Who Is Saying NO to Plastic?

See plastic bags around the world at Guardian UK.

See plastic bags around the world at Guardian UK.

Shifting Costs Back and Forth

Externalizing costs is a clever strategy. When business off-loads cost of dumping waste or cleaning up the environment or treating medical conditions caused by their toxic stew, they have successfully externalized costs in order to realize greater profit. Nice strategy, eh?

Efforts to encourage lower impact products or just a reduction in stuff altogether are often a recognition that those costs belong with the producers and users rather than with those poor or unfortunate enough to be incidentally dumped on in the process of making and distributing stuff.

Once the costs of stuff like plastic become more clear, we’re more willing to change. Once we find out that babies are born toxic, for example, and we freak out saying, “How could this have happened?” and we find that we are better able to hear our options. We become more willing to consider changes in our collective lifestyles that will either internalize costs (choose a more expensive but less toxic alternative, like buying a hybrid car) or remove the costs altogether (stop doing the thing that requires the stuff choice, like walking, biking, or taking the bus or train instead).

Actually, I think the big changes, the regulated and legislated changes, come when we can show the costs very clearly. That’s when those to whom the costs have been externalized start lobbying for change. The people paying medical bills, the cities paying for waste pick up, the cancer centers tracing clear lines from product to patient, the clean-up crews combing beaches for plastics and the dead birds and sea creatures who eat plastics—these are the effective voices in making changes. When the shock of the costs becomes too much, we push for change justified in terms of measurements and costs. We change in order to save money now and later.

If that’s what it takes, that’s fine by me.

Who is saying NO to plastics?

My lists aren’t meant to be comprehensive. This is a sample to show that the tide is turning against plastics.

Plastic Bottles
Local rejection of plastic bags and plastic bottles is one of the big stories recently. There are a lot of reasons to ban plastic bottles. For some, the issue is molecular migration of BPA and other toxins from container to contents. For others, the issue is single-use bottles in landfill. Still others are more concerned with water privatization and the bottled water dependence that follows.

More from Inside the Bottle, Ban the Bottle, and the Polaris Institute.

Bisphenol-A (BPA)
Both Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have declared BPA a chemical of concern. As concern about this toxic plastic ingredient spreads, more cautions and bans follow. A group of 60 scientists urge a worldwide ban on BPA.

Plastic Bags
Plastic bags blow around. They blow into trees, and they blow into the sea, where they look like jellyfish and are eaten by sea creatures. Images of plastic bags are easy to find and difficult to forget.

This should be the easiest of these changes, since the costs are clear both to the consumer and to the environment, and the solution is simple. Plastic bags are so easy to replace, since a cloth bag will do. (Yes, remember to wash your reusable bag, since a study showed that bags can get dirty. Hello! Then WASH it, dear Liza.)

These are steps in helping us move beyond waste. Friday I’ll write more about that big change.

Great organizations doing good work on anti-plastic activism

Beyond the Era of Stuff and Waste

Fake Plastic BabyOnce upon a time, even in my lifetime, plastics were the future—the former and temporary future.

In the film The Graduate, the main character, Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), graduates from college and returns to his parents’ house for a celebration. His parents’ friends are interested in asking him—and telling him—about his future. One of these friends, Mr. McGuire, pulls Ben aside.

“Come on with me for a minute. I want to talk to you.” Once they are alone outside, he leans in close to tell Ben, “I just want to say one word to you, just one word.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Are you listening?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Exactly how do you mean?”
“There is a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”
“Yes, I will.”

I thought about it.

Plastics were a temporary future, a 20th-century aberration. Plastics are becoming part of our past as the late 20th-century becomes so obvious as a time of excess whose many debts and externalized costs will take a long time to pay off.

We start to pay that debt now.

In reaction to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve heard calls for boycotts. How far would we boycott, though? Are we prepared to go all the way? About 4.6% of U.S. petroleum is used to make plastic. Demand is expected to increase in Canada and in the U.S. for petroleum products.

But, don’t we recycle plastic? Doesn’t that mean we use less of the non-renewable resources? Yes, sort of. Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled, and about 25% of plastic bottles are recycled. So, yes, some plastics can be recycled, but there is a fairly low expectation that they will be. Most municipal solid waste is still just garbage. We may notice more what goes into landfill, but the biggest garbage dump in the world is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers millions of square miles of plastic bits breaking into smaller and smaller plastic bits just moving with the currents. When the plastics do break down, they leave toxic chemicals that enter the food chain, which eventually leads to us.

Recycling isn’t preventing the massive plastic dump and the toxic stew that follows.

Wait, What about Cleaner Energy Sources

With massive oil spills and smaller oil spills, more people are asking if it is really necessary to take such risks. Some seem almost desperate in their defense of petrochemical products, unwilling to consider that we might have to think beyond oil and gas.

We don’t have to turn to oil, though, right? We can squeeze every drop out of tar sands. Plastics can be made from oil or from gas. It’s all part of the same process. If we are to believe natural gas advertisements and advocates, natural gas is much better for the environment. I think they are referring to a tidily bounded portion of the lifecycle of natural gas, though. What I hear about natural gas as the clean fossil fuel does not fit with the picture I saw as I watched Gasland this past week. This is a heart-breaking documentary about the consequences of natural gas exploration. If you haven’t heard on the news about people across the U.S. setting light to the water out of their faucets, you need to see it to believe it. Devastating costs of petrochemical and mineral extraction have to be internalized in order for us to be honest about the real impacts of our wreckless lifestyles of stuff.

Another issue that will slap us in the face soon enough is that petrochemical resources are finite. We will (or have) hit the peak of oil and gas production, then further extraction will become more difficult and more expensive. We may find that the economics help us to rethink our dependence of plastics and other petrochem products.

Eventually, desperate defense will give way to change.

The End of Plastic

“This is the Petrochemical Age.”

No. I choose to lessen my dependence on oil now. It has been a long process, and it is ongoing, but I won’t give in. Great bloggers like Plastic Manners and Fake Plastic Fish are chronicling their efforts to give up plastic. It may feel overwhelming at first, but it’s possible, and you aren’t alone in your efforts to find another way to live.

The movement against single-use plastic is growing. There are many organizations dedicated exclusively or in part to plastic pollution education, reduction, alternatives, clean up, and so on. They provide guidance on lessening plastic dependence and suggest actions to make bigger change as well.

Beyond the Age of Stuff and Waste

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about all of the great natural and non-toxic products parents can use to replace children’s products that are made out of plastic—natural fiber diapers, wooden cars, natural rubber chew toys, stainless steel straws, and silicone popsicle molds. These are easy changes that don’t interrupt our lifestyles but just replace one product with another.

I think we need interruption, though.

We don’t just need alternatives but a complete change of approach. We need to think beyond the age of stuff and waste.

Image © Bluechrome | Dreamstime.com

Cool Summer Foods

Cold Cucumber and Yogurt SoupCool foods can be such a refreshing treat in the heat of summer. We often think of cool sweets—or cool almost sweets like frozen juice pops or smoothies. (See my recipes for intense purple, orange, and green smoothies.)

If you are going out for the day, how about leaving drinks in the freezer for an hour or two before you leave? Nice, slushy juice during a hot day out can be a great way to help your children cool down.

How about frozen, savory treats?

If you are going to fill the freezer with frozen pops, how about adding a few soup pops to the mix?

Some soups are meant to be served chilled. Gazpacho is a tomato-based raw vegetable soup. Borscht is a beet-based cooked then (sometimes) chilled soup. One of my favorite summer soups is a really simple, raw, cold cucumber soup.

Chilled Cucumber Soup

This is an amazingly simple soup to make. If you grow cucumbers and dill in the garden, you can really impress younger children (when they are more likely to be impressed by your amazing feats of cooking) by picking the ingredients and serving the soup within minutes.

  • 2-3 cucumbers, peeled, halved, and most or all of the seeds removed
  • 1tsp – 1 Tbs fresh dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

That’s it. Blend it well in a food processor, and chill.

You can make it creamy with a cup or two of yogurt. You can add stock. White wine vinegar makes it more tangy.

Personally, I like even chilled summer soups to have a kick, but I have one spice-loving child and one spice-averse child, so we generally avoid spices in family dishes unless we can each add our own. The soup tastes great with garlic or onion, but don’t do this if you have a hot date within the next 12 hours.

I’ve had a Greek version with mint, which makes it taste a bit like liquid tsatsiki. Some people like tarragon, which I find cloying, and others add parsley. Plain dill suits me fine. My favorite version includes cucumbers, onions, dill, and yogurt.

If you freeze small servings of the soup, you can take it with you in the morning and it will still be cool by the time you arrive at your lunchtime picnic.

Freeze It, Chill It, Keep It Cool

Kinderville Popsicle Molds
Kinderville frozen pop molds are a kid summer essential. This high-grade silicone is safe for freezer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and even microwave.

Kinderville Freezer Trays
Kinderville freezer trays hold about 1 cup each, which is a perfect serving size for soup on a picnic.

Kinderville Jars
Kinderville silicone jars are perfect for freezing and storing cool summer foods. They comes in small (about 3.5oz or 1/2 cup) and large (about 10oz or just over a cup).

Image © Pawel Strykowski | Dreamstime.com

Happy Birthday, Sun! Now Go Sit in the Shade.

Baby in Sun GlassesThe longest day of the year is a good time to consider sun protection for children. Being a sun-worshipper doesn’t have to mean that you and your children are looking for sun damage. A few sun protection tips can help keep the family healthy.

Teach Healthy Sun Habits

My mother made sure I understood the consequences of sun exposure. She worked to help me learn healthy sun habits because my father died of melanoma when I was young. I lived through the era of teenagers deliberately cooking themselves in the sun with extra, coconut-scented oil, but my mother never did give up asking me to stay out of the sun. Now, when I go to my high school reunions, I can see the difference between my lily white skin and that sun damaged skin of my former classmates. I didn’t stay out of the sun all of the time, but I learned how to limit my exposure.

Sun exposure is not the only risk factor for melanoma, but UV (ultraviolet) exposure is one of believed to be one of the leading causes of skin cancer. History of sunburns as a child or teenager is also a risk factor.

It is important for us as parents to teach our children healthy sun habits. We can’t control the risk from family history, and we may not have much choice about whether we live close to the equator or at high altitude, but we can control sun exposure and most childhood sunburns. In my own experience, understanding WHY I should avoid the sun was important in my developing good habits.

Explain the sun to your children in language and ideas appropriate to their age. Don’t try to scare them, but make sure they have information they need to begin making their own healthy choices.

Sun Tips for Children

How can you avoid sun exposure? Easy! Stay out of the sun. Or use some kind of barrier to keep ultraviolet light from your child’s skin. This could be a physical barrier like an umbrella or a sunsuit, or it could be sunscreen as a barrier on the skin. A young child might enjoy carrying a fun parasol—which means, after all, “for the sun.”

  • Keep children under 6 months out of the sun
  • Use sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 15 for all children
  • Keep everyone out of the sun from late morning to early afternoon
  • Wear a hat with a big brim
  • Wear sunglasses, even young children
  • Wear a lightweight shirt with sleeves

Sun Protection Suit for babies and toddlersPeekaru Baby Sun Shade

With all of these warnings, why go out in the sun at all? Stay in the shade or make your own shade whenever you can.

For the littlest babies, cover them up. Peekaru makes an Ozone Sun Shade that fits over a baby carrier. It also fits over a car seat or a stroller.

For toddlers, the quickest way to cover them up is a zip-on sun suit that you can wash and reuse over and over. ByNature.ca carries a quick-dry, polyester sunsuit that is Made in Canada.

The Best Sunscreen for Children

ByNature.ca is careful to carry only the highest quality, safest sunscreens. Every year, the U.S. Environmental Working Group rates sunscreens. This year, they have recommended only 39 of the 500 sunscreens they evaluated. All of ByNature.ca’s children’s sunscreens are among the 39 recommended products.

Badger Non-toxic Sunscreen for children

Badger Non-Toxic Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30 Lightly Scented
Rated 1 by EWG

Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 15 Lightly Scented
Rated 2 by EWG

Badger Sunstick Sunscreen for children

Badger Non-Toxic SPF 30 All-Season Face Stick
Rated 1 by EWG

Badger Unscented Sunscreen for children

Badger Sunscreen, Unscented SPF 30
Rated 1 by EWG

Think Baby Sunscreen for children

ThinkBaby SPF 30
Rated 1 by EWG

All of the above sunscreens have zinc oxide, which the Environmental Working Group gives a hazard rating of 4, but all of the non-mineral sunscreens include at least one potential hormone disruptor. It’s clearly a trade off, and EWG finds zinc or titanium less hazardous overall.

What should be in sunscreens? Health Canada does not require sunscreen manufacturers to reveal their ingredients, though most follow the guidelines for cosmetics and do list ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been working on sunscreen regulations for 32 years. Yes, THIRTY-TWO YEARS! Since I was in my backyard listening to “Margaritaville” and cooking myself in oil, the U.S. government regulators have been contemplating their guidelines. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are active nonprofits like the Environmental Working Group grounding their work in science and helping all of us evaluate our best sunscreen choices.

Kids want to be outside in the summer, and they should be. Cover them up when they will be exposed to the sun, and help them learn healthy sun habits that will serve them well for a long lifetime.

Image © Olga Biletska | Dreamstime.com

My Grandfather’s Day


Every year as long as I can remember, my father’s family gathers for my grandfather’s birthday. I didn’t grow up with my father—he died when I was very young—so I didn’t celebrate Father’s Day. I didn’t even become aware of such a holiday until I was much older.

I did celebrate my grandfather, though.

My grandfather was born June 19, 1892. He was a hard-working farmer born in a town so small that it’s nothing but a ghost town now. I don’t remember ever seeing him wear anything but overalls, though photos tell me I should remember more.

My grandfather is long gone, but my family still gathers for his birthday. Tomorrow will be 118 years since my grandfather was born. My aunts, uncles, several dozen first cousins, and all of their progeny will share photos, food, and the work of our own hands. We bring handmade and other goods to donate for an annual auction to keep funding the gathering year after year.

It’s Father’s Day, but, still, every year the hundreds of us gathered remember to wish Grandpa a happy birthday.