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.