Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mission WWO-Success!

In my last post, I talked about embarking on the official Weekend Without Oil challenge which took place this past weekend.

At first I remarked that I was fearful of what crazy things they were going to ask me to give up but quickly discovered that it wasn't going to be as hard as I'd imagined.

Eat more local and organic foods, walk more, use your reusable bag, eat more veggies, don't buy new clothes, make-up or electronics, drink tap water. Basically things I was already doing. This was going to be a piece of cake (made with vegetable oil)!

I chose to accept this mission.

And I learned that this green stuff takes even more thought than I realized.

Because I've been going green for a while now, a lot of it is second nature and I don't think about it. But sometimes, things become so routine that I become sloppy and occasionally, that non-green thing slips in. And that was what was so important and eye-opening about this weekend.

I decided not to go to the beach and instead, had lunch with my mother-in-law who was in the city for the day on Saturday. We ate at Le Pain Quotidien. I chose this cafe because I know they use a lot of organic ingredients, their furniture is made from reclaimed wood, they use "green" cleaners and energy efficient lamps. Perfect for my oil-free weekend.

I ordered an iced tea/lemonade...my favorite. The waiter placed it on the table, along with a sliver of lemon garnish and an oil-based product. One that you use to sip drinks. One that I usually opt out of. But this time I didn't. There it was, smiling at me, as if to say, "I gotcha!"

I had barely made it into the day and I already felt defeated by . . . a straw.

I quickly forgave myself, ate my delicious gazpacho and enjoyed the conversation.

After lunch, I headed over to the store to pick up supplies for dinner. I got to the store, placed my items on the conveyor belt and dug in my purse to pull out my reusable bag...only to find out that I had forgotten to put a new one in because mine was in the laundry.

"You've got to be kidding me!" I said aloud as the cashier was about to place my first item in the plastic (oil, oil and more oil) bag.

She looked at me as if she'd done something wrong. She hadn't...I had.

"Sorry...I forgot my bag. I'll just carry the stuff."

She looked at me even more strangely. I paid for my items and walked out of the store with groceries in hand. And elbows, wrists -- anything that would hold my unbagged groceries.

The best thing about this weekend without oil was that I did a lot less shopping. I stayed home the rest of Saturday and read.

Sunday was a much needed rainy day so that kept me indoors. Until it was time to grab a few things for dinner and this time I sent John out...bag in hand.

He came back from his trip to the store with a horrified look on his face.

"What?" I shouted.

"You're not going to believe this!" he exclaimed.


"There is a sign that I've never notice before hanging in the produce section. It says that the fruits and vegetables have been waxed for freshness. And one of the things keeping them fresh is petroleum!"

My mouth hung open. I had no idea that when I cooked vegetables in oil they may have already been covered in it. Was this going to have to be a weekend without vegetables? My head started to explode.

Because he's so awesome (and afraid of me), he told me he fled that store and went to another one where he was fairly certain that the vegetables were oil-free. At least we hoped.

I was proud of myself that I had cut out so much oil of my weekend, but disturbed that there was so much oil to cut out. With all the attention focused on the Gulf, I couldn't believe all the places oil has gotten into that we overlook on a daily basis. Common, everyday items we never even think about.

I mulled this over with a glass of oil-free tomato juice.

No straw.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weekend Without Oil

I came across this website today...Weekend Without Oil. This Saturday and Sunday, the partners (Treehugger, Climate Counts, etc.) of the movement are asking everyone to live, well, a weekend without oil.

I have to admit, when I first read the headline, I was a little intimidated to read the list of things they wanted me to give up.

My first thought was my air conditioner. I live on the 6th floor of a 6-floor walk-up. I do not have to tell you that after hiking up the stairs, entering a warm, sticky apartment was not on my top 10 list.

My second thought was travel. I want to go to the beach this weekend...would I still be able to take the train?

Finally, the thought that frightened me the most, food! So much of our food comes in packaging made from petroluem.

I decided to put on a brave face and click the link.

It was a one-page, non-intimidating website that, along with telling us that the US is one of the largest oil consumers, was trying to get 166,000 people to lesson their oil load this weekend. Each pledge accounted for about 6 gallons of oil.

I was still nervous. But as I read their list of 11 actions, I felt a wave of relief come over me.

They weren't asking me to live in a sauna. They didn't mind that I took the train to the beach. And they weren't asking me to starve...just to eat less meat and delicious, local, organic foods which, let's face it, shouldn't I be doing anyway?

Here is what they ask...

1) Walk or ride your bike: Avoid using cars and if you must, always try to carpool. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of our petroleum consumption and is easily one of the biggest areas we need to improve upon.

2) Enjoy the outdoors: Avoid buying new sporting equipment, since oil makes up nearly 25% of rubber. Footballs or basketballs, for example, can last for many years and used equipment is often just as good and will reduce demand for oil needed to make new rubber.

3) Use reusable bags: Avoid disposable plastic. Plastic bags are a huge waste for very little benefit. Nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption, approximately 2 million barrels a day, is used to make plastic products alone.

4) Be conscious about what you eat this weekend: You can reduce oil demand by changing your diet to eat less meat, more local foods that require less transportation and organic food, which doesn't use petro-based fertilizers.

5) Don't buy new make-up this weekend: The majority of cosmetics are petroleum-based, including lip gloss, face powder, nail polish, and more. So avoid buying new make-up products this weekend and research the brands when you purchase in the future.

6) Drink tap water: Avoid beverages bottled in disposable plastic, they make up nearly 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year, so get a reusable bottle and fill it up.

7) Make your electronic gadgets last: Avoid buying new electronics. Electronics take a lot of oil to produce and the gadgets you already have can last much longer than the rate at which new ones are released.

8) Go to the movies or stream them on Hulu: Avoid buying new DVDs/Blu-Rays, as oil is a key ingredient in their production, packaging and shipping.

9) Skip buying new clothes that weekend: Swap clothes with friends or check out the local vintage store. The less new clothes you buy the less oil is used in the manufacturing process and transportation.

10) Head to your local library or read online: Avoid using a printer and buying printed material including daily newspapers. Printing doesn't just waste paper, nearly 100,000 gallons of ink each day is used on daily newspapers alone.

11) Spread the word! Get 3 friends to sign the pledge and help raise awareness on ways they can help reduce their dependence on oil-related products.

I hope you'll join me this weekend in using at least 6 less gallons of oil! Not too hard, right?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Lonely Orange Folder

Once again I found myself digging through the trash at work to remove some sort of paper product that belongs in our recycling bins.

The culprit this time...a filing folder.

The beautiful, bright orange folder was sitting on top of the day's trash, ready to be used again but needlessly folded in half. It was if someone had said, "You are not worthy of re-use, orange folder!"

I gingerly pulled it out and found that thankfully it did not have the remnants of someone's lunch spilled on it. I smoothed it out and placed it into the proper recycling bin.

When I sat back down at my desk with a big "harumph," my office mate quickly said, "Oh no," and her face got red. I knew she didn't do it and I told her not to worry. I didn't care if there was red in her face as long as there wasn't any orange in our trash.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Clean Coast Petition Acknowledged!

I recently signed a petition to my senators to pass the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009. This bill directs the EPA to modernize the technology we rely on to tell us if beach water is safe for swimming. It also takes steps towards tracking and solving our sources of beach pollution.

I sign a lot of petitions and I never really know if my voice is heard...until now.

I received this reply from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. I thought it was pretty cool!

August 9, 2010

Dear Meredith,

Thank you for contacting me about the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009 (S. 878). I support this important piece of legislation which will amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to update provisions relating to water monitoring on beaches. Specifically, this bill will correct the two main problems regarding beach monitoring: that current testing methods do not cover the full spectrum of waterborne pathogens and other forms of contamination. Currently the results are too slow, taking anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to process from the time the sample was drawn.

This legislation will protect American families who frequent our beaches by directing the Environmental Protection Agency to complete its validation of a rapid water testing method, which would give beach goers same day information about water quality conditions, by 2012. This bill will also require health officials at beaches to make quicker decisions about beach advisories and closures. Another great feature of this legislation is that it will provide funding for coastal communities to study, identify and correct sources of beach water pollution.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009 will ensure that beachgoers get timely and actionable information about the conditions of the water they swim in and provide local communities with the resources they need to identify and eliminate sources of pollution.

Thank you for contacting me regarding this important issue. Please stay in contact with my office regarding any future legislation or issue that may concern you. For more information on this and other important issues being discussed in the United States Senate, please visit my website
http://gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter.

Sincerely yours,
Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator

Monday, August 9, 2010

There's No Such Thing As A Free Sample

My family has one rule when we go to Costco . . . go on an empty stomach.

Everyone knows that Costco is famous for their low-cost, jumbo-sized items, but in my family, it’s the sample stations that are the real bargain . . . free lunch!

We make our way up and down every aisle, tasting all of the yummy delights. Sometimes we split up and when we run into each other, we compare notes: “Did you try the shredded beef near the frozen section?” or “Oh my God…the cake over there is to die for.”

I've only ever gone to Costco when I’m visiting my family in Florida because there weren’t any in New York City . . . until now.

Recently, one opened in Harlem and a good friend has a membership. She invited me to go along with her and I happily accepted. I didn't tell her about the Forbes Family Rule, but I figured she'd pick up on it soon enough.

As we made our way along the first aisle, we hit our first sample station. Asian noodles! My mouth watered.

Ravenous shoppers flocked around the server, who scooped slippery noodles into little plastic cups. I stuck my hand out just in time to grab the last one. What had been hidden behind the sea of grabby hands were little plastic spoons, one in each cup.

I wanted to boycott this sample, but I'd already touched it.

I downed the noodles in one bite and then had to jam my used plastic cup and spoon into the overflowing trash can. What had I done?

The next station was cherries. I love cherries and was dying to have one. An older woman was passing them out, this time in paper, not plastic cups. I hesitated, but before I knew it, she had stuck one in my hand. I looked inside and saw one cherry. One, lonely cherry in one, single cup. Once I removed it, I had a clean paper cup in my hand and once again, found myself jamming it into the overflowing trash.

I thought about the tree that made the paper cup and the tree that bore the luscious cherry. I wondered if they had somehow been reunited. I hoped not.

As we passed other stations and I spotted each stack of paper and plastic cups, I lost my appetite. I was no longer interested in eating any of these samples, let alone making a meal of them. The Forbes Family Rule was being overruled by Meredith's Injunction Against Wasteful Packaging.

I left the store with agave, a pineapple and a sense of frustration.

I thought about the tray of Asian noodles that held nine samples that disappeared in nine seconds and the 15 people waiting to grab the next batch of samples.

I started to do some math in my head.

Let’s say that in a five-minute period, a server hands out five sets of samples (nine in each set). That’s 45 cups in five minutes. Let’s say the server does this for 20 minutes. That’s about 180 cups.

At any given time there are at least three sample stations operating in that 20-minute period. Now you’ve got 540 plastic cups being thrown away into our landfills.

Consider that this is happening all day long. Now we’re taking my basic math to another level.

An average piece of plastic takes 20 years to decompose but a plastic cup can take up to 250 years! All for some free noodles?

So how free are the free samples? What is Costco really costing us? Do we have to choose between convenience and sustainability? Can't we save money AND the planet?

The next time I go to Costco, I will make sure that I’ve had a hearty meal ahead of time because the lunch I get there may be free, but it's one I can no longer afford.