Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

Since childhood, I've been a fan of making resolutions on January 1. I'm not so deluded as to believe I'll keep all my resolutions, but I do find January 1 a good opportunity to take stock of what I should do differently in my life.

For 2009, I want several of my resolutions to be environmentally motivated. The problem is that I'm already doing almost everything it's practical for me to do. The easy resolutions, like giving up plastic carrier bags, were made ages ago and are already being kept.

Here are the resolutions I've come up with thus far. I'd welcome suggestions for others:

Eat at least one potato each day. This may sound like a strange resolution, but potatoes are one of the few foods I can get that are grown locally and sold without any plastic packaging, so replacing other foods with potatoes will mean a reduction in the amount of fuel used to transport my food and the amount of plastic packaging I throw out.

Wake up earlier each morning. I have electrical lights on for hours each evening, then use blinds to block out the sun most mornings. I could reduce my consumption of electricity by getting up earlier.

Plan elevator trips wisely. Taking the stairs isn't feasible where I work, so I ride elevators many times each day. My resolution is to plan my errands so that I go only once or twice per day to any given floor instead of riding up and down repeatedly.

Write more letters. I make a lot of consumer decisions on the basis of packaging and other environmental considerations. It's time I wrote to more manufacturers to tell them why I've switched to or away from their products.

Items found Wednesday, December 31, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Everfresh Premium Papaya)
  • 4 aluminum cans (3 Bud Light, 1 Icehouse beer)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Deer Park regular water, 1 bottle without a label)

  • 1 plastic sleeve (will make a bag when knotted at one end)

Items found Tuesday, December 30, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can ("Natural Light" beer)

  • 2 plastic bags

Item found Monday, December 29, 2008

  • 1 plastic bag

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recyclables found Sunday, December 28, 2008

  • 1 torn plastic bag
  • 1 plastic bottle (Coca-Cola Cherry Zero)

Recyclable found Saturday, December 27, 2008

  • 1 plastic bottle (Propel "fit water" beverage)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Items found Friday, December 26, 2008

  • 1 plastic bottle (G2 electrolyte beverage)

  • 1 dead pen

Recyclables found Thursday, December 25, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Busch Light beer)
  • 1 plastic bottle (roadkilled Dasani water)

I felt a little weird walking around with an empty beer can on Christmas Day, but no one commented on the smell of beer coming from my bag.

Recyclables found Wednesday, December 24, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (roadkilled Natural Light beer)
  • 1 glass bottle (brown bottle with the label scratched off that looks like a beer bottle)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 water bottle with no label, 1 Safeway Refreshe water bottle with a red, sugary liquid in it, 1 Miller Lite)

Items found Tuesday, December 23, 2008

  • 3 aluminum cans (1 Budweiser, 2 Bud Light)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, 1 Bacardi rum)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Aquafina water, 2 Dasani water (including one roadkilled), 1 Deer Park regular water, 1 Deer Park water with fluoride and child-safe cap, 1 Glaceau Vitamin Water)
  • 2 newspaper sections

  • 2 small plastic bags

  • 2 torn plastic bags without resin numbers
I'm annoyed to be stuck with another Deer Park bottle with a child-safe cap. Click here and scroll down to read about my other experience with these stupid caps.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lip balm with less plastic

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was considering buying shea butter from a health food store to use in place of my current lotion. Last week, I finally bought a container of it. Although I feel guilty about the plastic container it came in, the shea butter has been wonderful for the dry, cracked skin on my hands. I now have "summer hands" again, instead of painful "winter hands".

While using shea butter on my hands, I found that it was also excellent for chapped lips. However, I couldn't see using it regularly in lieu of my regular lip balm in that applying it required the use of a clean finger. I usually apply lip balm outdoors, miles from running water, and my hands get so dirty that I avoid touching my face.

Then, inspiration struck. I had an empty tube of lip balm, and realized that if I could just get some shea butter into the tube, I could apply shea butter the same way I've applied other lip balm.

What I did was put some shea butter in a tiny dish (actually the lid from a carton of soymilk) and place the dish in a slightly larger dish filled with hot water. The heat softened the shea butter. I then retracted the inner part of the tube approximately 5 mm and pressed some shea butter into the tube with my finger, and repeated the process until the dish was empty.

I now have a tube of shea butter that I can apply to my lips no matter how dirty my hands may be. Although the shea butter came in a plastic container, the amount of plastic is much less than if I'd continued buying new tubes of lip balm. The shea butter came in a 10 oz container, and each tube of lip balm contained only 0.14 oz, meaning that each container of shea butter is the equivalent of 71 tubes of lip balm. When I think of how much plastic goes into 71 tubes, I realize just how much plastic I'll be saving over the winter by using shea butter instead of my old lip balm. I wish I had a decent digital camera or an accurate scale, because I'd love to document just how much plastic can be saved by using a single container of shea butter instead of numerous throwaway tubes of lip balm.

Recyclables found Monday, December 22, 2008

  • 4 aluminum cans (2 Red Bull malt liquor, 1 King Cobra malt liquor, 1 roadkilled Coors Light)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Trader Joe's organic reduced fat milk)

Reusable found Sunday, December 21, 2008

  • 1 small plastic bag

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Items found Saturday, December 20, 2008

  • 2 aluminum cans (1 Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, 1 roadkilled Budweiser)
  • 3 plastic bottles (all Deer Park water)

  • 2 small plastic bags

One of the Deer Park bottles listed above has a new label that made me laugh. It reads:

Smaller Labels = More Trees

We could write more on a bigger label, but saving trees is important. By keeping it short, we've saved almost 10 million lbs. of paper per year in the U.S.* - that's about 30,000 trees. Be Green.

*Versus our previous label

I find it mind boggling that Deer Park, which sells water in single use bottles, is claiming to be green. Does anyone really think of Deer Park as an eco-friendly company?

Recyclable found Friday, December 19, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Coors)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Items found Thursday, December 18, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Everfresh orange juice)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Gatorade, 2 roadkilled bottles without labels)

  • 1 black pen
  • 1 small plastic bag

One of the bottles lacking a label looks like a Sprite bottle.

Items found Wednesday, December 17, 2008

  • 3 glass bottles (1 Corona Extra beer, 1 Samuel Adams OctoberFest beer, 1 Lipton iced tea)
  • 1 aluminum can (Natural Light beer by Anheuser-Busch)

  • 2 small plastic bags

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recyclables found Tuesday, December 16, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Miller Lite)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Sprite, 1 Deer Park regular water, 1 lightly damaged Deer Park Eco-Shape water bottle containing milk)

Items found Monday, December 15, 2008

  • 3 aluminum cans (1 Coors Light, 1 Budweiser, 1 Steel Reserve lager)
  • 9 plastic bottles (1 Canadian Mist whisky, 2 Dasani water, 1 roadkilled Aquafina water, 1 roadkilled Ethos water, 1 Tropicana orange juice, 1 Rock Creek lime soda, 2 roadkilled bottles without labels)

  • 1 plastic produce bag (repurposed for dog waste collection)
  • 2 plastic carrier bags

  • 1 plastic bottle lacking a recycling symbol and resin type

A friend recently gave me a lecture on how only manufacturers located in Scotland are allowed to call the beverage they produce "whisky". According to my friend, all other countries can produce only "whiskey", with an "e" in it. I was therefore amused to see a bottle from Canada labeled "whisky". I thought about saving it to show my friend, but decided it would just lead to another rant about the woeful ignorance of North Americans. Interestingly, Wikipedia confirms that Canadians call their product "whisky".

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recyclables found Friday, December 12, 2008

  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Safeway Refreshe water, 2 roadkilled bottles without labels)
  • 1 aluminum can (roadkilled Coors Light)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Items found Wednesday, December 10, 2008

  • 1 torn plastic bag
  • 1 aluminum can (Tecate beer)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Speed Stack energy drink)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag
  • 1 small plastic bag (used within minutes to clean up after a dog)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag so filthy I threw it in the nearest trash can

Items found Tuesday, December 9, 2008

  • 4 plastic bottles (2 Deer Shape Eco-shape water, 1 Deer Shape regular water, 1 Dasani water)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 1 Miller Lager)

  • 2 plastic carrier bags
  • 2 black pens
  • 1 blue pen

Monday, December 8, 2008

Items found Monday, December 8, 2008

Today, there were no Budweiser cans in the location near my workplace where I found multiple Budweiser cans last week. Instead, there were lots of other recyclables scattered along the route I walk to work.

  • 3 glass bottles (2 Heineken, 1 Miller High Life "The Champagne of Beers")
  • 4.5 aluminum cans (2 Diet Coke, 1 Milwaukee's Best Ice beer, 1.5 Coors Light)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Dasani water, 1 Safeway Refreshe water, 1 Coca-Cola, 1 Mountain Dew, 1 Diet Pepsi, 1 roadkilled bottle without a label)

  • 2 plastic carrier bags
  • 1 coat hanger

  • 1 set of 6-pack rings from around Coors Light cans

I don't think I've ever before recorded half an aluminum can. I found two Coors Light cans today, and one had had its lower half torn off. I wish I knew where the missing half ended up.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Recyclables found Sunday, December 7, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Bud Ice)
  • 1 brown paper bag

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Toothpaste, lotion and shampoo. Help!

I've been using "green" body care products most of my life. However, I've come to realize that most of them aren't quite as eco-friendly as I used to think. Many contain palm oil grown on land where there used to be rainforest until the rainforest was destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations, and almost all come packaged in virgin plastic.

I've been looking for body care products that are free of palm oil and/or plastic, but have not had much success. Products that, at first glance, appeared to be free of palm oil have often turned out to contain hidden palm oil in the form of innocuous-sounding ingredients like "glycerin". Plastic has been impossible to avoid except when buying bar soaps and shampoos.

I'm currently using toothpaste and lotion that contain palm oil derivatives and are packaged in plastic. I'd very much like to find alternatives. I've read about alternatives that have worked for other people, but haven't seen any that seem suitable for me. For example, baking soda is apparently used in lieu of toothpaste by some people, but my cavity-prone teeth need the advantages of fluoride. Another example is that apparently people can make their own lotion using oil and emulsifying wax, but I haven't got a clue where to find emulsifying wax and fear it may be derived from palm oil anyway.

Eliminating palm oil and plastic from my hair care products has been another challenge. My latest experiment is washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap. Although all varieties of Dr. Bronner's soap are either made with palm oil or packaged in plastic, I've decided that they're better than competing products because the palm oil is grown in Ghana on land less ecologically sensitive than that used for most palm oil plantations and the plastic is 100% post-consumer recycled. I'm still experimenting to see how to get the best possible results out of washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap. At present, I'm using bar soap on my hair one day then following it with approximately three days of washing with liquid soap. This gives my hair a more normal texture than when I use either the bar soap or the liquid soap alone, and seems to minimize residue.

Ideally, I'd like to find a bona fide shampoo (i.e., a product actually intended for use on the scalp) that is free of palm oil derivatives and available either in bar form or in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. More urgently, I'd like to find lotion and toothpaste that are free of palm oil and sold in recycled packaging. As an added complication, I want to avoid animal products, including the beeswax that is found in many "natural" products.

Although I'd like to avoid plastic, especially virgin plastic with no recycled content, I'm desperate enough for lotion that at this point I'll consider any lotion that's free of both palm oil derivatives and animal products. If I do give up on finding plastic-free lotion, in a way I'd almost prefer that the brand I buy be a mainstream one, not one with "eco" or "green" in the name. I'm feeling very angry at companies that for years conned me into buying products that were marketed as green despite being just as bad for the environment as mainstream products. Enough! Unless a product is genuinely eco-friendly, I refuse to pay big bucks for it.

The local health food store sells lumps of shea butter in unmarked plastic containers, so if all else fails, I may try using those as lotion. I know plastic is bad, and I have little idea how well plain shea butter works on dry skin, but at least I wouldn't be buying palm oil or animal products.

I'd welcome any suggestions for toothpastes and lotions available in the United States that are free of animal products, palm oil derivatives, and virgin plastic packaging. I have faith that these products exist somewhere and are waiting to be discovered.


Update posted December 22, 2008:

Items found Friday, December 5, 2008

  • 3 aluminum cans (all Budweiser)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Today's Budweiser cans were found in exactly the same place as yesterday's. I'll make a point of going past there on Monday to see if more cans have been dumped.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Recyclables found Thursday, December 4, 2008

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 Velicoff vodka)
  • 2 aluminum cans (both Budweiser)
  • 1 torn plastic bag

Recyclables found Wednesday, December 3, 2008

  • 2 plastic bottles (both Deer Park Eco-Shape water)
  • 1 glass bottle (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)

Items found Tuesday, December 2, 2008

  • 5 plastic bottles (1 Vintage water, 1 Aquafina water, 1 VOSS water, 1 Turkey Hill lemonade, 1 E&J VSOP brandy)

  • 1 small plastic bag

I hadn't seen VOSS water before. It's bottled in Norway. As always, my mind cannot grasp the appeal of water brought to the United States from other continents. It would make some sense if this was one of the areas affected by drought, but this is a wet area with plenty of annual precipitation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tally of items collected in November 2008


  • 13 aluminum cans (10 beer, 1 seltzer water, 2 Diet Coke)
  • 18 glass bottles (15 alcoholic, 3 non-alcoholic)
  • 48 plastic bottles (28 plain water, 1 alcoholic, 19 other)
  • 3 torn plastic bags


  • 1 huge carrier bag
  • 7 medium sized plastic carrier bags
  • 20 small plastic bags of a size suitable for dog waste
  • 4 blue pens
  • 2 paper clips
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 coat hanger


  • 1 plastic bag too torn for reuse that couldn't be recycled because it lacked a resin number
  • several loads of random trash from a lawn
  • multiple plastic items at the entrance to a drain

There are no surprises in November's tally. As expected, the cold weather meant that I found fewer recyclables than in October. Also as expected, I didn't bother to stop and pick up as many reusables as I could have. In particular, I went past many rubber bands without picking them up. I just didn't want to deal with taking off my thick gloves so I could pick them up.

I feel guilty about my failure to pick up the rubber bands, along with all the polystyrene cups, plastic chip bags and other trash I routinely ignore. I'm aware that there's a lot more I can and should do to clean up the environment. At the same time, I want to avoid the burn out that would undoubtedly occur if I tried to pick up every piece of trash I went past. Perhaps a reasonable compromise would be to designate one day per month Clean Up Day, and on that day go out with lots of bags and pick up as much trash as I can.

Green beer packaging

I don't drink beer, and in the past I seldom gave beer a second thought. Then, I started picking up other people's discarded recyclables, and my recycling bin quickly filled up with beer bottles and cans. I soon came to realize that the way beer was packaged constituted an environmental problem, especially given the number of cans and bottles not recycled.

A beer drinking friend just showed me a fascinating article on the environmental benefits of purchasing beer from brewpubs. I'd barely been aware of the existence of brewpubs, but apparently they're more common than I thought. They sell beer brewed on the premises, which means that the kegs and growlers (containers for beer) can be reused over and over again. This means no single-use bottles or cans, and no trucks hauling heavy cases of beer across the country. It sounds wonderful.

Part of me wants to find the addresses for local brewpubs and encourage my beer drinking friends to patronize them instead of bars and restaurants selling canned or bottled beers. However, most of the drinkers I know do the majority of their drinking in private homes, so brewpubs will be useful to them only if customers are allowed to bring in empty bottles and have them filled to take home. The friend who made me aware of the brewpub article said that, as far as he knows, no local brewpub does this.

Still, at least in principle, beer from brewpubs seem to be an excellent alternative to beer sold in heavy glass bottles or plastic-lined aluminum cans. Although I'll never patronize a brewpub myself, for the sake of the environment I want to keep an eye on local brewpubs' offerings and make the information available to eco-minded friends who drink.

Items collected Monday, December 1, 2008

  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Sprite, 1 Diet Coke, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Deer Park regular water)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

The Deer Park Eco-Shape bottle listed above is a large one that originally contained 1.5 liters of water. It was dumped early last week, half filled with urine. I left it where it was, hoping that somebody else would deal with it, but it was still there today. With much reluctance, I held my nose, poured the urine out, and brought the bottle home for recycling. The bottle was found on the same street where I've previously come across numerous bottles of urine, so I suspect it was dumped by the same culprit, even though all urine bottles found up until now originally contained Diet Pepsi.

Recyclables collected Thursday, November 27, 2008

  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Pepsi Wild Cherry, 1 Velicoff vodka, 1 G2 electrolyte beverage)

Items collected Wednesday, November 26, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (LandShark lager)
  • 1 aluminum can (Natural Ice lager)

  • 1 blue pen

The pen listed above is the third blue pen found in two days.

Items collected Tuesday, November 25, 2008

  • 1 plastic bottle (Aquafina water)
  • 1 aluminum can (Diet Coke)
  • 1 glass bottle (Miller Lite)
  • 1 torn plastic bag

  • 1 paper clip
  • 2 blue pens

The blue pens were found in different neighborhoods. Oddly, even though it's fairly unusual for me to find pens, when I do find them, I often find several in different locations on the same day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Items collected Monday, November 24, 2008

  • 1 plastic bottle (Deer Park Eco-Shape water)

  • 2 small plastic bags

Friday, November 21, 2008

Embarrassment vs. Pride at Acting Ecologically

When I was growing up, my elders often said things like, "How you act reflects upon all of us. Wherever you go, you represent us, and you owe it to us to make a good impression on the people you meet." I learned to conduct myself impeccably whenever I was in public.

Today, I live in a very different place, and hardly anyone knows or cares which "us" I belong to. I now represent only myself. I tell myself it doesn't matter whether I'm the model of decorum, and most of the time I believe it.

Despite this change in my environment and attitude, I'm still very reluctant to be seen doing anything that might raise eyebrows. When the cashiers at a store with bulk bins treated me like I was a troublemaking freak for having brought my own containers to put bulk items in, I was so embarrassed and upset that I haven't gone back to that store. Sometimes, I go past recyclables without picking them up because I don't want the people I'm with to think I'm strange or somehow unclean for picking up dirty beer bottles. I'm reluctant to do anything to rock the boat or make it obvious that my values and practices are anything other than mainstream values and practices.

At the same time, I'm proud of my green activities. I'm aware that there are many people living more ecologically than me, and I'm not trying to claim eco sainthood, but I do feel proud that I've made steps in the right direction and continue to learn more about how to lighten my footprint on the earth.

I seesaw between pride in acting ecologically and embarrassment at doing things that are out of the ordinary. I'm proud to have collected 128 recyclables and 37 reusables in October, but am also embarrassed to be seen picking up other people's trash. I'm proud not to drink from disposable cups, but am embarrassed to be the only person in a cafe drinking from a glass jar instead. I'm proud to walk, cycle and use public transit instead of driving a car, but am embarrassed when I meet teenagers who own sports cars and all I have to show is an ancient bicycle. There are many other instances of pride coupled with embarrassment.

I've been trying hard not to let my embarrassment get in the way of acting ecologically. Thankfully, most of my recent efforts have had positive outcomes. I found a small store where the cashier is very nice about me bringing in my own containers for bulk items, and now I shop there despite the higher prices than those at the store where I was treated like a freak. I've continued drinking from the glass jar, and no one has said anything critical of it. I still cringe at picking up recyclables in places that are especially public, but am doing it anyway.

I just wish I could turn off the voice in my head, the one that says I'm a representative of a group of people who need me to behave like a respectable professional so I don't bring shame on all of them.

Items collected Friday, November 21, 2008

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 roadkilled Pepsi)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Items collected Thursday, November 20, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)
  • 1 aluminum can (Diet Coke)

  • 1 small plastic bag
  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Recyclables collected Wednesday, November 19, 2008

  • 2 glass bottles (1 Red Stripe Jamaican Lager, 1 Budweiser)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Deer Park water)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Items collected Tuesday, November 18, 2008

  • 2 glass bottles (1 Heineken, 1 Stella Artois lager)
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Poland Spring water, 1 Speed Stack energy drink)

  • 2 small plastic bags
  • 2 plastic carrier bags

I remain amazed that anyone would choose to drink bottled water outdoors in this weather. My preference is for hot chocolate, not cold water.

Items collected Monday, November 17, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Heineken)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Bud Light Lime, 1 Corona Extra)
  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Coca-Cola, 1 Lemon-Lime Infuse, 1 roadkilled Coke Zero, 1 roadkilled Minute Maid orange juice)

Item collected Saturday, November 15, 2008

All I picked up on Saturday was a single reusable:
  • 1 plastic carrier bag

Items collected Friday, November 14, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Miller Lite)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Deer Park Aqua Pod)

  • 1 coat hanger

The Aqua Pod listed above is the first I've come across. The difference between it and other Deer Park bottles is that it's more rounded. It has pictures of baseballs on the label, and I guess the shape is supposed to make people think of a ball.

There's a sad story behind the coat hanger picked up on Friday. A couple of weeks ago, one of my neighbors was evicted, and all her things were dumped outside by the sidewalk. Vultures descended immediately, taking most of her possessions, then a few days later the remaining items were put in trash bags and hauled away. All that was left in the mud was a single coat hanger. I left it for over a week, before deciding that it was highly unlikely to be claimed by its rightful owner.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Items collected Thursday, November 13, 2008

  • 3 plastic bottles (2 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Pepsi)

  • 1 paper clip

Items collected Wednesday, November 12, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Budweiser)
  • 3 glass bottles (1 Miller Lite, 1 Izze juice beverage, 1 Nantucket Nectars Promegranate Cherry juice)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Gatorade, 1 Bossa Nova acai juice, 1 Aquafina water, 1 Safeway Refreshe water, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Deer Park regular water)
  • 1 small plastic ziplock bag
  • 1 plastic carrier bag

  • Multiple plastic items at the entrance to a drain

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another bulk bin update, and some dilemmas

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of the bulk bins at a local grocery store finally having ingredient lists added to the labels. I'm pleased to report that ingredient lists are now available for even more bulk bins, including those containing chocolate raisins and bulk energy bars.

Now that I can buy chocolate raisins without packaging, I'm faced with a dilemma. I'm a big believer in buying only fair trade certified chocolate. I'm also a big believer in avoiding packaging. Assuming that I am going to buy chocolate of one kind or another, should I buy fair trade chocolate that comes wrapped in plastic or non-fair trade chocolate from a bulk bin?

There are a couple of other dilemmas I've been grappling with lately. One is what to do about items that are theoretically recyclable, but that aren't accepted locally for recycling. I feel like I should save these recyclables and take them with me whenever I visit places with better recycling programs. However, my little home is already cluttered, and I don't want to clutter it further with boxes of aluminum toothpaste tubes, plastic bottle caps, and polystyrene packaging. How does one balance the need to recycle with the need to rid one's home of trash?

My final dilemma is what to do about the freebies at work. I'm not paid nearly as much as I should be, and it's difficult to make ends meet. One thing that helps is that various freebies are available. For example, there's often cider in the refrigerator at work that I can drink without paying a penny. The problem is that the cider comes in plastic bottles. Should I save money by drinking free cider, or save the planet by eating whole apples from the farmer's market? If cider was the only freebie, I'd ignore it and feel virtuous about my avoidance of plastic, but there are many other freebies and they make a significant difference to my standard of living.

Items collected Tuesday, November 11, 2008

  • 4 plastic water bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape, 1 Aquafina, 1 Ethos Water, 1 Glaceau Smartwater)

  • 3 small plastic bags

Items collected Monday, November 10, 2008

  • 2 aluminum cans (1 Budweiser, 1 Miller Lite)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Fiji water)
  • 1 torn plastic bag

  • 4 small plastic bags
  • 1 huge carrier bag

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Recyclable collected Sunday, November 9, 2008

  • 1 plastic bottle (Deer Park)

Reusable collected Saturday, November 8, 2008

  • 1 small plastic bag (from 7-Eleven bakery)

I went past a bunch of recyclables on Saturday, but didn't pick them up because by then my hands were full.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Recyclables collected Friday, November 7, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Steel Reserve high gravity lager)
  • 1 glass bottle (Grand Marnier Triple Orange Liqueur)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Poland Spring water, 1 Deer Park water, 1 Perrier water, 1 Glaceau vitamin water, 1 Diet Coke, 1 Tropicana "Strawberry Orange" juice)

The glass bottle is going to be a challenge to prepare for recycling. It has a metal ring at the neck and a seal on the side that appears to be made of plastic.

I don't usually comment on whether products are what they advertise themselves to be, but I've got to mention that strawberry juice is the fifth ingredient, not the first, in the "Strawberry Orange" juice mix Tropicana sells.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Items collected Thursday, November 6, 2008

  • 5 plastic water bottles (1 Nestle Pure Life, 1 Sam*s Choice, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape, 1 Deer Park regular, 1 Deer Park with fluoride and child-safe cap)

  • 1 plastic carrier bag

As noted above, one of the bottles found today has a child-proof cap. The label says, "Non-removable cap reduces risk of choking". I'm all for saving children from choking, but as a recycler I'm unsure what to do with the bottle. I just sent the following letter to Deer Park about it:

I'm not sure how to recycle Deer Park water bottles that come with child-proof caps. Where I live, bottles are recyclable only if their caps are first removed, and there's a strict policy that plastic items can go in the recycling bin only if they are made exclusively of resin type 1 or 2. I know that Deer Park bottles are made of resin type 1, but what about the caps? I would appreciate information on the resin type(s) of the caps, which appear to be made of two kinds of plastic. Also, I would like to know if there is a simple way for adults to remove the caps. I look forward to receiving your reply.

I received this reply. (The misspelling of "Park" is in the original e-mail.)

Dear Deer Par Consumer,

Thank you for contacting us about Deer Park® Brand Natural Spring Water regarding recyclability.

You can recycle these bottles as you normally would recycle another water bottle with the recycling symbol "1" on the bottom. The 8 oz. fluoride cap is a combination of HDPE (spout) and polypropylene (base). The bottle is PET (code #1). Some recycling facilities will accept the mixed materials, however most may not.

We suggest contacting your local certified recycling center in order to determine whether or not the bottle may be recycled in your area.

We hope this information is helpful.

After attacking the cap with a sharp knife, I was eventually able to bend the cap enough to remove it. It took a while, and I can't imagine many people taking the time to remove caps in preparation for their bottles being recycled, especially if they had a lot of bottles. I wish Deer Park would redesign its child-safe bottles to be more recyclable.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Items collected Wednesday, November 5, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Schlitz high gravity very smooth lager)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Rio Grande champagne soda)
  • 1 torn plastic bag

  • 1 small plastic bag (from around the Schlitz can)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Items collected Tuesday, November 4, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Safeway seltzer water)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Giant Acadia water)

  • 2 small plastic bags

  • 1 plastic bag too torn for reuse
  • several loads of random trash from a lawn

I'm not in the habit of picking up anything I know to be non-recyclable trash, but made an exception today when I went past a house of worship that had litter dumped on its lawn, which is usually immaculate. I'm not affiliated with the religion practiced by this house of worship, and, to be frank, I consider it just plain silly. However, in an area where houses of worship are often obnoxious and make life difficult for non-members, I appreciate this house of worship for being a good neighbor, and I decided to remove the trash before the wind picked up and scattered it everywhere. There's a trash can a short distance from where the litterbugs had struck, so it was easy to run back and forth a few times until all the litter was gone. This lawn is also where I found the seltzer water can listed above.

Items collected Monday, November 3, 2008

  • 2 aluminum cans (1 Miller Lite, 1 Steel Reserve lager)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Heineken, 1 Alize Rose Liqueur)
  • 5 plastic bottles (1 Dasani water, 1 Lipton green tea, 1 V8 Splash, 1 Big Hug blue raspberry, 1 Little Hug blue raspberry)

  • 1 rubber band
  • 3 small plastic bags

I can't be absolutely certain of the identity of the Little Hug listed above, because there's no label on the bottle. However, the shape of the bottle and the bright blue liquid residue are strongly suggestive of Little Hugs. Oddly, the Little Hug bottle was found a couple of miles from the Big Hug bottle.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Items collected Saturday, November 1, 2008

  • 3 glass bottles (1 Everfresh orange juice, 1 Zonin Prosecco Spumante sparkling wine, 1 Svedka vodka)

  • 1 blue pen

The pen had been crushed at one end, but fortunately it wasn't the end used for writing. It's ugly, but the pen still works just fine.

The bottles I found today were all larger than average, and one is huge! The orange juice bottle holds 32 fluid ounces (946 mL), the wine bottle holds only 750 mL but is taller than the juice bottle, and the vodka bottle towers above both of them and holds a whopping 1.75 liters of 80 proof vodka. I'm once again amazed that anyone finds it convenient to drink from such a bottle on the street.

I was pretty sure the amount of vodka in a 1.75 liter bottle was many times the amount it would take to kill someone, and did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to see if this was correct. According to the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies, a 200-pound man "would have to consume about 5-6 drinks per hour for 4 hours" to achieve a blood alcohol level at which 50% of people die. Wikipedia says that a standard drink contains 18 milliliters of alcohol, making 5-6 drinks equivalent to 90-108 mL of alcohol. Multiplying this by 4, for the 4 hours of drinking, gives 360-432 mL. The vodka is 40% alcohol by volume, so the bottle contained 700 mL of alcohol, twice the amount that would likely kill the hypothetical 200 pound man. This makes the bottle less lethal than I had expected, but still potentially lethal enough to kill 2 large men drinking slowly. It could kill even more drinkers if they weighed less, drank faster, or had certain medical conditions. For example, the Rutgers' page indicates that a 100-pound woman who drinks 9 standard drinks in an hour has roughly a 50% chance of dying, so if Wikipedia is correct about the size of a standard drink, the vodka bottle contained more than 4 times as much vodka as could kill the hypothetical woman.

I realize that the bottle may already have been close to empty before it was taken out last night, and that it may have been shared by a large group of people. Still, I remain baffled by the number of very large bottles I find on the street. I think of litterbugs as lazy people who can't be bothered doing something as easy as walking half a block to a trash can, so I'm puzzled by evidence that some litterbugs are willing to go to the effort of hauling around huge bottles. I don't consider myself lazy, but when I think about the jar I took to the cafe a few days ago, I know that I wouldn't have brought it if it had been the size of the Svedka vodka bottle.

Disclaimer: Nothing written above should be taken to indicate that it's safe to drink less than the amounts given as lethal doses.

Tally of items collected in October 2008

I've been picking up recyclables for a long time, but October 2008 is the first month I kept a record of all the recyclables I picked up. I went through quickly just now creating a tally of what I collected during the 31 days of October. I hope it's correct. My eyes glazed over several times while adding up the numbers, and I didn't double check them. Anyway, here's what I came up with:


  • 29 aluminum cans (23 beer, 1 malt liquor, 1 lemonade, 4 soda)
  • 26 glass bottles (22 alcoholic, 4 non-alcoholic)
  • 70 plastic bottles (44 plain water, 24 other, 2 unknown)
  • 3 other recyclables (1 brown paper bag, 1 torn plastic bag, 1 cardboard wrapper)


  • 7 carrier bags large enough to use as trash bags (see note below regarding number)
  • 12 small plastic bags of a size suitable for dog waste
  • 9 rubber bands
  • 9 other reusables (3 twist ties, 2 paper clips, 2 blue pens, 1 Sharpie marker, 1 wire coat hanger)


  • 1 plastic Coca-Cola bottle so mangled that it was beyond my ability to remove the mud from it
  • 1 set of plastic rings from around a 6-pack (cut into strips before going in the trash)
  • 3 plastic bags too torn to be used that couldn't be recycled because they lacked resin numbers
  • 1 dead pen
I'm surprised by some of the numbers. I hadn't realized that almost all the aluminum cans I pick up are beer cans. I had thought I picked up more diet soda cans. Similarly, I hadn't realized just how few glass bottles contained non-alcoholic beverages.

I'm not surprised by the statistics on plastic bottles. I knew there were a lot of them, and that although more than half of them contained plain water there were also many containing soda, Gatorade, or other beverages.

I have mixed feelings about whether picking up recyclables is worth the effort. On the one hand, I think it's great that there are 125 fewer bottles and cans littering the streets and river. On the other hand, most of what I picked up was plastic, and plastic simply isn't recyclable the way aluminum and glass are. I wonder what will happen to the plastic bottles I picked up, and whether they'll simply end up polluting someone else's community instead of my own.

One thing I do feel positive about is the number of plastic bags I picked up and made use of. It feels good not needing to buy trash bags. I'm pretty sure I picked up significantly more than the 7 carrier bags listed in the tally above, and failed to make note of some of them because I put them straight in the bag I carry with me everywhere. It always contains multiple plastic bags, so it's easy to lose sight of additional bags. What I know for certain is that my stockpile of carrier bags is huge and continues to grow each month.

As the weather becomes colder, I expect to ride the bus more and walk less, which will mean collecting fewer recyclables. I doubt the tallies for November, December, January or February will reach 100. With growing media attention to the problems of single-use plastic bottles, I hope that by next summer there will be fewer people tossing their empty water bottles on the ground, and that even in summer I'll continue to find less than 100 recyclables per month. Only time will tell.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Recyclables found Friday, October 31, 2008

  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Dr. Pepper, 1 roadkilled bottle without a label)
  • 1 aluminum can (Coca-Cola Zero)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

BYO cup success

I have a confession to make. I don't own a trendy, reusable water bottle made of metal or glass. Klean Kanteens and similar products seem to be almost mandatory for environmentalists these days, but I've never felt the need to buy one. I do own a couple of ancient bicycle bottles made of plastic, but seldom use them because water doesn't taste very good in them.

Tonight, I met friends at a cafe that has only single-use plastic cups available at the self serve water station. I was determined to bring my own cup, but didn't want to drink from a cup that had traveled unprotected in my bag. Putting a cup in a reusable plastic bag would have kept it clean, but I find rinsing and reusing plastic bags a hassle.

The solution I hit on was to bring a glass jar with a lid. The lid kept the interior of the jar clean during the trip to the cafe, and it kept stray drips from escaping during the trip home afterwards. The jar was easy to drink from.

I hadn't been sure how my friends would react to my drinking water from a jar that still bears the battered label of the food the jar originally contained, and was pleasantly surprised when they didn't even blink. These are people who have seen me bring my own containers to restaurants to put leftovers in, so they were already aware of my desire to cut down on single-use plastic.

After some of the problems I've had lately with getting stores to let me use my own containers for bulk items, it was great to have things go so smoothly with this attempt at avoiding single-use plastic. I now plan to bring the jar every time I dine at the cafe.

I wonder what would happen if I ordered a smoothie and asked the server to pour it straight into my jar. I suspect that would meet with resistance, but I may inquire about the possibility the next time I'm there.

Items found Thursday, October 30, 2008

After finding so many recyclables yesterday, I expected to find a similar number today, but the streets were largely clean. I think my litterbug neighbors must all have been too cold to drink outdoors.

  • 1 aluminum can (Miller Lite)

  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 paper clip

Items found Wednesday, October 29, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Stella Artois beer)
  • 2 aluminum cans (1 roadkilled Miller Lite, 1 squashed Brauerei Beck beer)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Safeway Refreshe water, 1 Gatorade, 1 Diet Pepsi, 1 Coca-Cola, 1 roadkilled bottle without a label)

  • 1 small plastic bag from the 7-Eleven Bakery, ideal for collecting dog waste

From the time I started keeping this blog until Wednesday, all the squashed cans I found had been squashed so that their sides were visible, and they appeared to have been run over by cars. Then, I found the Brauerei Beck can listed above that had been squashed so that only the top and bottom are visible, the sides being crushed down accordion style. Finding it, and struggling to identify it by the tiny bit of print visible, made me realize just how long it had been since I had found a can crushed like that.

Now that I stop to think about it, this surprises me, because when I was in school a popular activity was stomping on aluminum cans from above and crushing them with one's feet. We did silly things like setting out soda cans in a hopscotch pattern and running through trying to crush them on the first pass. Do kids not do this any more?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bulk bins finally labeled with ingredient lists!

Some time ago, I spoke to the manager at a health food store I frequent and asked if ingredient lists were available for the breakfast cereals and other prepared foods sold in the store's bulk bins. She summoned the employee who had filled the bins, and he said that he had already discarded the packaging the bulk foods arrived in and had no way of retrieving the ingredient lists. He promised to save the ingredient lists the next time a shipment arrived. Meanwhile, I haven't bought any multi-ingredient products from the bulk bins at that store.

Then, today, I checked the bulk bins again, and was delighted to discover ingredient lists on all the granola bins! There still aren't any labels on the bins containing muesli, spirulina bars, or other prepared products, but it's a start. Tomorrow, I'll return to the store with a big, empty container, and will buy lots of granola. I'm actually more of a cornflake eater than a granola eater, but to escape single-use plastic bags I'm willing to make the switch to granola.

Items found Tuesday, October 28, 2008

  • 6 aluminum cans (4 Budweiser, 1 Bud Light, 1 Schlitz Malt Liquor)
  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Dasani water, 1 Gatorade, 1 Glaceau Vitamin Water, 1 Pepsi)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Frontera Chardonnay, 1 Everfresh Premium Papaya)

  • 1 rubber band
  • 2 plastic carrier bags

I'm flabbergasted by how much outdoor consumption there continues to be of cold beverages. It's cold outside! Miserably cold! I could understand people drinking coffee, but not beer, water, or juice.

Only 5 of the 12 recyclables listed above were found during my usual walk to and from work. The others were found during a 5-block detour to a store I don't usually go to. Maybe I should go there more often, just so I can pick up more recyclables from the street the store is on. The store sells delicious Fair Trade chocolate, so after picking up trash I can reward myself with chocolate.

The Pepsi, Glaceau and Everfresh bottles were all wedged together at the opening of a storm drain, and would have washed down into the drain the next time it rained. I need to pay more attention to storm drains and see if I can rescue more bottles from them. I'll limit myself to bottles that are still at the opening and haven't yet fallen down into the cesspool below, because even if my arms were long enough to reach down, I shudder to think what germs may lurk within drains.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Items found Monday, October 27, 2008

  • 1 glass bottle (Bud Light Lime)
  • 2 aluminum cans (both Miller Lite)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Deer Park regular water, 1 Gatorade)

  • 1 blue pen

The pen is a gorgeous one. I'm a bit of a pen snob, not that anyone would guess that given my habit of using cheap pens found in the mud, so I'm thrilled to own a nice pen for a change. It has some water inside it, but so far the water hasn't affected the quality of its writing.

Items found Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25, 2008

Even though I walked my usual route on Friday, I didn't find any recyclables. All I found was a single, lonely reusable:
  • 1 rubber band

Saturday was another quiet day, with only two recyclables:
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 Coca-Cola)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recyclables found Thursday, October 23, 2008

Today's recyclables:

  • 1 glass bottle (Molson Ice)
  • 1 aluminum can (Steel Reserve)
  • 1 plastic bottle (Lipton green tea)

Items found Wednesday, October 22, 2008

  • 4 plastic water bottles (1 Dasani, 1 "Spring!" brand, 1 Deer Park, 1 roadkilled Nestle Pure Life)
  • 1 torn plastic bag from Target
  • 1 cardboard wrapper from around a 3-pack of Marlboro cigarette boxes

  • 1 intact plastic bag

  • 1 dead pen

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cutting down on packaging and other disposable items

I'm a big fan of containers of various sorts. I can easily imagine the joy early humans must have felt when they discovered that they could use clay pots or other objects to carry water, freeing them from the need to go to a river or watering hole every time they became thirsty. I consider myself lucky to live in an era when consumers have ready access to airtight jars, ziplock bags, backpacks, envelopes, and countless other objects designed to hold contents securely.

However, I'm aghast at the recent growth of single-use packaging. Whether it's a plastic soda bottle, a milk carton, a steel can containing beans, or a plastic sleeve around a greeting card, something is seriously wrong when packaging gets used once then thrown out.

I don't see recycling as the answer. Recycling is certainly better, in most cases, than throwing packaging in the trash, but it still carries an environmental cost. Trucking recyclables to a recycling plant consumes fossil fuels, and then the plant has to use even more energy to break the recyclable material down into a useful form. And in the case of plastic and paper, true recycling doesn't take place. Materials are instead downcycled, and there's a never ending need for more raw materials to create high quality products.

I'm an avid reader of zero waste and plastic free blogs, including Living Plastic Free, Fake Plastic Fish, Life Less Plastic, and Zero Waist. I aspire to be more like the awesome writers of these blogs who have detailed their journeys towards a more sustainable way of living. My own journey hasn't yet taken me as far, but I've managed to cut down on my purchase of overpackaged or disposable items in a few ways:

  • During the months when local farmers sell fresh fruit from their farms, I now eat whole fruits instead of drinking juice. My intent was to avoid juice cartons, with their mix of cardboard and plastic, but as a bonus I've found that eating whole fruits fills me up much better than drinking juice.
  • I buy nuts and dried fruits from bulk bins, and eat those when I want a snack. A recent glitch is that some of the cashiers at one store seem to think there's a policy that items from bulk bins be placed in plastic bags for purchase, but I hope to clear that up by meeting with the store manager.
  • I always, always carry multiple cloth bags with me, no matter where I go. That way, I'm ready if I do any impulse shopping.
  • I always bring a sealable container with me to restaurants in case I have leftovers.
  • After giving up on finding any palatable source of caffeine that wasn't overpackaged, I stopped habitually using caffeine and now drink water instead of caffeinated beverages. This is almost worthy of a blog entry all to itself, because it involved a significant lifestyle change.
  • Although I still generate enough trash to make trash bags a necessity, I no longer buy them. Instead, I pick up other people's discarded plastic carrier bags and use those. This cuts down on the number of trash bags being manufactured, and also keeps other people's carelessly discarded bags from ending up in the river. I also pick up pens, which I find buried in dirt or mud surprisingly often. Occasionally, I find coat hangers or other useful items.
  • When I need to buy a battery-powered device such as a flashlight, I choose models that accept the rechargeable AA or AAA batteries I already own. The only batteries I ever purchase or throw out these days are ones for a gadget used at work that unfortunately doesn't accept rechargeable batteries.
Some challenges still remain. A few of the more pressing are:

  • Sandwich supplies. I can't find bread, margarine or deli slices without plastic packaging. I can buy peanut butter and jelly in recyclable glass jars, but the lids aren't recyclable and I think they include a plastic lining. Also, the jelly jars are much taller than they are wide, which is an inefficient form of packaging.
  • Soymilk. This is available only in single-use cartons that aren't recyclable.
  • Breakfast cereal. I recently started buying breakfast cereal that comes in large plastic bags with no cardboard box. This means less packaging, but I'm still stuck with plastic bags that are at best downcyclable.
  • Fruits and vegetables during the winter. During the warmer months, I buy produce from farmers who hate single-use plastic bags as much as I do, but in the dead of winter, the farmers don't come to town. My only options for buying produce are supermarkets that sell just about everything in plastic bags or boxes. Even the stores that have bulk bins for dried beans, nuts, etc., sell their potatoes in plastic bags. What the heck am I to eat?
  • Body care products. I can't find shampoo, hand lotion, lip balm, or sunscreen that are produced ethically and sold in reusable packaging.
  • Pharmacy supplies. I don't use a lot of pharmaceuticals, but once in a while it's nice to have some ibuprofen. Unfortunately, it comes in single-use plastic bottles.
  • Snack foods. Fair trade chocolate, Pirate's Booty, and potato chips are all weaknesses for me.

Reusables found Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Today's reusables:
  • 1 Sharpie marker
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 paper clip

I didn't pick up any recyclables today. I went past a few, but was in the company of someone who doesn't know about my environmental activities, and I was too embarrassed to have her see me picking up beer cans. Silly, I know.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recyclables and reusables found Monday, October 20, 2008

Today's recyclables:
  • 5 plastic water bottles (1 Dasani/McDonald's, 1 Acadia, 1 Nestle Pure Life, 2 Deer Park Eco-Shape)

Today's reusables:
  • 1 blue pen
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 small plastic bag

I'm mystified by the number of water bottles I found today. I understand joggers consuming bottled water during hot weather and casually tossing their empty bottles aside, but the weather has become so cold that normal people won't sweat much while walking or jogging. What motivates people to carry bottles of water with them while outside during such chilly weather?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Items found Saturday, October 18, 2008

Today I picked up more recyclables and other trash than is normal for me. In the morning, I didn't pick up anything at all because my hands were full. Then, I felt so guilty that I walked to one of the trashiest streets in the neighborhood just to look for recyclables.

Today's recyclables:
  • 3 aluminum cans (2 Budweiser, 1 Milwaukee's Best beer)
  • 6 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park water, 1 roadkilled Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Pepsi, 2 Coca-Cola, 1 Gatorade)
  • 6 glass bottles (1 Snapple, 2 Heineken, 1 Schlitz Red Bull Xtra Long Malt Liquor, 2 Steel Reserve lager)

The last three bottles listed each hold 40 Fl. Oz. and are hefty. I still don't understand how anyone can find it convenient to drink from such large bottles on the street.

Today's reusables:
  • 2 small plastic bags

Other stuff collected today and thrown in the trash:
  • 1 plastic Coca-Cola bottle so mangled that it was beyond my ability to remove the mud from it
  • 1 set of plastic rings from around a 6-pack (cut into strips before going in the trash)
  • 3 plastic bags too torn to be used

Friday, October 17, 2008

Items found Friday, October 17, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Diet Coke)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Fanta Grape, 1 roadkilled Dasani water, 1 roadkilled Tropicana Pink Lemonade)

  • 1 plastic produce bag suitable for use cleaning up after dogs

Recyclables and reusables found Thursday, October 16, 2008

  • 2 plastic water bottles (1 Dasani, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape)
  • 1 glass bottle (Heineken)

  • 1 elastic band
  • 1 wire coat hanger

I had seen the coat hanger for days, but left it hoping that its owner would return for it. As time passed, the paper and foam covering the hanger became increasingly dirty, and it became clear that the hanger had been abandoned. I stripped off the paper and foam, and have put the hanger aside to give to a dry cleaning business the next time I go past one.

Recyclables found Wednesday, October 15, 2008

  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Poland Spring water, 1 Fuze, 1 G2)

G2 is made by the Gatorade Company, and the bottles are made of the same thick plastic as Gatorade bottles.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recyclables found Tuesday, October 14, 2008

  • 2 plastic water bottles (1 Safeway Refreshe, 1 roadkilled Deer Park Eco-Shape)
  • 1 glass bottle (La Cerveza del Pacifico)

Recyclables and reusables found Monday, October 13, 2008

  • 1 aluminum can (Diet Pepsi Max)
  • 6 plastic water bottles (1 Vintage, 1 Deer Park regular, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape, 1 with no label, 2 Poland Spring Eco-Shape)

  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 twist tie

I hadn't previously seen Poland Spring Eco-Shape bottles. They look identical to Deer Park Eco-Shape bottles except for the labels, and even those are similar. It turns out that the Deer Park Spring Water Company and the Poland Spring Water Company are both divisions of Nestle Waters North America Inc. I've also seen Nestle brand water, and am now wondering just how many brands of water Nestle owns.

Monday was a public holiday, and a lot of people were out hiking or bicycling. I suspect that this is why so many water bottles were discarded that day.

Recyclables and reusables found Saturday, October 11, 2008

  • 4 aluminum cans (1 Diet Pepsi, 1 Tropicana lemonade, 1 Miller Lite, 1 roadkilled Budweiser)
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Gatorade, 1 roadkilled Crystal Springs water)
  • 3 glass bottles (1 Arizona green tea, 1 Modelo especial beer, 1 St. Ides mixed fruit malt liquor)

  • 3 small plastic bags (1 drug store bag, 2 dark plastic bags of the kind used by liquor stores)

I don't usually pick up lemonade cans like the one listed above, because they so often contain ants. This time, I saw the can on a street I'd already cleaned up just a few hours previously, so I knew it couldn't have been there for long. Thankfully, there were no ants inside it.

Another aberration in Saturday's collection of recyclables is that I picked up a bottle, the Deer Park Eco-Shape bottle listed above, that wasn't on the ground. It was teetering on top of an overflowing trash can, and was almost certain to blow off before the next trash collection.

I haven't previously taken recyclables from trash cans, but have been wondering whether I should start. I go past dozens of trash cans each day, and could divert countless recyclables from the landfill if I pulled them from the trash cans they're in. The mere thought is daunting. There's no way I can carry home all the recyclables I pass that are in trash cans, and I don't want to run out of space in my bags for the recyclables I find on the ground. Many of those recyclables will end up polluting the nearby river (and ultimately the sea) if I don't pick them up, so they're a higher priority.

Another deterrent is fear of how I will be perceived by people who see me going through the trash. Let me be frank here. I'm afraid people will think I'm homeless. I realize there's no shame in being homeless, especially in the current economic climate, but homeless people are treated so badly that I'm afraid to be seen as one of them. I already get enough weird looks from people who see me collecting recyclables that are lying on the ground.

Does anyone else go through public trash cans collecting recyclables? I'd love to hear from anyone who has done it without becoming overwhelmed or experiencing anti-homeless harassment.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reusables found Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm feeling guilty for not picking up more recyclables yesterday when I had the chance, because today I didn't come across any. I did, however, come across several reusables:

  • 2 plastic carrier bags
  • 1 rubber band

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Recyclables and reusables found Thursday, October 9, 2008

Today wasn't a good day for me to be dealing with lots of recyclables, so I went past several without picking them up. However, I couldn't resist grabbing a few items.

  • 1 plastic bottle (Aquafina water)

  • 3 plastic bags (2 carrier bags, 1 ziplock bag)

The carrier bags were both in excellent condition. One had the Exxon logo on the side, and was found one block away from an Exxon station. I'm guessing that it was thrown out almost immediately after it was handed to a customer. The ziplock bag had peanut butter residue in it and will be used to collect dog waste.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Recyclables found Wednesday, October 8, 2008

  • 2 plastic water bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape, 1 Deer Park regular)
  • 3 aluminum cans (2 Budweiser, 1 Heineken)
  • 1 glass bottle (Alice White shiraz)
  • 1 brown paper bag (from around one of the Budweiser cans)

The shiraz bottle is 12 inches tall and contained 750 mL of wine. It always surprises me to find such a large bottle lying by the side of the sidewalk. Do people really walk around sipping from such huge bottles? Do bottles like this get passed around among groups of drinkers walking along the sidewalk together? I just don't get it. There are more convenient ways to imbibe.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Recyclables found Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Today's recyclables:

  • 1 aluminum can (Budweiser)
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Gatorade, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Recyclables found Monday, October 6, 2008

When I didn't find any recyclables last Friday, I allowed myself to fantasize that my neighbors had ceased being such litterbugs. Today, that bubble burst when I found the following:

  • 4 plastic bottles (1 Crystal Geyser water, 1 "Spring!" water, 1 Diet Dr. Pepper, 1 Simply Lemonade)
  • 2 aluminum cans (both Heineken)
  • 4 glass bottles (2 Smirnoff Ice, 1 Michelob AmberBock Dark Lager, 1 Cognac Salignac)

"Spring!" is an actual brand of spring water, which is confusing because obviously there are many brands of "spring water". The fine print reveals it to be produced by the Coca-Cola Company.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Letter to SanDisk about excessive packaging

As anyone who reads this blog will know by now, I'm an avid recycler. This blog is, after all, about the recyclables I find lying on the ground and take home for recycling.

I also recycle the bottles, cans and paper I use at home. However, my priority is to produce less waste to begin with. One of the ways I avoid waste is to buy only those products that are minimally packaged or entirely free of packaging. Usually, this is pretty easy. For example, a lot of foods are sold in bulk bins at a supermarket near where I work, so I bring my own containers and completely avoid disposable packaging.

Avoiding excessive packaging isn't as easy when it comes to buying memory sticks at the small electronics store near here. I recently looked at some SanDisk memory sticks that would have been great if not for their excessive, unenvironmental packaging. I e-mailed SanDisk a letter about the packaging:

Dear SanDisk representative,

I care about the environment, and for that reason I avoid purchasing products with excessive packaging.

I recently considered buying a SanDisk memory stick, but was disturbed by how much cardboard and plastic packaging surrounded it. I can understand using a little packaging to protect memory sticks from damage or theft, but cannot understand why a memory stick smaller than my thumb was encased in packaging larger than my entire hand. It seems very wasteful.

Additionally, I was disturbed to note that the plastic was PVC, which is associated with damage to the environment during its production and disposal, and which is not recyclable where I live. Although my main concern is the sheer quantity of packaging, I would also like to see a more environmentally friendly material than PVC used in packaging the memory sticks.

SanDisk's web site says that the first objective of its Environmental Management System is the "Prevention of pollution by limiting waste and promoting recycling." I am writing to urge SanDisk to consider this objective when packaging the company's memory sticks, using the least possible amount of packaging and ensuring that only environmentally friendly materials are used.

Yours truly,
Cousin Yellowstone

There's a larger store in a nearby city that sells memory sticks without any packaging, so I may buy a stick there the next time I'm out that way.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Recyclables and reusables found Saturday, October 4, 2008

On Friday, I didn't come across any recyclables. The only item picked up was a single reusable:
  • 1 small plastic bag (from a bakery) suitable for use cleaning up after dogs
Today, the recyclables found were:
  • 5 plastic water bottles (2 Deer Park, 1 Nestle, 2 with labels removed)
The water bottles were all within about 12 feet of each other. A pedestrian who saw me picking up the first few bottles joined me in picking up the remaining bottles, which was nice.

Today, I also found two reusable items:
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 small plastic bag suitable for use cleaning up after dogs

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Recyclables and reusables found Thursday, October 2, 2008

Today's recyclables:
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Sprite, 1 Lucerne milk)
  • 1 glass bottle (Everfresh orange juice)
Today's reusables:
  • 2 twist ties
  • 1 small plastic bag suitable for use cleaning up after dogs
I first saw the milk bottle yesterday, but left it where it was because there was still a cup of milk left in it and I hoped its owner would return to claim it. Today, I poured the milk out and took the bottle for recycling.

I've now been writing the Recital for a week, and have noticed a change in how I regard my own trash collecting activities. I used to be relieved when I didn't find many recyclables, thankful not to have to haul lots of extra stuff around with me. Now, however, I compare myself to some of the eco-runners I've read about, and feel like I should be collecting a lot more stuff. I find myself thinking about going to the park where teens drink beer just so I can gather up lots of cans and bottles. I'm resisting that urge, because I think I would soon burn out if I spent any more time than I already do on picking up and cleaning recyclables, but the urge is definitely there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Recyclables found Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Today's recyclables:
  • 2 plastic bottles (1 Nestle water, 1 Perrier water)
  • 1 aluminum can (Heineken)
  • 4 glass bottles (1 Miller Draft, 1 Heineken, 1 Coors Light, 1 Sutter Home Chardonnay)
I'm thankful, as I have been so many times before, that my household shares a large recycling bin with a dozen other households. It would be mortifying to put all the alcoholic beverage bottles in a personal recycling bin and have the neighbors think that someone at my address is a problem drinker.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Items collected Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I wasn't in a position to pick up much trash today, and couldn't pick up anything that was dirty. I picked up only two items.

Today's recyclable:
  • 1 plastic bottle (Pepsi)
Today's reusable:
  • 1 plastic carrier bag, in excellent condition
The plastic carrier bag came from the same store that yesterday's bag came from. Both bags were found within a block of the store, and were in such clean condition that I have to believe they had been discarded only a short time before I found them. Many people who shop there buy just a single item of snack food and consume it as soon as they get outside, and I suspect that most of the bags I find were tossed aside by such people.

What I can't understand is why the store owner doesn't instruct cashiers to ask customers, "Would you like a bag?" instead of automatically bagging every purchase. Whether or not the owner cares about the environment, reducing the number of bags given out would benefit the store's bottom line. I can understand making bags available to customers buying multiple items, as the availability of bags encourages customers to buy more, but there doesn't seem to be any point to a bag when the customer is buying a single item for immediate consumption.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Recyclables and reusables found Monday, September 29, 2008

Today's recyclables:
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Aquafina water, 1 Big Burst Blue Raspberry Drink, 1 Brut Splash-on Lotion)
  • 2 glass bottles (1 Bacardi Mojito, 1 Corona beer)
Today's reusables:
  • 1 plastic carrier bag, in excellent condition
  • 2 black pens
It isn't often that I derive any benefit from picking up other people's discarded items. There's no deposit on recyclables here, so I can't make any money by picking up bottles and cans. Picking up pens, on the other hand, saves me from buying my own, so it feels good when I find one. Today was unusual in that I found two pens, of different brands and in different locations, after several months of not finding any. They were both very dirty, but I was able to brush the dirt off them easily and found that they both write well.

Now I want to talk about something I didn't pick up. Be warned that the rest of this blog entry concerns a truly disgusting topic, so readers with sensitive stomachs may prefer to stop reading at this point.

Over the last few months, I've found a number of Diet Pepsi bottles containing urine. I assume they were produced by a driver who couldn't find a rest room. We definitely suffer from a shortage of rest rooms around here, and personally I think that urinating into a bottle is a reasonable way of dealing with the urge to go. However, tossing one's bottle out the window is obviously not okay.

When I decided to start this blog, my inclination was to publish it under my actual name. I decided to use a pseudonym mostly because I knew that sooner or later I'd get to talking about disgusting recyclables like urine bottles, and I fear that my professional standing would suffer if word got around that I had ever handled a stranger's urine bottle. And obviously I must have handled at least one for my nose to have had the chance to identify the vile contents.

Today, there was a urine bottle by the side of the road, and I walked straight past it. I was feeling kind of nauseous already after dealing with a dead animal earlier in the morning, and the last thing I wanted to deal with was someone else's urine. But I feel like I should have dealt with it. And I feel like I should deal with it if it's still there the next time I walk on that street. And let's face it, it will still be there, because no one else in the neighborhood goes around picking up trash.

Still, my stomach churns. I'm not entirely sure why. I don't flinch at changing a diaper, so why react so negatively to uncapping a bottle, pouring the contents onto the grass, and doing a quick rinse? I wouldn't come into any direct contact with the urine, and even if I did, urine is mostly sterile. I'd be interested to know what other folks do when they encounter urine bottles while out collecting trash.

As stomach-churning as urine bottles may be, one point in their favor is that they don't smell nearly as bad as the Brut bottle I picked up earlier. The bottle wasn't sealed properly, and the last few drops leaked out onto my hands when I picked it up. The odor has clung to my hands through multiple washings, and it's overpowering. The only thing I can conclude about men who choose to wear Brut is that their noses don't work!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Recyclables found Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today's collection consisted of:
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 Dean & Deluca water, 1 Blueberry Pomegranate Vita Rain)
  • 1 aluminum can (Yuengling lager)
  • 1 glass bottle (Bacardi rum)
I wish there was an easy way to remove the metal from around the neck of the rum bottle. I usually use the pointy end of an old nail file to tear metal bands off bottles, but keep thinking there must be a better way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Recyclables found Friday, September 26, 2008

On Friday, I picked up three bottles, all plastic. One was a Sprite bottle, one was a Deer Park Eco-Shape bottle, and one was a roadkilled bottle that had too much dirt on it for its brand name to be readily readable. It's only when I scrubbed the third bottle with an old toothbrush that I did a double take. My camera isn't very good, but here's a photo of it.

I also took close-up pictures of the left and right sides of the label. However, the photos aren't very clear, so here's a description of what they show. The bottle has the seal of the United States Senate on it. To the left of the seal is "WWW.SENATERESTAURANTS.GOV", and to the right of the seal is "Designed & distributed by DrinkMore Custom Water 1-877-YourWater 24 fluid ounces Ultrapurified Water".

This is the closest I've ever come to finding a discarded recyclable that could be traced back to the person who littered with it. Unfortunately, however, there's no way to tell which senator, senate staffer, or lobbyist tossed the bottle on the road. I wish there was, because I'd love to be able to go to the appropriate senator's office and tell them how I feel about littering. And while we're at it, Mr./Ms. Senator, why the heck do the senate restaurants even provide bottled water? Can't you drink from reusable cups?

Mostly, I just wish I could get the story behind how the bottle came to be on my street. I'm guessing that someone who isn't actually a senator took it from a senate restaurant as a trophy to show friends and family, but if that's the case, why didn't they hold onto it instead of tossing it in the street?

Anyway, in summary, Friday's collection consisted of:
  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Sprite, 1 Deer Park Eco-Shape water, 1 United States Senate water)

What this blog is about

When normal people go for a walk, they look all around them, and notice trees, clouds, and billboards. I'm not normal. I keep my gaze firmly on the ground, and mostly what I notice is all the trash that's strewn around .

I used to make occasional efforts to remove the trash I found, but didn't feel terribly motivated. Then I read about how much energy it takes to produce aluminum from bauxite ore. The article I read mentioned that obtaining aluminum by recycling aluminum cans is much more efficient than processing bauxite ore. That day, I decided to start picking up all the aluminum cans I saw on the ground and taking them home for recycling. I also began picking up glass bottles.

For a while, I also picked up trash, but it became overwhelming to stop a dozen times per block to pick up trash, and I got so frustrated that I soon stopped picking up anything. I then made a conscious decision to ignore regular trash and pick up only the items that were recyclable.

At first, plastic bottles fell into the category of trash, but now my municipality recycles (or rather downcycles) plastic bottles, so now I pick them up. There are a staggering number of them. What I find ironic is how many of them are "Eco-Shape" bottles, designed by Deer Park "to be easier on the environment".

I don't pick up each and every recyclable bottle or can I come across. I no longer pick up any aluminum cans that once contained sugary beverages, because I got sick of dealing with the ants and wasps that had taken up residence inside them. And sometimes I don't pick up any recyclables at all because I'm en route to the grocery store and want to save space in my bags for the groceries I'll be buying. Some days, I pick up water bottles but don't pick up beer bottles or cans because I'm on my way to meet someone and don't want to arrive carrying bags that smell like stale beer. Still, I usually pick up at least 10 beverage containers per week, and sometimes pick up many more.

In addition to recyclables, I pick up a number of reusable items, mostly plastic carrier bags suitable for use as trash bags. I haven't accepted carrier bags in stores for many years, but find so many discarded bags that I never need to purchase trash bags. I also don't need to buy pens, due to the number I find on the ground. Occasionally, I find something unusual, like a roll of packing tape. With the exception of plastic bags, I leave most items where I see them in the hope their rightful owners will come back for them, but pick up things that appear to have been permanently abandoned.

As might be expected, what I do is usually pretty boring. There's nothing glamorous about picking up bottles and cans, scrubbing them off with an old toothbrush, and tossing them in a recycling bin. However, after picking up thousands of recyclable items, I've become fascinated by the variation in what I find. Why is it that one week I find dozens of Budweiser cans, then the next week there are none? Does the quantity of Budweiser consumed correlate with whether there's a big football game on TV, perhaps? Not possessing an iPod to keep my mind busy while I walk along, this type of question keeps running through my brain.

Clearly, I have no life. Yet, just as clearly, I'm not alone, because I have friends who get into the game of speculating on what recyclables I'll find next. This blog is for them, and anyone else interested in what trash ends up on the ground. I'll probably also comment on other environmental issues from time to time, but this blog is primarily about the recyclables and reusables I find lying around.