MOGO Blogroll: Fake Plastic Fish

Do you find yourself haunted by the amount of plastic in your life? Has it become a nemesis? Perhaps it’s the addiction you can’t shake, promising yourself that this is the last piece of Tupperware, that next time you’ll remember to bring your reusable bags to the store, that you’re really going to switch to refillable pens….

Recently I discovered a cool blog called Fake Plastic Fish.  The founder, Beth Terry, uses her blog to chronicle her efforts to stop buying new plastic and to educate and inspire others to reduce their own plastics use. In addition to plastics-related news stories and an ongoing tally and analysis of her plastics use, Terry also has a great list of the plastic-free changes she’s made. Last year she also led the “Take Back the Filter” campaign to convince Clorox (which owns Brita in the U.S.) to start recycling some of its water filter cartridges.

FPF also has a plethora of useful websites and other resources, and Terry uses really clear categories for tagging her posts. I also like that Terry shows an awareness of the impacts of plastics not just on people and the planet, but on animals, too.

The Big Green Purse blog recently did an interesting interview with Terry about her blog and about plastics.

I felt pretty proud of my plastics use…until I looked around FPF. It’s definitely a good tool to help me remember that I can always to more to do less with plastics.

~ Marsha

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MOGO Tip: Become Your Own Garbage Hauler for a Few Days

garbagebagsJust how much waste do we generate? The average American generates 760 kgs of garbage per person per year (4.6 pounds per person per day).

And this New York Times article from May 2008 reveals that “Americans generate roughly 30 million tons of food waste each year, which is about 12 percent of the total waste stream.”

A lot of what we throw away is stuff we don’t really use (or need), or stuff that could be diverted elsewhere, whether reused, recycled, redirected (or refrained from using in the first place).

Challenge yourself for a day or a week: keep all your waste — everything that you would throw away, and store it somewhere, so that you can get a real sense of what your garbage footprint is. If you can’t keep it, then write down everything you toss and keep a list. Then look through your treasure of trash and notice what could be recycled, what could be reused, what could be redirected, and what you could have done without in the first place. Think about how you could have gotten what you needed without generating garbage. If you have kids, get them in on this little adventure; turn it into something fun.

Although I’m encouraging you to keep your waste for just a few days, one guy decided to keep all his garbage and recycling for a YEAR, to see how much would accumulate, and how well he could do at reducing his waste impact. Dave kept a blog of his efforts, cataloging all the waste he generated and how he dealt with it.

Dave now has a website, Sustainable Dave, with resources, tips and insights for reducing waste and living sustainably. Check it out for some tips to help you reduce your waste-print.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of fnavarro.

MOGO Mini-Tip: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

toothpastebrushIn the hurry-scurry of our daily lives, it’s easy to buzz through on auto-pilot and not bring attention to the amount of stuff we’re consuming each morning — the soap and shampoo in the shower; the toothpaste; the coffee or juice in our cup — and throughout the day. Certainly, the amount of toothpaste we use in a day, or amount of drink we toss down the drain might be small, but all those little excesses add up — for the planet as well as our pocketbooks.

If we can focus on paying attention when we brush our teeth and wash our hair and drink and eat and clean the counters and scrub the dishes, and take only what we need to successfully complete the job, it might surprise us to notice how much extra we’ve been taking. We can use fewer resources and save money. And, when we put food on our plates, if we’re paying attention, we might eat less, and thus lessen our chances of gaining weight, as well as of wasting food.

I like to remember Gandhi’s statement that “He who has more than he needs is a thief,” and while some might think it’s a little harsh, it serves as a good reminder to me to pay attention to how much of the world’s resources I’m consuming.

~ Marsha

Selling American Girlhood: The American Girl Phenomenon

rethinkingschoolsmarketingYour daughter/niece/friend’s child wants a doll, and although you have fond memories of the exploits of Ken and Barbie from your own childhood, you realize that Barbie really isn’t the best role model. And, of course, those brazen, anorexic Bratz things are out of the question. So, you turn to something like the American Girl dolls. Those seem pretty girl-power focused. Plus, they have dolls of different ethnicities. And, there’s a magazine and a series of historical books about each girl, so they inspire reading and learning about history.  So, it seems like a pretty safe, pro-girl choice, event if AG does promote a lot of products, right? Not so fast.

The latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine has a terrific analysis of the American Girl doll/book/movie/products/girl culture phenomenon. “Marketing American Girlhood“, by Elizabeth Marshall, searches underneath the initial layer of “girl power” and diversity that American Girl purports to promote and examines the actual messages and intentions. Here are three short excerpts from the article to tempt you to read the article:

“However, any potential ‘girl-power’ lessons are short-circuited in these books through the use of historical fiction to deliver traditional lessons about what girls can and should do. While the stories take place in key historical moments, such as the Civil War, and World War II, the girls rarely participate in historical events in any substantial way.”

“The American Girl historical girl collection also purports to be multicultural and includes African American (Addy), Latina (Josefina), and Native American (Kaya) characters. However, this inclusion is superficial and represents the ways in which ‘difference,’ like ‘girl power,’ has become a commodity that American Girl markets to its consumers.”

“Some might argue that American Girl is not as bad as other materials on the market, or as offensive as Barbie or Bratz dolls. This argument misses the key features of what makes this phenomenon so insidious: how corporations play on the feminist and /or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption. American Girl is less about strong girls, diversity or history than about marketing girlhood, about hooking girls, their parents and grandparents into buying the American Girl products and experience.”

As a former youth librarian, when the AG books first came out, I was happy to see something to counteract the lure of licensed-character books and other stuff. Sure, they weren’t meaningful literature, but they had a positive spin and attracted a large number of readers. But then came the stuff: the magazine, the doll accessories that cost more than some real accessories, more dolls, more stuff. Under the guise of girl-power, AG is grooming another generation to become happy consumers,  who don’t question the impact of all that stuff or the messages behind them. Check out the article and share it with parents and friends.

~ Marsha

Mini-MOGO Habit: Change the Way You Think About Holiday Gifts for a Happier, More Humane Experience

News headlines read “Merry Wal-mart, America” and “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like a Wal-mart Christmas.” A New York Times article outlines Wal-mart’s glee at expected increases in sales this holiday, while many other retailers plan for a financially dismal season. Wal-mart’s CEO says, “In my mind, there is no doubt that this is Wal-Mart time.” People are hurting for cash this season, and many are turning to the big box chains for lower prices on stuff. But what’s not coming out in the news is that giving your money to corporations such as Wal-mart means supporting low wages, undercutting local merchants, increasing urban sprawl, buying goods made with sweatshop and child labor, and so on.

And then every year we read stories giving us tips for reducing our holiday stress and surviving holiday shopping. And stories about people attacking (or occasionally killing) each other for the privilege of snagging the last must-have toy of the year (whose popularity quickly fades and is replaced by another toy). And stories about buying the perfect green gifts (that usually cost a lot more green than you could ever afford).

What’s with all the stress and violence and need to give and receive a big pile of stuff each holiday? The winter holidays used to be a time of spirituality, family and reflection, and they’ve become an homage to the gods of consumerism, stress and distraction.

This year when thinking about giving gifts to loved ones, consider these healthier, more humane alternatives:

Don’t give a material gift at all. I know; it seems almost sacrilege to say it. But, while gift giving for the holidays has been a long-standing tradition, it’s not a mandatory part of celebrating. As No Impact Man Colin Beavan mentions in his recent Yes! Magazine article, a recent study on the experiences of 117 people at Christmastime discovered that “people who emphasized time spent with families and meaningful religious or spiritual activities had merrier Christmases….In fact, subjects who gave or received presents that represented a substantial percentage of their income…actually experienced less Christmas joy.” Beavan and his family chose not to exchange gifts as part of their “no impact” experiment and found the experience surprising and enlightening. I know that giving gifts in my family became such a bastion of stress and resentment that we all finally decided to stop exchanging gifts — and we’re much happier for it.
Consider focusing on other important aspects of the season, such as visiting friends or spending quality time with family. Nurturing relationships is an important gift in itself. Alternatively, in the season of goodwill toward others, instead of spending your time shopping, spend it helping those who need it; volunteer for local groups in your community. Make it a family (or friends) affair and share the gifts of your time and talents with others.

If giving a gift is a must, consider:

  • Make a donation in their name to a worthy cause, especially one that supports their interests. My husband’s sister donates to their local humane society in our name each year, which makes us both happy, helps others and doesn’t add to our stack of stuff. You can even band together with friends and give the gift of water to those who need it. How can most material gifts compete with that?  Be sure to skip supporting the cause by buying the adorable commemorative ornament or calendar or mug, though; such items mean less money going to the actual cause and may support the very practices you’re trying to avoid.
  • Think creatively. This year’s Yes! Magazine staff’s list of suggested gifts includes some really creative ideas, such as fixing a treasured item that’s broken, or taking a class together. Think unique, experiential, personal, and meaningful. Do they love farmers’ markets? How about a split share in a CSA? Do they have a sweet tooth? How about baking them a different decadent delight each month? Have they been meaning to organize all those digital photos from that unforgettable trip? Make them a special annotated scrapbook on Flickr or another shared photo site.
  • Make sure the gift is something that they truly need, want, and will use. Granted, my husband and I live more simply than many people, but it always seemed such a sad waste that almost every gift we received for several years — though well-meant — was nothing we could use or wanted and usually ended up going straight to the thrift store.Food can be a good gift choice, if you know people’s preferences. For many years we made pumpkin or banana bread-in-a-jar gifts for friends and co-workers. The gift was yummy and included a reusable jar and the recipe. My husband’s mother always sends us organic fruit from a company here in Oregon. One year we made all our family vegan recipe books of well-tested tasty dishes that they were likely to enjoy…and so they wouldn’t worry about what to feed us when we visited.
  • Make sure the gift fits the MOGO product criteria, i.e., the gift is:
  • Humane to other people – that is, produced according to fair labor practices that do not exploit, oppress, and cause suffering to others.
  • Humane to animals – that is, its production does not cause animals to suffer and/or die.
  • Sustainable and/or restorative – that is, its production and disposal can be sustained through available resources, without causing destruction to ecosystems, and may actually contribute to ecological repair.
  • Personally life enhancing – that is, it brings something positive to their lives and does not become one more burdensome thing to take care of.
  • Make the gift yourself. But again, give them something that they really need or want. DIY is becoming the rage, with the ailing economy and increased awareness of consumerism, but just because you can make something cool MacGyver-style out toilet paper tubes and used staples doesn’t mean it should be a gift. One of my co-workers used to knit cute holiday ornaments for everyone in the building each year, which was really kind and thoughtful. But, being someone who lives a simple life, such items weren’t something I could use.
  • Rethink used. Used items carry such a stigma for some people. “What?! You don’t care about me enough to get me something new?!” But often, reusing items can make the perfect gift. Your friend has always raved about that doodad you no longer want? Wrap it up and surprise him with it. Know the perfect book to give your mom? You can probably find it in excellent condition at a used book store. One year a group of us had a “white elephant” exchange with a twist. Instead of bringing yucky junk we didn’t want anymore, we each found something truly useful from our homes that we were ready to pass on to someone else. Talk about fighting over good stuff!
  • Make sure the present and its gift wrap are recyclable, reusable and/or biodegradable.

Need additional ideas? Buy Nothing Christmas and New American Dream offer more gift suggestions.

~ Marsha

Originally published in the December 2008 Humane Edge E-News.

Help Create a Humane World: Celebrate Buy Nothing Day

On the day after Thanksgiving, most people will be joining the hordes that make up “Black Friday” — the biggest shopping day of the year. But, of course, we know that the path to a humane world isn’t paved by consumerism. So, if you’re looking for a way to encourage others to consume less, consider participating in Buy Nothing Day.

Buy Nothing Day is an annual observance held on “Black Friday” in order to encourage others to “opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only for 24 hours.” In addition to encouraging you to buy nothing for a day, the campaign also promotes events around the world, from hosting credit card cut ups, to zombie walks to other ways of bringing attention to the impact of our consumer culture.

Buy Nothing Day is sponsored by Adbusters. Visit their website for more information, resources, video clips, and to find out about their Buy Nothing Christmas campaign.

~ Marsha

Leave That Plastic Alone, But Don’t Leave It Behind

plasticcupstraw“Think that it is possible to live without plastic (or anything single-use for that matter) in the world and suddenly you will have time to explore the alternatives.  It’s like being a pioneer, except instead of surviving under scarce circumstances, you are bombarded with exploitative bounty. You must choose to be more particular about the circumstances you accept for your health, your environment and your community and share this knowledge with others!”
~ Cheryl Lohrmann, Leave No Plastic Behind

It seems lately that reminders about the impact of plastic have been almost as prevalent as the plastic itself. I did a post about reducing plastic use awhile ago, but fates have conspired to warrant another. Last night John and I went to the opening of the art exhibit Haste Management, sponsored by the group Leave No Plastic Behind. Our friend, Dani, had participated in the project and had entered a piece.

The group has the goal of decreasing demand for single-use plastic through “creative awareness campaigns,” including their twice-yearly art shows. As part of the art shows, participants agree to live “plastic-free” for a three-month period. As LNPB says on their website, “A plastic-free lifestyle challenges you to refrain from purchasing items that are packaged in any sort of single-use plastic, including: to-go coffee lids, plastic cups or cutlery, water, prepackaged foods, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, dish soap, laundry soap, utensils…”

Artists have to keep any plastic they use throughout those three months and then use at least some of it in their art piece. There were some pretty unique pieces at the exhibition last night. One artist created a pen and ink life-sized drawing of a Brown Pelican on a large plastic garment bag from a retail store. Another had constructed a quilt sort of piece, all out of plastic on both sides. One artist crocheted a purse and a hat from plastic bags. And Dani made a cool piece using materials like linen, wood, paint, items from nature, and plastic, of course.

In addition to providing entertainment for the eye and encouraging art fans to sign a pledge to reduce their plastic use, the artists created a list of suggested actions that people could take to help reform their plastic habit. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • When buying veggies at the market, there’s no need to put them in the plastic bag since you’ll be washing them anyway.
  • Ask yourself: “Is this product I am about to purchase a Want or a Need?”
  • Buy in bulk using your own reusable bags.
  • Make your own bread (or buy it from your local bakery and bring your own bread bag).
  • Rather than buy lunch every day at work I bring in lunches I have prepared, in advance, and store these in individual reusable glass containers.
  • I carry my canvas shopping bags in my car at all times. I purchased these bags over 25 years ago when I lived in CT. I use them for groceries, library books, and other items.
  • Although we rarely eat out, I do carry containers in the car that I bring into the restaurant. It also helps count calories as I divide the serving in half directly into the container before I eat.
  • I never buy “garbage bags” as I use the cat or dog food bags for “trash” – thing is it takes forever to fill as I am not a normal consumer.
  • Write a letter to the company producing plastic or to a local legislator or national representative regarding use of plastic. Letter writing is one of the most effective forms of expressing our concerns, visions and desires. It is estimated that for every 100 letters written to a legislator, the views of 10,000 people are represented. This is partially because so few people take the time to express their views.
  • It may be simple, but the best resource I’ve found for supplementing my plastic-free grocery needs is my co-op.
  • I always have a fork and spoon on me. I find that when I bring my own reusable plate to the cafe, people think my food looks better than what they got even though it’s the same food!

I’ve also run across several other interesting blog posts and mentions of plastic use recently, including:

Challenge yourself in the plastic realm. Do a little inventory of your home and/or your office, and see how much plastic you have in your life. The next time you go shopping, say, for groceries, just notice how much plastic you bring home with you. Take a day (or a week) and keep all the plastic you use. Notice how much you have at the end of your test period. Look through it and see what you really could have done without, what you could have used instead, and how you could have reused (or recycled) the plastic you had left. Then, start paying attention. Do you really need that plastic straw? Can you keep canvas bags in your car? Can you use non-plastic reusable bottles? Focus on when you can easily let go of plastic, and then continue to take steps on the plastic-free continuum.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of garrisonphoto.