The Real Cost of Free Plastic Bags

Verda Vivo

turtleWell over a billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day. But as the old adage says, nothing is free.

  • Production Costs
    The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers.
  • Consumer Costs
    Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion. Who do you think pays those costs? Yes, you, the consumer in the form of higher prices.
  • Disposal and Litter Costs
    In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photo-degrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits polluting our soil, river, lakes and oceans.
  • Environmental Impact
    Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Turtles think the bags are jellyfish, their primary food source. On land, many cows…

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Reusable Produce Bags

The challenge

The transition from plastic to reusable shopping bags was easy for me, although it took me a while to remember to take them every time I go shopping. I never really thought much about the plastic produce bags I use for fruit and vegies. Somehow they never seemed as significant. But the reality is that every time I shop I end up with 4-5 bags of produce and that easily adds up to approximately 300+ little plastic bags a year. The big grocery stores such as Woolworths and Coles accept plastic bags for recycling near the entrance/exit of the stores, but why waste energy for recycling if we can avoid using plastics in the first place? Some stores offer the so called “biodegradable” produce bags, but the truth is that these kinds of bags need special conditions to decompose (e.g. high temperature). Best suited to landfill conditions, these bags are likely to survive long enough to pose threat to animals who mistake them for food.

The Solution

One of my new year’s resolutions was to find reusable produce bags and start using them. To my surprise the task was not hard to complete at all. It only took me 10 minutes to do a quick Goggle search for the available products – there was huge variety to choose from –big, small, nylon, cotton. The Onya bags (http://www.onyainnovations.com.au) caught my eye from the first sight – not too big, not too small, washable with a string to tide up the bag. The product had plenty of good reviews. I’m the kind of person that likes to choose stuff from internet but I also like to go to the shop and see, touch and feel the product. For my convenience Onya products could be found in various shops around Australia and the store locator helped me to find one in a pharmacy in a neighbouring suburb. After a short trip I bought the pack of 8 produce bags for only $19.95. What a bargain!

Onya Reusable Produce bags

The bags’ size was just right for the amount of fruit or vegies that I buy. They have their own bag that you can easily put in your reusable shopping bags or your hand bag. The string on the top of each bag is very handy. They are washable and durable. Every time I use them the cashier’s comments are: “They are so cute!”,” Your vegies won’t sweat in these bags.”,” Do you make them yourself?”,” Where do you get them from?” This is a pretty good indication that people would use them if they know about them. That makes me think that every big or small grocery shop should have them for sale!

Onya Reusable Produce bags

Since I’ve been trying to avoid using disposable bags, I’ve realised that half the time I really don’t need any type of bag. So, now I just put many items that have their own protective skin like bananas, oranges, grapefruit, melon, avocado, onion etc. directly into the grocery basket without any bag.

Benefits & Payback

The obvious benefit is not to have to use 300+ plastic produce bags a year, which not only reduces waste, but also saves the energy and resources for the production and recycling of plastic bags. The produce can be easily scanned and washed while in the bag. Reusable bags dry in minutes and do not retain moisture. That’s why some produce stays fresh longer in washable produce bags. Made from 100% nylon, reusable bags last a long time and have many other uses. Another nice little benefit is that reusable produce bags can be easily tucked in a pocket or tote. This way I don’t struggle to figure out which end of the plastic bag to open and how to get the two sides apart, which I find very frustrating especially when I’m with my impatient kids.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your reusable produce bags!🙂

My Red Autumn Day

Few weeks ago I went to Mt Wilson in Blue Mountains with my family. The first thing we saw when we got out of the car was these beautiful mushrooms. red mushroom

Immediately I was transformed in one of my childhood fairy tale books. I couldn’t take my eyes from them, they were so perfect! My daughter’s voice took me away from fairy land – “Mummy, mummy, why are these mushrooms red?” My 5 years old is in the stage of asking the question ‘Why?” for everything. Well, I didn’t know the answer to this question and I promised her to find out the answer when we get home. How lucky we are these days to have the answer to all questions at our fingertips at any time of the day.

Anyway, after we parked our car at the camping area, we went for a walk in the gorgeous Mt Wilson Gardens. These gardens are very popular in autumn because of the colourful leaf display.

red mushroom

And guess what happened – “Mummy, mummy, why are these leaves red?” Well, this time I sort of new the answer of this question (after all I’m Environmental Scientist) but I didn’t know how to explain it to a 5 years old and again promised that I’ll check the answer of this question later.

We had a wonderful time at the gardens and on the way back to Sydney decided to stop at Bilpin Orchards so my daughter can pick up fresh apples from a tree and learn where food comes from. And I think you already know the question that she asked, can you guess it? Yes, “Why these apples are red?”

Bilpin apples

Well, at that point I knew that I had some serious research to do when we get home, I was also intrigued – Why and how red colour is formed in nature?

In the case of the mushrooms I couldn’t find out how exactly the red colour is produced but the bright red cap with white spiky bits on top of the red are nature’s way of telling people and animals “Red is danger, spiky bits mean danger too so you really don’t want to eat me!”

The red of autumn leaves is produced by pigments called Anthocyanins. They are not present in the leaf throughout the growing season, but are actively produced towards the end of summer. In the daytime, the leaves can produce lots of sugar, but the cool night temperatures prevent the sugar sap from flowing through the leaf veins and down into the branches and trunk. And then Anthocyanins come to the rescue! Researchers have found out that anthocyanins are produced as a form of protection. They allow the plant to recover nutrients in the leaves before they fall off. This helps make sure that the tree will be ready for the next growing season. Anthocyanins give leaves their bright, brilliant shades of red, purple and crimson.

Anthocyanins add the colour red to ripe fruit such as cherries, strawberries and red apples. But why there are ripe green and red apples?

Red cultivars result from a superimposed accumulation of anthocyanin.  Anthocyanin accumulation in apple fruit can be affected by environmental, nutritional, and orchard management factors, the stage of maturity of the fruit, and by the microenvironment within the canopy. Red colour development varies with environmental conditions. Light and temperature are key factors. Anthocyanin production in apples is absolutely light dependent; not only the intensity but also the quality of light influences anthocyanin formation. Low temperatures increase and high temperatures reduce anthocyanin concentration in apple peels.

In summary, what I learned from that day is that the pigment responsible for red in nature is called anthocyanin and it could be there for different reasons – to warn, or attract animals (including us humans) or to prepare a tree for the next growing season.

Nature is so fascinating, isn’t it?

My experience with Reusable Ladies Pads

Thanks to my friend Maria I started using reusable ladies pads over a year ago. Maria had recently started her own small business called Dulcet Handmade of making and selling reusable nappies, ladies pads, toys and all kind of pretty handmade things (https://www.etsy.com/shop/dulcethandmade ). She had recently started using reusable pads herself and highly recommended them to me. I was fully aware of the disadvantages of the disposable pads – they are huge source of unneeded waste and cost lots of money. In addition, disposables contain synthetic fibres like rayon, which is super absorbent but also absorbs the moisture in the vagina, increasing the chances of severe pain and infections. However, some unpleasant experiences in the past kept me away from the reusable pads.

When I first had my period (early 80’s), disposable pads were not available in communist Bulgaria. Very often I had to use cotton, cellulose sheets or even reusable rags.  As you can imagine there were lots of leeks and embracing moments so I was very happy when the disposable pads came on the market. Because of that unpleasant experience when I first saw Maria’s pads I hesitated, I had so many questions – how would I wash them, are they going to leak, are they going to stay at one place? But as with everything “green” I decided to give it a go and bought a dozen of the regular and heavy/night pads.

cloth pads

030 reusable ladies pad

These pads are made from hemp and cotton blend for the absorbent part and PUL for the waterproof part. All pads have wings with snaps. To my surprise the pads turned out to be very comfortable and didn’t leak, the snaps secured them nicely around my underwear and they didn’t get displaced while I was walking. I changed them as often as disposable pads.

reusable menstrual pad

The pads can be folded in a little bundle, as shown on the photo above. It is recommended to rinse the pads or soak them in cold water after each use, but as you may know I’m lazy and busy so I put them straight in the washing with other items. This way the pads get more stains, but I’m fine with that – as long as they are washed, doesn’t matter how they look. I always air dry my pads, drying in the sun is always better, it also helps with fading stains.

This is my way of using ladies pads, as you can see it’s very simple and easy. I know that many people won’t do it this way and that’s fine. The good news is that these days the modern pads come in infinite range of sizes, absorbencies and fabrics to suit the different needs of their users. Moreover, there is lots of information and helpful tips on what to choose and how to use them. One of my favourite sites when I look for information related to reusable menstrual products is http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~obsidian/clothpads/index.html.

Whatever you do don’t give up, give ladies pads a go and you might be pleasantly surprised!

P.S. I recently came across a very moving and inspirational article about reusable pads and school girls in Uganda and decided to share it with you. Here it is http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/moxie-sponsored-post-number-2/

COMPOSTING IS EASY – TRY IT TODAY!

I had started composting my kitchen scraps 12 years ago when we moved to Sydney, Australia. Back then we lived in an apartment. I started with a worm farm in my laundry but soon realised that this way of producing compost is not very effective – I used only a small part of my kitchen scraps. I decided to join a local community garden where I can have my own compost bin. For attendance of a sustainability workshop, my local council gave me a compost bin for free. I collected my kitchen scraps and once a week took them to the community garden. As a result of my composting, the amount of rubbish I threw in the red bin was reduced by half! I added leaves and a bit of soil from the community garden to the compost. My heart jumped with joy the first time I saw worms working hard to turn my kitchen scraps into compost! I was so proud with my compost, I never looked back.

Few years later we bought a house and I had the privilege to have a compost bin in my own backyard! This time in addition to the kitchen scraps, leaves and newspaper strips I could add the lawn mower clippings as well. “Hooray” I thought, now I can produce the best compost in the world! However, after a while I noticed that there were no worms in my backyard compost bin?! Obviously there was something wrong with my compost. I checked all kind of websites and books for advice. They all had long lists of dos and don’ts, percentages of green and brown…it sounded sooo complicated. See, I’m a lazy gardener and a busy working mum so I decided to ignore all the composting instructions and do it my way.

I noticed that although there were no worms in my compost, there were plenty of other creatures – ants, millipedes, cockroaches and beetles that were doing the decomposition. Without the worms the compost wasn’t perfect but was still usable.  Before each growing season (summer & winter) I would get everything from my compost bin (even semi-composted and raw non-composted stuff) and dig it into my garden. I would leave it there for a week or two. If I had ready to go plants I would cover the area with newspapers and mulch (sugar cane), make a hole into the newspaper and plant. And my plants loved it! The newspapers and mulch keep the moisture in the soil and stop most of the weeds. I’ve used my own compost on clay and sandy soil and in both cases it has improved the quality of the soil dramatically – the more you put in, the better the soil gets!

Here are some photos of my current compost bin. As you can see it’s good to have plenty of sunshine and good drainage where your compost bin is. For good drainage it’s always a good idea to put some sticks at the bottom of the compost bin before you start it.  If you have possums or dogs that would like to get into it, secure it with a brick or two on the lid and on the side. It’s good to turn over the compost with a fork every now and then to mix the ingredients and for aeration.

composting

composting

In summary, don’t get discouraged when you try composting and it doesn’t turn out picture perfect like in the books. Composting is a natural process – you simply return all the organic material to its right place – the soil. If you get it right, that’s good, but if you don’t, don’t give up – do it your way! The important thing is that you will save tons of rubbish been thrown to the landfills and create cheap organic material that will enrich your soil and help your plants grow. Composting is not a rocket science, IT’S EASY – TRY IT TODAY!

Plasti & Steeli

I recently became a member of local public speaking course (Toastmaster). My first project there was to present a speech (5-7 min) that is clear and easy to understand. I wanted to talk about reusable bottles and in particular, stainless steel bottles. I thought “If the speech needs to be simple I should present it as I’m in front of primary school kids.” Then I thought “Kids love puppet shows and pretend play, so it will be good to have two characters in a play”. That’s how came the idea about Plasti & Steeli. Plasti represents the disposable plastic bottles and Steeli represents the reusable stainless steel bottles. I think you can use this play as an educational tool at home, at school , community centres, churches etc. I used it together with a Power Point presentation that emphasised my message to the audience. Here is the play:

Plasti: Hi, I’m Plasti.

Steeli: And I’m Steeli. How are you today, Plasti?

Plasti: I’m good today but I’m not sure about tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to the landfill, you know the rubbish tip with all the yucky waste that goes there. One nice lady bought me from the shop and brought me here. I thought I finally found a family, everyone here seems very nice, but she is going to throw me in the rubbish bin and from there the garbage man will take me to the landfill. I heard it’s very dirty, smelly and lonely there. I can just stay there for hundreds of years and leak nasty chemicals into the soil and water underneath. Oh well, what about you, how are you going?

Steeli: Oh, I think I’m better then you, Plasti. I’m very durable you know, very strong. That’s why people like to use me many times and I last for years and years. Someday they might throw me away but I’m much easier to recycle than you. Do you know that you can also be recycled but only 36% of your brothers and sisters in Australia are recycled?  The rest, as you said, at best ends up in landfill – at worst, they litter our waterways and oceans.

Plasti: I also heard that when they make me, transport me or recycle me there is lots of pollution.

Steeli: Oh yea, people told me that 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions go in the air when people do that. Plus, a huge amount of oil is used to produce plastic bottles like you. You know that’s what they call non-renewable resource, which means that one day the oil is going to finish and there won’t be anymore. But you see, I’m different, because I last longer and there are fewer bottles like me around.  We produce less from the nasty emissions, we use less water for production and recycling and there are much less of us in the stinky, yucky landfill.

Plasti: Oh, I feel sorry for myself and all these people.

Steeli: Oh Plasti, don’t be, because today is your lucky day, I’m going to take you and put you in the recycle bin. You are going to be turned into a new beautiful bottle! You are not going to the landfill, Plasti!

Plasti: Hooray!

Steeli: And you know what, it will be even better if all these nice people here have reusable bottles and cups instead of plastic ones. We are very lucky to have this room with kitchen, where tap water is available and we have these beautiful glasses that we can use , so we don’t need to use plastic bottles and cups anymore. It will take only 5 min to rinse our glasses and use them again next time.  So this way, Plasti, next time when we have our Toastmaster meetings, we won’t throw away any of your brothers and sisters to the yucky landfill.

Plasti: Oh, look at you ,Steeli, you look beautiful.  Your colours are so cool!

Steeli: Yes, I’m Plasti, I have great design, I’m very strong and I keep the water inside me cool for longer. People also save money when they buy bottles like me. It’s so easy, just fill me up with tap water and put me in your bag.

Plasti: That sounds great Steeli. Good luck to all your reusable brothers and sisters.

Steeli: Bye Plasti. I hope I can see less of plastic bottles like you around. Bye, bye!

“Green” is not a Dirty Word

In this post I just want to say that I’m very happy with the green cleaning products that I use around my house. Here is a photo of them.

green cleaning products

As you can see I don’t use that many and I can probably minimise their use even further by making my own cleaners from simple products like vinegar and baking soda. However, I’m lazy and busy.

If you are lazy and busy like me, the alternative is to use environmentally friendly products available in the supermarket. People might say: “But, what is ‘green’? Everyone can put ‘eco’ on the package! Who should I believe?” You are absolutely right, it is very confusing and our government hasn’t done much to help with this issue. However, NGOs (like Planet Ark) and businesses are independently certifying products that find their way into our supermarkets. You probably have already seen brands such as Earth Choice, Ecostore, Orange Power and Aware.

The good news is that ‘green’ products are getting cheaper. There are more and more eco-products available on the market, which means that the prices are going down. Look in your local supermarket, start with essentials such as dishwashing liquid, laundry and dishwashing powders. Find the eco alternative and compare prices. You will be surprised to find out that sometimes the environmentally friendly products are cheaper than the mainstream ones.

There is a myth related to green cleaning: Conventional Products are more effective. This is mostly because people have been using traditional cleaners for years when alternatives weren’t available. The truth is that green cleaning products have come a long way and their performance has dramatically improved for the last 10 years.

I dare you to try one environmentally friendly product this weekend. See if it has the same effect as the one you’ve been using so far. Is it going to hurt your budget too much to buy it? My advice is: Don’t waste too much time wondering, start with one product at a time and learn as you go. The important thing is that your little steps will make a huge difference!

Ladies and gentlemen I can assure you that “Green” is not a dirty word, by which I mean that using green cleaning products won’t leave your place dirty and will definitely make you and your home healthier. So, use green cleaning products today for better life tomorrow!