Plastic Free July Challenge

As much as I’ve resisted this, I’m a jar person now. Like Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer before me, I’m now one of those people who keeps their trash in a jar. This jar.

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Plastic Free July is a great reason to try tacking my garbage for the first time, and here are the rules.

Rule 1: Priorities

I’m going to prioritize reduction, refusing, and reusing this month. Recyclable and compostable items are nice, but single-use is not going to fly. It’s about more than just reducing plastic, it’s about reducing everything.

Rule 2: Plastics

Some of my reusable items are made of plastic. My cold drinks tumbler and my to-go containers for example. Since those items are reusable I’m not going to count them as trash. Now, if I bought bottled water I’d have to put that plastic item in the trash jar. Even though it’s recyclable? Yes, even though it’s recyclable the point of Plastic Free July is to avoid single-use plastic items and a plastic water is absolutely a single-use plastic item.

Rule 3: The Jar

Here’s what goes in the jar: single-use plastic items, plastic film, plastic bags, small plastics like bottle caps and twist ties, multi material items like shelf stable packaging and tea bag wrappers, other trash items. I have access to compost where I live so no compostable items or food items will go in the jar.

Ok! Here I go! A whole month! I can’t wait to see what the challenges are, what small and big actions I’ll be taking to avoid trash and single-use items outside of my normal behavior, and if this is viable for longer than a month.

I’ve got an empty jar and a lot of enthusiasm. Happy Plastic Free July everyone!

GogoBags: Review

Reducing waste can be as easy as replacing single-use items in your life with reusable ones. The ubiquitous plastic bag can be hard to avoid but their negative impact on the environment cannot be ignored. Bringing a cloth tote the grocery store is a good way to replace shopping bags, but what about snack sized baggies or produce bags? Problem, meet solution.

Photo courtesy of GogoBags

GogoBags makes several different styles of zero waste reusable bags, perfect for storing snacks, going on a hike, travel, and grocery shopping. They’re also handmade in Canada! One of their founders, Anahita, was kind enough to send me two types of their bags and they 100% exceeded expectations.

Reusable Snack and Sandwich Bags

I went on a lunch & hike to Bravo Lake near Sequoia National park to test how well the bags stayed closed in my backpack. The snack sized bag held onto my roasted almonds without leaking at all. I was convinced that I would open my backpack to find it full of loose almonds, but the fold-over snack bag held its own and worked perfectly.

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I didn’t have a sandwich to put into the sandwich sized bag, but I did have half of a burrito. I carried this veggie burrito in my backpack for at least another three hours before making it back to civilization, and my burrito stayed delicious. I don’t recommend putting anything too wet or soggy into these bags (they’re lined with cotton, so they’re not waterproof), but if your food is between slices of bread or wrapped in a tortilla you’ll be fine.

 

Reusable Mesh Produce Bags

Don’t tell my mom, but she is getting these for Christmas this year. The mesh bags are plenty big enough to carry loose produce and come in BRIGHT pink and white. These bags are laundry friendly and durable. My chef friend cautioned me against using them to carry meat products because of possible cross-contamination with your fruits and vegetables, but luckily I’m a vegetarian.

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Oh, and they come with a drawstring prevent your food from spilling all over the place. I use so many produce bags at the grocery store because I eat a plant-based diet, so these will definitely come in handy. As you can see, I loaded these up with heavy items (oranges, potatoes), and they did great with all that weight- I definitely got a workout taking this photo.

These are on Sale RIGHT NOW!

GogoBags is having a 12 Days of Christmas sale starting TODAY, December 1st through December 12th. Each day, one of their products is on sale. Did I mention that they also sell cloth toothbrush cases, bread bags, and fridge friendly bags among others? Get some for yourself, get some for your friends, and enjoy a Zero Waste holiday 🙂

GogoBags Website: https://www.gogobags.ca/shop/

Amazon Links to products that I reviewed:

Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Reusable Sandwich and Snack Bags

Grapefruit Candy: A Zero Waste Recipe

How much do you like grapefruit? Picture taking a bite of perfectly sweet and
delicious grapefruit, maybe with a little sugar sprinkled on top. Ok, now imagine a
grapefruit gummy worm. Still interested? Then let’s make Grapefruit Candy.

This zero-waste recipe comes from my wonderful grandmother who used to make
this special treat as a way to turn food waste into dessert. I like to think of it as
turning straw into gold (or day old bagels into vodka).

You will need
3-4 grapefruits (as many as you want)
~2 Cups of Cane Sugar (or other sweetener, but come on we’re making candy use
sugar)

Step 1
Cut the grapefruits in half and eat out the middle edible part. It does not matter how
much pith is left over. This can be done days in advance, just keep the empty
grapefruit halves stored in the fridge for up to one week.

Inline image 1

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Zero Waste Spirits Company Uses Food Waste to make Vodka

A California distillery is using food waste to make vodka.

These people might be geniuses.

Meet Misadventure Vodka. The sugary source material for their alcoholic product comes from discarded sugary baked goods including cake. CAKE! They’re making vodka from cake! They’re reducing food waste and creating a product at the same time. Somebody get them a medal. As their website says, “Finally you can have your cake and drink it too.”

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Photo from Misadventure Co

Hedonistic Sustainability

“Precious resources are used to grow, package, transport, and sell food, but a large portion of it never reaches human mouths and is, instead, thrown away. At your local store unsold baked goods are often donated to food banks by mindful shop owners. This normally would be the food’s last stop before it was taken to the landfill.

Misadventure Vodka extends the useful life of these foods. Right now, we specifically save all manner of baked goods. This is possible because they can still contain usable starches that can be converted to sugars that are then eaten by microscopic yeast and turned into marvelous alcohol.”-Misadventure Vodka

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Photo from Misadventure Co

The amount of food waste at all stages of production is staggering. From food left unpicked due to labor shortages, food not sent to market because it doesn’t meet aesthetic standards, food unsold and rotting which goes un-donated, to food expiring in our refrigerators. Misadventure Co steps in to save food from going to the landfill. While reducing food waste is better, finding a way to re-purpose food waste is pretty cool too.

For more reporting, check out this article on NPR.

Interested in giving distilling your own try? How about a Gin Kit! Too much work? Then Spirit Infusing might be more up your alley. Whatever you do, enjoy responsibly.

Meet Murf.

I want to introduce you to one of my best friends: Murf. He isn’t very popular, he doesn’t get out much, and he smells pretty bad sometimes (but that’s not his fault), so I don’t blame you for not having met yet.

So here’s Murf:

 

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See? How friendly!

*MRFs are challenging to photograph because they’re so big.

This is a Material Recovery Facility. A MRF. Pronounced “Murf”. These facilities are instrumental to the successful sorting, processing, and shipping of recyclable materials. When you throw something in the recycling, it comes here, to Murf.

Think of Murf like a big metal dragon that chews up mixed recycling and poops out perfectly square cubes of compacted metal, paper, cardboard, and plastic.

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What Waste? I thought it was all getting Recycled.

I got my start in garbage early in life (thanks, 4th grade field trip to the dump) because I live in an environmentally-friendly city: San Francisco. In San Francisco, compost and recycling aren’t just normal, they’re the law.  One benefit of living in one of the greenest cities in the country  is that most of our waste (80%) gets recycled or composted, leaving only 20% going to the landfill.

This is accomplished through a unique city/hauler relationship, years of social norming, laws mandating proper composting and recycling at every level (commercial & residential), and bans on single use plastic bags, water bottles, and Styrofoam. There’s also some pretty cool technology involved, but I’ll do a post about that later.

Regardless, the national recycling rate hovers around 30%, making SF’s 80% rate an abnormality in the United States.

This success leads some of my Bay Area friends to believe that their magical recycling city produces no trash at all, leading to the question, “Doesn’t it all get recycled?”

No. No it doesn’t.

So if it isn’t all getting recycled, then where does it go?

“Where The Waste Goes” is a topic that has filled more than a couple of books, so for now let’s do a quick dive into where your stuff is most likely to go.

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Garbage Book Club-Launch!

If you know me then you know I love to read. I’m hoping that you do to, because LOOK OUT here come the BOOKS!!

Here!

These are sort of categorized by subject but in no particular order. I’d love to do a guided reading of a couple of these, but for now, here are the top 5 books from this list that you need to read to get in touch with your trashy academic side.

 

Top 5 Books

1.  “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash”, Edward Humes

This is the perfect introduction to garbage, and it’s the first on this list for a reason. Touching on numerous trashy topics, Edward Humes writes in a clear, easy to understand tone. You’ll never think about garbage the same way again.

2. “Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City”, Robin Nagel

If you loved reading about the people involved in the waste industry in “Garbology”, then “Picking Up” by Robin Nagel is the obvious next step. This woman JOINED the New York Sanitation Department in order to learn more about it, and her journey to and from there is absolutely worth the read.

3.  “The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health- and a Vision for Change”, Annie Leanard

If you’re tired from reading the first two books, then you’re in luck because Annie Leanard has made “The Story of Stuff” an easily accessible YouTube video. From the original classic to newly updated mini-series, this book/video will teach you about WHY we consume so much, and how we can stop.

4. “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story” Susan Freinkel

This book is for the person who’s constantly asking, “Can this be recycled?” Susan Freinkel goes into the history of plastics, chemical makeup of our most-used products, and their impact on our health. If you microwave your lunch in plastic containers, this book is a must-read.

5. “The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time”, Dr. Paul Connett

Now that you’re all sad about the state of the world, I’ll advise you to read “The Zero Waste Solution” to regain the pep in your step. As the title implies, this book is all about solutions and success stories in creating Zero Waste companies, communities, and cities all over the world.

Real book are great, but for even less impact try out an e-reader!

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