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.