Web sites help people seeking alternatives to plastic

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2007

I've got plastic on the brain.Last week, I found myself talking it over while hiking Perseverance Trail and the next day, with girlfriends at the Island Pub. I have been thinking about the stark fact that all plastic ever made is still on the planet. If you want to see where it ends up, look at the last page of this month's issue of Sierra magazine. There you will find a photo of an albatross from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands whose stomach is filled with hundreds of pieces of plastic - its last meals colorful but fatal.

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You may have heard about the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and its findings in the north Pacific gyre where plastic particles outweigh algae by more than six to one. You may have also heard, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, that the U.S. consumes more than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps each year. And you may realize that millions of barrels of oil are needed to create these items. If you're like me, you may be cringing by now. Living here in coastal Alaska, you may ask yourself - if we continue to consume like this, what will our beloved seas become? Instead of lunging whales, gardens of kelp, and scoters on the wing, will we be left with a synthetic ocean? One of floating bags, discarded plastic toys, and bobbing lighters? Without some lifestyle changes, we are aimed toward such a future.

This has gotten me thinking about lifestyle change. How can we alter the way we live - beyond recycling, compact fluorescent bulbs, and reducing our carbon footprint? What are others doing? Great examples are everywhere. In Vancouver, a woman made a NoNewPlasticPledge, vowing not to buy or accept products containing or packaged in plastic for the calendar year of 2007. Her pledge and her progress are posted at Change Everything, a Canadian Web site "for people who want to change themselves, their communities, and their world," www.changeeverything.ca/.

Another pledge can be found with The Compact, a group of Bay Area professionals who made a vow not to buy anything new for a calendar year - except food, health, safety items and underwear! Their goal in this effort is to "go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of US consumer culture...to support local businesses...to reduce clutter and waste in our homes...and to simplify our lives."

And then there's the Bagonaut. Seeking to raise awareness of the perils of plastic bags, a man in San Angelo, Texas, spent 24 hours in a giant canvas bag. This campaign was combined with a plastic bag film festival and a food bank drive; those who donated were given free canvas shopping bags. To learn about this endeavor, visit Ecospace (www.ecospace.cc/), a site characterized as "inspired people creating positive change."

We can realize a different future, even here in Juneau. Facing us is a huge array of daily choices, and many of them are planet-healthy alternatives. We can be incredibly powerful, each day, based on what we choose to buy and what we don't. Maybe we aren't all ready to be as disciplined as the members of The Compact, but we can fashion a life that reflects conscious choice and commitment to earth-friendly, ocean-friendly values. Even small steps of "green action" can make a big difference.

Consider another example. On a recent trip to the Oregon coast I stopped at a coffee shop called the Green Salmon. It was a bustling place, full of light and fresh bread and strong coffee.

And there was no plastic to be seen.

The to-go bags behind the counter were Biobags, 100 percent compostable and biodegradable. The coffee cups were Ecotainers, also biodegradable. Signs on the wall explained the origin of the organic milk and coffee beans, and the restroom carried tissue and towels made of recycled materials. The toilet itself had two buttons, one for half-flush and one for full. If you chose the former, a sign underneath praised you "Congratulations! You just saved a gallon of water." When I left with my coffee, it was without the guilt I often feel as a consumer. Here was conscious, responsible, progressive business in action. Yahoo!

Some local retailers are making this shift. A&P gives a four cent credit when you bring your own bag, and they now use Ecotainers for their hot soups. Hearthside Books sells canvas bags as an option to plastic. And at Rainbow Foods, anyone can buy a nylon ChicoBag that folds into a tiny bundle smaller than your palm. A hearty round of applause to these businesses for taking action. Let them know you appreciate their choices. Encourage other businesses to follow suit. Juneau can move toward sustainability if we choose it.

It is high time we adopt green living practices to reduce our use of plastics, cut down on stuff, and live simply. If we fare well, we can nourish ourselves and our ocean into a long and vibrant future.

Looking to learn more? Try out these great sites:

• www.use-less-stuff.com

• www.lifewithoutplastic.com

• www.wasteonline.org.uk

• www.reusablebags.com

• Aleria Jensen is Juneau resident and a member of Turning the Tides, a Juneau grass-roots nonprofit working to promote ocean-friendly technologies and alternatives to plastics. To contact the group, call 907-789-0449 or visit www.turningthetides.org.

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