Tuesday, December 19, 2006

When I was a kid...

If anybody is actually reading this week, please help me out with my next post. I'm trying to remember what life was like before we drank out of plastic water bottles. Especially for you guys in the 30-plus crowd...can you recall what vessels you used to bring H2O to mouth? Give me specifics here...at work? At the gym, or were there gyms back then? On the run? I need help here, because for some of the kids these days, pre-plastic water bottle days are as hard to imagine as life without the internet. Anyway, please help me out with the water bottle question by postiing a comment!

Monday, December 18, 2006

If you haven't already bought wrapping paper...

Check out Umbra's advice on using "found paper" to wrap your holiday gifts. She asserts that in making a gift attractive, more important than the actual paper used are crisp, tight folds and creative garnishes like ribbons and glitter.

And this year, designate a bag for wrapping paper/bows/gift bags that still look as good as new and can be saved for next year. My dad is a master at this. For years my sister and I have seen the same bags and bows surface year after year, most likely outliving many of the presents they housed. And while we used to give him a hard time about what we perceieved as extreme thriftiness, I now totally appreciate the path he forged for us. (That's us last Christmas. I'm pretty sure that bag dates back to at least 1997.) It's all about changing our orientation. Once you stop seeing wrapping paper, gift-bags, bows, newspaper, envelopes, copy paper, ziplock bags, etc. etc., as single-use disposables, a whole new world opens up! Don't cut their lives off prematurely after one use...Get creative and save a bow from a landfill. It wants to be a part of the family.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Got a skeptic?

Ah, the holidays. You know what that means: Food, drink, a little vacation time...and testy interactions with family members who hold widely varying social and political views. Unless you grew up in the artsy, activist household of my dreams, you know what I'm talking about. No matter how much you vow to avoid the "hot topics", after a few drinks they inevitably surface. I've already heard reports of a Thanksgiving fight breaking out over the merit of reusable bags (Thanks for the effort, Sean!). And while the issue of climate change is NOT A POLITICAL ISSUE, unfortunately for some of our family members, it might be. Because of, you know, Al Gore and all those crazy Hollywood types who drive hybrids. And as much as we all might fantasize that our elderly family members will see the light about global warming when they witness our passion for the issue, I'm afraid sometimes they see our "passion" as "craziness". Such interactions might even reinforce their previously-held beliefs about what happens when their grandchildren move to California (sorry, getting a little personal there.) And one thing we definitely want to avoid is the perpetuation of the idea that caring about the future of our planet is a "liberal" issue. SO...it's always best to go into battle armed with some cold, hard facts, right? I thought this would be a good time to share this fabulous resource:

How to talk to a global warming skeptic

It's quite an extensive compilation, but try starting with the "Global warming is a hoax" section, where the author lists various organizations that all accept that the earth is warming because of human activity. Real "left-wing wackos" here, like the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Meteorological Society. Heck, even oil companies Shell and BP admit that global warming is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels. If the oil companies say it's true, it must be, right?

And remember, a little sugar always helps the medicine go down. :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fun with home electricity WEEK

First of all, sorry for the delay in posting this week's theme. It won't happen again. And then I bring you such a compelling topic...I know, I know. Home electricity isn't half as exciting as reusable bags or recycled toilet paper, but it's an essential stop on our journey towards a greener lifestyle. The facts are pretty basic on this one, but we often forget that electricity has to actually be generated, don't we? Where do our computers, ipods, tvs, phones, electric can openers, treadmills, hair dryers, electric screwdrivers, waffle-makers, etc, etc....get their life-force? You guessed it--mostly from fossil fuels! According to the Department of Energy, at least 70% of our electricity is produced by the burning of fossil fuels--coal (52%), natural gas (16%), and oil (3%). Only 2% of our electricity is powered by renewable resources, such as solar and wind power. (The rest is from nuclear (20%) and hydropower (7%), in case you're wondering). So there's a pretty simple solution: Use less electricity, burn fewer fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Easy, right? Actually, there are some really basic measures we can all take to drastically reduce our electricity usage, and I don't mean walking around the house in pitch-black. The first 2 are one-time actions...can it get any easier than that?

1. Sign up for "Green Power". If you live in LA, this is so easy. Just call LADWP at 800-342-5397 to make the switch and voila...your electricity will now come from solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass energy. Isn't it more pleasant to imagine one of those cool windmills (wind turbines, I guess they're officially called) working hard to brew your cup of coffee, rather than some nasty coal factory emitting black plumes of smoke to help get your day going? Call DWP with your account number and make the switch today! Read more about the Green Power program here. (photo credit: Wagner Christian).

If you're not in LA, there is a chance that your area has a similar option, so look into it! And if not, start a campaign for one!

2. Replace your most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. (Or go crazy and replace all of them!) Here's another one of those handy "If every American household replaced an earth-hating product..." facts, from Energy Star, the government's energy efficiency-promotion program:

"If every American home replaced just one light bulb with (a compact fluorescent bulb), we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars." I'm convinced!

I'm going to continue quoting Energy Star here, because last night was a late one and my brain is fuzzy...

Compact fluorescent bulbs:
"use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer...Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime."

I bet some of you have considered buying a compact fluorescent bulb, picked it up, but have been dissuaded by the price, which is slightly more than standard bulbs. But now you know that you'll undoubtedly make that initial investment back by saving on your electricity bill, and by rarely having to replace these amazing bulbs. Now that I think about it, I have NEVER replaced a fluorescent bulb...don't know exactly how long that's been, but I know I have a couple that have outlasted at least 4 apartments! Funny...the one constant in my life: fluorescent light bulbs. A word to the wise: When you sign up for Green Power, they say they will send you 2 fluorescent bulbs, but don't wait around for those to make the switch, because I still have never gotten mine, and it's been about 6 months. Also, compact fluorescent bulbs make great stocking stuffers!

3. Reduce your electricity usage. We all know we could be better on this front.

--Just like Dad insisted, turn off lights when you leave a room. A good rule of thumb I use when I'm cleaning or doing something between rooms is turning the light off I leave the room for more than a minute. Also, I know this is home-energy week, but PLEASE turn off your office lights when you leave work. I drive through downtown cringing as I see floor after floor of office bldgs lit up all night long! Who are they leaving the lights on for?! The cleaning service will undoubtedly turn on the lights as they reach each room, so I don't buy that argument. Don't these companies know they could save thousands of dollars a month in energy bills? And of course if they're leaving the lights on, the computers and copy machines are probably not being turned off either. It's enough to give me apoplexy....If you work in a building like this, start a movement to turn off the lights at night. You'll be simultaneously doing your employer a favor AND starting a revolution!

--Turn off your computer when you're not using it. This includes laptops too. Somehow a few years ago a rumor started circulating that it takes more energy to turn the computer on and off, so you might as well leave it on all the time. This is wrong! And nonsensical if you think about for more than a few seconds.

--Unplug cell phone, ipod and other chargers when they are not in use. Yes, they are still drawing energy even if the device is not connected. (Photo at left is not staged. Scene found in real-live coworker's office.) Also, make sure your ipod isn't wasting energy getting tossed around in a bag--that's what the lock switch is for.

--This one is new to me, but I'm getting pretty good at remembering to do it. Apparently, your TV is still drawing power even when it is off! That's what enables it to be turned on by a remote, which makes sense. Likewise, if you have a stereo like I do that can be turned on by a remote or still has lights on when it is "off", it too, is sucking energy even when not "on". So...and I know this is going to sound extreme to some of you...unplug them when not in use. An easy way to do this is to plug your TV, DVD player, and stereo into one surge protector (which they likely already are all on) and just power that off when you leave the house in the morning. The exception is your TIVO, which, of course does have to stay plugged in to do its job. Ah, TIVO, I knew someday I'd see your warts...

--I rent an apartment, as do most people I know, and as my dad recently reminded me, there's a whole world of house mainentance that I'm oblivious to. But if you are a homeowner, there are several other measures you can take...such as buying energy-efficient appliances when it's time to replace yours. Lots of lists exist for reducing energy-usage in a house, so look it up.

--Think. Just start noticing how you might have become accustomed to leaving random electronics on unnecessarily. Start changing your habits, little by little. I've started turning off my internet router when I'm not home. It doesn't need to sit there waiting for me to come home all day. Of course, the added bonus in using less electricity is that you'll be saving a few dollars on your bill every month--money better put towards movies, coffee (in a reusable mug, of course), cheap Trader Joe's wine...just about anything beats paying to burn fossil fuels!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Let's go places together

Meet my new favorite reusable bag that now has a permanent place in my purse. This one's got game, folks. Witness its transformation from tiny and totally transportable to sturdy and stylish.

Comes in a pouch that's sewn to the inside of the bag, so you can't lose it. Amazing! Fits easily in any purse, so you'll never have to worry about getting caught without a reusable bag again. (The newest social faux pas, people!) Guys, you can stow it in your backpack, man-purse or just your car!

Friendly Bristol Farms worker is totally in awe of the transforma-tion he just witnessed and thinks we're only slightly weird. (Sorry for the blurry representation).

I could take this one anywhere, even to the finest boutiques, if I went to those kinds of places. Although this pictorial journey records a mere grocery store outing, this bag is actually ideal for non-food shopping, given its sleek look. Just unload your goods, stuff it back into its pouch, and return it to your purse/backpack/car.

Also comes in black, "moroccan blue", and "burnt orange"...ooh la la! from reusable bags.com, of course.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Victoria's Secret catalog goes green-ish

You can now enjoy the air-brushed babes of the "lingerie catalog" (come on, we all know it's borderline porn), without feeling guilty (at least, about what trees were used in the making of, that is).

Grist reports today that Limited Brands, (which owns Victoria's Secret, The Limited, Express, and Bath and Body Works) has announced some really important changes in the way they do business. A huge user/waster of paper (apparently Victoria's Secret alone sends out more than 1 million catalogs a day!!), they have agreed to stop using virgin pulp from the Boreal forest--yes, that same place your plush toilet paper comes from. They have also agreed to a number of new forest-friendly policies, including using at least 10% post-consumer recycled content for their catalogs. Just goes to show that we can put pressure on corporations to do better, and that many of them are starting to listen!

While we're on the topic of corporate responsibility, for those of you who have been inspired to switch to toilet paper made from recycled paper, take the extra step and send Kimberly Clark an email to help pressure them to do what Limited Brands has done.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Becky says "feck driving!"

As many of you know, I've been living it up on the train a lot lately, taking the long journey between Los Feliz and Manhattan Beach regularly, which has caused a few people to question my sanity. I try to explain: An hour and twenty minutes of care-free, "me time" versus 45 minutes fighting traffic? Duh, no-brainer! And well, I've come to enjoy...ok, absolutely LOVE everything the train has to offer. In my dreams I've written numerous "odes to the train", paying homage to all the life lessons it has taught me already in our short relationship. Seriously, folks! But, alas, time has not allowed such a litany of gratitude yet. So thank goodness I discovered my friend Becky's blog which is all-around fabulousness. Most exciting, she has written her own ode to the train, and an accompanying "Letter to Driving". Check it out. It's quality, LOL stuff.

Let's stop flushing forests down the toilet WEEK

Alright, people. So far, we've been easing into this whole "saving the planet" thing. You've been asked to make some small changes and you've risen to the occasion. Many are now proud users of reusable bags, and you haven't even been laughed out of the grocery store yet! Several of you have reported refusing numerous unneeded plastic bags, remembering that we can still carry objects without the use of a handle. Hoorah! This week, something a bit more...intimate is being asked of you. But first, the facts:

Did you know that most of our toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue and paper napkins come from ancient, endangered forests inhabited by trees that are (or rather, were) 70-180 years old? That's because Kleenex, Scott, Viva, Cottonelle, Charmin, Bounty, and Puffs, among other brands, are all made from virgin trees in virgin forests--forests that, until now, have been left largely untouched by humans and our destructive ways. Imagine: 150 years of perfect sun, rain, soil and fresh air all working together to grow magnificent oxygen-producing, CO2-absorbing beauties...All so that you can savor the moment of wiping your bum with something soft and fluffy, then--quite literally!--flush it down the toilet. Somehow, I don't think that's the end result nature intended. I mean, come on: Do we really want future generations to know that we cut down the few remaining in-tact forests for the sake of some really comfy arse-wipe? I don't think so...

But let's backtrack a bit. Many of us find it difficult to envision how things were done "back in the day"--before the advent of all these fine disposable products we can't imagine living without. What were the precursors to our flushable friend? How did people survive?! Modern-day toilet paper wasn't even invented until 1857. Before that, according to Wikipedia:

"Wealthy people used wool, lace or hemp for their ablutions, while less wealthy people used their hand when defecating into rivers, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize husks, fruit skins, or seashells, and cob of the corn depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs.

In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater. In some parts of the world, the use of newspaper, telephone directory pages, or other paper products was common. Old Farmer's Almanac was sold with a hole punched in the corner so it could be hung on a nail in an outhouse. The widely-distributed Sears catalogue was also a popular choice until it began to be printed on glossy paper (at which point, some people wrote to the company to complain)."

Now THERE'S a use for all those unwanted catalogues that have been piling up! Kidding, kidding. And don't worry: What I'm asking of you will be much less painful than wiping with seashells.

These days, by Charmin's estimates, Americans use, on average, 8.6 sheets per trip to the loo, or 57 sheets per day, which turns out to be 20,805 sheets a year...or 52 rolls annually. How convenient--1 roll a week per man, woman, and child in America. That's a lot of trees flushed down the toilet. The NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) and Greenpeace are trying to convince paper giant Kimberly Clark (which owns Kleenex, Scott, Viva, and Cottonelle brands) to start making their products out of recycled paper. Kimberly Clark's paper comes from trees in the Canadian Boreal forest, which represents 25% of the old-growth/virgin forest left in the world. NRDC cuts to the chase in their campaign slogan: "Keep forests from become toilet paper".

On Kimberly Clark and its subsidiaries, the NRDC says: "Instead of making better use of materials such as post-consumer recycled fiber and agricultural residue to meet the escalating demand for toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable tissue products, these companies buy virgin pulp from suppliers that reach deep into North American forests for timber, from northern Canada to the southeastern United States...Kimberly-Clark -- one of the largest tissue paper producers in the world, with offices, factories and mills in 37 countries -- uses more than 1.1 million cubic meters of trees from Canada's boreal forests each year to produce some 465,000 metric tons (equal to 512,575 tons) of pulp."

Go here to read more about the ecoystems being destroyed on behalf of our arse-wipe.

Fortunately, a solution exists. Numerous paper companies have adopted more sustainable practices by incorporating some percentage of recycled material into their pulp. There are many brands of toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, and napkins available that are now 100% recycled. Look for ones with high post-consumer recycled product.

Here's a guide for brands to try and ones to avoid. It covers facial tissue, paper towels, and napkins too. (For the sake of time, this post focuses on toilet paper, but by all means, please start replacing your paper towels, facial tissue, etc. with recycled versions. In the future we'll also explore cutting down on the usage of these disposables as well.)

I've been using Seventh Generation toilet paper for the last few weeks, and it really isn't bad. My favorite part is the back of the packet, where they provide several facts that make you feel all warm and fuzzy--(even if the TP itself doesn't)--see pic at left. Wow, check it out--1,450,000 trees could be saved just by every household replacing one virgin four-packet of TP with recycled TP. Amazing!

Ok, full disclosure: Recycled paper products are not as soft as virgin products. There, I said it. Apparently there's a legitimate reason for this, not because the companies want to punish you for buying recycled, but because it's a different kind of pulp. So far, I can report no injuries or irritations. Still, I can already hear the complaints rolling in. You like your 2-ply, 1000-count aloe-enhanced friend. I understand. And if you have a compelling argument for why the comfort of your own nether-region is a more important cause than preserving the few remaining pristine forests of our planet, then I'm all ears! Until then, enjoy your recycled arse-wipe, and relish in the thought that it's not corn on the cob. :)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We haven't even gotten to the water bottle week...

But my friend Heather couldn't wait to banish disposable bottles from her life! She got this reusable one at Target for $5.99 and is quite pleased with it so far. She says, "It doesn't retain odor or taste and is dishwasher/microwave safe." She plans on using it at work and at the gym. Yay! Thanks for the inspiration, Heather!! You, too, can exist in cyberspace...send me pics of yourself with your new reusable bottle, mug, bag...fill in the blank. Get excited, folks.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

On posting

I'm going to be posting more regularly than I first thought. In addition to the weekly tips posted on Sundays, I'll also be updating about lifestyle changes I'm making and random tidbits of eco-interest. So check back often!

'Tis the season...to consume less

Ok, as much as I try to block it out, the commercial "holiday season" is now upon us, and the Santa towel sets and holly garlands at Vons won't let me totally ignore it. (Heck, even the entertainment at the Thai restaurant I ate at last night was singing strictly Christmas carols). We are entering the month-long Super Bowl of over-consumption and waste. Ideally, of course, we would all reject the consumerist elements of our respective holidays, and get in touch with the true meaning behind them (love, peace, the survival of a culture, etc.) without lining the coffers of the companies that up the ante each year for appropriate gift-giving. But your family might not be ready for that, and neither is mine just yet. However, I also know that my dad doesn't need any more ties or books on fishing, and just like Buy Nothing Day, the holidays are a great opportunity to reclaim the reigns of consumerism and bestow our friends and family with some gifts that are more from the heart AND that don't contribute to needless consumption.

Here are some recommendations for having an eco-friendly holiday:

--Gifts that help people consume less (reusable bags, mugs, bottles, wooden laundry racks, etc.)
--Gifts made out of recycled materials (For you LA people, I just found an amazing little shop in Eagle Rock called Regeneration I'm pretty sure you can get recycled cards and wrapping paper there too.)
--A massage, facial, pedicure, acupuncture...some extravagance or service that mom and pop wouldn't buy themselves. One year my sister and I got our mom a couple months of a cleaning service, and it made such a difference in her life that she has kept the service since then!
--A night's getaway at a B&B, or some outdoor adventure like a snowboarding day-pass, horseback riding outing, or rock-climbing lesson (thanks, Grist)
--Tickets to a concert/musical/play
--A meal, cookies, festive bread, or pie. Holiday cooking is fun! Especially with red and green sprinkles...
--Get crafty! Spend a saturday doing that knitting/painting/jewelry-making project that you've been wanting to do...then share your creativity with friends. (Some of you say this cries out "I'm cheap!", like those years you substituted framed pictures of yourself for "real" presents...but I think, needless to say, we would all be impressed and touched if a friend put the time and effort into making a piece of art.)
--Recycle books/clothes/music you don't need anymore. Again, I think we need to reorient our perspectives on the giving of "used" items. Since when does the amount of money we spend on someone reflect how much we love them? We all know that how much a guy spends on a piece of jewelry isn't always equivalent to his love for his lady...So why do we turn this philosophy on its head when it comes to our own gift giving? I know at some point we've all gotten insecure that our loved ones will speculate that we didn't spend enough money on them. What's so wrong with, "I read this book. Yes, this exact one. Thought you would enjoy it too"...?

Here are some more ideas and links for alternate eco-gifts.

--And for those of you whose friends and family are already down with the anti-materialism thing: Donate money in their names to a cause they care about. Or, be a real trend-setter and help them offset their carbon emissions.

One last word: The added bonus in giving "alternative" gifts is that you have an opportunity to help convert friends and family over to the eco-cause. Add a note explaining why you're giving them something a little different this year...

UPDATE: Slate's Green Challenge is also doing a holiday theme this week. Quite extensive coverage of all the ways you can cut down waste (albeit a depressing reminder that pretty much every element of my own holiday tradition is ecologically terrible, from the trees to the lights...sigh). Check it out.

Wake up and smell the...reusable mug! WEEK

Ah, coffee. One of our worldwide addictions we can still feel mostly ok about. Of course, we all know too much caffeine can be harmful, but one nice cup of joe a day is nothing to feel guilty about, right? As long as it's not in a paper cup...

I'd venture to say that until the mid-90's, most American coffee consumption was done in the home or office, brewed in ordinary coffee makers. You know, Folgers and stuff. Unlike Europeans and others, we didn't really have a culture of buying coffee and drinking it in public. Then came the juggernaut of Starbucks. Slowly but surely, town by town, Americans were exposed to a whole new caffeinated world: mochas! americanos! double non-fat lattes with hazelnut! So, an entirely new coffee culture was born, but with an American twist. While in many other cultures coffee drinking is a central social activity--where friends of all ages can be found sitting in cafes for hours--our American version is a decidedly individual, disposable affair. Coffee on-the-go has become the norm, as have $3.95 frappuccinos, for better or worse. And as my friend Ruth pointed out, even when you do drink your coffee on location, many places STILL give you a to-go cup!

Starbucks alone goes through an estimated 2 billion paper cups annually! On top of that, imagine how many cups all the Peets, Coffee Beans, and few surviving independent coffee shops use, even daily. That's a lot of trees. In 2004, Starbucks bought 27,400 tons of cup stock made from virgin trees (i.e. fresh trees deflowered just for that purpose). And, as we saw with paper bags, the problems with paper cups are three-fold. A: Trees are cut down, reducing a natural counterbalance to global warming; B: fossil fuels are used in production, thus emitting greenhouse gases and other pollution; C: The enormous amount of trash created from these single-use products ends up in our landfills.

Starbucks has taken steps to lessen their environmental impact, as they should. This year they started making their cups out of 10% post-consumer recycled fiber. According to their own estimates, this will save 78,000 trees and reduce landfill content by 2,740 tons, or about 5.5 million pounds. This is a good step, but it's hard to see the 10% as little more than symbolic. Even if they eventually make their cups out of 100% recycled materials, there will still be the problem of all those wonderfully recycled cups being tossed in the garbage after one use.

The solution is simple: Bring your own coffee mug. There is a financial incentive as well: At Starbucks you get a 10 cent discount when you bring your own, and many other companies and cafes only charge you for a small size when you have your own mug. Most coffee chains and many independent cafes are now selling their own plastic and stainless steel mugs. (Or you can find some really sturdy ones on reusablebags.com--I swear I don't get a commission from them, they just have really great products!).

I've been using a plastic mug, which has been fine, and I just ordered a stainless steel heavy-duty one, so I'll let you know how it compares. Get in the habit of keeping it with you, and just remember to rinse it out after use! So easy.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Buy Nothing Day

Happy (late) Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you are all surrounded by friends and family (if you want to be, that is) and have enjoyed lots of good food and rest. Wanted to remind you guys that today is Buy Nothing Day.

For 14 years now, more and more people have been declining to participate in "the busiest shopping day of the year". Instead of fighting the crowds for that $49 dvd player, let's all bow out of consuming for one day. Take the day to relax, be with family/friends/yourself, or do what I'm doing--sorting through clothes/random crap I don't need, and making a trip to the Goodwill. It's funny, we have a nice long weekend, and instead of relaxing and taking the time to rejuvenate, people feel a compulsion to fight traffic and crowds to take advantage of "the sales". Of course, that's because corporate America has done an excellent job of convincing us that we are morally obligated to make today the biggest day of the year for "retailers". What's great about BND is that we have the opportunity to send the opposite message on this day of over-consumption: That what's good for our country/the world is for us to be doing a lot LESS consuming, not more. So sit back and relax--if you needed an excuse, you now have a legitimate moral reason to avoid the malls today...

Here's more info on BND.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

BYOB: Bring your own bag WEEK

Plastic bags are just bad news all around. And paper bags are even worse (but we'll get to that).

Worldwide, we consume between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags annually.
Americans use and trash around 100 billion plastic bags a year, which are produced by an estimated 12 million barrels of oil.

Yes, plastic bags are made out of petroleum...that's right, oil! We all know the double-whammy problems with oil: Namely, the fact we are quickly running out of it, and that its usage emits CO2, which is a major cause of global warming. So, we can look at our unthinking use and disposal of plastic bags as just another manifestation of our addiction to oil. Get this: The manufacturing of just 14 plastic bags uses the same amount of oil as it takes to drive one mile!!! And with that come the same problems--global warming emissions and more dependency on the countries that control the dwindling amounts of oil left in the world (the exact countries we want to be extricating ourselves from).

That's just touching on the production of plastic bags. They also pollute our environment as trash, killing hundreds of thousands of sea animals who end up mistaking them for food. And, not only do they not biodegrade, they actually photodegrade into tinier toxic particles that get absorbed into soil and water. Bad, bad, bad...

Have we forgotten that all paper products are made from trees? 15 million trees are cut down every year to supply our addiction to paper bags--around 10 billion a year. Again, there's a two-fold effect here: Trees help absorb greenhouse gases, but only if they are still alive! So by cutting so many trees down, we are simultaneously reducing our capacity to absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gases, then, of course, the elecricity used in the production of paper products emits more greenhouse gases!! On top of that, the production process of turning the tree pulp into paper (like all manufacturing) creates tons of toxic pollution that contaminates our air, land and water (which we end up breathing, eating, and drinking).

Not convinced yet? Yes, the manufacturing of practically every modern convenience is problematic in terms of resources used and pollution created in production. But what makes plastic and paper bags worse than say, a plastic telephone and a wooden table, is that we get so little usage out of them compared with all the problems involved in their production.

They are disposable products that are usually used no longer than 20 minutes from store to home. And, most importantly, a super-easy alternative exists....

1. BUY SEVERAL REUSABLE BAGS. My favorite site is www.reusablebags.com--lots of cheap and stylish choices--but there are many others out there, easily found. (Many grocery stores are also now selling their own reusable bags very inexpensively.) So far, my faves are the black acme totes because they are discreet and don't have that corny white tote-bag look. I've had mine for a week, and it's amazing how easy it's been to get in the habit of just keeping them with me, in case I need to stop by the store. If you already take your own bags every time you go to the store, there's always more you can do. My best find has been the produce bags on reusablebags.com. They're great, because those flimsy plastic produce bags have even fewer uses than the thicker ones given at checkout.

This week, I used the produce bags at the market and once I got home, transferred the produce into some plastic bags that I already had. I can just keep reusing the same plastic bags for refrigerator storage, and use the cloth produce bags for new produce, so I don't have to keep accumulating more plastic ones. Also, as the holidays are approaching, these bags make great gifts! I'm convinced that once people have them around, they will get in the habit of using them (especially after you inform them of the evils of paper and plastic bags). And to all the guys who have expressed to me that they will look, um, unmanly taking their cloth bags to the store, I guess all I have to say is...get over it. We are adults. Real men bring their own bags.

2. FOR SINGLE OR SMALL ITEMS, REFUSE A BAG. Ok, I understand that even after you get set up with your reusable bags, the time may come when you run into the store for a single item and find yourself without them. You're buying a salad at lunch or a bottle of shampoo on the way home...Do you really need a bag for one or two items? No! Part of our job is also training the baggers to not automatically give people a bag for 1 small item. We might have forgotten how to, but we ARE able to carry things that don't come with a handle, after all. Same goes for double bagging...if you find yourself without your reusable bags, don't let them double bag! Even at a supposedly socially-conscious store like Trader Joe's, they automatically double bag. I have worked in grocery stores and I know this habit came about because customers end up complaining because the bag broke and their eggs cracked. So the stores want to preempt any whiney customers. But it is unnecessary and is yet another reason to BYOB...because reusable bags are not going to break!

3. USE YOUR REUSABLE BAGS FOR NON-FOOD PURCHASES TOO. Ok, so this may seem extreme to some of you, but it's just the logical extension of using resuable bags for groceries. Start thinking about all the other places you are given plastic bags...well, in every other store, too. And given our level of consumption, we all end up with a ton of Best Buy, Target, Gap, etc. bags. Guess what? You can take your reusable bags to those places too. Yes, the cashiers will look at you like you're crazy...but who cares, we're starting a trend!

Last weekend, I did a little clothes shopping (at a totally un-socially conscious chain store that will go unnamed), and I put my purchases in my "shopping bag" (I do have a different one for non-grocery purchases, see pic at left), and I was good to go. It's funny, maybe this has happened to you: You're at a book store and you might have a purse or backpack with you anyway, and yet feel self-conscious about putting your purchase in your own bag...it is somehow more satisfying--perhaps the completion of the consumption process--to walk out with a fresh plastic bag advertising that, yes, you are a dutiful consumer. But I think it will be a lot more satisfying to to leave one plastic bag behind.

4. As for all those excess plastic and paper bags you have at home....REUSE, REUSE, REUSE...THEN RECYCLE. Some of us girls have a stash of beautiful, sturdy paper bags from department stores or boutiques. Yes, they are pretty...so reuse them until they fall apart. You can even take them back the next time you shop there...you'll be saving them money, which any locally-owned store will appreciate. Then recycle them. And next time, BYOB.

But you say: I use my plastic bags as trash liners, or to clean up dog poop. I'm sure you will occasionally forget to bring your reusable bag and have to get a plastic bag, and if you have a use for them, you will be in no short supply. But a quick search found this product. As they put it: "Stop mummifying your dog's poop in plastic bags that won't biodegrade...now there's truly no reason to use plastic". I'm sure there are many other products out there, maybe even available at Whole Foods. I need to investigate biodegradable trash bags, but I think we've learned enough for one day. Phew.

One last word on recycling bags: It's not the panacea we think it is. Read more here.

If you already BYOB, please post tips or experiences you've had. For those of you who start, let me know how it's going! Please post a comment!