Monday, July 29, 2013

Why am I writing this blog? Why a Zero Waste War?

While I was visiting California I was asked a series of questions by my family, such as: 
  "Why do you want to write a blog about trash?"
  "Why would anyone want to read a blog about trash? How boring"
  "Why do you care, we are all going to die anyway?"

  My first reaction was to speak defensively and to feel hurt.  Instead, I explained that my blog wasn't just about trash. My main purpose for this blog is to motivate my children to use less trash in their daily lives, to send some awareness regarding the effects that plastic and trash have on our planet and to provide some simple solutions/alternatives to those that have a desire to change. 
  The first two pictures above are of the Carmel Beach, where I was visiting family this past week. The third picture is of  Kamilo Beach in Hawaii, which is riddled with 15 to 20 tons of trash that washes to shore yearly. To me, the Carmel Beach is the most beautiful place on in the world. The beaches in this area are extremely clean and do not have plastic or trash washing up to shore yet.  However, those that live by Kamilo Beach aren't as lucky and do not get to enjoy the beach.  This is because of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

  The picture below is of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Garbage Patch has two large masses of garbage. The Eastern part of the Garbage Patch, that floats between California and Hawaii, is estimated to be two times larger than the state of Texas. In some areas of the ocean, the amount of plastic outweighs plankton in a six to one ration. Of the trash swirling in the ocean, 90% is some form of plastic. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [source: UN Environment Program] Why is this bad? First, most plastic isn't biodegradable, which means it can take hundreds of years to break down. Second, plastic is killing our marine life in and out of the ocean. More than a million birds and marine animals die each year by consuming or getting caught in plastic. Third, beaches are feeling this effect because the trash is getting washed up to shore. Some of the beaches in Hawaii are under five to ten feet of trash.

  My goal is to do as much as possible each day by watching my own waste and by spreading awareness to others. I hope that my grandchildren (not yet born) and future generations can enjoy beaches, such as Carmel Beach, in the same manner as I have.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day one in San Francisco

   Our first stop was breakfast. I have never seen these great bins  (above picture) for customer usage in any food establishment in my area. Such a simple idea that could easily be placed in most cafes.  We then headed to China Town to purchase some scarves because it is cold here. The picture below is the reusable bag that the store owner uses for all purchases. I was happily surprised, since I had forgotten my reusable bags back in the hotel room. I will take this bag with me for all future purchases in San Francisco. 

  The rest of the day was pretty simple to remain waste free since all of the restaurants that we have been to so far, use real utensils and plates opposed to plastic.  Even my step daughter's, Deanna, take out box was compostable. The last store we went to was a shoe store. The store had a sign by the cash register that read 'Warning this store contains chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects and illness. From proposition 65.' I have never seen a sign like that in a store, however I am not familiar with California props and store regulations. When I return home I will research this, or if anyone living in California is aware of these regulations, please leave a comment.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Trey and I win!!

   Being at home this week made it much easier to get close to zero waste. This picture shows all of our trash with three exceptions. Noah and Trey each had a hot pocket sleeve when they ate a snack at a neighbor's.  They had forgotten that they had sandwiches wrapped in cloth napkins which mildewed after a few days. Yuck! Tried washing but had to throw out the napkins. The last item was a paper napkin. I love to have ice cream because it is zero waste when eaten in a cone. It was hot a few days ago and my ice cream started to drip everywhere. I had no choice but to grab a napkin and clean up my mess. It was so saturated in ice cream, I threw it away instead of bringing it home for a picture. 

Maggie: 4 items (napkin not pictured)

Aaron- 8 items

Noah- 5 items (hot pocket and cloth napkin not pictured)

Trey- 4 items (hot pocket and cloth napkin not pictured)

  The key this week was to be prepared with lunch and snacks where ever we went. There were a few moments where Gatorade and other vending machine plastic wrapped snacks were calling their names. The boys had enough self control to fight the urge. They are determined to win each week.  

 Trey and I chose to go to Jumpology next week for our fun activity. For our environmental activity we will double up the following week when we are all together again.  Noah and Trey will be away this week visiting family in Northern Virginia while Aaron and I are flying to San Francisco.  Noah and Trey will be on the honor system and will try to keep track of their trash. Since they are staying with family, they have no control over the food that is bought for them.  Because of this, they will take this week off from the war, however I have strongly encouraged them to be aware of their trash and remember how many items they have at the end of the week.  Aaron and I will still compete this week, however I will take pictures of our trash instead of keeping it.  We are looking forward to visiting a "green" city where plastic bags are banned from stores and where you don't get weird stares for shopping in bulk.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tap Water Vs. Bottled Water

  Years ago, I believed, like so many other people, that bottled water was safer to drink than tap water. Now I carry my stainless steel water bottle everywhere. Why? Here are a few reasons why I stopped drinking bottled water.

1) It takes 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce water bottles and more to have them shipped around the world.

2) The US alone buys more than half a billion water bottles a week. 

3) In California 3 million water bottles are thrown away daily.

4) Bottled water is responsible for 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year.

5) In 2010, Americans spent 11 billion dollars on water bottles and world wide between 50-100 billion, a product we all can get for free out of our faucet. 

6) 1/3 of all bottled water is filtered tap water, including companies like Pepsi's Aquafina and Cocoa-Cola's Dasani.

7) Tap water is regulated more than bottled water. More than 70% of bottled water is never inspected. 

8) Over 80% of bottled water is not recycled and stays in our land fills for hundreds of years or polluting our oceans.

Please take the time to watch a short 9 minute film, The Story of Bottled Water. To view click here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zero Waste Cookies

  Dessert is one thing we have in our house often as long as it is zero waste.  There is plenty of variety in the bulk section, such as cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered almonds, etc. There is even gum in bulk.  The bulk cookies are delicious but they can get expensive.  Since Aaron used to be the family cookie maker, meaning the pre-made cookies from a huge tub, he decided it was time to make them from scratch. He found a simple recipe that included all of the ingredients we already had in the house.  All the ingredients he used we had purchased from the bulk section except the butter. We buy butter in a paper carton and we burn it in our fire pit when we are finished. We mix the ash with our compost to provide nutrients for the soil in our garden.  Aaron's cookies were cost effective, simple to make, zero waste and delicious. 

Aaron's zero waste cookies:
2 1/4 cups flour
1-2 cups chocolate chips (we used 1 1/2 which was plenty)
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs (we get fresh from our neighbors)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 cup butter (not from bulk)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix flour, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl.
Mix sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and butter in a large bowl. Mix with mixer. Then mix in eggs (one at a time). 
Pour in flour mixture into larger bowl.
Add chocolate chips.
Mix until smooth.
Drop mixture onto ungreased pan and bake for about 10 minutes. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stopping Junk Mail

   Americans receive nearly 90 billion pieces of junk mail every year which is around 5 million tons.  Over 50% of this mail is not recycled and lands in our land fill.  (EPA)

  There are several online companies that can help you reduce your junk mail intake. Below are links to three websites that I use to stop unwanted junk mail. It is quick and easy to sign up. 

To cancel catalogs go to

To cancel direct mail (Credit offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers) go to

To cancel credit and insurance offers go to

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zero Waste Products

   While shopping at Whole Foods today I was asked by a friendly shopper where I purchased my glass jars and cloth bags. When I handed my cloth bags to the lady behind the bread counter, she also asked me where I buy my bags. Usually once per shopping trip I am asked from where I purchase my jars and bags. Below are the links and pictures for the produce bags, glass jars and cloth bags that I use.  There are several different products and companies that sell these.  I have had a lot of success with these particular brands. The produce and cloth bags clean easily and line dry quickly.  Please feel free to comment and let me know if you use a different brand of sacks and jars.  If so, how you like the item(s) and where you buy them.  All of your ideas are welcome.  We can help each other to be "waste free". 

For link for produce bags, click here.

For link to glass jars, click here. (these come in several sizes).
For a link to cloth bags, click here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zero Waste Staycation

  After almost two weeks of traveling we have made it home. Although I love visiting with friends and family, it is nice to come back to my own house after a trip. This week will be our staycation adventures. Each of us will pick one activity with the exception of Noah (last week's winner), who is choosing two. We will write the activity down on a piece of paper and fold it into a glass. Each night we will pick one activity from the glass for the following day.  My cooler (pictured below) will come with us on every adventure. It is small enough to take on a hike but large enough to hold all the food and drinks we need.  Each day we will pack a zero waste lunch, snack and drinks. Preparation and desire is all you need to have a successful zero waste staycation. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Noah is the Winner!!

The picture is only a portion of our trash this week. Since we were in NY, it was difficult to carry around dirty napkins, tea bags etc. Below is the true count.

Maggie: 7 items (3 items from salad not shown)
Aaron- 14 items (missing band aide, napkins and tea bags)
Noah - 6 items (missing soda can, napkin and tea bags)
Trey - 8 items (missing soda can, napkin and tea bags)

 For the most part, the boys did a great job. They remembered to pack a lunch where ever we went, which included a cloth napkin wrapped around their sandwich, water bottle, and tins for snacks. This eliminated times that we would get hungry when out around the town and might have made impulsive waste decisions. At each restaurant they remembered to tell every waiter No Straw with their drink. We leave NY tomorrow and will be back to our normal routine so our count of 35 pieces of trash (yikes) will be a lot smaller.

  Noah has chosen to see Despicable Me for his reward. Anyone that knows me is aware that I am not crazy about animated films. However, I let them chose their own reward because they work very hard to earn it. For our environmental activity we will write a letter to Jamba Juice. Their 16 oz drink comes in a Styrofoam cup, however their larger sizes come in recyclable paper cups. We will ask for them to consider serving all of their drinks in recyclable paper cups, as Styrofoam is dangerous to drink from and not easy to recycle.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Doesn't always work out as planned



   One of our many traditions in NY is to go to an outside dinner cafe that has a great view of the river. I remembered that this particular cafe only serves their drinks in plastic cups so we all came prepared with our water bottles. Every year I usually order the same dish, which comes on a tray that the restaurant reuses. This year I wasn't very hungry and I ordered a salad. I was surprised and disappointed that my meal came in a plastic bowl, with a plastic fork and a paper napkin. Not only did that mean that they did not make this meal themselves but now I also have three items to add to my trash pile. After the week I will recycle all three items, however they will be included in my count. The boys were excited that I am now in last place again this week, even after all my hard efforts. I have been playing with the idea of traveling with a fork wrapped in a cloth napkin in my bag for times like this. Although this may seem extreme to some, it is what makes me feel more comfortable so I am prepared for the unpredictable situations that may arise. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

French Press

  One thing I love about visiting my mom is she has fun new gadgets for me to try. For coffee, I have always used a Keurig with a reusable filter. Even though it is zero waste, the body of the Keurig and filter are made with plastic. I have been searching for plastic free alternatives because drinking from heated plastic can be toxic. Our Keurig also had a habit of dispensing only a quarter of a cup of coffee or other times giving us a cup of mostly water. Our Keurig is only a year old so I am not sure why we are having so many problems with it.

  The picture below is of my mom's French Press.  The container is made of glass and the filter is stainless steel. You also get all of the coffee flavor and zero coffee grinds in your cup. So delicious, fast, simple, plastic free and waste free. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Zero Waste at Jamba Juice

  The boys and I love Jamba Juice. We can not get Jamba Juice where we live so we look forward to this treat once a year. I was apprehensive about getting it this year knowing that we would accumulate trash. Although they do use recyclable paper cups instead of Styrofoam it is still waste. I did not want to tell the boys no, so we headed there anyways. I had my stainless steel water bottle with me so I figured there was no harm in asking if they could fill up my thermos with the smoothie. I wasn't expecting them to say yes, however very pleasantly they said, no problem. We were excited to enjoy our yearly treat in a zero waste manner. From now on I will make sure I always ask before I assume someone will say no.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Zero Waste in the Bathroom

  First stop in NYC was LUSH. LUSH is a cosmetic store that uses only organic fruits, vegetables, oils and safe synthetics to make their lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, and many more bath products. They only buy products from companies that do not test  on animals. They have plastic free options and only use vegetarian products. 

The picture below is of my new finds. From left to right is deodorant, 3 shampoos, conditioner and lotion. In the small black boxes are toothpaste tabs.  No more plastic bottles and containers in my bathroom.  For link to Lush click here.

*These are also airport/airplane friendly. No more worrying about taking liquids through security or spills in your bag.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Noah and Trey Both Win

Picture: Maggie left (one not shown), Noah middle (one not shown), Trey right 

Maggie: 9 items. I did not have a great week. The Styrofoam container shown above was from today's lunch. I did not ask for a to go box, however the waitress brought one out anyway and slid the remaining part of my sandwich in it. The item not shown above was a plastic straw.  This is also from today's lunch. I asked for a glass of water without a straw, however the waitress brought one in the glass. Some of this trash was not due to lack of effort but because it is so habitual for a waitress to stick a straw in someone's drink or bring out a to go box. 
Noah: 2 items (sour patch kids not pictured)
Trey: 2 items
*The 3 tabs in each of our piles is what we pull off of the glass milk. We decided that we would each take one since we each participate in drinking the milk. The tabs are the only part of the glass bottles that we can not return to become reused. 

  Noah and Trey deserve to win this week. They worked very hard. They made their lunch for camp each day they went this week. Usually they look forward to eating out for dinner when we are on the road but they both made a zero waste dinner to eat in the car. While staying at our friends the past two days, we spent a lot of time at the pool. In the past, Noah and Trey would ask for sports drinks and snacks to purchase at the snack bar. This time they packed a zero waste lunch, snacks and their water bottles. 

  Noah and Trey chose Ripley's Believe It or Not as their fun activity and to write Trader Joe's a letter for our environmental activity. The letter will ask Trader Joe's to consider using less packaging on their produce and products. The Trader Joe's around our house wraps all of their fruits and vegetables in plastic. There is no need to wrap each individual tomato, pepper, cucumber, etc in plastic.

  We are leaving for NYC tomorrow morning and start week 3. My oldest, Aaron, will join the war tomorrow. We are excited to show my mom how we live a zero waste life. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Zero Waste on the Road

 The boys and I are going out of town for 10 days. We are first staying with a dear friend in PA for three days. We are then going to visit my mom in NYC for a week. I am feeling a little anxious about staying in someone else's house, as they don't follow a zero waste life style. We will continue with our challenge this week, however we might accumulate more trash than normal. This will definitely be more difficult and take more effort on our part. The week we are with my mom, should be fairly easy though. She has a Whole Foods within walking distance and I am bringing some supplies with us.

  The picture below shows what I am taking on our trip. It might seem excessive but it is basically what I take with us on a normal shopping trip. We added cloth napkins, 5 jars with food, cooler bag, lunch box and water bottles. I am taking the jars with food so that I can contribute with groceries in a zero waste way. We are ready for the strange looks we get from people when the cloth napkins our pulled out. With a little extra preparation anyone can travel in a zero waste way.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Zero Waste at the Movies

  For Trey's big win, we went to the movies yesterday. So that we weren't tempted to buy movie theater food and accumulate waste, we packed our own. We used the same tins that we use in our lunches. They were small enough to fit in my purse but big enough for us to have an adequate snack. Below is a picture of my tin. Since my crew is sometimes picky, this allows us to individualize our own snacks. To drink we brought our stainless steel water bottles. With just a little preparation it is easy to keep a zero waste lifestyle even when you are not at home.