Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Talking Trash

Hi everyone, I still have several more giveaways to post, but I got a little sidetracked over the past weeks with my parents' visit as well as some other issues that are close to my heart. If you follow me on Facebook, you have probably seen some of the "propaganda" I have been posting, but it really boils down to me becoming more aware of what I am consuming as well as what those things are packaged in.  More specifically, I am becoming more aware of the magnitude of plastic we all use and throw away every day.  During the past few weeks I have realized that I have become less outspoken and more lackadaisical about things I really care about.  Twenty years ago it wasn't uncommon to hear me say things like, "You're going to throw that away? Where exactly is away?"  Over the years, however, I started becoming more and more mute on the subject, and I am now realizing that I haven't been living up to my own standards, either. (On another note, I think I need to read The Phantom Tollbooth again, too.)

In case you weren't aware, there is an alarming amount of garbage in our oceans.  In fact, there is an estimated 3.5 tons of mostly plastic debris floating in the Pacific Ocean.  It is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and there is a similar patch growing in the Atlantic.

I am absolutely horrified by this.

In any case, as I said, all of this information is making me really aware of exactly how much plastic I use on a daily basis. I stumbled on a blog called Fake Plastic Fish that has an ongoing "Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash!" Challenge.  The rules are simple: Collect your plastic waste (both recyclable and non) for one week or more. Then photograph, tally, and post it on the blog. Fake Plastic Fish's author, Beth Terry asks, "What can we learn about our habits and lifestyles by examining our waste? And what changes can each of us make to leave the planet a little less trashy?"

I thought this was a great idea, and started right away. Two days in, I'm discovering that I have a LOT of room for improvement. Up until Monday morning, I thought that I was pretty good about the three R's. I have a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, and bamboo utensils that I carry with me.  I reuse my empty yogurt containers (darn those #5 plastics!) and bread bags.  I have reusable grocery bags that I am pretty good about using.  Even so, the plastic trash is accumulating more quickly than I imagined at a frightening pace.  If this is what I alone (for all intents and purposes) produce, how much do the people who live a "throwaway lifestyle" produce?! 

In case you are wondering where some of the plastic you throw away ends up, take a look at this video about the albatrosses on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, located approximately 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu.

So how did you do?  How many of the items you use on a daily basis end up in albatross stomachs? Maybe you aren't a fisherman or a smoker (or even if you are, there are several alternatives to plastic lighters), or you have decided to carry reusable utensils, but what about those pesky toothbrushes?   I did some research yesterday on natural toothbrushes and was not happy with what I found: natural toothbrushes are hard to find!  I found pricey wooden toothbrushes with boar bristles (sorry, vegans) that are imported from Germany and toothbrushes with natural handles and replaceable plastic heads (I suppose it reduces the amount of plastic somewhat).  I even looked into the Peelu or Miswak chewing sticks that are used in Africa and the Middle East but ironically I could only find individual plastic wrapped sticks.  Just as the situation was looking hopeless, I found Preserve. Remember those pesky #5 plastics that many communities don't recycle? (Does anyone else have a really big collection of storage yogurt containers in their pantry?)  Preserve has a program called Gimme 5  which takes those #5 plastics and turns them into toothbrushes (and other items).  Best of all, they close the loop by providing prepaid mailers for returning your used toothbrushes to them to be recycled again! They also accept Brita filters for recycling.  Drop off locations can be found in 36 states, or if there is not one close to you, you can also mail in your #5 plastics.
 I will be posting my first week's Plastic Trash Challenge results on Monday.  Anyone else game?

Leave me a comment below with at least one way that you can reduce the amount of plastic trash you produce (be creative- think beyond reusable grocery bags!)

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