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

De-Spam Your Phone Books

phonebooksThe last time I used a phone book was when I was in a restaurant, waiting on a friend, and I had forgotten to bring her phone number. When I’m at home, I never use a directory, unless it’s the local ReDirect Guide, which has listings for healthy, sustainable businesses and organizations, or Green America’s National Green Pages, which has listings of “green” businesses nationwide. But, both of those are guides that I requested. They weren’t littered on my doorstep, wrapped up in a non-recyclable, will-be-around-for-practically-forever plastic bag.

Yesterday my husband came home and told me that his co-worker had accepted 8 copies of the phone book from the delivery person, because she didn’t want to upset him. What’s a store going to do with 8 phone books? Unless they’re going to become part of a special sales incentive, they’ll probably get thrown out.

Certainly it’s possible to recycle phone books, though apparently many people don’t. And, if you’re fortunate, you can catch the delivery person in the act and politely refuse a phone book — which I’ve been able to do about twice in my almost 8 years here in Oregon.

Phone books definitely are useful for some people, but in today’s instant-answer technological world when that same information in those yellow pages is available online, for many people they’ve become just another — albeit very large and bulky — piece of spam.

It feels ecologically unethical for something to be produced that most people are going to immediately toss. So, if you would like to join the ranks of people who want control over their phone book options, then here are a couple of choices:

A few days ago a friend sent me a link to Yellow Pages Goes Green, a site that offers to contact the various phone directory companies to ask them to remove your name from the directory distribution list. I filled out their opt out form right away, but then I realized that I don’t really know much about the organization. It has been written up in several blogs and a couple of newspapers, but that doesn’t reveal much information. So, use your judgment about using this option.

You can also call each of the Telephone Directory companies and ask them to remove you from their lists. Here are their phone numbers:

  • AT&T/YellowPages (formerly SBC and Bell South):   1.800.792.2665
  • Verizon (Idearc):   1.800.888.8448
  • Dex:   1.877.243.8339
  • Yellow Book:   1.800.373.3280 or 1.800.373.2324

It takes a little more time, but at least you’re in direct contact with the companies.

Really, though, this is the sort of issue that calls, not just for personal action, but for systemic change. Millions of trees are cut down to create pretty much instant trash. So, I invite you to contact the phone companies, as well as your legislators, and encourage them to develop a positive solution, such as one that mirrors the Do Not Call Registry.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for folks carrying bulky plastic bags, and hop online to search out “phone book crafts.”

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of frankh via Creative Commons.

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.

Mini-MOGO Tip: Hang On a Little Longer to Your Stuff

livingroomNo, I’m not talking about the stuff that you don’t need or want. Definitely chuck that out the first chance you get (to Goodwill or a friend or the recycle bin, as appropriate, of course). I’m talking about stuff that you need and want and use and find yourself needing (or wanting) to replace. If it’s possible, work to get a little more life out of it.

Consumers are used to upgrading, replacing and buying new stuff – new computers every couple years, new cars every few years, new clothes, new appliances, new gadgets. All that out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new not only contributes to the destruction of the planet and the suffering of people and animals, but it costs money that you don’t need to spend. And that’s an important factor in today’s economy.

We make an effort to extend the life of our stuff. We’ve had our Geo Metro car for almost 14 years now. I’ve had this laptop for 6. We’ve taken good care of both to help them last longer, and when the hard drive on my laptop blew last year, I replaced the hard drive, rather than get a whole new system (even though I wanted one). We repair our clothes (or just live with the holes) until they’re too holey to wear. We get our shoes repaired at a store down the street. We recently refurbished our 18 year-old bikes, instead of getting new ones. John bought an off-brand mp3 player several years ago and happily eschews all the suggested upgrades. We bought a vacuum cleaner at a big box store more than 10 years ago; it was supposed to last for 3. We just replaced it last year with one made mostly of replaceable metal parts, so that we can repair it when we need to. We try to get good stuff (when we can afford it), and then wring every bit of usefulness out of it that we can, before we have to replace it.

There are plenty of opportunities to reuse, mend, maintain and extend the stuff that we all have, so that we don’t have to spend the money or resources to replace it quite so soon. We can also practice a little delayed gratification when the marketers try to woo use with their must-have gadgets.

Experiment. Take something that still works that you’ve been meaning to replace, and see if you can’t make it work for you a little longer. Then try it with something else. The planet — and your pocket book — will thank you.

~ Marsha