It's been a long time since I first flirted with the possibility of going "no poo," but I think I may have done it!
Shampoo last touched my tresses over three weeks ago... I believe. (Since I was only using it a couple times a week anyway, it's easy to lose track.) Instead, I've been massaging a baking soda solution into my scalp and rinsing it out.
I don't think I look like a total greaser (though my friends may disagree). In fact, I'm still struggling with dryness on the ends of my hair and the locks around my face. I'll try to remedy that by conditioning with apple cider vinegar, if I can ever remember to put a bottle of the stuff in the bathroom.
My reasons for attempting this transition? It started with a desire to steer clear of the nasty chemicals found in the vast majority of shampoos (polyethylene glycol, ceteareth, parabens, etc.). But even after I found some safer brands that I liked, I still had to contend with my ever-increasing compulsion to reduce the number of plastic-packaged things I buy (for a number of reasons). Finally, the idea of just not ever having to buy shampoo appeals to my general orientation toward simpler living and frugality.
Next project: using coffee and/or tea as a color boost for my brown hair.
Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Clean Wal-Mart
I took a flight on Continental Airlines yesterday. Since I recently made a personal commitment to avoiding single-use plastic as much as possible, I bring my stainless-steel water bottle with me whenever I fly. After I clear security, I fill it up from a water fountain and bring it with me on the plane. (The importance of which, I realize, pales in comparison to the carbon emissions for which I'm responsible by flying. But on with the story.)
Yesterday I forgot the water-fountain bit, so when the beverage cart came around, I asked the flight attendant to pour some water directly into my bottle instead of
giving me a plastic cup. She refused, saying that the plastic water bottle might touch my steel bottle, which could spread germs.
Oh, come now, Continental! Your flight attendants are trained in numerous processes, many of which involve a fairly high level of dexterity. I have full confidence that they can pour water from one vessel into another without the twain touching. Attendants on other airlines I've flown have had no problem with it.
As I tried to lull the prickles of rage that crept up the back of my neck, I was reminded of the fact that Green America has just published a report on the sorry state of recycling in the airline industry. It states that nearly 500 million more tons of airline waste could be
recycled each year than currently is being recycled; 250 million tons of that is generated in flight.
And according to the report, no airline recycles all the main candidates (aluminum, glass, paper, plastic), and no airline reports on how it's progressing in its recycling goals. Continental ranks fifth in a list of 11 carriers, with a grade of D (the highest score was a B-, awarded to Delta).
Now, recycling is fine, but even better is reducing, so I'm pretty disappointed that Continental refuses to take this small, easy step.
Have you had similar green-stymieing experiences while flying? Leave a comment below.
I saw an ad for bottled water recently that caught my eye: For every liter of Volvic that you buy, the sign said, the company will provide 10 liters of clean drinking water to Ethiopian children through a partnership with UNICEF.
Immediately a red flag went up in my brain.
It may be laudable for a corporation to fund new sustainable water supplies and sanitation education programs in an area of the world where such things are sorely needed. However, it's hard to get around how troubling the bottled-water industry as a whole is.
As Annie Leonard's just-released "The Story of Bottled Water" makes clear, agua that doesn't come from the tap is problematic along its entire life cycle, from the oil required to make its bottles to the pollution it causes once it's tossed. It is not necessarily as pure as tap water, which in the developed world is regularly inspected and well regulated (violations of the Clean Water Act notwithstanding), and it costs thousands of times more.
Another video, by Food & Water Watch, emphasizes how bottled-water companies siphon off what most of us think of as a public resource,
straining the environment in the process. That is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the issue to me: the privatization of municipal water supplies. And as Mother Nature Network points out, the more people get accustomed to consuming bottled water, the more distanced they become from the tap and the less incentive they have to support bonds that would maintain and upgrade public systems.
So getting back to Volvic's campaign, if for some reason I got marooned on an island with no freshwater source and only two water vending machines, one for a company with a do-gooder campaign and one without, I would give my money to the former. Then I'd start sending smoke signals in hopes that the Plastiki would pick me up.
But really, if helping kids in Ethiopia is the objective, I'd rather just contribute directly to a nonprofit like Charity: Water.
Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user @kevinv033.
Pardon the gush, but I just have to share this fantastic, anti-plastic-licious tidbit with you: The folks at Straus Family Creamery are working on replacing their plastic yogurt tubs with a biodegradable potato-based alternative by the end of the year.
Ever since I recently internalized the fact that plastic recycling isn't very green (in terms of both people and the environment), I've been trying to decrease the amount of the stuff that comes into my life. I'm no Beth Terry, though, and my refrigerator in particular is home to a fair number of plastic containers: tubs of hummus, salsa, and especially yogurt.
Mostly I buy Straus yogurt. I love the way it tastes and the way it's made (organically, but beyond that, it's cooled in metal vats, not the plastic tubs you buy it in). And, as you can tell from my two entries on the company in the Boycotts & Buycotts section of this blog (lower right), I have a lot of respect for Straus's business practices. For example, I'm really into the fact that I can buy its awesome milk in a returnable glass container.
Now I have even more respect. The reason Straus is pursuing the potato-based tubs instead of what's emerging as the standard compostable packaging, corn-based PLA—which isn't as environmentally friendly as it seems—is that, as marketing manager Liz Scatena told me, Straus has "a very strict
policy against GMOs. We do not want them in our products, nor do we
want to support their growth." The corn in PLA is genetically modified, and lots of pesticides are used to grow it.
I look forward to seeing Straus's totally tubular tubs whenever they hit the shelves. In the meantime, though, I just discovered another local company, Saint Benoît, that uses glass and ceramic containers for its yogurt, so I'll probably branch out and give it a try. Cost-wise, it's only one penny more than Straus (as long as you return the containers).
I'm always amazed at how quickly November and December blow by. Life's been so crazy that I never even managed to write a holiday-consumerism-themed post.
But I have managed to think of a New Year's resolution (a two-pronged one, even!), and I'm just going to throw it up here, all quick-and-dirty-like: From now on, I will no longer buy paper towels or paper napkins. The paper industry is supposedly the third-largest contributor to global warming, and I've been rather enjoying using rags, dish towels, and Skoy cloths to clean up messes. Also, Mr. Wallet Mouth and I have some pretty cool cloth napkins (see above) that make us feel classy when we use them.
Part 2 of my resolution is to buy and consume fewer things packaged in plastic. Ever since learning that "plastic recycling" is a misnomer (plastics are actually downcycled into unrecyclable objects) and that the entire enterprise is not very green, I've been more aware of my relationship to the stuff. I even remembered to bring my stainless-steel water bottle on my holiday plane flights (hmm, speaking of global warming...) so I could say no to the plastic cup. I'm lucky to live near a grocery store that offers a wide range of bulk goods, but for some reason I haven't been in the habit of buying non-food items—things like lotion and laundry detergent—in bulk there, so this year I'm going to try to change that.
Apparently Beth Terry is having more of an influence on me than I thought.
Last week I had a freelance editing gig downtown, and I did not manage to pack a lunch at home (I blame Mini-Mouth, who did not want me to abandon her). When I left the office to forage for food on that first day, I discovered something interesting: that I couldn't bring myself to buy certain edibles that I normally would have... because of their packaging. I had gone to a market with a deli counter offering all manner of delicious-looking salads, pastas, and the like, but I had no way of getting them without also getting their plastic tubs, and that bothered me.
It bothered me enough to make me keep looking for other options until I found something plastic-free. I ended up with a Greek wrap (encased in paper) and some tomato soup (in a compostable bowl, sans plastic lid, which got me a weird look at the cash register).
The next day I passed over a tiny Japanese place with yummy-looking noodles (they had no ceramic bowls or plates, even if you ate there) and went with a burrito from a stand across the street.
I find this fascinating because I hadn't purposefully set out to "be like Beth" and radically cut my plastic consumption. It was much more subtle than that. It was as if some new wind current had entered the atmosphere of my subconscious, without my even realizing it completely, and yet... there I was, changing my purchasing behavior.
The tipping point was probably when Terry commented (in Facebook, not here) on my recent post about envelopes, informing me that the West Coast ships most of its plastic "recycling" to China, where it is either processed by workers laboring under often-toxic conditions or burned for energy. Not, as she said, what most of us have in mind when we think of recycling.
Now, I know that my individual lunch choices amount to zilch in
the face of, say, the huge issues associated with climate change that
world leaders recently met to discuss. And I'm not saying I'll never again buy any food item that's packaged in plastic (in fact, a quick glance at our grocery bags from this weekend shows that I already have).
But it's safe to say that a new level of awareness has undeniably crept into my psyche, and it will be interesting to see how it manifests in the future.
Here's another case of a company changing a less-than-perfect behavior on its own just as I was starting to get a bee in my bonnet about it: We've been happily using gDiapers, which I've blogged about before, for six months now, but the other week, I noticed that the plastic packaging used for the product's flushable inserts had some misleading text on it. It said, "This Bag Is 100% Recyclable."
Um, no it's not.
Even in San Francisco's single-stream recycling system, plastic bags and films are a big no-no. And while some grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling, the all-encompassing language in the gDiapers text was probably causing well-meaning but clueless parents to throw the bags into their curbside bins and gum up the machinery.
So I wrote gDiapers and asked what was going on. I pointed out that (as I blogged about in a recent post) the FTC's "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" consider calling plastic garbage bags recyclable to be a deceptive claim.
I got a nice reply from gDiapers acknowledging that yes, #4 plastic are tricky and are generally not intended for curbside programs. The statement also explained that the company knows plastic bags are not ideal from an environmental standpoint and is actively searching for a cost-effective compostable alternative that can stand up to the elements.
Meanwhile, the copy on the packaging changed! (I don't claim to take any credit for it, but what a coincidence!) It now reads, "For a happy planet, please recycle in communities where available." Much better.
This week I've been pumping copy at one of my favorite clients, ReadyMade magazine. One of the great things about working there, as I do every couple of months during the production deadlines, is the office's proximity to VIK's Chaat Corner, a purveyor of delicious Indian food (the menu even includes masala dosas, much to my delight).
But there has always been a downside to my lunches there: no matter whether you were eating in or taking your food to go, the treats would always come in a nonrecyclable #6 polystyrene compartmentalized container. I tried washing off the containers and saving them, thinking perhaps I'd find some use for them later, but I never did. And since the editor-in-chief's attempt to get the restaurant to reuse one of its own containers was rebuffed, I never tried that, either.
Every time I ate at VIK's, I would look at the garbage can full of those plastic plates and despair. Then I'd toss my own and feel a terrible wave of guilt. But the food was so good and so cheap, I couldn't stop patronizing the place. I fantasized about starting a petition, but images of getting shooed away and told never to come back haunted me.
Once I asked the guy at the register why they didn't use real plates and a dishwasher. Too expensive, he replied. "But look at all this plastic that's just going to the landfill," I protested. "I for one would be happy to pay a little more, and I'm sure lots of other people feel the same way." This was, after all, Berkeley, the high altar of environmental activism. But he just gave me the Indian head nod/wiggle and suggested that I call the manager.
That was months ago. I've been busy with this parenthood thing. And besides, I first wanted to get info about Berkeley's composting program, because I'd heard from another restaurant that they actually got paid for their food scraps. So I emailed the city. Turns out, businesses get a 20 percent price break if they can use food waste recycling rather than refuse service. Fantastic! Hmm, but does that mean they can't have any non-food garbage? Clearly a phone call was in order.
But now comes the exciting part of my story: When I ate lunch at VIK's today (hunger having drowned out the little voice telling me to resist the restaurant's magnetic pull and stay true to my Wallet Mouth ideals), the food came in a ... paperboard container! My curry tasted so much better without the side order of guilt.
I didn't see any compost bins, however. Next time I'm there I'll make sure VIK's knows about the food-waste discount.
It’s inspiring to see a values-based organization like PETA
doing a large-scale project like this that emphasizes the carrot rather
than the stick, so to speak.
The announcement of a prize for the development of commercially viable in vitro meat delighted Mr. Wallet Mouth, who like me is a vegetarian who has spent many a barbecue slinking
around the grill with puppy-dog eyes, talking hopefully of the day when
he can again indulge in a bacon cheeseburger...
I like the idea of this X Prize–like initiative just as it is, but
I did wonder whether the reward is enough to light any fires... which
led me to an idea of how to add more fuel: Why
not let individuals with an interest in the outcome of such challenges
put their money where their mouth is and add to the kitty? I do
believe I’ll write PETA to suggest it (and natch, I’ll let you know if
anything comes of it).
The other night I ordered food from one of our favorite local Thai restaurants. When I called to place the order, I first asked what kind of containers they used: paper or plastic? (Styrofoam foodware was banned in San Francisco last year.)
I had resolved to myself that I wouldn’t place the order if plastic was used (I know that cardboard to-go containers aren’t perfect, but at least we can compost them). “Paper,” the order-taker answered. Great!
I was pretty disappointed, then, when the food arrived in a #5 plastic tub, two #6 plastic clamshell containers, and only one cardboard box (for the rice).
Now, the #5 tub is at least recyclable (though plastics recycling has problems of its own), but the #6 polystyrene clamshells are not. They’re also best avoided for health reasons. According to National Geographic’s Green Guide, styrene can leach from such containers into food. “Styrene, considered a possible human carcinogen by [the International Agency for Research on Cancer], may also disrupt hormones or affect reproduction,” it states.
And that’s not even getting into the issue of the environmental ills associated with its production and disposal.
In researching this further, I learned that my beloved Thai restaurant’s use of the #6 clamshells could actually be illegal. San Francisco’s law banning Styrofoam food containers also requires vendors to use compostable or recyclable to-go containers “unless there is no suitable product
that is within 15% of the cost of non-compostable or non-recyclable
So, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to write a letter to the restaurant detailing all my concerns. I’ll include a copy of San Francisco’s list of compostable foodware distributors and encourage them to make the switch from plastic to paper. Until they do, I’ll either dine in or get my veggie Panang curry elsewhere.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).