious? Do you regularly bring bags to the grocery store? Write on the backs of every scrap of paper? Send e-cards rather than buying Hallmark? What other steps do you take to reduce waste?

For more information on the Strauss’ feat, check out their website at