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: http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/foodinc/

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 http://earth911.com/plastic/

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!