Head into any grocery store, convenience store, or health food store and you’ll see “Health Drinks” selling by the gallon. Pick your poison, from Gatorade to Glauceau Mineral Water, you can hydrate and “make yourself healthier.” Do these “health drinks” live up to their promises? Are they really a “healthy alternative?” Continue reading
Last Saturday Enviro Girl returned home after a 6 day writers retreat in Baltimore. During her stay, she toured her friend’s terrific garden, ate significant amounts of those homegrown veggies, recycled a metric ton of paper and never once turned on the air conditioning. Despite traveling by plane (which jacked up her personal carbon footprint–although she’ll only fly twice this year), the trip wasn’t an eco-bust. Two words kept Enviro Girl’s trip lean, mean and green: Continue reading
Summertime comes and the kids clamor for plastic bottles of Gatorade, Powerade, Koolade — all laced with chemical additives, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dyes and other unpronounceable stuff. Plus these drinks get expensive when added weekly to the grocery cart. And they generate a fair amount of plastic waste that may or may not get recycled.
This eco-warrior heads into summer knowing her kids’ proclivity for sweet drinks and she serves up their favorites in a more healthy way. Enviro Girl makes summer drinks from scratch. Her kids still get a dose of sugar, but the sweet stuff is natural and Enviro Girl can manage the quantity when she brews the pitcher of refreshments.
To kick the bottled drinks habit, you have to be willing to plan ahead. Enviro Girl has a couple of heavy-duty Tupperware pitchers and sets of glasses. When mid-afternoon arrives and her crew gets thirsty, she grabs a set of glasses and a pitcher of home-brewed thirst-quencher from her fridge and heads outside to meet them. It’s as easy to grab a pitcher and cup as it is to grab a plastic bottle, although you could pre-fill water bottles with other drinks and keep washing them by hand. Enviro Girl likes cups because they can go in the dishwasher.
Check out the label on any lemonade – powdered or concentrate — it’s loaded with HFCS. But making lemonade from scratch is simple: lemons, water, sweetener. Enviro Girl uses fresh lemons on occasion or lemon juice concentrate — 4 lemons, 5 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar or honey. Stir and pour over ice. Cheaper than the manufactured version and healthier. Get a little crazy and add crushed berries and you can rival McDonald’s with a raspberry-lemonade or strawberry-lemonade.
Iced tea is notoriously full of HFCS — check out the cans, bottles and powdered stuff at your grocery store. They’re no healthier than a can of Coke, don’t fool yourself. Making iced tea at home is cheaper and easy — add boiling water to a glass pitcher and dunk 7-8 teabags. Enviro Girl uses fruity herbal tea bags like Raspberry Zinger and Peach to duplicate popular “flavored” iced teas. Add sweetener (honey or sugar) to taste. Toss in lemon slices if you’re inclined. Let it brew 5 minutes and pour over ice or store in the fridge for when you’re thirsty. If you’re lazy (like Enviro Girl sometimes is), you can dunk 7-8 teabags in a pitcher of cold water and let the sun steep it for you. And you can kick it Southern-style by leaving that container of sweet tea on your counter in easy reach all the time.
Soda has fallen out of favor as the refreshing drink of choice, but Enviro Girl has found that mixing some fruit juice with seltzer water makes a sweet and bubbly beverage. To kick the Gator/Power/Kool Ade habit, keep a pitcher of water on ice infused with sliced fruit — oranges, lime, lemons, berries all make a flavorful and handy way to hydrate.
In fact, Enviro Girl plans to invest in one of these to keep her kids happy all summer at a fraction of the price and with none of the waste produced by store-bought drinks:
She can picture it on her kitchen counter or on the patio beside a stack of Tupperware cups, standing ready for thirsty kids and party guests! Less packaging waste, less plastic, less money, no chemicals, no additives, no HFCS, no food dye, more taste and more control over the ingredients — all great reasons to brew your own summer drinks!
According to American Plastic Manufacturing, a pro-plastic bag source, the average per capita plastic bag use is 500 bags a year. They claim this amount is the equivalent of half a gallon of gas. Alone, this amount seems paltry. But imagine 500 plastic bags clogging ditches, clinging to tree branches, blowing through fields and sinking in lakes and rivers.
Enviro Girl did a little math and that per capita bag use means her family of five would then use 2,500 plastic bags a year. A city of 10,000 people would use 5,000,000 bags a year.
Like so many environmental issues, the problem has to do with the big picture numbers. Sure, a half gallon of gas per person per year seems negligible. Once you start multiplying bags by the number of Americans and then figuring out plastic bag use over a 10-year period, the amounts are staggering.
The plastic and petroleum industries are fighting bag bans across America. Their concern is that plastic bag bans are a gateway to banning other plastic products. They staved off a recently proposed ban in California by spreading fears of job losses by plastic bag manufacturers. But like the smoking bans of a decade ago, the bans are taking hold in municipalities and counties, creating a patchwork of places banning the use of plastic shopping bags.
The other argument Enviro Girl often hears against banning plastic shopping bags is “What will I use to line my wastebaskets? How will I dispose of Fido’s poop in the park? I reuse my plastic bags!” Enviro Girl’s rebuttal of this weak argument is simple: even without plastic shopping bags, you can still find plenty of plastic bags to reuse for other purposes–bread bags, bags from shipped packages, the bags from inside cereal boxes. She gave up plastic shopping bags years ago in favor of canvas bags and still has no shortage of plastic bags as a byproduct of ordering from Lands End or buying bread.
Most recently Oregon is considering a statewide ban, notably supported by the Northwest Grocers Association. Like the land and water pollution caused by those plastic bags, the bans are beginning to add up. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a state or local legislature to make a law stopping you from using plastic bags. You can choose to reduce your 500 bags a year by switching to reusable shopping bags!
Enviro Girl has long despised the plastic bag. It’s the #1 form of litter she finds when cleaning rural ditches and fields. It represents the ultimate form of single-use waste. Heck, a lot of times she’s watched people purchase an item at a store and carry it to the door in a plastic bag before removing their item and throwing the plastic bag away before they’ve even reached the parking lot. No kidding. What a ridiculous thing.
Enviro Girl has watched with interest various efforts to ban the plastic bag. Yesterday California voters had a huge opportunity to ban plastic bags–a ban that would have surely spread like smoking bans. Effectively the ban would have been a ban on litter. But the petrochemical industry’s lobby proved stronger than common sense. The ban was rejected and the “magnificent plastic bag” will continue to float free, traveling unabated to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
It costs us all less to reuse old bags or buy or make shopping bags. The question of “Paper or plastic” is a false choice. It costs us all less to NOT have to deal with garbage and litter and beach clean-ups. But the fear of inconvenience and false cost calculations won the day. Enviro Girl is gnashing her teeth with disgust–a ban would have cost taxpayers nothing and had a tremendous environmental impact.
Team Plastic Litter–1, Environmentalists–0
The Environmentalists will have to knuckle down and keep fighting–like smoking bans, it looks like plastic shopping bag bans will have to start locally. It’s not time to give up the good fight.
Last Wednesday Enviro Girl returned home after a 6 day retreat to Utah where her dear friend Nina pours delicious wine and serves up the best Italian food evah. During her stay, she bemoaned the fact that Park City doesn’t offer much in the way of recycling–typical of most mountain regions Enviro Girl has visited. Despite traveling by plane (which jacked up her personal carbon footprint–although it will be the only time she’ll fly this year), the trip wasn’t a total eco-bust. Two words kept Enviro Girl’s trip lean, mean and green:
1. Even on the airplane, Enviro Girl could carry her stainless steel water bottle and consume nary a drop of bottled water. She said “No, thanks” to the plastic cup of juice/water/soda offered during her flight. She said “No, thanks” to offers of bottled water by her hostess (concerned for her health during the dramatic altitude change). She drank tap water out of her water bottle or out of a glass.
2. Enviro Girl didn’t accept a shopping bag. When purchasing 4 souvenir t-shirts for Team Testosterone, she said “No, thanks” to the plastic bag and stuffed them in her own canvas tote. For the record, that was all she bought and brought home from her trip. She said “No, thanks” to everything except photographs–turns out those were the only souvenirs Enviro Girl needs and they’re not Made in China and wrapped in plastic!
3. Enviro Girl used one bath towel and one hand towel during her stay. She said “No, thanks” to the offer of more towels–which would, in turn, lead to more laundry, using more water and more electricity and more detergent.
4. She said “No, thanks” when her hostess kept offering to prepare more food. Insisting on eating leftovers meant less waste, less energy spent cooking and more time for visiting.
Being green is about reducing your use and Enviro Girl did her best on this trip–she recycled paper at the airport, drank locally brewed Polygamy Porter while in Park City, hiked along the mountainside for exercise and ate a mere three servings of meat. “No, thanks” is a polite and easy way to reduce and reuse even while you’re on vacation.
Speaking of reducing, remember that tomorrow is No Plastic Day. Visit the Official No Plastic Day Web Site to learn how you can participate–it’s as easy as saying, “No, thanks” to a plastic bag or plastic bottle of water!
Plastic or paper? Enviro-Girl hears this question every time she’s at the grocery store–and the answer is obvious: she brought her own bags, thanks. But if one were to choose, paper is the way to go. Why? Paper is a renewable resource and a biodegradable material. Paper bags can be cut apart to wrap packages mailed to far-flung relatives. Paper bags can hold paper for curbside recycling. Paper bags can be used a dozen helpful ways in a garden. Paper ALWAYS trumps plastic when it comes to bags.
What are some other products or packaging where one might choose paper over plastic?
1. Tampons–choose the cardboard applicator over the plastic applicator.
2. Q-tips–don’t buy the kind with the plastic sticks between the cotton ends.
3. Opt for popcicles and ice cream treats wrapped in paper with cardboard or wood sticks.
4. Paintbrushes made of natural fibers (wood handles, hair bristles) instead of plastic handles and nylon bristles. Ditto for hairbrushes.
5. Disposable picnic items, like plates and cups. Check out Bare by Solo at Target for a whole line of cups and plates that are compostable or made from recycled resources!
6. Choose cardboard or glass packaging for juice and milk. By simply switching to buying milk in returnable glass bottles, Enviro-Girl’s recycling bin requires emptying once every 3 weeks!
7. Buy powdered goods in cardboard boxes–baking soda, Bisquick, baking powder, salt, detergents.
8. Buy bars of soap packaged in paper instead of liquid soap in plastic bottles.
9. Skip the plastic bags for grocery produce–onions and apples, potatoes and heads of lettuce will be JUST FINE without the extra layer of plastic covering them!
10. Wrap gifts in paper, not plastic. Not cellophane or saran wrap. Paper gift wrap. Or baskets. Or reusable tins.
What other household products can you buy wrapped up in trees instead of petroleum?
In the past year, Enviro-Girl has really, really tried to reduce her use of plastic–both the credit card kind and the packaging kind. She recognizes that she lives in a world rapidly self-destructing and her contributions matter. She does a lot of fine things–she plants trees, grows some of her family’s own food, and stays away from the mall. But purchasing and throwing away less plastic, that was hard work. But her family has done it–they drag their recycling barrel to the curb once a month these days and have actually reduced their garbage output dramatically, too.
* Buying milk in reusable glass jugs. (This was the biggest space-saver in the recycling bin.)
* Refusing plastic shopping bags and bringng their own reusable canvas or paper bags to the store.
* Reusing plastic bakery bags from bread and hot dog buns for wrapping all kinds of things: to-go food for school lunches or picnics, double-bagging open bags of chips/cheese/crackers, wrapping up gifts of homemade bread or cookies rather than using new plastic ziplock bags.
* Buying frozen concentrate juice and making their own juice at home–saving both money and packaging.
* Buying blocks of cream cheese and storing it in a glass jar for morning bagels.
* Buying sticks of butter instead of plastic tubs of margarine.
* Leaving the plastic hangers behind at the store when they buy clothes.
* Packing lunches in reusable containers rather than ziplock baggies.
* Freezing garden produce in jars and reusable containers instead of freezer bags.
* Using bar soap instead of liquid soap.
* Using fewer products altogether–Team Testosterone never cared much for bubble bath anyway and how many hair care/skin care products does a person need to buy? For housekeeping, bleach works well in the laundry and for cleaning toilet bowls, so Enviro-Girl no longer buys a separate toilet bowl cleaner.
* Declining the cheap plastic crap toys offered at restaurants and stores–Team Testosterone has learned that their good behavior is it’s own reward–and ice cream cones work quite well, too!
* Reusing plastic containers for all kinds of household jobs. Old Cool Whip container lids make great saucers for potted plants–protecting wood surfaces from scratches and water damage. Clear plastic containers work as excellent “greenhouses” when placed over young plants in the garden. Gallon ice cream buckets hold toys, seeds, dirt, berries, compost, and Halloween candy.
* If a product can be purchased wrapped in paper (for example, cat litter, baking soda, birdseed), that’s the product Enviro-Girl buys.
* Enviro-Girl’s family brings their own water rather than buying bottled water/soft drinks.
* Nixing any individually wrapped food–it’s as easy to buy a whole box of cracker and shake out how many you want to eat.
* If a metal or wood version of a product is available (lawn chair, garbage can, child’s toy), Enviro-Girl always goes for the higher quality metal or wood version. It may cost more, but she’s all about quality over quantity.
How about you, reader? How have you reduced your use of plastic lately?