The more disposables we consume, the better the plastics manufacturers fare and it has come to my attention recently that almost everything I use comes in a plastic package. My shampoo, salad dressing, laundry detergent, lipstick, razors, ground turkey, paper towels, hair color, toothpaste, hair gel, hair spray, antiperspirant, medications, bandages, antibiotic cream, hydrogen peroxide, facial cleanser, moisturizers, calamine lotion, lip balm, dry cleaning, juice, soda, coffee, ½ & ½, milk, eggs, cheese, my clothing has tags on it that are attached with little plastic leads. My shoes come in boxes full of little lumps of chemicals designed to keep them dry during shipping. My potting soil comes in plastic, my picture frames are shrink wrapped.

Some stuff is itself plastic and comes wrapped in more plastic: cell phone, cell phone charger, blue tooth, tablet, tablet holder, laptop desk, television, turntable, music, movies, software, dental floss, toothbrush head, toothbrush battery, combs, brushes,

The plastic in my bathroom: toothbrush holder, toothbrush, mouthwash, mirror, hair product, Vaseline, deodorant soap dish, shampoo, razor, pumice stone, bath oil, hair dryer, hair spray, hair brush, more hair product. I sit at my desk. My printer is made of plastic, so is my pen holder, my eyeglass cleaning spray, my mouse, my eyeglass case and the little standy uppy thing that holds a single document.

I know, I know, I know, I know, you get it.

The main problem with plastic — besides there being so much of it — is that it doesn’t biodegrade. No natural process can break it down. It photodegrades. Plastic in the ocean will fragment into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic known as nurdles.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t want nurdles in my tea. Just saying.

In Seattle, You’ll Be Fined For That

January 26, 2015 2:54 PM ET

from KUOW

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July.

Seattle garbage collector Anousone Sadettanh empties a small residential garbage bin into his truck in 2014. It is now illegal to toss out food with the trash in the city. Residents will get warning tags for now; the city will start imposing fines in July.

Elaine Thompson/AP

In Seattle, wasting food will now earn you a scarlet letter — well, a scarlet tag, to be more accurate.

The bright red tag, posted on a garbage bin, tells everyone who sees it that you’ve violated a new city law that makes it illegal to put food into trash cans.

“I’m sure neighbors are going to see these on their other neighbors’ cans,” says Rodney Watkins, a lead driver for Recology CleanScapes, a waste contractor for the city. He’s on the front lines of enforcing these rules.

Seattle is the first city in the nation to fine people for not properly sorting their garbage. The law took effect on Jan. 1 as a bid to keep food out of landfills. Other cities like San Francisco and Vancouver mandate composting, but don’t penalize homeowners directly.

Recology CleanScapes driver Rodney Watkins issues a red tag — the scarlet letter of food waste in Seattle. i

Recology CleanScapes driver Rodney Watkins issues a red tag — the scarlet letter of food waste in Seattle.

Amy Radil/KUOW

As Watkins made the rounds in Maple Leaf, a residential neighborhood of Seattle, earlier this month, he appeared disheartened to find an entire red velvet cake in someone’s trash bin. Any household with more than 10 percent food in its garbage earns a bright red tag notifying it of the infraction.

“Right now, I’m tagging probably every fifth can,” Watkins says. “I don’t know if that’s just the holidays, or the fact that I’m actually paying a lot more attention.”

Watkins doesn’t have to comb through the trash — the forbidden items are plain to see.

“You can see all the oranges and coffee grounds,” he says, raising one lid. “All that makes great compost. You can put that in your compost bin and buy it back next year in a bag and put it in your garden.”

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that every family in the city throws away some 400 pounds of food each year. The city gives households bins to fill with their food and yard waste. But residents don’t have to compost it themselves: They can just leave the bins curbside and have the city pick it up for a fee.

The new law is meant to help Seattle increase its recycling and composting rate to 60 percent of all its waste — the city is currently 4 percentage points below that.

The red tags are part of the public education campaign about the new law; the city won’t actually start issuing fines until July. Single households will pay $1 per violation, but apartments, condos and commercial buildings could be fined $50. That has apartment and condominium dwellers a little nervous.

Jim Ward owns a condo in a large building in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. He says his neighbors include people from many different countries who may not be familiar with Seattle’s recycling rules. Ward came down to the building’s recycling bin recently and it was a mess.

“I found dirty rags with oil on them and just really messy pieces of plastic that were wet,” he says. So Ward took the opportunity to do some outreach.

“I ended up actually taking those things and putting them on the main counter in the lobby of the condominium, and I just wrote a note to everyone and I said, ‘Are these things recyclable?’

Seattle’s push for more recycling comes as the state’s overall recycling rate has gone down slightly. The Washington Department of Ecology says the recycling rate slipped to 49 percent in 2013 from 50, although that’s still among the highest in the nation.

The city’s consumer recycling capabilities are pretty high-tech, with machines to separate paper, glass and plastic. And come July, Seattle will also start issuing fines for too much recyclable materials mixed in the trash. That has been illegal for several years, but haulers had just been leaving garbage on the curb when that happened.

Now, leaving an empty tub of butter or mayonnaise jar in the rubbish bin could earn you a red tag, too.

Amy Radil is a reporter with member station KUOW in Seattle. A version of this story first appeared on the KUOW website.

Like Wet Gritty Dough

The List

  • shampoo/conditioner
  • razors
  • bath oil
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • dental floss
  • facial cleanser
  • moisturizer
  • lipstick
  • antiperspirant
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • calamine lotion
  • antibiotic cream
  • hair product
  • lip balm
  • Vaseline
  • medication/vitamins
  • brush/comb
  • saline solution
  • q-tips
  • hair dryer

Are you getting sick of looking at this? Me too. I’ve abolished two items: shampoo and conditioner. I’ve survived a week without putting anything on my hair but baking soda, (and product,) and it looks and feels fine. In fact, my hair is double process blonde and my scalp has not itched since I started this new regime. Okay my hair is only like 2 inches long. I feel like I should make that disclaimer.

So the first time I scrubbed my head with baking soda was a little weird. The stuff feels like wet, gritty dough, but once it was thoroughly rinsed, my hair just felt a little denser. It seems like the baking soda absorbs some of the natural oils and then rinses away just shy of completely. My hair felt like there was still something in it, but not in a bad way.

As for the rest, ugg. I think cosmetics can be bundled. Lush uses refillable packaging. I haven’t tried their products yet, but I’ve heard good things. This could potentially solve: shampoo/conditioner, bath oil, facial cleanser, moisturizer and hair product. The list is getting shorter. I don’t expect you to focus on the slow deconstruction of this list with the same level of interest I have so the blog is going to return to other subjects of interest. I will post the ever dwindling, (hopefully,) list as a sidebar just as soon as I figure out how to do that.

Oh yeah and we found toothbrushes made with recycled wood, paper, and money at Whole Foods. They’re called Source Brushes and made by a company called Radius.


Happy Face.



Going “No Poo”

You know how as soon as you buy a motorcycle all you see are motorcycles? Or you get pregnant and suddenly everyone is pregnant? I’ve been trying to figure out how to reduce my dependence upon plastic and suddenly I find lots of web sites devoted to this very issue. There is even some sort of “no poo” movement of people who have stopped using shampoo. Who knew?

I haven’t found many solutions that I hadn’t already considered, but I did find lots of details on how to change my usage. Here is a site that has been devoted to reducing plastic use since 2007 and has some great ideas, including 100 steps to a plastic free life.

The first thing I’m going to try is baking soda as deodorant. I’m skeptical because it isn’t that I just don’t want to smell. I don’t want to sweat. I know, I know, it’s natural, blah, blah, blah. I don’t like it and since I’m trying to make changes that I think the average reader might be willing to make I’m going to stick with the goal of complete dryness. It’s definitely worth a try though. I will report back.

I’m going no poo too. There are numerous claims out there that baking soda and apple cider vinegar can replace shampoo entirely and they come in cardboard and glass, respectively. I’ve been slathering my hair with toxic chemicals for years and then adding insult to injury by washing it daily with commercial shampoo. The gentleman who lightened it up recently suggested I scale back to washing it every few days instead. This was difficult. My hair felt dirty. I felt dirty. Once I adjusted though, I loved it. It is so much easier to style a day or two after being washed. I am now much more amenable to the idea of not washing it at all, at least not with commercial shampoo. So, I am going to be making my own shampoo, it just won’t have any poo.

The basic recipe is to premix 1 tablespoon baking soda with 1 cup water or just mix up a paste in the shower with a tablespoon or less of baking soda and apply to really wet hair. Let it sit for a minute, then rinse. The rinse is 1-2 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar per cup of water. Apply to wet hair, massage into scalp and rinse off with cold water. I did read a warning somewhere though that the baking soda has to be completely rinsed from your hair before introducing vinegar to the scene. Beware.

For those not ready to give up shampoo entirely, I found this at Whole Foods.


It cost $5.99, which frankly is more than I normally spend on poo and I have my doubts about how long the bar will last, but I’m going to get a friend to try it. We will report our findings.

Shave Your Head


The list is not terribly popular with my friends, (see Taking Apart The List.) The overall response has been a variation of, “Good luck with that.” I think most of us are willing to clean our homes with vinegar and baking soda when it comes down to it, but no one is anxious to part with their facial cleanser or antiperspirant. A welcome exception was my friend Elise who tackled the list with wit and enthusiasm, but she’s Parisian so what do you expect?

Some of her suggestions:

Shampoo/Conditioner —> Change your style for Christ sake!! Shave your head. It will give you that sexy look of Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3 and reduce the need for shampoo for a while… ah but yes! Razor is the issue. See ‘razor’ section.

razors — invest in a proper barber’s razor, see pic — actually as far as I am concerned I don’t shave with a razor but with honey and sugar (yes, truly). What? Look into this.

straight razor

bath oil — OMG is it a cultural thing??? I am not using any?!?

toothbrush — use Bamboo toothbrush (yes that exists it is called Brush With Bamboo) Brosse à dents en bambou

This is an idea that appeals and would probably make me feel very hip and European. They sell them at the local apothecary, but really you still have to throw it away, right? My MSF doesn’t recycle bamboo with bristles. Besides, most of us are now addicted to our electric toothbrushes. Mine runs on batteries, which I’ve just realized is worse. Is there no end to this?

toothpaste — hmm, can’t really do without yes? Wait to be older and lose them all?

hair product — still : no hair

lip balm — use butter (can carry in some wooden container — requires DIY skills but can be done) This is disgusting.

Le Mardi 16 décembre 2014 5h28


Taking Apart The List

  • shampoo/conditioner – currently investigating
  • razors
  • bath oil
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • dental floss
  • facial cleanser
  • moisturizer
  • lipstick
  • antiperspirant
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • calamine lotion
  • antibiotic cream
  • hair product
  • lip balm
  • Vaseline
  • medication/vitamins
  • brush/comb
  • saline solution
  • q-tips
  • hair dryer

In going over this list I became overwhelmed and dejected. It’s too much. We’re too dependent on plastic. I’m too dependent on plastic. But, look at this stuff. I mean are you really going to stop flossing your teeth? What about your hair brush? At least those don’t get discarded every couple of weeks. But even if I focus exclusively on the disposables it’s still a crazy big list. I’m not sure how safely I can shave my knees with a straight razor. I could use the stuff that melts one’s hair off, but that comes in a plastic container. This makes me feel so petty, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone. I don’t think people are going to sacrifice personal hygiene in favor of cutting down on plastic effluent. I’m going to present this list to friends and see what suggestions they might have.

I started my deconstruct at the top of the list with shampoo

I discovered five brands of eco-friendly home and personal product lines and not one of them makes a shampoo. Some make “bodywash.” No thanks, I want shampoo. I found lots of recipes for homemade shampoo, but they all called for castile liquid soap and that comes in plastic… Granted I can get a one gallon container, which is better than trashing lots of little bottles, but I can buy shampoo by the gallon too. Can’t I go to some general store where they could ladle it out of a big wooden tub?

Lastly, there are shampoo bars.

Gear Head Shampoo

One of my favorite contenders is: Gear Head shampoo bars. They’re sold at Whole Foods among other retailers. I’m going to try some, BUT it comes wrapped in plastic, albeit plastic smaller than a shampoo bottle. I think I’m still going to try homemade shampoo. For anyone who wants to join me, here is a link to a number of shampoo recipes. The tea tree oil is really helpful for dry skin and an itchy scalp.



The more disposables we consume the more plastic we use and it has come to my attention recently that almost everything I use comes in a plastic package, is itself plastic, or is itself plastic and comes in a plastic package.

In the bathroom alone: Shampoo, conditioner, razors, bath oil, soap dish, toothbrush holder, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, moisturizer, lipstick, antiperspirant, hydrogen peroxide, calamine lotion, antibiotic cream, facial cleanser, lip balm, Vaseline, prescription medication, over the counter medication, brush, comb, saline solution, vitamins, q-tips, nose hair trimmer – (yes, I said it), hair product, hair dryer.

It’s not hard to figure out that plastic is bad news no matter how responsibly we try to dispose of it. It doesn’t biodegrade. No natural process breaks it down. Plastic photodegrades, which means that it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces as it is exposed to sunlight. In the ocean it breaks into pieces known as nurdles. Nurdles are found in the digestive tracts of birds and fish.


I don’t mean to seem light on solutions or critical of the solutions we have come up with, but really when it comes to plastic it isn’t all getting ingeniously and harmlessly remolded into new uses. Some of it is ending up in the intestines of sea birds and some of it is washing up on beaches in Portugal.

From The New York Times:

Azores, Portugal

Plastic debris washed up on a beach in Azores, Portugal. Credit Marcus Eriksen

”A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One estimated that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small, weighing 269,000 tons, could be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches.”{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A11%22}&_r=0

Some of the items floating around?

“…bottles, toothbrushes, bags, toys and other debris…”

So, can I take apart my own list and find ways to stop using this stuff? And can it be done without mixing my own shampoo and learning to use a straight razor? I will deconstruct the list in my next post.

Happy News

Having established that the subject of garbage leads everywhere and that there is an enormous amount of it that we have little or no control over, short of buying much less stuff, I feel that I need to say something positive. Let’s look at what other countries are doing regarding Extended Producer Responsibility. Here’s a happy story.

In Germany the Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Act requires businesses to eliminate waste production by implementing one or more of the following management strategies: waste avoidance which involves designing manufacturing processes to reduce the amount of waste produced, waste that is produced must be recycled or converted to energy, and/or waste that can’t be recycled must be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.

“EPR was first pioneered in Europe over 20 years ago. Since then, the vast majority of EU Member States have introduced EPR for packaging, although the form of implementation varies from one country to the next, ranging from mandatory regulations to voluntary agreements between government and industry to voluntary industry initiatives. EPR for packaging in Europe has offered a much more certain future for the entire packaged goods sector. It is far less costly for consumers and society at large, and is the preferred policy tool for industry to drive recovery and recycling packaging rates.”


“In the European Union, extended producer responsibility is mandatory within the context of the WEEE, Batteries, and ELV Directives, which put the responsibility for the financing of collection, recycling and responsible end-of-life disposal of WEEE, batteries, accumulators and vehicles on producers. The Packaging Directive also indirectly invokes the EPR principle by requiring Member States (MS) to take necessary measures to ensure that systems are set up for the collection and recycling of packaging waste.  Additional waste streams for which producer responsibility organisations have been most commonly identified within the European Union include tyres, waste oil, paper and card, and construction and demolition waste. However, a much broader range of waste streams are subject to obligatory or voluntary producer responsibility systems in some MS, including: farm plastics, medicines and medical waste, plastic bags, photo-chemicals and chemicals, newspapers, refrigerants, pesticides and herbicides, and lamps, light bulbs and fittings.”

Trash Planet: Germany

“Germany leads the European nations in recycling, with around 70 percent of the waste the country generates successfully recovered and reused each year. To put that figure into perspective, consider this: In 2007, the U.S. was able to recover only about 33 percent of the waste generated that year.”

How do they do it?

“…while the country’s conscientious waste management strategy requires cooperation from the government, the industry and the citizens, it starts at the very beginning of the waste creation process – with the product manufacturers.

There are three simple components the manufacturers must consider: waste avoidance, waste recovery and environmentally compatible disposal.

By incorporating waste avoidance into industry, much of Germany’s waste management becomes “invisible,” as corporations are forced to re-think every aspect of manufacturing. Packaging, processes and disposal of items are all engineered with recycling and elimination of waste in mind.

Federal Waste Management Policy

In 1996, German lawmakers who were concerned about the country’s growing number of landfills passed the Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Act, which requires businesses to eliminate waste production by implementing one or more of the three management strategies.

Waste avoidance is first priority because it encourages companies to design their manufacturing processes and packaging with elimination of wastefulness in mind. Second, waste that can’t be avoided must be recycled or converted into energy. Lastly, waste that can’t be recovered must be disposed of in a way that is environmentally safe.”

So, in Germany, those who create the waste are responsible for cleaning it up. The U.S., on the other hand, has a “consumer pays” policy, in which waste management is funded by citizens.

“Germany’s three-point strategy doesn’t apply to just the country’s solid and packaging wastes, but also to liquid, gaseous, hazardous, radioactive and medical wastes. The efforts have been hugely successful; according to the German Federal Statistical Office, between the years 1996 and 2007, the country has reduced its total net waste amount by more than 37.7 million U.S. tons.”

Marie Look,

To read more about how Germany handles its waste, go to:



The more I learn about garbage the more I find myself dashing off in several different directions. The one thing that’s been obvious from day one is that there’s too much garbage. I’m not sure how far beyond that basic fact I’ve gotten. I think we can all agree that anything is better than landfill, (except perhaps for incineration, but that’s a discussion for a future post.) Suffice to say that recycling and composting are better than landfilling. Reusing and re-purposing should always be attempted before discarding AND buying and using less stuff to begin with is the best solution of all. But all of this leads off in many directions.

Recycling is complicated for so many reasons. It tends to lull us into believing that it doesn’t matter how much we use as long as we recycle it, which ISN’T true. Every Materials Sorting Facility has a different set of guidelines on what it can and cannot accept and even within those guidelines discards have to be in a certain condition AND this varies from facility to facility. If you discard some plastic that’s sticky and residuey it can contaminate a whole batch of materials at your local MSF. It makes one begin to feel a bit hopeless, doesn’t it? I don’t want to feel hopeless, but it’s hard to discern the wisest course. Educating ourselves on exactly what is and isn’t accepted, and in what condition, by our local MSF and then adhering to those guidelines is obviously an excellent first step. Composting or contributing to a local composting effort deals with organic waste. But even if everyone did those two things, we would still need to think about how much we’re consuming.

Then there’s the question of packaging and whose responsibility it is to deal with all of the packaging and how much waste is involved in the production of those things we’re consuming. What if every toothbrush you use actually represents 20 times as much refuse in its production? And what about e waste, a whole new category of garbage that isn’t actually all that new? And then there’s the effect all of this stuff is having on the countries to which it is being shipped in greater and greater quantities. I never used to think about what happened to my laptop when I was finished with it, or my cell phone, which is designed to last about a year, which brings me to planned obsolescence. Perhaps you can see why the blog might begin to seem a bit unfocused. It is that there are just so many things to focus on. So, instead of trying to manage the unmanageable, I’m going to start categorizing posts by what I see as the main subject. Of course there will be lots of overlap, but you can bring up info on recycling or composting or product packaging by clicking on the that category name under a given post. That way I can follow where the research leads without feeling like I’m all over the map. The map will have a map so to speak.

Extended Producer Responsibility

What if we made manufacturers responsible for disposing of the products they produce? You would think that products would start to last longer and become cheaper and cheaper to recycle. This concept was first introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist in a report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment in 1990. The idea was named Extended Producer Responsibility, (EPR) and was defined as follows: “[EPR] is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact of a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal.”


Photograph: Alte Fabrik Finkemeier 002


Corporate Social Responsibility, (CSR) has become a buzz phrase with companies wanting to communicate their environmental achievements. Consulting agencies rate companies on their corporate responsibility and advise them on environmental ethics. Annual Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability reports allow them to tout their accomplishments. Yet the media is inundated with images of e-waste in Africa, India and anywhere else there is a ready market of cheap labor and an absence of environmental protection measures.


Photograph: Jim Puckett/AP

So how can industry be puffing its chest over CSR while its used and discarded products continue to clog land and waterways in the third world? Here is what Greenpeace said in a report from 2006.

“The hi-tech sector continues to produce ever shorter-life, often superfluous products with inherently hazardous materials. Why are hi-tech corporations, which profess to be responsible corporate citizens allowing this to happen? One answer is that CSR initiatives, whether they involve Codes of Conduct or reporting guidelines, are voluntary. At best, CSR can be a way for the best companies to lead the way. At worst, CSR initiatives can even be a diversionary tactic, used by industry to pretend that they are taking action and to avoid regulation.”

As always some business will adhere to the code of conduct and some will use it to further obscure their nefarious practices. It isn’t any different from large oil companies using their public relations budgets to air television ads about their environmental programs. We’ve all seen the ad campaigns that portray as environmental hero the petroleum company responsible for the most disastrous and extensive oil spill in the history of the planet. The company was found to be “grossly negligent” and yet the eco-friendly ads continue to grace our air waves. It is up to us as individuals to separate truth from fantasy and to demand greater corporate responsibility.