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.