April Vacation & Ocean Plastic

In Maine for April Vacation!

The weather is, uh… well it’s only snowed once up here. It’s good to be at the ocean any time of year, and with a cold wet spring like this one, t-shirt weather in May (MAY, New England, NOT JULY) will feel even more joyous. Like how good it feels to stop running after a half marathon. Without the half marathon, stopping isn’t so special.

That t-shirt weather is going to feel pretty special this year.

I’ve fit in a couple workouts despite vacation week. Turns out my kids are more than happy to hang out and watch me do treadmill intervals if it means iPad time. If they’re going to have some screen time anyway, I might as well get my miles in while they do it!

The storms and high waves this week brought up more than the usual amount of trash onto our beach – and larger things. I hauled not one, but two dilapidated lobster traps out of the ocean Wednesday morning. Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me after reading “Maine Voices: A million lost lobster traps wash debris ashore” in the Portland Press Herald.


Part of the trouble with lobster traps is that they continue catching lobsters and other marine life after a storm yanks them from their lobster buoys.

But another problem is the plastic parts all over the traps. As I learned watching A Plastic Ocean, plastic doesn’t break down in the ocean so much as it breaks up. The corrosive salt water, sun, and wave action breaks plastic pieces like the lobster trap door and all the pieces of plastic holding the metal sides together, into small pieces. Those pieces are porous, and chemicals and toxins stick to their surfaces. Marine animals eat the plastic and if the accumulating plastic in their stomachs doesn’t kill them, sometimes the toxins on the plastic will.

Read this 2016 article from CNN about albatross dying from stomachs loaded with plastic. It’s devastating.

Not only that, if you and your loved ones are eating sea creatures, you’re consuming the toxins that are attached to the plastic they’re eating and accumulating in their fatty tissues. Mercury isn’t the only concern when it comes to seafood anymore. NPR wrote an article about How The Plastic In the Oceans Is Contaminating Your Seafood.

It’s scary stuff if you’re a parent feeding your kids what you’ve been told is “brain food”.

How can you help?

Well, this isn’t going to be very popular with some of my fellow Mainers, but eat less lobster (and less seafood in general) for one. Maine has plenty of delicious foods besides lobster. Try a vegan potato based donut at the Holy Donut, pick blueberries in season at one of the many beautiful pick-your-own farms, or get Maple Syrup at a tapping party. Or maybe you want to try some Maine seaweed – there’s an ocean product that’s not part of the plastic-eating food chain!

You can also help keep plastic out of the ocean by refusing single-use plastic items. Say no-thanks to straws, bring your own water bottle and reusable bags, and try to buy bulk foods that aren’t sold wrapped in plastic.

And if you see trash on the beach, why not bring a bucket and pick it up? My mom fills buckets and buckets with trash all year round on the beach. I have no doubt that she has single-handedly hauled a dumpster’s worth of trash off the beach where it won’t wash back into the oceans. She’s a hero, and she had the sand between her toes and the scent of the ocean surrounding her when she did it. (It can be a good gig.)

Now, the traps don’t fit in a bucket, so I reached out to the local police station who put me in touch with their Marine Resource Officer so we can try to get these off the beach before they wash back in.

That helps, too.

We made our own soy milk and tofu!

I love tofu, and I mean love. Not to be a stereotypical vegan, but it’s one of my favorite foods. It’s warm and satisfying and a beautiful palate for whatever flavors you throw at it.

It’s good in a creamy tomato spinach sauce. Or Jerk style. It is delicious covered in a peanut-y pad thai sauce. Or just marinate it in your favorite BBQ sauce or a light combo of maple syrup, tamari and apple cider vinegar and bake it to go into sandwiches.

It’s delicious.

But it’s sold in a plastic carton or package, and my soy milk comes in cartons… I wonder how many our family consumes in a year, and what the waste we create looks like? I wonder how recycleable those cartons are. Our town won’t recycle the soft plastic anymore.

So I decided we should try making our own!

It’s work, but a lot of it is hands off. The first step is actually homemade soy milk – you can’t make your own tofu from most store-bought soy milks because the additives prevent it from separating into curds and whey.

Will this replace our store-bought tofu and soy milk? I can’t imagine it will… but just like my homemade bread occasionally reduces our bread purchases, this is a fun way to reduce our use of plastics and make a food staple from scratch.

Andrew loved helping!

Here’s a video of the process that I created on Instagram:

 

You can find a lot of helpful instructions online, including this recipe from ChefSteps and this Huffington Post How-To.

Wondering what to do with leftover Okara? This Okara “Crab Cakes” recipe was recommended to me by someone in the Zero-Waste Vegans Facebook Group. Yup, that’s a group. There seems to be a Facebook group for everything! They can be an incredible resource for crowd-sourcing information and solutions from like-minded people. (Especially well-moderated ones that maintain a positive atmosphere.) I’ve gotten great tips from Plant-Powered Families, a FB group created by Dreena Burton, and I’m in some running groups and a local group for my town as well. (Coyote sightings, where to find the best pizza… it’s a source of fabulous info.)

I hope you are having a fabulous Monday, and that if there’s something in your life that’s been bugging you, you can find a solution!

Cheers, to home-made tofu.

Eco-Friendly Vacation Items I Love

We were lucky enough to get away over February break for a warm and relaxing vacation!

Before we left, I packed some of my favorite eco-friendly vacation items.

  1. Reef Friendly Sunscreen
  2. A sleeveless dress from encircled that can be worn 6 ways
  3. A long scarf with snaps that can be worn many ways and turns into a blanket for the plane
  4. My reusable water bottle and coffee mug
  5. A list of vegan-friendly dining options on the island

Reef Friendly Sunscreen

Oxybenzone is an ingredient in many sunscreens, but not only is it an endocrine disruptor, it’s also damaging to coral reefs. It’s such a hazard to our oceans that Hawaii is considering banning the use of oxybenzone sunscreens. Read a NY Times article about it here. Look for alternatives that are labeled “reef safe” – they’ll be safer for you, too. The Environmental Working Group’s Skindeep database is an excellent resource for evaluating the safety of sunscreens and their efficacy. Their top kids’ sunscreen list includes a rating of it’s UVA/UVB balance as well as ranking the health concerns associated with ingredients. For our recent trip, we went with Caribbean Sol Kid Care. Read its EWG ranking here. I liked that it comes in a 6 oz size to reduce packaging and that the container is recyclable. We’ve also had good luck with ThinkSport and Kiss My Face.

Putting on SPF garments helps reduce the time spent slathering on sunscreen, so I also loved my SunSmart SPF 50 shirt from L.L. Bean and the kids’ bucket hats and durable rash guards that reduced their sun exposure all week.

A Versatile Sleeveless Dress – from encircled.co

You can’t see it well here, but that pretty burgundy dress I have on can be worn as either a boat neck or scoop neck in three different lengths: dress, tunic or top. I wore it as a dress to dinner one night, and as a top with linen pants another night. It’s made of OEKO-TEX Standard certified modal, and I’m tempted to snap up the long-sleeved black dress because it’s such a versatile staple that allows me to purchase fewer clothing items and pack less.  Encircled.co makes a variety of multi-wear, convertible dresses and tops. The one I have on is the Sleeveless Revolve Dress.

Convertible Scarf

The scarf I’m wearing in that picture has snaps to help you wear it a variety of different ways. It also means it can be unsnapped and turned into a blanket for the plane.

My Reusable Water Bottle AND Coffee Mug

It feels a little anti-minimalist to bring both a reusable water bottle and a travel coffee mug in my carry-on, but we used both all week. Greg and I can split a coffee from the travel mug on vacation, meaning we could save two disposable coffee cups and lids every time we headed out on a morning adventure. Plus, it keeps my coffee the perfect temperature for hours.

I use a hydroflask water bottle and contigo coffee mug, but the market is saturated with good options if you don’t have one already.

Vegan Friendly Dining Options

We were in Barbados, which had several vegan restaurants and veg-friendly options many other places. One cool discovery was Rastafarian “Ital” food. Shortened from “vital”, ital food is plant-based and unprocessed with limited added salts. We had three meals at this amazing Ital cafe near where we stayed. Rice and lentils, mashed sweet potato with pineapple, chickpea and lentil fritters… it was insanely delicious, filling, and reasonably priced.

Also… refuse the straw!

I always try to remember to say “no straw, please” when I order drinks. It’s especially gratifying when I remember if I’m having a rum punch next to an ocean with a beautiful breeze… no one wants their straw to be swept away into the ocean where it can kill wildlife. Even if you throw it in the trash or recycling responsibly, that might not be enough to keep it out of our oceans. And many islands have limited or no recycling facilities. But islanders are pretty chill – if you don’t want a straw, that’s no problem. If you bring your own cup, that’s not a problem either.

Score.

Links in this post ARE NOT affiliate links – I get nothing if you buy. So only buy what you need!

 

Go Green and Save Time! Tips to Stop Junk Mail

REPOST!

In honor of the influx of catalogs this time of year that clog your mailbox and clutter your desks, here’s how to fight Junk Mail quickly and efficiently!

No_JunkMail_Valletta (1)

A few years ago, frustrated by the time it took me to sort through our mail, and the environmental impact, I went on a junk mail rampage.  We now receive only 1-2 pieces of mail a day, and maybe 1 or 2 a month that weren’t solicited.  It now takes me only a few minutes to take care of our mail each day.  I can easily find bills, pay them on the spot, and file them away.  I don’t impulse buy items I don’t need from catalogs that show up, and I still learn about events and sales because I’ve got an e-mail address dedicated to receiving offers from companies I do want to hear from.

It’s awesome.

Ready to get started?

Here are the websites I recommend most to help with the junk mail battle.

https://www.dmachoice.org/ is a website created by the Direct Marketing Association, and registering your mail preferences with them removes you from the 3,600 marketing companies they represent.  Marketing Companies. That means thousands more actual businesses who use those marketing companies to send their mail.  It’s a great first step.

https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ allows you to opt out of receiving prescreened offers of credit and insurance, it’s a website recommended by the Federal Trade Commission.  Companies you currently do business with may still send you offers “related to your current account” and you’ll have to ask them directly to change your mailing preferences.

https://www.catalogchoice.org/ and http://www.directmail.com/mail_preference/ are two sites that e-mail companies directly on your behalf to remove you from mailing lists.  They’re services designed to streamline the removal process for consumers.  You register with your address, check off the boxes for different companies they need to contact, and they handle it (presumably through automated forms) from there.  They’re not as helpful as the other two, but are an option for supplementation.

Script: Here’s the script I use for contact forms and e-mails.

Hi!

We are trying to go green with all our mail. Can you help us by removing us from your physical mailing list? Thank you for helping us reduce your costs and our carbon footprint!

ADDRESS

I have this canned language (with my filled out address) in the excel sheet so I can quickly copy and paste when I’m contacting businesses. If it’s a non-profit I want to hear from, I’ll ask them if they can add me to their e-mail list instead.

Microsoft Excel: I maintain an excel sheet for mailing list removals.  Every time I receive unwanted mail, I open the file and log who the mail was from, date of the removal request, type of removal request (email, phone call), second request date, and any notes (ie, sent to different name at our address, or “we’ll still get tax receipts” etc.)  I average about 6-10 a month, so it’s manageable, and keeping up with it makes mail manageable long term.  It helps me track requests so I don’t call twice if it’s only been a few weeks but I’ve received another catalog.  I’ve also asked certain companies to write a note in my file not to resign me up for their catalog after noticing I’ve called them multiple times 4-8 months apart, and realizing I was being re-added to their mailing list.

We’re now down to maybe one piece of junk mail a month, because I registered us on every do not mail list I could find and still call every single time I receive mail we don’t want.  It’s a little work up front, but overall it’s saved me a great deal of time and frustration.  I even empty our office recycling with less frequency.

Green = better 🙂

Come Visit Sustainable Wellesley at the Wellesley Marketplace!

I went to another class last night at the Equinox and you haven’t even heard about it yet!

Why? I’ve had a busy and incredibly fun week prepping for the Sustainable Wellesley Booth upstairs at the Wellesley Marketplace! I’ve been helping to put together an eco-holiday gift guide and making furoshiki wrapping cloths from donated fabric remnants.

Today I got to go over to local artist Carolyn Mackin’s gorgeous studio space and talk to her about our complimentary reusable cloth gift wrapping we’re offering at the Marketplace! She’ll be there selling artwork, her Self-Evolution Flag Collection, ornaments and more.

Check it out!

There are great furoshiki wrapping guides online, including this one.

Here’s our blurb about the event!

Get your great Wellesley Marketplace gifts wrapped FREE onsite at the Sustainable Wellesley booth! Volunteers will be doing complimentary gift wrapping in upcycled Furoshiki cloths that you can reuse and regift for years to come.

Sustainable Wellesley is also giving away free Holiday Gift Guides for earth-conscious consumers. See eco-friendly gift ideas on display and walk away with a free gift guide tucked into a food-safe reusable cotton bag!

Find Sustainable Wellesley upstairs at the 41st Wellesley Marketplace THIS SATURDAY, Nov. 11th at Wellesley High School. Entry tickets available at the door or online here.

Huge thanks to Carolyn Mackin for talking Marketplace with me today, and for the beautiful piece of art she painted for our home. I love losing myself in its depths while I sip my morning coffee or chat with friends over a glass of wine.

You may also like:

Non-Material Holiday Gift Ideas

Green Your Mailbox! Tips for Stopping Junk Mail

Less Waste Race: Run Greener

How Eating More Plants Can Help the Environment – Cowspiracy Infographic