Low plastic? Shop on campus

I was in Athens, Georgia last weekend for a University of Georgia alumni event. One fun thing about being in a college town is shopping for items unavailable elsewhere. (Metro D.C. is — what? — thirty times the size, but it’s easier to get beer-making supplies in Athens, for instance.)

One such product line is green office supplies, or rather school supplies. I was taken with the recycled paper blue books — dubbed and colored as “green books” — plus recycled-plastic-content pens (I prefer my fountain pen) and corrugated-cardboard ring binders. There was even a aluminum-cased USB stick in all-cardboard packaging. Other things — one I bought and will describe later — too.

Some were marginally more than their non-recycled-content companions; others, like that USB stick, were quite a bit more. Bit it’s nice to have the options and I saw it at every bookstore I visited.

Low plastic office: Hollinger boxes

A truly paperless office, even if desirable, is very hard to organize. Paper is just too useful a product and paper printed quickly becomes paper stored. There are many metal filing tools for those who want to avoid plastic, but these are often packed in plastic or are simply too large or unwieldy for the task.

For this middle ground, I like the cool aesthetics and fiber and metal construction of Hollinger boxes. To me, they’re the visual language of archives, and thus research and storage. They even have boxes for human remains — think archaeology — so one might also be my final, er, storage place.

Until then, I keep manila folders full of files in flip-top boxes. Attractive enough to keep out, and no plastic. I keep rare books and papers in a lidded variety. I’ve had mine for years, but I recall them being shipped in cardboard cartons with kraft paper packing. (And D.C.-ites, one of their two factories is in Fredericksburg, Va. Loco-storage?)

Order them online here.

D.C. bag law, one month on

The District of Columbia law requiring a fee for disposable bags in food and liquor businesses is reducing the demand for thee bags, even if it irritates some locals.

No official reports yet, but shopkeepers report half the use of disposable bags — quite an accomplishment — per this January 23 article in the Washington Post. Of course, there are naysayers and complainers. But I have a hard time thinking too much D.C. grocery and liquor shopping will move to Maryland or Virginia. Particularly the latter which has a food tax that D.C. doesn’t. And if you can’t remember to bring a bag to pick up your lunch — or eat it on-site — and won’t pay for a bag, then I feel no sympathy when it lands on the sidewalk. Twice. How embarrassing, so much so when adding meaningless “big government” sloganeering to counter it. (Nobody complains about “big government” when the city shuts down a rat-infested eatery, for instance. Why shouldn’t I have the option!)

On the other hand, it’s now psychologically and socially easier to bring my bag — I keep one rolled up in my satchel almost all of the time — to a take-out restaurant (I have featured one in the article as they use sugarcane fiber boxes and biodegradable forks and spoons) or a liquor store.

Getting rid of phone books

Today, NPR had a segment (“The Phone Book’s Days Appear Numbered”) about a California bill to make white page directories opt-in, the problems associated with their production and disposal and about the overall decline of the utility of phonebooks. (These are, of course, mostly paper — a valuable resource in its own right — but sometimes they’ve wrapped in plastic.)

A phone book trade group obviously sensing pressure — other state bill have failed, but for how long I wonder — have created an opt-out service. Not so useful, but worth promoting if your goal is to reduce useless giveaways. (Catalog Choice is another.)

Go to www.yellowpagesoptout.com for details.

Low Plastic Office: rubber bands

I’ve been thinking about reducing plastic use in the office which — after home — is the place it makes the most sense for me and for many others.

I want to point out the obvious: rubber bands are really handy. I use them to bundle papers, including files. I use them to cinch cables — plastic-covered! — to protect them from wear. I use them to affix a note to an odd-sized object. I even use one in place of a wallet.

Being made of rubber, they biodegrade — indeed, how many times have we run across one that’s brittle and about to crack? And they can even be had without plastic packaging. Some are boxed, true, but I get mine from the letter carrier, holding together mail. But I only keep as many as I use. The rest I collect and return. Better, after all to reuse than recycle.

Some more facts about the D.C. bag law

The District of Columbia’s shopping bag law begins today, and I’ve already been out to pick up a few necessities, cloth bags in tow.

Since I’ve heard some misinformation, I thought I would share some details about the new law.

  • The financial impact statement for the bill compares Washington, D.C. to Seattle, Washington, which went though a similar process. From their stats, D.C. uses about 360 million plastic bags a year — in a jurisdiction of about 600,000 people — with about three-quarters being used in the stores affected by this law. The statement projects that by fiscal year 2013, there should be a 80% reduction in disposable bag use.
  • This law effects the approximately 4,000 D.C. food retail establishments, which includes groceries, liquor and drug stores.
  • Disposable paper bags used in restaurants are exempt from the legislation.
  • There is, alas, only one enforcement officer budgeted for the law. The first offense fine is probably $100.
  • It was passed by the D.C. Council unanimously.
  • If you carry your own bag, not only will you not be charged the fee, but D.C. gives retailers an incentive to offer you a nickle rebate.

Produce without plastic

The forthcoming District of Columbia plastic and paper bag restriction specifically excludes bags for fruit and vegetable — perhaps out of concern that D.C. residents need no discouragement to eat their greens.

But in France we saw an alternative — paper. Strong attractive paper bags — squared off, with a picture of a cheery market scene and big enough to hold a pound or two of apples or grapes — were the rule. I suspect they’re made of virgin pulp; kraft paper usually is

Bocca Sacs are the maker of the one I kept, if you’re an interested greengrocer.

Small good news from vacation plastic-alypse

Hubby and I got back from a trip to Paris and Cologne, and boy did I blow through some plastic. I even drank some bottled water — which I’d normally not do — because the available tap options were unclear and I don’t even want to think about plastic table wear.

But there are a couple of bits of good news for those who might follow.

  1. Paris is trying to promote its own water. It’s quite delicious. While asking for a carafe of water is common knowledge in restaurants, it’s harder to find public fountains. I noticed that a potable water tap is included on the exterior of the new generation of sidewalk-side toilets now being installed in many neighborhoods.
  2. All the fruit I bought came in thin paper — not plastic — bags.
  3. Paris Metro was a wonderful value. We used carnets of tickets, bought at ticket booths. The tickets were not padded or packaged, but simply a pile of paper and magnetic-strip tickets. Nice.

Water in Paris

The key to plastic tubs

My husband and I used to get soup from the Chinese take-out across the street almost every week. But we moved last September, and changed our usual mode of eating well before that. So how old are those plastic tubs? A year, more?

They’re still fine: no cracks, stains or signs of damage. Why? A office mate once scolded me for microwave-heating up leftovers in one of them. He was more concerned about chemicals leaching into my food, but I realized that heating these tubs damaged them, ruining them and sending them to the landfill.

Now I also have a few durable, water-tight plastic containers I bought. These should last for years. But I also use the soup containers with one inalterable rule.

Don’t put them in the microwave

Trader Joe’s bag a win on all counts

I went at Trader Joe’s — a specialty grocery store, for those unfamiliar — a few days ago directly from work , but didn’t have my own bag. Since some of the nonwoven cloth bags (read: plastic) at home were beginning to show their age, I went ahead and picked up a large canvas bag at Trader Joe’s on the way to the register.

Not only was it attractive — red, with the logo over-pritned in black and white — and canvas — thus will biodegrade — but it was made in Lowell, Massachusetts and was large enough for all the groceries I had.

Even the tag was plastic free.