Saturday, May 30, 2009


You know you're a plastic blogger when.... wake up in a cold sweat after a dream about plastic. Yup, my nightmares apparently now involve walking down the street holding not one but TWO one-time-use plastic cups. With lids. And straws.

Now, although this was an unpleasant dream, there is a HIGH probability I would have just gone on sleeping if someone had not decided that 7 am on Saturday is an appropriate time to jackhammer.

But still. Cold sweat. Nightmare. About two cups. Had to laugh at that!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Find it! Episode 1 answers and Congratulations, Leah!

Thanks for your hard work! Congrats to Leah (and her son) who won this contest! Leah, I'll be in touch about getting your prize to you.

Here are the ANSWERS. If you have trouble seeing any answer, click on the picture and it will expand:





More exciting Greece trip stories coming soon. Including my very own recycling adventures and in-flight plastic issues.

Have a delightful, un-plastic day!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Find it! Episode 1

This post is a game -- AND a contest. I know some of you readers are parents, and this game can be played with your children too! It's pretty simple:

I'm going to post some pictures, each of which has plastic in it somewhere. These are all photos from Spetses, one of the beautiful places I visited in Greece. Your job is to find that plastic. To enter the contest, copy the photo into Painter or whatever program you like and put a big red circle around the plastic item in the picture. Then, email it to me at The first correct email will win a gift card to Target, where you can purchase one of these adorable Terracycle CapriSun bags (or some other UNPLASTIC item for your family). See my post on Terracycle for more.

Let's try an easy one for example:

Do you see it?

What in this picture just doesn't belong?

What plastic is messing up this beautiful picture of nature?

I bet you've got it!


There it is!

Here's a close-up:

So, you get the idea. You get to look at some of my pictures from Greece AND think about plastic! You can thank me later.

Ok, now for the rest. I'll post the answers tomorrow at 9 am. Hopefully, I'll also have a winner to announce. If you're really lucky, we might even get to play again. The title of this post does say "Episode 1," afterall. Some are easy and others are harder. AND there is one trick -- one of these photos has two pieces of plastic in it. Be sure to find both. Good luck!





See, the thing is, that this POST is a game, but this IDEA is not. Plastic is everywhere. And that's why it's important to use less!

**Just to be clear, this post isn't meant to make Greece seem extra-plastic-y. And don't imagine that I missed the beauty of the place looking for plastic. It's just that, once you start noticing plastic, you see it wherever you go. Plus, this makes for a fun game, right? :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There is no Planet B

Greece. Is. Beautiful. Don't believe me? Check out these:

I literally don't even know where to start with Greece. I seriously have so much to say! I'll spread it out over a few blog posts so that you don't get bored. But I can sum it up in just a few words: Greece was incredible! If you've never been there, put it high on your bucket list. No one should die without seeing it.

The trip to Greece went a long way on the "unplastic life" thing. You know, the existential part of my anti-plastic campaign. Life is definitely NOT plastic in Greece. And, despite our initial inclination to serially sight-see (run from important place to important place like headless chickens), we managed to chill out and adopt Greek speed.

I spent a lot of time doing this:

while staring out at this:

Mom and I even fell asleep, lulled by the perfect weather, amazing view, and relaxed pace.

Granted, while I was there, there was some kind of spat that resulted in police walking around in riot gear with tear gas, but fortunately the actual "incident" happened when I was blissfully off on Spetses.

And Greek drivers aren't exactly relaxed, given that they tend to park like this:

But I didn't have to drive, so I just found it amusing.

Afterall, when you're literally wandering around where Socrates walked

it's harder to worry about the little things. Something about the history of a place like that makes me feel like, whatever the concern, it will melt away eventually. Plus, I took lots of time to look at and smell these (it really does help!):

Greeks, like many Europeans, take the time to enjoy life. They walk a little more slowly. They savor meals. They make things look pretty. They prioritize things other than expedience, so often the culprit of plastic in American life.

That said, I did see plastic everywhere. I mean, I see plastic everywhere HERE, so it's no special issue with Greece. Though it is somehow more jarring when you're at ruins of buildings that have been around for 3,000 years and see plastic lying around. More posts on the ubiquity of the plastic later.

For now, I want to introduce you to two people I met in Greece.

1. Meet Olga Kaertidou. She's an Athenian who was on weekend holiday to Spetses on Saturday. When she walked by us carrying this awesome bag, my dad kindly chased her down and photographed the great message. We chatted with Olga and her friends for a bit and learned that they were wandering around the island collecting recyclables! That made me smile a lot!! Thanks, Olga, for putting up with us and allowing me to post you and your bag on my blog!

2. On Friday night, we had dinner at this fantastic little restaurant called Hatzi's on Spetses. The chef's daughter is an economics Ph.D. student at George Washington University, so we bonded over studying in DC. And the food was delightful.

But the best part of the night came when we started chatting with the French family seated at the table behind us. They had adorable twin three-year-olds, which started the conversation. Eventually, it wound its way around to occupations. It turned out that the father makes recycling centers that are used all around Europe, including in Greece! You know, like these. I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity. I was so star-struck (and the kids were so sleepy) that I didn't manage to ask for a picture. But I was pretty thrilled.

So, yes, wandering around ancient ruins and staring out at the Mediterranean Sea did me good. Deep-in-the-bones good. I love Greece! And my generally peaceful attitude as a result of visiting a beautiful place just makes me that much more committed to ensuring that these beautiful places survive. Because, you know, there is no Planet B.

(Photo credits to my awesome parents.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Me!, Wednesday -- All the way from ATHENS!

Ok, so it's not Monday.

But, to be fair, I spent most of Monday in airports and/or wandering the truly delicious streets of Athens. (Well, they are mostly delicious. My beloved parents somehow booked a hotel in the drug/prostitute section of Athens. Seriously, sketched me out more than the area where I volunteer does. Actual hair-standing-on-end kind of sketched out. The hotel was totally fine, but the neighborhood was not. We checked out after one night. But other than that, the streets are delicious. You are very likely to look over your shoulder and see ruins that are several thousands of years old. It's, um, kind of amazing.)

Tuesday was spent racing around Athens until we found a MUCH NICER (albeit more expensive) hotel. After we found the hotel, we went to the Acropolis and then dinner. I was waaaayyyyy too exhausted for blogging!

Then Wednesday included a very early morning trip to the Ancient Agora (seriously, the actual place where Socrates hung out and where, much later, St. Paul tried to convert people. SO COOL) followed by a bus trip up to Delphi (aka, my favorite place in the universe). So, you can understand that it took me awhile to get to my Not Me! Monday post.

So, anyway, this is my Not Me! Wednesday post (if you must know, yes, it is THURSDAY in Athens, and yes it is the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT in Athens, but here I am. um, yeah).

I definitely DID NOT purchase lots of travel plastic.

I definitely did NOT pause to locate all the plastic in the Ancient Ruins sites. Like the Ancient Agora. Or Delphi. Even if it WAS in trash cans, I obviously would NEVER be repulsed!

(Seen here: Amazing Delphi. Close-up of the trash can and its plastic contents.)

(Seen here: A trash can STUFFED full of plastic. Next to, you know, the most well-preserved temple in all of Greece.)

I absolutely, positively would NEVER use silverware wrapped in plastic at a nice! restaurant. (I am weak. I wanted the napkin.)

I definitely did NOT covertly snap this photo of a man carrying plastic silverware in his pocket. My dad was definitely NOT chatting him up (as he does most strangers) at the archaelogical site in Delphi. I was definitely totally UN-impressed by his anti-plastic precision.

I absolutely did NOT dive into the drink-the-Athens-tap-water phenomenon. The books definitely DIDN'T say it's ok. So I certainly did NOT fill up my Sigg.

Today, I certainly DIDN'T purchase a can of Pringles for the trip back from Delphi to Athens. It definitely WASN'T because we utterly failed to find a single open restaurant (our timing was off -- we needed food at a time they don't really serve it). Pringles don't have a ton of plastic on them, but they are by NO MEANS an un-plastic treat.

And I absolutely, positively didn't write a Not Me! Monday post on Wednesday (Thursday). No! Not me! Never.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Recycling in Athens

I'm in Athens, where plastic does abound. More on that later. However, I do have good news about recycling. Athenians have these lovely recycling centers around the city. It seems like they get paid for this recycling. LOVE IT!

We had a great evening last night with delicious Greek food at a taverna just under the Acropolis. It was beautiful! We're off to explore now, but I'll update when I can (or when I get back).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Off to Greece!

I'm heading off to Greece now. I may not be able to post as often over there. I'll be trying to avoid plastic, but travel always makes that hard. I have my trusty Sigg, but I can't take my own silverware since I'm carrying on. Wish me luck!

Catch you on the flip side (if not before)!

Graduation :) Plastic :(

I graduated from my Master's program this weekend! yay! But I had to use a lot of plastic to do so...booo...

Here are some pictures of my gown and hood which are mostly made of plastic and came wrapped guessed it...plastic!

I was a graduation speaker, and I took a lot of pride in avoiding the plastic bottles of water on the stage (no matter how much I wanted a sip!). I also passed on a plastic poncho this morning. It wasn't THAT rainy. But for more on rain and plastic, see an upcoming post!

So...some wins, some losses in graduation. But lots of plastic!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Three Cheers for Un-plastic Toothpicks at Neisha

I went to dinner with my parents at Neisha last night. It's a lovely Thai place in Tenleytown. My father, a toothpick afficionado, showed me that they were using PAPER wrapping instead of plastic! Fabulous! I'm not a toothpick user myself, but I always grimace on my way in and out of restaurants whose toothpicks are wrapped in that vile stuff. Way to go Neisha.

My Local CVS Stores and Plastic Bags

Update: A kind reader, Debbie, has let me know that not all CVS stores implement this policy. Therefore, I'll probably be able to work with just the two locations where this has happened recently. Nonetheless, a frustrating evening. Read on for details:

Original Post:
You may have read my post titled "I don't need a bag but thanks anyway." Well, the exact same thing happened to me tonight at CVS. I was breezy and pleasant. I requested no bag just as the person ringing me up tossed my items into a bag. She removed them. She crumpled up the bag. I stared in horror. As calmly as possible, I tried to explain that the reason I was requesting no bag was so that she would RE-USE the bag. "Re-use it for what?" she asked. "For the next customer," I replied.

This woman proceeded to tell me that she was the manager, and it is OFFICIAL STORE POLICY to throw away bags that touch ANY CUSTOMER ITEMS. While I might understand if this were food service, the items I was purchasing were not gooey or messy at all. I cannot understand the possible explanation for such a policy.

The manager this evening wound up saying that she "respected my beliefs" and would reuse the bag. However, my choices are not based on beliefs. They are based on these FACTS.

*14 plastic bags contain enough petroleum to drive a car a mile.
*380 BILLION plastic bags or wraps are thrown away in America each year.
*Cities spend up to 17 cents per bag in disposal costs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Recycled" Cups and Policy Perspectives

I was in the graduate department office today, tying up some loose ends. I was thirsty. Somehow, I had left my Sigg at home. So I used a disposable paper cup to get some water.

I noticed that the department is trying -- they are using the "bare" line of the Solo cups. "Bringing Alternative Resources for the Environment," the brand uses 10% post-consumer recycled paper. Really? 10%? Plus there's the plastic lining...ugh.

What I really don't understand is why these cups are made with so little post-consumer paper when you can print on 100% post-consumer paper that looks perfectly great. For example, the student journal Policy Perspectives (which features an article by yours truly!) uses lots of eco-friendly methods. The editors didn't stop with that awesome-looking 100% post-consumer paper. They also made sure the paper was created using renewable energy, printed with soy-based ink, used chlorine-free processing, and purchased carbon offsets for the printing and editorial processes. That means they basically produced the journal at social cost (not just at the cheapest cost they could do from an organizational, budgetary standpoint). And did you know that using soy-based inks means they consumed "less than 1 percent of the energy required by traditional, petroleum-based inks" (Policy Perspectives 2009. Design Note)? Want more about the journal? Check out the website (linked above) or the blog.

Is it the fact that cups are going to affect food/beverage intake? Is it a health thing? Because the cup is also going to get lined with something to make it waterproof, so how much does it matter where the recycled paper has been? Anyway, I feel bad about my one-time use cup experience.

On the plus side, I was strong tonight. I refused a cookie wrapped in plastic. Fortunately, I could get an ice cream cone instead. Ahh, ice cream, my treat of perfection. Love how you eat the container!

New Camera Needed -- Suggestions?

I need a new camera. God bless my little Optio E10. It's tiny and convenient. But, as you can see in my pictures, it lacks a bit in range and focus. I'm just getting out of grad school, so I can't just go big. And I hate buying new electronics because there is SO MUCH PLASTIC involved. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Natural Soap and Sustainable Candle

As I was signing in for yoga on Tuesday, I spotted this bar of soap, calling out to me. I lifted it to my nose and was instantly enamored of the Lavender Mint scent. Plus, I've been looking for a healthier soap lately, one less harsh on the sensitive skin. This handmade soap has coconut, olive, palm, and castor oils -- and not a single ingredient you'd need a chemistry degree to understand. I picked this up after class and couldn't be happier!

I was also seeking a candle, since my supply is dwindling. I recalled coveting a dreamy soy wax number delightfully packaged in 100% post-industrial paper pulp, which - get this - can be used as a planter! I can just fill it with soil and seeds and then plant the whole darn thing when the seedling begins to grow. No transplanting or anything since the paper fibers will naturally go back to, well, nature. Soy ink, sustainable twine, the whole deal on this packaging. It's seriously good stuff. Oh, how I love my yoga studio!!

Founding Farmers = My New Favorite Restaurant

On Monday evening, I had the very great pleasure of dining at Founding Farmers. I was instantly charmed when, upon requesting my beverage without a straw, the waiter informed me that they don't serve straws with any of their beverages. Seriously, I was in LOVE.

The food comes from nearby sustainable farmers. They make as many dishes and drinks in-house as possible (for example, the delicious home-made ginger beer!). They put milk bottles full of water (but without any tops!) on the table for you.

And, when you leave with extra food, they pack it up in a delightful paper container, as seen here. Yes, it is coated with something to keep it waterproof, but MUCH less non-paper gets used than in your average take-home container. PLUS it's recyclable. And they don't bring you a plastic bag with the take-home box.

Oh, and did I mention the food is yummy? Because it is. Very yummy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Me! Monday

I certainly did NOT forget my almost-brand-new EarthLust reusable water bottle in a park last week. The sunshine and leisure time did NOT go to my head. I absolutely did not have to replace it with a new Sigg. Not me!

I definitely did NOT buy new eau de toilet all wrapped up in plastic. And I certainly didn't seriously consider buying Bath & Body Works soap just because it smells good when I have lots of soap at home. Nope.

There's no chance that I complained to someone's manager because she refused to take my plastic bag back. Not me!

I absolutely did not post about eco-personal hygiene supplies and then buy my regular (plastic) floss. Never. (In my non-defense, I certainly DON'T have to see the dentist soon.)

I did NOT shun eco-chic newspaper wrapping to buy a (partially plastic) bag for my mom's Mother's Day present. Definitely not me!

I definitely did not refuse straws in restaurants about 10 times in the past week. And I certainly did NOT forget to refuse them another few times.

There is NO CHANCE that I bought new pants at Ann Taylor Loft, only to realize that they are all plastic. And I definitely did NOT keep them anyway.

I certainly did NOT agonize over the hypocrasy of keeping a blog about hating plastic and still using it more than I'd like. Nope, never. Not at all! Not me.

**Not Me! Monday comes from MckMama's blog at Want to play along? Write your own Not Me!s, link to her blog, and read other ridiculous things people are ashamed of NOT doing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"I don't need a bag, but thanks anyway!"

I say these words at least once per day. Today I said them a LOT. And I got some very different answers.

The first time today, it didn't go so well. I was at CVS, picking up a last minute Mother's Day card. (I got the present weeks ago, and completely forgot that I also needed a card.) I politely requested no bag. The cashier gave me a bag anyway. I removed my items from the bag and said, "I don't need a bag, but thanks anyway." She stared at me. I picked the bag up and held it out toward her, saying "Can you just use it again for the next customer?" She glared at me, took the bag, crumpled it up, and threw it away. I said, "The whole point of my not taking a bag is so that you can re-use it. Will you at least recycle that bag?" More stares and glares. "Can I please have the bag so I can recycle it if you won't? And can I speak to your manager?" SERIOUSLY? I am used to questions. I am used to amusement. I am NOT used to outright defiance, in particular from a store clerk. I was simply asking you to reuse a perfectly new bag, that YOU GAVE ME AGAINST MY WILL, that touched the outside of a card and a bag (nothing that remotely affects a future user), that I POLITELY returned to you. I'm thinking she was just having a bad day. The manager was understanding. I took the bag next door to Giant and recycled it.

However, the rest of my requests for NO PLASTIC went pretty well today. My mom and I went on a Mother's Day shopping trip (she loves shopping, especially with me, and - trust me - the feeling is mutual!). We successfully declined bags everywhere we went. At one store, they gave us a bag after we had asked for no bag. My mom politely said, "Oh, I don't actually need a bag, but thanks." And you know what? The sales associate said, "I'm sorry." Ah, the appropriate response when you do the opposite of what the customer asked and she politely reminds you!!! And it totally made my day when my mom pointed out that the person ahead of us at one store also had her own reusable bag and was refusing unnecessary shopping packaging!

You know what else? My parents have become experts at avoiding plastic shopping bags. They keep several reusable ones in their cars. My dad even picked up some cool reusable bags that fold up so they're quite small (purse-sized!) but unfold to be a full grocery bag!

To your left, the bag in folded form.

This, from the people who pitched a fit last Thanksgiving when I insisted on BUYING THEM some reusable bags. If you think you can't make a difference by changing your plastic habits, this is proof that you can. Setting an example DOES make the people in your life think. :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Today, My Life Begins"

I love the show Grey's Anatomy. I've seen every episode. I've endured the crazier plotlines (seriously, how are any of them still doctors?). The reason I keep watching is simple: that show is so hopeful. It's not just shock and awe like some medical dramas. It's not just a soap opera (though it definitely is that). I love the deep, dark reflections. But I love the fact that there are rainbows at the end of the aching. I love the idea of bringing meaning to life's worst possible moments. I loved tonight's episode with its focus on big days, even unexpected big days, days that make you stand up, grow up, and become accountable to something bigger than yourself.

I practiced my graduation speech today. The main theme is about how we don't do this on our own. This life thing? No one can get by on his or her own. We need each other. I need the plants and the animals and the fragile, delicate ecosystems too. And I need space - space not covered by landfills or Pacific Plastic Garbage spots. I need to be able to breathe in and drink deeply of the hope that fills me on big days.


FYI: I'm done with grad school. This should result in a lot more blog posts. :)

Today, I had lunch at Potbelly's. It's one of my favorites. Now I ask myself (and you) to help me evaluate whether it's a good anti-plastic experience.

Here's what I've observed:
1. Use paper packaging instead of plastic.
2. Offer canned beverages (recyclable).
3. Make most stuff fresh, reducing the amount of "storage plastic" they use compared with placed that use lots of pre-packaged products.
4. Most have recycling bins next to the trash.

1. Use plastic for sides. Including if you want extra hot peppers. Sigh. (I love their hot peppers!)
2. Beverage cups, like most, are plastic coated.
3. Chips are in plastic packaging.

Once I went to a location (the L Street Farragut North store) where there were no recycling bins. I was highly confused and distressed. But all the other ones have had them. Today I was thinking how great it would be if only we could compost restaurant waste.

I usually feel good about a trip to Potbelly's. Is there any reason I shouldn't?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Congrats, Brooke! Thanks for the Terracycle Tip!

I'm sorry it's taken so long to post. I had a final this morning and then group project work allllllllllllllll day. Just got home. In approximately 43 hours, I will be done with my Master's program!

But that's not why you're here. Naturally, you just can't wait to see who won the Office Supplies Contest, right?

Both good suggestions. FB, I appreciate the old-school aspect: Didn't they get it right back then? Fountain pens are very cool.

Brooke brought the Terracycle products to my attention. She noticed them at OfficeMax, but you can also find them on the Terracycle website. I'm in love. Not only do they RECYCLE and use RECYCLABLE materials, but they REUSE. They actually send out their cleaning supplies in re-used bottles that - get this - you can earn money sending to them! Some of their products, admittedly, look like a rainy day project for you and the fam. But others are pretty inspiring. My favorite?

The recycled newspaper pencil! Yup, it's exactly what it sounds like.

A close second are the very exciting pen options: recycled paper or corn-starch "plastic"!

I'm feeling better already. This is great! Brooke, I'll email you about your prize. :)