December 19

Well, I actually ended my project a day early today. It had gotten to a point where I was just waiting for Friday to pick up a few things, but it was better for me to shop today. It seemed kind of silly to hold off, since I was going to buy these things regardless, and my end date was arbitrarily picked back in September to correspond to the rough end of my school semester (which is now over).   In the interest of integrity it might have been better to continue the project until the very end, but anyway, I’m calling this thing done now.

Over the last weekend when I *was* still doing it, I did buy a few things in plastic. I can’t remember now what they were. Oh, one was a chocolate bar that was (inside the outer package) wrapped in plastic instead of the foil I was expecting. And did I write about the parmesan cheese? I was out of time to shop and too far from the store (Santa Barbara Market) where they cut the wheels on demand, and will wrap the cheese in paper. 

Today was a whole different thing.  Buying yogurt (my starter had worn out, funny how it does that), blueberries (which happen to come in a very sturdy and re-useable ziplock, milk in plastic jug that I want to use for an ice pack… It just felt a bit strange. I did bring my own bags for bulk items and shopping bags, and I’ll continue to do that. I will generally continue many of the little habits I have developed, it just feels right to me to do so.  

So, my (this) project is over. A friend suggested that I have a tupperware party to mark the occasion!  I like this idea. But I probably (certainly) won’t.  No big celebration, release, or summation.  It’s just a thing tried, and done, nothing special.  The blogging part of it was interesting, and if you are reading this, your interest is much appreciated! And to those who left comments, thank you. 

I want to write some more about the pleasure and quality that results from making stuff ourselves from raw materials (which are rarely petroleum based).  Since it might be a while before I get to this writing, I wanted to mention now how inspired I was by a friend’s wonderful blog about her wool dyeing and knitting.  The blog is a good read, and Wow! does she make beautiful stuff:  

I wanted to write about how hopeful I find small (seeming) developments like this:  Maybe my fantasy of plastic mining will really come true sometime.  Actually, I am almost sure it will – it is just a matter of time.  

Since I don’t have too much more to say than that, I will leave it at that.  But I’ll keep posting plastic-related thoughts here from time to time. 

So long for now, and Merry Christmas Every One!


Do I Have a Troll?

I should be so lucky and so popular!

But still, I have it pretty good.  I just had to post that my dear cousin Richard, when he learned about my blog, hastened to tell me that I will be receiving a plastic Troll (not a Gnome, Rich?) for Christmas, because “every blog needs a troll!”

I do love my people. 

Microbial Action

There may be more bugs out there eating plastic in the oceans than was previously thought:

It was inevitable that bacteria and other microbes would eventually learn to make use of this abundant material, and it may be that they’ll save us from ourselves, or at least reduce the harm that plastic causes to other animal life, etc. Then again, maybe we won’t like some of the effects of a massive growth of these new forms of life.  We just don’t know.  But I always find it affirming, the ways that life adapts to changing circumstances. 

But it saddens me that I feel I can hear the Margaret Wentes of the world (Wente is a Canadian social commentator who writes for the Globe and Mail, and seem to enjoy saying things that she thinks are contrarian) laughing into their sleeve and going “I knew there was no real problem here…” — just as you hear that in reaction to evidence that earth’s resilient systems are not allowing the climate to warm as fast as the most scary models would predict.  People who react like that are missing the point.  My position: it is spiritually important to respond with caring and rapt attention to how our existence affects our beautiful planet, and the complex reactions of the planet are nourishment for even greater interest and caring.  

So my plastic project is in its last few weeks. Not much to report. Apparently my five year old nephew liked making his Papertoy space machines – can’t find a picture just now, but they are cute. 


Slippery Slope

Due to my lapses during my Transatlantic tour that I have been finding it harder to toe the line since I came back.

At times when I started this project, I rejoiced in reduced choices and having to find alternatives. Lately I have found these things more tiresome, and I’ve given up and bought something in plastic a couple of times:

– Two containers of Natto.  I accidentally ran out of Natto, when I had been intending to use the last bit as a starter for making some at home.  (I thought I had one more container in the freezer…)  I have come to consider Natto and its nutrients (especially Vitamin K2 – and if you haven’t heard of it, I recommend looking it up!  It’s an important nutrient for bone and heart health, and it tends to be very lacking in our diets for complex reasons) as important for my health. especially since I am not eating my usual cal-mag pills because I can’t buy THOSE except in plastic…and I don’t care to get my K2 from Goose Liver Pate (and now I can hear my grade three teacher talking about run-on sentences).  So I decided to buy another container of Natto as a starter.  And since I was buying one, I bought another one for a friend to whom I wanted to introduce this food.

– a wooden toy in a cardboard box that had small amounts of plastic on it.  I couldn’t find a toy that I thought my nephew would like that was totally without plastic.  And the company that makes the toy, Hape, is clearly trying to reduce plastic. So that was an excuse I gave myself.

– Lids!!  I bought the more expensive mineral spirits (for oil painting) because they come in a metal can instead of a plastic container. But they still have a plastic lid.  To mitigate things, (again, it’s an excuse and a rationalization, I know) I bought the largest jug available (a $50, gallon jug of mineral spirits!) with the idea that I would be saving the plastic lid or lids on the next container I would otherwise eventually buy (i.e. on those two or three small bottles that I would normally have bought instead).

The ubiquitous plastic lid… I have always remembered this one line from a Fringe play that I saw when I was in high school.  It was a mock Gothic Romance.  The main character was a woman living in a castle with the mysterious Mister Nod, who was clearly a Mr. Rochester knock-off, who turned up all over the castle when she wasn’t expecting him.  At one point she swooned in a kind of ecstasy while exclaiming about “the ubiquitous Mister Nod and his ubiquitous hands!”  Maybe it doesn’t sound so funny now, but at 14 I thought it was hilarious.  Anyway, I still always think of that when I hear the word “ubiquitous”.  Alas, I experience no ecstasy at the veritable ubiquity of Mister, Ms., and Junior Plastic and all their many cousins, turning up all over the planet where no one could ever have imagined they might ever wind up.

While I am (sort of) on the subject of 18th century novels, there is that great line from “Northanger Abbey”, when Catherine is walking along the beach at Bath hoping to run into Henry Tilney who is, however, not to be found.  Instead,  the beach is full of crowds of people “whom nobody cared about, and nobody wanted to see”!  I always thought that was a very funny line, too. And somehow it reminds me of all the unwanted plastic on beaches (if I really must personify plastic this way).

Well, so now it must be evident that I am somehow torn between being obsessed and being totally bored with this plastic thing.  Next post I will have some links to interesting articles written in THIS century, and I promise they won’t involve great conceits– you’ll be able to see clearly how they relate to my topic.



Written on a Plane

I am writing this one on the plane on my return from Europe (on the plane ticket I mentioned here in my post on indirect purchasing).  As I somehow expected, air travel made a complete mockery of my low plastic project.  If you factor in the indirect purchases, I bought plastic many, many times on this trip. If you don’t factor in the indirect purchases, I still bought plastic many times.  In other words, I fell off the wagon.

Even before I left, I had a few accidental plastic purchases to acknowledge here.  If I remember correctly those were:  1) tea bags wrapped in plastic, instead of the paper I was expecting (the whole thing was packaged in cardboard so I couldn’t see); and 2) a brass bicycle bell that came in a cardboard box that obscured my view of the plastic component that was inside.

But once I got on the plane, the Plasticfest began in earnest. Airplane travel is a crazy carnival of plastic consumption.  Why provide beverages in just one plastic cup, when you could use seventeen to provide the same amount of fluid?  (I exaggerate; but it would be easy to obtain six or more clear plastic cups in one trip, and difficult to avoid acquiring at least one plastic-wrapped beverage on a long flight, unless you refuse all refreshment).

The meals, of course, are just as bad. 

I also bought at the airport a plastic toy for a child I was going to see at the other side. My choices were either a plastic toy in cardboard packaging, or a non-plastic toy in plastic packaging. I had run out of time to get a toy before I left, and I was unwilling to show up without one.  Social considerations trumped my commitment to my low plastic project.

With my doubts and lack of resolve about my low plastic diet on this sudden and unplanned journey, these initial slumps were sufficient to open what turned into a relative flood of plastic buying.  Once in Europe, I ended up buying various groceries in plastic (being unable to homemake certain foods, and unwilling to restrict my diet and my activities that much on this trip for various reasons, including– toward the end of the trip– illness).

On my last airport layover, wishing for a coffee to help me change time zones, I bought it in a disposable plasticized cup.  Having slid so far, this act didn’t seem like too big of a deal. My sensitivity to plastic is dissolving by the day, it seems.

Now, I face what I have heard called “the mother of all practises: getting back onto your practise when you have fallen off it.” (It was a Ken Wilber quote I read somewhere, I think).  And I will get back on my low-plastic project, but I have discouraged myself.

What I have learned:  first of all, it is totally possible to reduce plastic on air travel but you need to be prepared with a ceramic cup (better than a glass, as I had, unless it is double walled or otherwise insulated).  The airline attendants will serve you coffee, water, and juice in your own cup, no problem.   Second, I doubt that it is really possible for most people to eliminate plastic use on such trips, even if you define ‘eliminate’ as something wishy washy, like 95%.  There may be some options for feeding yourself on long flights, but given the restrictions on carrying food over international borders, and bringing liquids in luggage, there must be quite an art to this. I will research it when I have internet again.  Even so, I’m going to guess that it must require a combination of organization, planning, and willingness to go without that is beyond most travellers, including me, given that when traveling you are usually stressed, busy, and under many other constraints.

So, if change will come, it is probably incumbent on the airline industry to take charge.

In the ‘best of breed’ category based on a class of two, I would say that Air Canada is better than KLM for plastic use, because they let you bring your own earbuds for the movies and they will only sell you a headset (they don’t  pass them out for free). They also only sell beverages on board, rather than giving them away, except for water.  Now if some airline would bring in an unpopular, untenable policy like providing only real glass glasses for wine and juice, and ceramic cups for tea and coffee, and using a deposit system  for these— then they might make dent in the some 4 million plastic cups used daily by the US airline industry alone.  (See Chris Jordan’s photograph about this statistic here).

I can feel my own discouragement, telling me that changes like this are not possible and never going to happen. But then I remember that I am thinking this while traveling at 499 miles per hour, at an altitude of 40,000 feet above sea level.  I am going to have traveled from Europe to Canada in 12 hours, a journey which used to take many weeks of seasick sailing.  How can we let the airline industry, or anyone, ever tell us that eliminating disposable plastic is impossible?



Creative Constraint

Partly because I am at art school, I think a lot about creativity.  It’s certainly not a new observation that limits and constraints often produce creativity, and I have been noting here some of the ways that my plastic-purchasing constraint has forced me to creatively adapt my habits, changing how I shop and what I eat.  It has often, also, made me literally create something from scratch – do it yourself – instead of buying it.  I thought that today I would mention a few of the odder inventions and ideas that have occurred to me recently due to the project.  

1. Smoked Yogurt.  Okay, I am not saying they are *good* ideas…. While making my fourth (!) batch of yogurt last night, I burned the milk. Just a little bit, and after pouring the milk out of the pan, it had no black flecks and just a faint burnt smell.  So I made the yogurt with it, and it’s fine– has just a faint, hard-to-identify scent.  It got me thinking about how the foods we eat came about from our hungry ancestors being reluctant to throw out any food, even if it had seemingly spoiled, and this is how so many great, weird foods were born (like cheese, presumably).  And odd smells, which at first may seem unappetizing, eventually can come to seem delectable, like in all those smoked foods (gouda…  paprika… bacon… salmon).  Might smoked yogurt have a future, and a purpose?  Smoked foods are also, often, salty.  So, I’m thinking: smoked, salted yogurt.  Smoked lassi.  You never know. I might be on to something truly new. 

2. Wood glue as an oil painting medium.  Now with this one, (or all of them, actually, except for smoked yogurt), I am not saying it’s *new*… but it is new to me.  I ran out of acrylic gesso, which is used to prime canvases or panels so that the oil in paint doesn’t eventually rot them.  I can’t buy more (it only comes in plastic) but I happen to have a huge container of wood glue on hand, so I tried that on some paper as a sealer/primer.  As it was sitting there, slowly drying, it occurred to me to find out what would happen if I painted right into the wet glue.  So I grabbed a glob of oil paint that was handy (cadmium red, what a yummy paint name) and tried it.  It looked really neat – in places almost like encaustic paint.  Very translucent and chewy at the same time.  I’ll see how long it takes to dry, and what happens to it, but it looks promising right now. 

3. Condensed milk ice cubes.  I’m not buying fresh milk because I can’t get it without plastic, but powdered milk in coffee is not that good. I thought of condensed milk, but I don’t know if I would go through it fast enough, particularly at my office, before it goes off.  So then I thought about freezing condensed milk in ice cube trays.  A cube should cool the coffee fast – which I like – and should be sweeter and creamier than powdered. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will.

4. Okara tacos.  Tried these tonight in an effort to use up my frozen okara from making soymilk. Verdict – very tasty taco filling, when cooked with onions and olive oil.  Recipe is almost ready for the vegetarian food carts.  

You could say these ideas are barely attributable to my low plastic thing – after all, burning the milk was not exactly a requirement of my plastic program – but none of them would have occurred without it. 

And I know they are not amazing.  But so many little seeds, just a few of the offspring of one silly little limit.  I like that fecundity. 

Through the Cellophane Pane

Phew, I am barely thinking about the plastic project these days.  It’s kind of weird to turn my mind to it again.  It’s mid-semester, and my work has picked up, there’s so much to do, … I am glad I got a few basic habits in place before it got like this.  Like the yogurt thing.  Other than that, it seems like I am just avoiding a few things that I would otherwise buy — so the program is saving me a little cash, working against a few impulse purchases. 

But as I think about it less, I also notice plastic less. So I unintentionally acquired some new plastic recently, and didn’t notice until later. There were some plastic cellophane squares underneath the pastries I bought at (the delightful) French Made Bakery, and I didn’t see those until they were pointed out to me by my sister-in-law.  And I bought a glass bottle at The Soap Dispensary last week which has a spray top – which is plastic.  And I didn’t even register this as plastic until just this evening, when using the bottle for the first time. 

So two more strikes against my rules there.

Beyond that, I’m definitely noticing the absurdity of my project.  Two examples: 1) if I buy an airline ticket, which I will probably be doing soon (indirectly, it is being bought on my behalf) how many items of plastic am I indirectly buying?  I am sure that every service, and every non-material purchase, has plastic parts.   Hairdresser, dentist, acupuncturist, landscape gardener, on and on and on… all purchasing plastic on my behalf.  (Thanks). And my business does the same for my clients.  (You are welcome).  2) Restaurant food.  Again, the plastic purchaser is just displaced.  

I’m not saying it’s not worthwhile to eliminate plastic at the individual consumer level, and if we get less used to having it in our personal space, I think that will have ripple effects into other, more bulk or industrial uses (because ‘we’ work there).  But still. It’s discouraging.  

Anyway, I remind myself that this project is not about my actual literal impact.  I am just feeding the collective learning, I hope.  And learning is fun.  That, at least, is really true. 

Dispensary II

I finally made it up to the Soap Dispensary on Main Street– a store that works mostly by dispensing commonly used household products into your bottle/jar/container.  

The store smells great! (They also sell a lot of raw ingredients for making your own lotions, makeup, etc. and the nice-smelling oils and herbs to scent them). It is much smaller than it looks on the picture on their website.   It takes a little while to get your products, compared to the speed of grabbing stuff off the shelf. This was predictable, but I still felt a little bit impatient, even though I was not in a rush.  Funny, these “habits of hurry”. I think I have a lot of them. 

Prices were reasonable, comparable to the ‘natural’ products at any other store.  

I’m glad this store exists, but it feels very much like a boutique experience and a kind of a ‘treat’ store.  A place where you go when you have the luxury to shop slowly and possibly pay a little more.  So, it’s not really a solution yet– not at this scale.  

I wonder what it would take to make the idea scalable.  A Costco style Dispensary is what I have in mind.  I haven’t researched it at all, but I can see why retailers will run screaming from the idea until it becomes absolutely mainstream – no one would want to be the one sending customers away because they forgot their container.  And extra staff costs would be a concern.  But I suspect that a really big problem is contamination fear.  You sell something to a customer in their container, and then they come back and say it made them sick, or they had an allergic reaction, or it smells funny…  but you can’t vouch for the quality and cleanliness of their container.   Who would be responsible?  

Right now, it looks to me like a deposit system on all packaging might be more immediately doable than making everything available in bulk.  I have heard that the deposit system we have on beverage containers works very well, and I can easily believe this– I have observed that bottle seekers in East Van are amazing at turning up within moments of bottles being put out for collection. 

 In the meantime, refilling a dish soap bottle for the second time felt totally righteous.  (I mean that like, “totally righteous, dude” — not “Righteous” like I started to wish for all the sinners to be smote). I recommend seeking it out just as an experience. 



Happy Thanksgiving!

For Thanksgiving Day,  I went mushroom picking with my friend Juliane.  Amazing bounty from a couple of hours of sun dappled wandering.  No plastic required, naturally. 

Site stats are interesting. I had a few visitors today, none of them from Canada. In fact, they were from the US, Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Belgium, and India.  I don’t think I sent the link to anyone in those nations aside from the USA.  I like to think that the general topic of reducing plastic is of worldwide concern, and I know that it is, but it’s still nice to have a few statistics to help make that case.  Unless they got here by accident while looking for something else. But I try to keep the site not very sexy, try to keep it plain and pristine, Saran-Wrapped you might say, for the truly interested, you know what I mean? 

The Other P

Jessica Stockholder (artist), from a recent interview published in Border Crossings):

“… the colours in the cheap plastic that is around […] are incredible. Plastic colours can be beautiful, and, at the same time, it’s painful that even when it’s new, the material seems to be on the way to the dump, where we are all aware it will exist for many years.”

I am interested in this subtle pain that she mentions, and which I feel too.  I characterized it as stress in other posts, but I think that pain is a better word for it. 

My awareness of it has become a bit sharper, even as the pain itself weakens a bit when I contribute a tiny bit less to the disposable plastic ocean  (not ‘dump’ — I think the assumption that the plastic will find its way to the dump, and stay there, is a tad optimistic). 

Environmental issues are analyzed as problems, and a lot of public thinking, debating, and other mental activity is done around them.  I wonder if it might be productive—as in personal therapy—to do a bit less talking and thinking, and more witnessing and feeling.   Step out of the mental chatter and just notice what we personally feel.   Pointless as that might seem, my experience* is that something good can emerge after that moment — something that is too good to be characterized as just a ‘solution’.  I guess real creativity, or a new view of the “issue” is what I am talking about, and hoping for here.

So I am curious, does anyone else relate to what I’m talking about, a subtle, background pain when you think of/notice, and especially, acquire and dispose of plastic? 

(*facilitated by quite a few spiritual, art, and personal teachers—thanks to all!)