Paperless

I have made the switch, for the most part. When I pay bills, I don’t write many checks. I still pay my mortgage with a paper check, but that is the last one I’ve got. Electric bill, insurance, phone bill, they all get sent electronically. I was paying some bills tonight and I couldn’t figure out why I got a paper insurance bill, in the mail, when I also got an email. This has been happening for a while and I have checked my account a few times to make sure I signed up the right way. I did. Tonight I figured it out.

Our insurance bill is primarily in my spouse’s name, although we both are, of course, responsible for paying it. So she needs to change her account to request electronic statements. All I had to do was look at the bill. Duh. We’ll get that switched up right quick.

It is pretty liberating to simply not get so much mail. So much of it just gets tossed. I save statements out of some sense of obligation. But who goes back and looks at old insurance bills or bank statements? Maybe if I owned a business or something I would, but even so, my first instinct would be to look at my online account. I do look at my electric bills on line, to compare them and see how we are doing with our current usage. I don’t save those bills. I am not planning to save much anymore. Paper paper paper. It clutters the closets. I don’t need it.

I also try to cut down on catalogs. When we get one I know we don’t want I send them an email telling them not to “sell or rent” my name and to remove me from the mailing list. I don’t want mail from them and I also don’t want mail from the people to whom they want to sell my contact information. Enough already. I pretty much hate to get catalogs that get dumped right into the recycling bin. Junk, that’s what it is. If I want your catalog I will ask for it thank you very much.

So less paper is what I am after. I am hoping that cutting down on all the mail will mean fewer visits to the transfer station. That would be a plus. I could spend less time there, and less money. Paperless is for me.

Packaging

I recently ordered some syrup. I’m talking flavored syrups to jazz up my espresso drinks. I like to add some flavors here and there, mix it up a little, go for something different. I know some folks are purists and just don’t like to add flavors. I can go with straight up but I also like to add some zing. I was out–I had been for a while–so I ordered some more from Amazon.

When you order from Amazon, as you may know if you have ordered from Amazon, you often have the choice of getting things from outside vendors. I had lots of options, and I went with the two syrups I wanted from two different sellers. I received them on the same day.

I received a bottle of Monin hazelnut syrup from CoffeeAM. It was just what I ordered and was shipped intact. It was packaged well, in fact. I can’t imagine it would have broken. The packaging was pretty cool, actually. It was a self-inflating tube of plastic. The problem is that it was all plastic. Plus it was packed in polystyrene peanuts–more plastic.  Here is what it looked like:

Glass in Plastic in Cardboard

Glass in Plastic in Cardboard

I received a bottle of Monin coconut syrup from Boba Tea Direct. It also was packed well enough that it would have taken a lot to have broken. Again, I was impressed by the packaging–even more so than the other shipment. This was all paper packaging. There was no plastic except the tape on the box. It looked like this:

Glass in Paper

Glass in Paper

The prices on the two bottles were about the same. I only ordered from two sellers because they were not both available from CoffeeAM and the hazelnut syrup at Boba Tea Direct was a lot more pricey (not sure what that was about). But because of the paper packaging, rather than plastic, I will order from Boba Tea Direct in the future. The bubble tube was cool, but I can’t toss that in the compost bin, or even recycle it. The world could use a little less plastic. It isn’t huge, but at least I can take one small action.  You?

Earth Day at Disney World

We took a fairly last minute family trip down to Florida this week.  We had only planned it a week out.  This made for some good pricing for us.  We stayed at Disney World resorts.  I had never been there and, although I probably would not have picked that place to visit, with all the beautiful places in the world waiting to be visited, I am glad I went.  We happened to be there on Earth Day, which felt like living irony.  Disney World is one of the last places I might think of as embodying the spirit of Earth Day and I was on the lookout for how the two might meet.  I did find a few things.

Disney World promotes that the place offers lots of shopping.  On its constantly looping television channel a perky young woman asks “Like shopping and dining?  Well you’re in luck, cause there’s tons of it.”  Oy.  Our excessive consumer culture thrives there.  All that shopping means tons of one-use bags, of course, but Disney is trying hard on that front.   They really are pushing the cloth totes they have available at every check-out counter.  Apparently they have a goal of eliminating plastic bags altogether.  They still need to work on not selling lots of plastic crap, but getting rid of plastic bags is a good step.

We flew into Orlando.  From the airport we caught a bus to our resort/hotel.  We visited the Magic Kingdom theme park (I still can’t get used to calling it a “park” which to me means a green space to take a walk or to have a picnic) on Wednesday;  we took a bus to get there.  We checked out other sights by taking other buses or the monorail.  We didn’t get in a car until we got back to Burlington and drove home from there.  Granted, Disney could have worked to place more things closer together so walking is more of an option, but that buses transport visitors, rather than personal cars, is pretty big.  They have limited parking, and the bus system really is convenient (I was wishing that our own public transportation system in Vermont could be so easy and reliable), so they got that one right.

On Earth Day itself, there was some kind of Earth Day themed event, although I never saw what it was.  I did see the parade/street party which, I have to admit, was pretty spectacular.  It was a show of shows.  The announcer at one point reminded everyone that it was Earth Day.  It wasn’t much but at least it was an acknowledgment of the day.  “Who wants to be Green?” he shouted.  A limp cheer rose from the crowd.  It was better than nothing.

The Magic Kingdom does have recycling bins.  They sell too much bottled water, but at least those bottles can be recycled.  Since many places I visit simply don’t offer the option of a separate bin for recycling, it was good to see.  At one point while I was standing at a curb, a man passed me and said “excuse me I just need to toss this,” then reached over the popped his empty water bottle into the trash.  It is one thing to offer a recycling bin, and another to overcome the general apathy against using them.  People need to drink water, and lots of it on a hot day in Florida when they are walking far more than they typically walk, but bottled water just isn’t the answer.

One way Disney addresses this is by offering a plastic reusable mug.  We purchased a meal plan that included a mug for each of us.  We could fill it with hot or cold beverages as much as we wanted.  This included water, but also soft drinks, coffee, tea, juice.  It was a good deal, financially, and they must save tons (literally) of waste with those mugs.  They probably save a lot of money by hauling less trash and by purchasing fewer disposable cups.  That one seems a win win.  Even if one does not purchase a meal plan, the mug can be had for $15.  That would pay for itself with a few drinks.

There were a few other things, like the towel policy that most hotels have adopted these days, so I have some optimism.  Disney has a long way to go (do they need to leave all the doors open at the shops when it is 80 degrees and the air conditioner is running?) but they have made some visible steps to cleaning the place up.  Waste costs, in money, time, lost opportunities, clean air and water.  Disney has moved forward in reducing some of this waste.  I applaud that.  I hope they continue to move forward, as they have a large, captive audience.  If they can get millions of people to at least think about recycling and to stop using their cars, if only for a few days, they can make a difference.  Imagine what they could do if they leveraged themselves fully.  Solar panels on the Magic Kingdom castle anyone?

Earth Day? For Real?

I got a flyer in the mail from Price Chopper yesterday.  Normally I just toss these.  They may have better prices on some things now and again, but it isn’t worth traveling extra distance to get there.  I save more in transportation costs by going somewhere closer.  But this flyer caught my eye.  At the top, on an extended page that stuck out of the middle, was a banner reading “Together, We Can do Our Part to Make Every Day Earth Day!”  Oh really?

First, Price Chopper, you are sending me a flyer that I do not want or need.  It requires paper, ink, transportation, labor, and I will not even look at it.  How does that make Earth Day every day?  Second, what exactly do you mean?  The small print says to “see pages 4 & 5.”  The first thing I see on those pages is an inset spread with “certified organic” produce.  That is a good start (although it is only USDA organic) but all three things listed are in plastic tubs.  Spring greens (two types) and strawberries, shipped across the country in plastic bins?  Earth Day?

The flyer lists three things I can do (“You Can Help!”).  The first suggestion is to recycle my plastic bags at the store.  How about not taking them at all?  The second tells me to use compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Done.  The third:  “Shop locally to save gas and the environment.”  That is why I do not need the flyer and do not shop there.  Thanks.

Then they list three things they can do (We Can Help!).  First they tell me they recycle 1,700 tons of plastic each year.  That is good, but reducing plastic in the first place would make a bigger difference.  Second: “Price Chopper installed low energy LED Lighting in new and recycled stores.  Other than not having much clue what a “recycled” store is (turning an old building into one of their stores?) this is great.  I believe that one day we will leave compact fluorescent bulbs behind and use only LED lights.  They use way less energy.  Finally, they note that “Price Chopper uses local farmers each year for produce.”  On that one I am curious just how much local produce they use.  A few pumpkins in the fall hardly will make a difference, but as much as possible would make a difference.

The flyer seems like one more feel-good marketing gimmick.  Inside the flyer are:

  • Cut flowers, probably shipped thousands of miles and grown with bundles of pesticides
  • A variety of ham products from pigs raised, I am sure, on nasty factory farms
  • Lemons sold in plastic mesh bags
  • Plastic tubs of margarine
  • Cans of whipped cream
  • Bottled water
  • Plastic “candles”
  • Aluminum foil baking pans
  • Paper napkins wrapped in plastic

Earth Day every day?  I will buy some of these things at some point in the future, I am sure, even though I try to avoid them.  But let’s cut down on the Earth Day crap.  If every day were Earth Day we would not be buying any of the items listed above, and Price Chopper would not be selling them.  Maybe someday we will get there, but it ain’t happening this year. Price Chopper is making some good progress. Cutting down on flyers that don’t get read would be another step in the right direction.

Hypocrite

The last day of the conference I attended in New Hampshire was yesterday.  My roommate–let’s call him Bob–and I had a morning run together, a short and slow four miles, then we each packed up to leave later in the day.  By the time I got down to where things were happening, I had missed the “coffee and snacks” listed on the agenda.  I was hoping to grab something (anything after a run, even a short run, to refuel) and then head one level down to the meeting I was going to attend.  The only thing still out was the coffee and tea.

So far I had been using the dinky little cups with saucers to drink coffee.  They would always put out foam cups and lids along with these ceramic cups but I boycotted them, even though almost everyone else used the disposable vessels.  I just couldn’t do it.  The one-use cups are too much to bear at times–use it and toss it.  Stupid.  But yesterday morning I wanted more than the meager amount that would fill the mini washable jobber.  I would not be able to refill for the hour plus meeting.  So I hesitated, bit my pride, and filled a wasteful foam cup.

Back up to morning one of three.  Bob and I had a conversation about one-use beverage containers, including bottled water and coffee mugs.  That first breakfast he took the initiative to bring a pitcher of water to the table, rather than use the plentiful bottled water available.  This was a gesture aimed largely at me, and served to send an unspoken message to others at the table as well.  I was happy to see it.  No bottle water, no paper cups.  We were on the same page.

Jump back to morning three, as I grudgingly fill the tossable cup, all too aware that my stainless steel travel mug is sitting on top of my packed bag, ready for the trip home, but too far to retrieve in my haste to get to the meeting for which I was already late.  Hot coffee pours from the spout into that evil container and this comment floats down into the steaming brown liquid:  “Paper cup, huh?”

It was Bob, of course.  He then fills his own re-usable travel mug with coffee.  He did not need to say more.  I was busted.  I was, and am, a hypocrite.  I make decisions like everyone else, and sometimes I make poor ones.  That was a poor one.  Perhaps my brain was addled from too little food.  Perhaps a sense of laziness, or even urgency, came over me at that moment.  Perhaps I needed to decide too quickly.  In any case, my principles lost out.

In far too short a time, I tossed that cup.  The lid cracked within a half hour.  I ended up using my travel mug after all, sipping through the next event and again on my way home, as I mulled how I can make a difference in the world.  It was a good lesson for me.  Laziness is not an option if I want to live by what I believe.  It is easy to be lazy.  Our culture is one of ease, or leisure.  We are not ones to give up a cup of coffee because we forgot to bring a mug.  Bringing a mug, or a cloth grocery bag, or a water bottle, are easy to forget;  and if we do forget, it is easy to find a disposable alternative.

We are a throwaway society.  I am not proud of that, but I am a part of that.  If I want, I can work to change that of which I am a part.  That is not easy, and it may mean I sometimes give up that cup of coffee, but it is the right thing to do.  I will be a hypocrite again.  I will forget my travel mug or my bags or my water bottle.  But getting busted has its benefits.  It highlights my hypocrisy, and it helps me to keep trying.  From now on, most of the time at least, I will turn down the foam cup.  If it means I can avoid using a cup once and then tossing it, I can get by waiting a little while for my jolt of joe.

Plastic Crap

I have way too much plastic crap.  It is all around me.  This computer is mostly plastic.  I eat off plastic.  I wear plastic.  I drive around in a vehicle made largely of plastic.  I am swimming in plastic.  I mean this, at least occasionally, literally.  Have you ever been to one of those kid play spaces where one can wade through a sea of multi-colored plastic balls?  I have.  It was a nice swim.  And it was lots of plastic.

Seriously.  Look around.  Plastic is everywhere.  And we take it for granted.  If you do a little reading about plastic and if you start noticing, it gets a little scary.  Think about this:  Except for a minuscule amount that has been incinerated, every bit of plastic ever created still exists.  It doesn’t go away.  It doesn’t biodegrade.  It doesn’t go back to the earth.  It sits around and clutters up the place.

Here is something you should know.  In the North Pacific Ocean there is a patch of water that spins slowly around so that everything floating in it eventually comes together.  It is called the North Pacific subtropical gyre, and it contains more plastic than any other place on earth.  It covers the surface of the ocean in an area about twice the size of Texas.  For those of you not familiar with United States geography, Texas is a state and it is, as the locals like to brag, really really big.

And then there is this:  this gyre is one of five.  There are four others.  They are filled with bottle caps and chairs and bags and toy dolls and flip flops and logs of Styrofoam.  All the plastic that gets tossed aside somewhere without being buried eventually makes it to the ocean.  It floats about and floats about.  It never goes away.  Some of it breaks down into smaller pieces but it never loses its molecular structure.  The plastic bag that you used one time to carry a plastic bottle of lotion (that you also used one time) flies out your window and will be around for hundreds of years.  At least.

One woman decided she would try to keep things in check.  She decided to try to reduce her plastic use so that as little plastic as possible was added to her life.  She keeps a blog that I have been reading, and I recommend it.  It is inspiring.  It has made me keenly aware of my own plastic consumption and waste.  She calls it Fake Plastic Fish and its tag line is this:  Fake Plastic Fish… they’re cute, and if we don’t solve our plastic problem, they could be the only kind we have left.

If you want to read a fascinating, albeit disturbing, article about plastic, check out Our Oceans are Turning Into Plastic… Are We? It is a thorough read that should get you thinking.  If you are a thinking person, that is.

I now try even harder to keep plastic out of my house.  I have been an advocate of reducing plastic use for a long time, but these days I have been ever more aware of how much it is a spawn of the deh-vill, as my friend Skip would say.  Look around.  I bet you see plastic everywhere you turn.  My guess is that anyone reading this has plastic on his or her body at this moment.  Fleece?  Watch?  Hair clip?  Buttons?  I dare you to tell me you have no plastic on your body.

Again, I have way too much plastic crap.  All these toys and markers hanging around the house don’t help.  I don’t want to revert back to 150 years ago, when plastic did not exist yet.  Plastic has made a huge difference in all our lives.  Think of medicine and food safety, for a couple examples.  But, since only a small percentage of plastic gets recycled, even that which gets dumped into the blue bins to be recycled, I ask you this:  Is that mocha frappuccino you had recently really worth it?  That plastic cup was molded, packed, shipped, unpacked, pulled from a plastic sleeve, filled with that cold frothy drink and served to you.  You enjoyed it for half an hour, if you are a slow sipper, and that cup’s plastic will outlast your great grandchildren’s great grandchildren.

Makes you want to get a good (stainless steel) travel mug, doesn’t it?

Christmas Tree Still Up

January 9.  The Christmas tree is still standing.  Decorated no less.  That’s 42 days it has been indoors.  Dead no less.  It will come down this weekend, tomorrow or the next day.  So it will get at least 43 days of glory, dressed in the best we could offer–shiny glass and steel and plastic.  But it will be a fire hazard soon, if it ever wasn’t one.

Now we will have a little more space in the house.  And we will use a little less electricity.  But it has been nice to have around.  Maybe we can put something else in its place.  A basket of fruit?  A cardboard cutout of Chewbacca?  A bean bag chair?  Maybe a pile of attractive rocks?

Nah.  Let’s just get this thing out of here.  Come spring it will fertilize the blueberries.  No need to waste a perfectly good untrimmed Christmas tree, no?