November 10, 2009


I am afraid that soon, instead of icebergs, we will have garbagebergs.

The New York Times ran an article today about how the Pacific Ocean is simply filling up with all the plastic bits of things that you and I throw away. And it's not just that we are "papering" our oceans with tons of plastic, but the floating plastic happily absorbs wildly toxic chemicals:

"PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles."

So then the toxic plastic dissolves into a trillion sparkly little pieces that get eaten by fish, who get eaten by other fish, who get eaten by . . . us. Instead of including a picture of the spotted gray trigger fish that just avoided a certain fate as a result of all this floating plastic, the Times should have included a picture of the children whose traumatic legacy our convenience-based lifestyles are ensuring.

October 24, 2009

The Opposite of Plastic

Last weekend we went to the fabulous Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, where we got to see an alpaca and llama parade, and where these ladies were spinning fiber roving into woolen yarn, and warping and wefting their way into gorgeous textiles.  It was our third annual trip to the festival, and as always, I am so impressed by the way the people there know how to take a bag of curly, freshly shorn fleece and literally spin it into a soft and fabulous sweater.  It's like magic.  Anyway, I left with a bag of thick lopi yarn, spun in a traditional Icelandic fashion, which I can't wait to work into something cool.  We left without buying an alpaca farm, or even a spinning wheel or loom, but there's always next year!

August 26, 2009

The Challenge

So there haven't been very many August entries -- partly because, overnight, New York became a sweltering swamp too hot for any activity.  But also because finding ways to work around plastic has turned out to be hugely time-consuming.  Mostly, it's in the way we cook and eat:  plastic affords alot of shortcuts that you wouldn't think of until they're not there.

Like ... take a simple pasta dinner.  I prefer to get the pasta from the excellent array of bulk bins at Integral Yoga on West 13th street, but often "splurge" on the boxed kind, removing the tiny plastic window before recycling the box.  Then, you'd like some cheese on that?  Parmesan options at our three nearest grocery stores are no good:  either a shrink-wrapped block (out) or a square plastic tub of pre-grated cheese (out).  So we head 30 blocks south to Zabar's, where it's the same disappointing story, but we discover delicious Italian Pavia as a substitute. We carry home our victorious slice of cheese wrapped in paper, but have to use it quickly, because without plastic wrap, it dries out almost overnight.   Lesson:  use the pre-summer small box of saran wrap sparingly and wisely, enforcing a wipe-it-off, dry-it and re-use-it rule.

What else.  Thirsty?  We have each drunk tons of plain water this summer, eschewing non-plastic-container drinks and being reluctant to constantly pour milk or orange juice (we have cut back on, but not eliminated, those square cartons  -- which, I recently read, are the WORST offenders), so  ... we have made alot of lemonade.  A perfect alternative, but it ain't fast: squeezing 10 lemons and then making simple syrup to sweeten takes a solid 15 minutes; start doing that every other day or so, and suddenly Vitamin Water starts looking good!

Breakfast ...  requires a fair amount of planning.  We eat alot of fruit, and about once a week I bake a batch or two of muffins.  We make alot of zucchini and banana bread (and sometimes, a weird loaf that combines the two).  There is always yogurt (which we still make weekly, best thing ever) with fruit and granola and honey.  When we run out of granola though, it's a 20-block trip to the health food store; honey, Sundays from the farmer's market. Eventually, the kids are going to crave some Reeses Puffs or Waffle Crisp, and, eventually, we parents will give in to the quick convenience of  breakfast-in-a-box.  Leggo my Eggos!

All in all, this has been a summer of planning and strategizing our meals from a new perspective, beyond just flavor.   And when my grocery basket looks (ideally, not always!) like the one above, compared to the literally piles of plastic containers I see in the baskets around me, it's clear that the effort is worth it.  Articles like today's Times editorial drive the point home:  to avoid plastic garbage becoming an eighth continent, we have to develop new habits and new routines.  Take up the challenge!

July 14, 2009

Go(a)t Milk?

We were lucky to spend the past weekend on the bucolic eastern shore of Maryland, where we got our fill of fresh green beans and beets and lettuces and blackberries from the garden. But the bigger adventure was buying a huge glass jar of fresh goat milk at Frank's farm on the way home. Frank is actually a full-time roofer, but (this being bucolic) it just happens that he also keeps a whole stable of horses and goats, chickens and rabbits. We made our goat milk into yogurt, which turned out to be very rich and tangy. Topped with cherries, plums and honey, a perfect breakfast. We'll definitely stop at Frank's again!

June 30, 2009

The end of the Trash-Free month! (or is it?)

Well, we made it through our trash-free June.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. There were some challenging moments.

Daniela hauled a lot of compost from 110th Street to Union Square. Daisy missed her occasional plastic toy purchase. Charlotte still has nightmares about the homemade toothpaste (“It burns! It burns!”) But we did it, and we did it together.

It felt good to really limit the amount of garbage we put into the system.

It was nice to buy most of our food at the Farmer’s market, and make our own yogurt, cheese and bread.

Our hats off to three girls for going along with the whole idea, and for making the critical discovery that Edy's ice cream is plastic-free.

So the big news (to us anyway) is that it’ll be a trash-free summer!

This idea was not met with universal cheers at home. In the interest of family harmony, we may ease the rules occasionally. But the girls understand that the whole point of this exercise was to increase our awareness and understanding of this disposable society, and to change what we can, even if it’s just the five of us.

June 26, 2009

It's Getting Dicey

One by one, the products we absolutely take for granted are running out during the course of this month.  Here's how we are getting around some of those things, plastic-free.
  • Hair Conditioner:  no more bottles of Herbal Essence for this gang!  We went to Lush, the British store that sells handmade bath and beauty products in solid form -- and bought a half-pound slice of Jungle Conditioner, sold just like cheese!  So if you detect a sweet odor of figs, passion fruit and bananas coming from Steve, it's his hair.  Pretty soon we will be going back for shampoo too.
  • Dish Soap:  just last week we ran out of that bright orange Palmolive, that is so handy to pour into the pump next to the sink.  Turns out that way back under the sink we had a bottle of Shaklee Basic cleaner, which is great and organic, but less user-friendly:  add one teaspoon to a gallon of water to do your dishes.   We opted to add a few drops to a squeeze bottle filled with water, and now mix up a new batch every few days.  When we are out of this stuff, will have to come up with a new recipe.
  • Toothpaste:  yikes!  Five people use alot of toothpaste, and we are about to run out.  If you google "making toothpaste" you'll discover that a lot of people make their own!  I printed out the wikipedia version and left it on the kitchen table -- it was met with alot of skepticism!  But this family is game to try anything once.  Mostly it's baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, which we have, and some mint oil, which we need.   Hopefully there's another squeeze bottle somewhere in the house.

June 23, 2009

It's a Big Ol' Plastic World

Why are we doing what we're doing, particularly trying to eliminate the amount of plastic we throw away?

Here are some facts:

• According to estimates by the EPA and the Wall Street Journal, the United States uses over 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. That’s 100,000,000,000! Or 275 million bags each and every day of the year!

• Worldwide an astounding 500 billion to one trillion plastic shopping bags are used each year.

• An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to produce every 100 billion plastic shopping bags.

• An estimated 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals die each year by plastic bags due to ingestion and/or entanglement, according to Planet Ark, an international environmental group.

• Based on decomposition studies, plastics buried in landfills take up to 1,000 years to decompose. This is an extremely long time period relative to other decomposition rates. It takes a banana peel approximately 3-4 weeks to decompose; a paper bag, one month; a cotton rag, 5 months; a wool sock, one year; lumber, 10 – 15 years; and an aluminum can, 200 – 500 years.

• Plastic bags do not actually biodegrade, rather they photo-degrade, meaning they slowly break down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces that contaminate both soil and waterways.

• It is estimated that the United States goes through 2.5 MILLION plastic bottles every hour. That’s over 22 BILLION plastic bottles in the United States alone, according to Recycling-Revolution.

• According to Earth 911, less than 20% of the plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. will end up in a landfill and only 13% will be recycled.

• It takes more than 15 million barrels of oil (not including those used for transport) to manufacture the estimated 22 billion plastic bottles the U.S. uses annually. Incidentally, that’s enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for an entire year.

• It takes more than 3 liters of water to create one liter of bottled water and recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for up to six hours.

• Over 171 billion liters of bottled water was consumed in 2007 worldwide.

The numbers are staggering. And while one family's efforts can't change the tide, maybe one hundred families can. Will you help?

June 18, 2009

Special delivery

There’s a lot that I like about trying to live a more trash-free existence. Not the least of which is we’re forcing ourselves to think more about our meals, as menus need to be planned ahead of time, rather than just picking up something prepared and packaged (and yes, probably processed).

What I do miss, particularly in this last week or so, as almost every day seems to involve some end-of-year school activity that gets us home late, tired and hungry, is ordering food for delivery.

Mexican food is a possibility, as a burrito could, in theory, be simply wrapped in recyclable aluminum foil.

But there’s no way that our local Chinese restaurant could send out our sesame chicken and steamed vegetable dumplings without four different plastic containers, a dozen or so packages of soy sauce, duck sauce and spicy mustard, and enough plastic forks to serve a small army. Not to mention the plastic bag. The one time that I actually requested no plastic, we got extra of everything, either out of miscommunication, or spite.

And alas, who knows when we’ll order sushi again. The only way I can imagine it working is if I go there to pick up my fish, holding out my plate, Oliver Twist-like… please sir, I’ll take my maki to go…

No, if it’s sushi I want, I think it’ll be sushi I make…. which will be a whole other blog post.

Stay tuned.

June 15, 2009

Crockpot Yogurt!

We eat a lot of yogurt. It probably stems from those old Dannon commercials we used to see as kids ("In Soviet Georgia, where they eat a lot of yogurt, a lot of people live past 100..."), but in our Trash Free month, traditional yogurt in it's plastic containers was off limits.

What to do? What to do? Well, make it ourselves, of course.
We followed this ridiculously simple recipe for crockpot yogurt:

- One half gallon of whole milk. (2% worked pretty well, but resulted in more of a yogurt smoothie)

- 1/2 cup store-bought natural, live/active culture plain yogurt (you need to have a starter. Once you've made your own, you can use that as a starter)

And that's it.

Plug in your crockpot and turn it to low. Add an entire half gallon of milk.
Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

Unplug your
crockpot. Leave the cover on and let it sit for 3 hours.
Scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and put it in a bowl.
Whisk in 1/2 cup of store-bought live/active culture yogurt. Then pour the bowl contents back into the
crockpot. Stir to combine.
Put the lid back on your
crockpot. Keep it unplugged, and wrap a bath towel all the way around the crockpot for insulation.
Let it sit for 8 hours.
In the morning, the yogurt will have thickened. Put in the the fridge for at least five hours for maximum deliciousness, and add any fruit or sweetener you want.

Crockpot yogurt. It's cheaper, tasty and you'll use a heck of a lot less plastic!

And with luck, you may end up looking like this:

June 10, 2009

Plastic Food: The Movie

"Food, Inc."
Very exciting new movie.
Opens Friday.
Stars Michael Pollan.
May reach a wider audience than our blog.
Watch the trailer:

June 9, 2009

Plastic Food

Our experiment in living free of packaging -- and generally,anything fake and plasticky -- was basically another way of looking at the crazy approach that our culture takes to producing and selling food. Eliminating plastic packaging from your purchasing diet will quickly eliminate plastic food from your eating diet: when you vote against buying a frozen chicken pot pie because it comes in a plastic container inside a plastic bag inside a box, you are voting against the fake food* that is in that plastic container inside the plastic bag inside the box. Plastic-free living cuts out about 95% of what is available at the supermarket, highlighting just how much truly junk "food" they were trying to sell you in the first place.

* Swanson's Chicken Pot Pie contains: "Cooked Chicken Meat (Cooked Dark Meat Chicken, Water, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Carrageenan, Modified Food Starch, Sodium Phosphate, Spice Extract), Shortening (Lard, Hydrogenated Lard, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Potatoes With Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Cooked Mechanically Separated Chicken, Modified Food Starch" mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

June 7, 2009

Let's Talk # 5 (Polypropylene)

New York City's curbside recycling program accepts plastic bottles and jugs labelled on the bottom, inside the little recycling symbol, as plastics #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE).  According to the City's website, 90 percent of plastic bottles and jugs are made of the plastic resins that are either #1 or #2.  So that's good news for most of the containers that hold drinks and other common household products like dishwashing liquid and detergent.

But it leaves us with a mountain of other containers, like those usually used for yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta, some ice creams (hmmmm, dairy much?!), hummus, and take-out and microwaveable containers.  And medicine bottles.  Many of those are made of polypropylene, labeled a #5 plastic, which the City does not accept for recycling. What to do, then, with those?

The fantastic news is that a company named Preserve has partnered with Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms to undertake its own private effort to keep these #5 plastics out of landfills:  you can drop off #5 containers at designated Whole Foods stores (I confirmed with the Columbus Circle location), which will send them to Preserve, which in turn makes them into other things like razors and mixing bowls.   Learn more at

OR, you can avoid #5 altogether by making your own yogurt, like we did this weekend (inspired by my mother!).  But that is another story.

June 3, 2009

Day 3: At The Market

So far, so good!  Finding time to make all our meals from scratch is definitely going to be the biggest challenge.  We are hitting the greenmarket at Union Square pretty regularly:  the sweet snap peas are in high demand at our house, along with potatoes and asparagus.   

Since vegetables are the ultimate packaging-free food, we are relying more on our alt-veggie cookbooks these days.  Daniela's Sweet Potato and Black Bean Hash out of the Moosewood Cookbook was only kind of a hit, but she is pretty sure it will grow on everyone ... in time.  The Apple Pie, though, will knock your socks off!

May 29, 2009


Totally OK to bring home:  this beautiful wood table that Sophie made in studio art!

May 26, 2009


Six more days till we go plastic-free.  While the girls are considering the "things" that will be out -- see lipgloss concerns, last post -- we parents are wondering more about meals.   Now, most of our family's food either comes from the farmers' market (eggs, apples, lettuce, potatoes, broccoli, cider, cider donuts) or Fresh Direct (everything else), with the almost daily trip to Westside Market down the block for the occasional things we have forgotten.   

But in June, 95% of that store-bought stuff will be off-limits.   Once you start looking,you realize that everything is in a plastic bag (frozen burrito) or features a plastic tray (crackers), or comes in a box that is itself wrapped in a layer of plastic (crackers again).

This has been a serious topic of concern at breakfast lately: during June, there will be no Cocoa Puffs (plastic bag inside), no Smore's pop-tarts (plastic "foil" packets inside, and bad anyway), no Sunday-morning cinnamon buns (plastic tub of icing inside).  Even plain toast is tricky, since sliced bread is sold in a plastic bag.  Is that waxy paper around a stick of butter recyclable?  And yogurt -- plastic!   We are looking at alot more fruit and oatmeal.   

Steve has been baking bread pretty regularly for the past year, but only about a loaf a week.  he better step up production!

 I think we are in for alot of work. 

May 24, 2009

What to buy. What not to buy...


I am Charlotte, one of the daughters of the almost trash-free family. Today I went shopping at Claire's, a total girl store on 83rd street and as most girls do spent a lot of time there because of how I get overwhelmed. When I got home and showed my mom all of the accessories I had bought, she said I was lucky I had gone now, and not in June, because almost all of the packaging was non-recyclable and non-reusable plastic. Here is a picture of what i bought with the packaging. Here is a list of the things I would have been able to  get in June.

Able to get:
-Rope bracelets
-The gold headband
-The peace bracelets

Here are the things that I wouldn't have been able to buy in June.

Not able to get:
-Jolly Rancher lip gloss
-Lip Vitamin lip gloss
-The pack of three headbands

Surprisingly, a lot is packaged with way too much packaging. If there is plastic covering it, why add another layer of cardboard and then more plastic? It doesn't make any sense for two reasons. One, it is really hard to open (the Lip Vitamin needed scissors unlike everything else) and two, it is really bad for the environment. Please join my family in the Trash-Free month!

May 22, 2009

Getting Ready...

We are a New York City family, and we are freaked out by the Trash Swirl.  We want to reduce the way we rely on plastic.  We want to reduce the amount of pre-packaged STUFF that comes into our house.  SO...we are going to try to live TRASH-FREE for the month of June.  We will bring into our house only thing that can be recycled or composted.   

That means not only steering clear of plastic bags, but looking out for the way that the things we buy are packaged.  For one month, we won't buy anything that is shrink-wrapped, or wrapped in  that hard plastic, or anything that is itself plastic-y.

It will be a huge change but we are going to try it.   We have been inspired by the New Zealand couple who lived "rubbish-free" for a whole year, allowing themselves to generate only one bag of trash during that time.  (See what they did at    

One more week until we go trash-free.         Join us?