Some days I’m more easy-going than others. I realize we all have different priorities, which is good. Diversity adds color to the palette. I also realize we are all busy. But if we are lucky, we do more than just put out fires. Instead of always reacting, we are proactive. I try my best not to judge, but some days, actually most days, it seems our environmental life-line would naturally be somewhere in the top five.
Grocery stores are a struggle for me. For starters, I usually see litter in the parking lot. Once inside, likely now with soiled hands, I see expensive colorful products displayed on the end-caps, poised for impulsive shoppers. I see produce and meat products packaged in Styrofoam along with huge displays of Styrofoam products – every size and use imaginable; and single-use disposable water bottles prominently displayed throughout the store. Then I’m surrounded by all the unhealthy, highly processed foods that claim to be “Natural” simply because this misleading term increases sales. The FDA has no rules for “Natural” labeling.
Then there is the daunting check-out lane. As I’m waiting, my eyes gravitate to carts filled with over-packaged single-serve products, Styrofoam products, bottled water, chemical “cleaning” supplies, and unhealthy processed food. Then the cashier bags and double bags purchases into maybe 20 plastic bags! Seriously, does a package of toilet paper need to be bagged? Shaken, I clutch my cloth grocery bags.
Finally I’m out of the store and driving back home. I see a guy flick out his cigarette butt, or perhaps fast food packaging. I’ve promised my friends I will no longer stalk and follow these folks home, so I just honk.
Once home, I grab my mail. I sort through all the junk mail, catalogues and newspaper inserts – Seriously, is there no end to the assault on our trees to produce millions of ads we don’t want or read? As I settle in and read the news, with more frequency I read about another environmental assault such as a chemical or oil spill threatening our waterways, soils and atmosphere. Although, I am grateful for the coverage, since most infractions never make it to news print.
Sigh. Once when perseverating to a sage friend, she advised me – “You need to spend half your time helping the environment and half your time enjoying it”. Think I’ll take a hike.
Summer is finally here –time for picnics! I can buy 170 Styrofoam plates for just $3.97. What a bargain! Or not. Time to “Pause”.
In 1937, Dow Chemical introduced Styrofoam to the US, an expanded polystyrene foam petroleum based product. A 1986 an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Report named the process of creating polystyrene as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. In 2000 the EPA determined styrene as a possible human carcinogen.
Many sources report, by volume Styrofoam uses 25-30 percent of the landfill space. Once there, it never decomposes, breaking down into smaller pieces. The wind carries these particles and other Styrofoam litter throughout the environment and into our waterways. Styrofoam is disastrous for animals, birds, and marine life as they mistaken these toxic particles for food, choking them and clogging their digestive systems. As Styrofoam accumulates, it also puts our health at risk when we eat fish.
Styrofoam is commonly used for egg cartons, beverage cups, plates, bowls, produce/meat trays, take-out food and packaging peanuts. The Sierra Club reports each year Americans throw away 2.5 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year, enough to circle the earth 436 times – just One Styrofoam product!
While technology for recycling polystyrenes is available, the melt-down process is toxic, the market is very small, it is not cost effective and not available locally.
Progress is being made. Some entities are outlawing polystyrene foam (Taiwan, Portland, New York City and several cities in California). Scientists are developing alternatives. Bagasse take-out containers made of crushed stalks of sugar cane and sturdy paper boxes are now available.
How can you help? Use your Consumer Purchasing Power and stop buying it and help me educate store and restaurant managers and your friends! Instead of Styrofoam coffee cups, use reusable mugs or paper insulated cups. Instead of Styrofoam plates and bowls, use reusable dishware, or paper plates. Give UPS Styrofoam peanuts to reuse; instead use shredded newspaper or real popcorn. Don’t buy take-out food unless they use bagasse, paper boxes/bags or aluminum foil – better yet, bring your own container. Take your Styrofoam egg cartons to the Farmer’s Market for reuse and grab some goodies. Avoid produce packaged in Styrofoam trays! Throw big Styrofoam packaging blocks into your attic for insulation. Event Organizers – Use paper insulated cups, #1 plastic cups (recyclable) & fiber or bagasse clamshells, paper bags or aluminum foil. And pick up Styrofoam litter so it doesn’t have a chance to break-down and wreak havoc! We need to tackle this menace!
One January, we were chilled to the bone so we hit the road, heading south. Always aware of the environment, here are my sightings.
Our Mississippi State Park campground was absolutely beautiful but there were no recycling bins. Anti-litter signs are prevalent – “Pick It Up Mississippi” along roadways and “Adopt-A-Highway America” along the Interstates. It appears these signs are effective, as we didn’t notice much roadside litter. As for local cuisine, I wasn’t much interested in fried chicken on top of waffles, boiled peanuts, or fried pies but I was glad to see the produce stands emerge as we traveled further south. Overall, Mississippi is quite beautiful. Much of the land is sparsely populated and filled with healthy forests. While logging does occur, we didn’t notice clear-cutting scars.
While I have made a valiant attempt, it seems the more try to I avoid plastics, the more I see. I continually run into situations that seem impossible, but as always, I remain steadfast. Continue reading “Plastics Everywhere!”→
While recycling is better than sending more trash to the landfills, reducing and reusing first is even better for the environment. Since most trash and recycling revolves around the kitchen, I’ll focus on that area.
Paper products – Inexpensive large bundles of wash cloths can replace most paper towels needs. I use one to clean the counter and perhaps a spill on the floor (in that order!), throw it in the wash, and then grab a new one from the pile. Once stained, they go in the rag box. Use a microwave cover instead of a paper towel. Cloth napkins easily replace paper napkins. And it’s fun – find solids or prints in your favorite colors. If you can’t give up paper products, buy products with a high recycled content.
Food – Certainly growing your own food is best or buying from the local farmer’s market. Composting food scraps is a great boost for the soil and environment. I’m not a big fan of garbage disposables but that’s better than putting food scraps in the garbage. Buy wonderful free-range eggs from local producers and return the egg cartons for reuse.
Plastics – When shopping, use cloth grocery bags. If you are getting just a few items, carry them without a bag. Several sources say the US goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually and the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. It’s time to break that cycle. I use the few plastic grocery bags I accumulate for picking up litter and encourage you to do the same!! If there are still bags crowding your drawer, take them to the local Food Bank for food distribution. Our local recycling facility, Boonslick Industries, currently only recycles #1 and #2 plastics, so I give my #5 plastic tubs (e.g. yogurt, cottage cheese, margarine) to youth groups for art projects or recycle them in Columbia. Avoid single-use bottled water. According to “Ban the Bottle”, Americans used 50 billion plastic bottles in 2014 – that’s 167 per American! Not good.
Food Storage – To minimize using aluminum foil and plastic wrap, store left-overs and waste-free lunches in Pyrex reusable containers or PBA-free reusable plastic containers. I store my aluminum foil, plastic wrap and plastic zip-locks in an inconvenient drawer so I think before I grab. When items store better in zip-locks use them, but wash and reuse them if they still look fairly new. When leaving food in the bowl, cover leftovers with a plastic bowl cover or “new” shower cap.
Shopping – Shop locally and frequent stores with bulk bins. If possible, avoid products that are over packaged or packaged in disposable containers. Single-serve bottled water is expensive, wasteful & bad for the environment. Instead use a filter pitcher, install a faucet filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria, or use a bottle with a built-in filter. I avoid produce packaged in Styrofoam trays and Styrofoam products in general, including “doggie bags”. While Styrofoam products may appear cheaper than paper products, it’s at the environment’s expense. The EPA established Styrofoam as the fifth largest source of hazardous waste in 1986 and by volume it now takes up to 25-30% of our landfills and takes over 500 years to decompose. But I digress – more on that later! Buy a few cloth bags and remember to use them!! The Earth Policy Institute reports about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute around the world! Keep cloth bags stashed in your car. Keep a well stocked kitchen to minimize trips to the grocery store.
Recycling – We have two large tubs designated for our recyclables – one for aluminum/bottles/tin cans and one for our paper products. When the tubs are full, we take to the local recycling center. We also collect other random plastic not recycled locally, although its a bit less well organized.
Other environmentally friendly kitchen ideas – Energy saving appliances, on-demand water heater and water-filter under the sink, “green” cleaning supplies and turn lights off after leaving a room.
Upcycle – With an expansive Google search, you can find ways to reuse just about everything. I have a wonderful artistic friend, Holly Hughes, who someway manages to combine all kinds of “trash” into art, so I have a box in the pantry where I collect random items for her.
Last Resort – Trash – Before throwing anything away, I ask myself – can I reuse this in some way, can someone else use it, can it be upcycled, is it recyclable? If every answer is no, it goes in the trash. Then come trash day, every other week, we only have one small bag of trash on our curbside – A job well done.
Food is always a work in progress as I continue my research. I’ve found many foods labeled “Natural” aren’t natural at all. I avoid single serve, over packaged and disposable products as well as farm raised fish full of hormones. Since GMO (genetically modified) foods aren’t labeled, I call food producers to inquire. I also study food growing practices to determine the most important produce to buy organic (check out the Dirty Dozen). I have a small organic garden and frequent Farmer’s Markets. Next I hit the grocery stores – not just one, several! I try my best to buy locally first and give the store managers feedback about their offerings. Then I head to Columbia for more healthy food options.
Considering Styrofoam as the biggest environmental irritant of them all, I don’t budge on this one. Many times I search for the elusive vegetable or fruit not packaged in Styrofoam trays. Worst yet, I absolutely love coffee, at many community events I sadly turn away as I smell the alluring aroma nestled in Styrofoam cups. As for take-out foods – many times not an option for me. If only the Styrofoam price tag reflected its environmental damage – then it would be expensive to produce and not so prevalent.
One would think a stroll through the park would be relaxing but no – I’m generally compelled to pick up litter and “mine” recyclables from the trash bins. Some days, when I need a break, I don’t bring a bag with me but invariably, I see a plastic bag snagged on a tree somewhere so I’m compelled to fill it up! As for the dispersed cigarette butts – It takes a “full energy” day and gloves in tow for me to grab those.
Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – I’m always considering these principals. It may take a little more effort but I always save money while conserving our natural resources and Trash Day is always a breeze!
Yeah, being an Environmentalist isn’t exactly glamorous but we do what we have to do.