Which is greener? Grocery shopping online or in-person

Day 215 – The pandemic has really increased the use of online grocery shopping. My family used the option a couple times when we had a positive case in the family and quarantined for a couple weeks. I was thankful for having this option and so grateful for those working through the pandemic to ensure we had access to food and all the essentials. After our quarantine was over, we were back to shopping in-person. However, I know many people have really liked the idea of having their groceries delivered and may never consider going back to a grocery store. So, I thought I would write about which shopping method is greener, online or in-person.

While reading a few articles on the subject a few points stuck out.

  1. Large grocery stores use a great deal of energy to operate. Making sure customers and products are at a comfortable temperature takes a lot of energy.
  2. Overstocking in large grocery stores is standard and it’s estimated that 10.5 million tons of food waste are generated from grocery stores each year.
  3. Direct delivery from a fulfillment center has the potential to eliminate some retail inefficiencies. Fulfillment centers eliminate at least one step from the distribution system, can store food in a way that keeps it fresh longest instead of in appealing displays for consumers, and can order only what they know they will sell.
  4. Secondary packaging for delivery – such as disposable bags, ice packs, and foam cushioning – is an additional source of waste.
  5. The number of delivery vehicles in cities is projected to rise 36% by 2030, which could lead to an increase in emissions and a 21% increase in congestion.
  6. Journey consolidation and smart routing powered by artificial intelligence are promising approaches to more efficient, less polluting delivery.

In the end, both options have their negative and positive effects on the environment.

Earth911 came up with a list of questions to ask yourself before deciding which option is best for you and the planet.

  • Are you replacing a drive to the supermarket, or would you have walked or biked instead?
  • Do your deliveries come from a local hub or a large, distant distribution center?
  • Who makes the deliveries? Gig workers in their own vehicles or employees in company-owned electric vehicles?
  • Do they deliver in reusable containers made from recycled materials or disposable ones made from virgin materials?
  • Do they deliver your groceries according to an algorithm that reduces delivery miles or at the time you specify?

For me, the biggest turn off to online shopping is the extra packaging. At times it is absurd as to how much is used. If I can find what I’m looking for at the local store, I will opt to purchase in-person, using my reusable bags.

Tomorrow, an app that is saving consumers money and addresses the problem of food waste.

Be a Scientist in Your Own Backyard

Day 214 – Do you love science? Are you a big fan of nature? Do you want to help preserve and protect the environment? Well, it couldn’t be any easier to get involved in something that includes all these amazing things. Citizen Science Programs provides opportunities for students, teachers and the public to participate in scientific data collection. Some programs require training, while others do not. Some you can do in your own backyard.

There are Citizen Science Programs around the country and the world. This post will include projects that are nation wide, along with others that are focused on ones found in my home state of Illinois. I will also be sharing the ones that require little to no training. The information shared in this post is directly from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count

This program is the longest-running, citizen-science project related to birds.The next Christmas Bird Count Tuesday, December 14, 2021 through Wednesday, January 5, 2022. The Christmas Bird Count occurs December 14 to January 5 every year.  Sign up to receive information and results about all of Audubon’s community science programs through American Birds, our quarterly newsletter by email. 

BeeSpotter

BeeSpotter is a partnership between citizen scientists and the professional science community designed to educate the public about pollinators by engaging them in a data collection effort of importance to the nation. It is a Web-based portal at the University of Illinois for learning about honey bees and bumble bees and for contributing data to a nationwide effort to collect baseline information on the population status of these insects.

Bumble Bee Watch

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees. This community science project allows for individuals to; Upload photos of bumble bees to start a virtual bumble bee collection; Identify the bumble bees in your photos and have your identifications verified by experts; Help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees; Help locate rare or endangered populations of bumble bees; Learn about bumble bees, their ecology, and ongoing conservation efforts; and Connect with other community scientists.

Citizen Science Projects at the Field Museum

Projects include Monarch Community Science Project, Collections Club and Helping to Unlock Biodiversity.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network

CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). They use low-cost measurement tools, stress training and education and utilize an interactive Web site to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. 

FrogWatch USA

FrogWatch USA™ is a citizen-science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that invites individuals and families to learn about wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting data on the calls of local frogs and toads. AZA’s FrogWatch USA™ comprises a national network of skilled coordinators and volunteers who form a community with the goal of providing large-scale, long-term data on frogs and toads in the United States.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real time. More than 160,000 people join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

iNaturalist.org

Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. iNaturalist.org shares findings with scientific data repositories to help scientists find and use your data.

Monarch Watch

There are several ways for a classrooms to get involved with Monarch Watch. In addition to rearing monarchs, several ongoing research projects rely on student-scientist partnerships.

Project Squirrel

No matter where you live, city or suburb, from the Midwest to the East Coast, Canada to California, whether squirrels live in your neighborhood or not, you are encouraged to become a squirrel monitor. 

So, whether you’re a stay-at-home parent looking for something to do with the kids, or you’re a teacher looking for a cool project with your students, or a retiree looking for a new hobby, contributing to one of these projects would be very helpful and fulfilling.

To see more projects, check out the IDNR’s Citizen Science Programs, Lincoln Park Zoo and National Geographic.

Tomorrow, determining which is greener, shopping for your groceries on-line or in-person.

Eco-Friendly Flip Flops

Day 213 – I’m not a big fan of flip flops. I prefer my slip on sandals with socks. However, there are plenty of people that love flip flops. So, I thought, before summer ended, I would give a few sustainable options. These are definitely not your dollar store brands. They are high quality, so you can expect to spend more than a few bucks. Prices range from around $20-$50.

Indosole – These are recycled tire flip flops. The outsole is made from tire tread, and the straps are made out of a material called “ENVRO” fiber which uses little water in the process and gives off a leather-like feel. These flip flops do not use any animal by-products, they are cruelty free and does not contain any types of plastic and is also 100% waterproof. Indosole is a B-Corporation.

Original Cork Shop – Their flip flops are 100% cork, from the footbed to the straps, to the flexible and grippy rubber cork sole. Original Cork Shop keeps things local, Fair Trade, and cruelty free. Everything is 100% sourced and made at their base in Portugal, where the majority of the world’s cork trees are located.

Okabashi – Okabashi flip flops are a combination of 25% recycled materials and bio-based soy material that are free from any BPAs, latex, and phthalates. They’re not biodegradable but are fully recyclable via Okabashi’s own US-based recycling program. They are made in Buford, Georgia.

Waves – Waves uses 100% premium-grade natural rubber for their flip flops, making for a cushioned, grippy, and durable shoe. This natural rubber is sourced in Sri Lanka, where it doesn’t need to travel far for manufacturing, because they’re made there, as well. Waves flip flops are handcrafted under a “strict socially responsible manufacturing process” and in exchange for fair wages.

Fipper USA – All Fipper sandals are made from 100% natural Thai rubber, are biodegradable, anti-bacterial, BPA Free and vegan friendly.  

Whatever flip flop brand you choose, be sure the product is earth friendly. There are so many options out there. Going back to a non-recycled plastic pair just doesn’t make any sense.

Tomorrow, you can become a citizen scientist.

Plastic Free Doesn’t Have to Only Last a Month

Day 212 – July has come to an end and so has Plastic Free July. However, it doesn’t mean you have to stop making an effort to remove plastic from your everyday use. All month, I wrote about ways we can replace single-use plastic with reusable options. I wrote about companies using recycled plastic in their products to help minimize the plastic entering our landfills, oceans and waterways. Hopefully, it inspired you to make some changes and to encourage others to do the same.

Plastic Oceans has created a list of 9 things we can do to help end plastic pollution.

Continue to find ways to eliminate single-use plastic from your life. The fight for the health of our planet is far from over. Stay informed and consider receiving updates and newsletters from Plastic Ocean.

Tomorrow, summer’s not over yet, sustainable flip flops.

Reusable Takeout Containers

Day 211 – The number of plastic takeout containers we collect at the monthly Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup is significant. When I think about the number of plastic and polystyrene disposable takeout containers used day in and day out, across the city, the state, throughout the country, and around the planet, it makes my head hurt. There is a solution to this problem and people are beginning to take action.

In New York, the restaurant DIG (691 Broadway in Manhattan), has started a program called Canteen. Those who enroll in the program will install a smartphone app, Canteen by Dig, and consent to a fee of $3 a month for the service. In return, they’ll be able to take their lunch with them in a hard-shelled, reusable bowl made from black melamine, complete with a white plastic lid. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create your account to start using Canteen by Dig. A membership costs $3 per month and allows you to check out one bowl at a time.
  2. Enter the four digit location code and click “Use Canteen Bowl”. Show the Good to Go screen when you place your order to have it packaged in a Canteen Bowl.
  3. By using Canteen by Dig reusable bowls, you’re saving resources, energy, greenhouse gas emissions and single use trash from landfills.
  4. Return the bowl to a participating Dig location. Find the Canteen Bowl Return sign, Open your app, click on the “Return Your Canteen” and scan the QR code on the sign to check the bowl in. Leave the bowl in the designated return container.
  5. There is no limit to the number of times you can check out and return a Canteen Bowl each month, so reuse often.

Before there was Dig, there was Go Box. Go Box started offering reusable takeout containers at food carts in 2015. The program has expanded to include 110 restaurants and food vendors across Portland, Oregon. Consumers purchase monthly subscriptions, which start at $3.95 per month and show a QR code to participating food vendors to have their to-go orders packed in reusable containers. The used containers are deposited in drop boxes at restaurants and participating partners such as bike shops and banks; Go Box washes and sterilizes the reusable container before restocking with vendors.

Companies like RePlated are making reusable food containers for people who want to enjoy takeout, without feeling bad about waste. The containers are designed and made In Australia from recycled plastic. Each lunchbox saves eight soft drink bottles from landfill. RePlated helps businesses build flexible systems to make single-use plastic containers a thing of the past.

More and more companies are popping up to offer this service and it is one we desperately need. We can only hope that reusable takeout containers are not something we have to seek out, but will be part of our everyday takeout experience.

Tomorrow, a look back on Plastic Free July.

100% Recyclable is a Fantasy

Day 209 – Unicorns, fairies and 100% recyclable can all be categorized as fantasy. Major companies are labeling their plastic bottles as 100% recyclable which then allows the consumer to drink without guilt, knowing once empty, their bottle will be successfully recycled.

Sadly, that is not the case. In an article in The Magazine of the Sierra Club, Edward Humes writes about, how big beverage companies are leading us to believe that we are being environmentally friendly be choosing their beverages packaged in “100% recyclable” plastic. The truth is they are more likely to end up in rivers, oceans, roadsides, landfills, and incinerators than inside any sort of recycled product.

“On June 16, 2021, federal lawsuits were filed by the Sierra Club and a group of California consumers against major bottled water manufacturers Coca-Cola, Niagara, and BlueTriton (a subsidiary of global giant Nestlé). The suits allege that these companies’ labeling and marketing claims about the full recyclability of their beverage bottles are not just a little off, but blatantly false and a violation of consumer and environmental protection laws. They accuse the three global beverage titans of unfair business practices, false advertising, consumer fraud, and violations of state environmental marketing claims laws and Federal Trade Commission regulations.” – Edward Humes

Here is the problem with the 100% recyclable claim:

  1. The US recycling system is currently unable to recycle even a quarter of those supposed 100% recyclable bottles.
  2. The US lacks the capacity to recycle more than 12% of the bottle caps.
  3. The portion that does get recycled is never “100% recyclable”—about 28% is lost to processing or contamination and ends up in landfills.  

The article goes on to say, “FTC Green Guide regulations state that a company can claim that a plastic bottle is recyclable only if recycling facilities for that type of plastic are available to at least 60 percent of the consumers or communities where the product is sold. Under 60 percent, and all recycling claims have to be qualified on the label—such as saying, for example, “This product is recyclable only in the few communities that have appropriate recycling facilities.”

So, a company claiming to have a 100% recyclable product, but is only recycling 25% of that product is lying to the public. These false claims also make it very difficult for the consumer to make good decisions when purchasing products.

The brands specifically called out in the suits for allegedly deceptive recycling labels include Dasani, Arrowhead, Poland Springs, Ozarka, and Deer Park (in both lawsuits), and Niagara, Costco Kirkland, Save Mart Sunny Select, and Save Mart Market Essentials.

The law suit hopes to stop the false claims of these bottled water companies. One can only hope that these manufacturers start to take responsibility for their products and begin to offer something that is more inline with a circular economy. We can not continue to dispose of billions and billions of plastic bottles every year, with the idea that they are being recycled. They are not! Until manufactures take responsibility, the consumer needs to make decisions that will benefit the planet. Less plastic bottles is the only answer.

Tomorrow, disposable cups can be a thing of the past.

How Long?

Day 206 – Many of us don’t give much thought as to how long it takes for everyday items to decompose. We throw things out everyday, leaving any and all concern at the trash can. What if we asked the question, “How long until it’s decomposed? Well, the U.S. Coast Guard put together an easy to understand illustration. Take a look and see the amount of time your everyday disposable items take to breakdown and decompose.

As you can see, some plastic will never decompose. It will most likely breakdown and enter our waterways and food chain. It’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed and needs everyone to take notice and make changes in their daily behavior.

Tomorrow, a company using recycled plastic to make their products and even offers a take back program.

4Ocean: On a Mission to End the Ocean Plastic Crisis

Day 202 – It all started in Bali, Indonesia in 2015. Friends, Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper saw first hand how the plastic pollution problem was negatively impacting the marine life and those that lived along the coast.

After speaking with local fishermen whose livelihoods were negatively impacted by plastic pollution, Alex and Andrew decided to build a company that would hire boat captains and fishermen in communities heavily impacted by plastic pollution as full-time, professional cleanup crew members to recover plastic and other harmful debris from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines seven days a week.” – 4Ocean

4Ocean uses some of the plastic pulled from the ocean to create products (shoes, jewelry, phones cases). They also offer items that can swap out your single-use plastics (water bottles, bamboo utensils, reusable straw). They pull one pound of trash from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines for every product purchased. 4ocean has cleanup divisions in Florida, Bali, Haiti, and Guatemala, and recovers millions of pounds of trash from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines every year.

4Ocean is a certified B-Corporation and a 1% for the Planet member. Their captains and crews have recovered 16,035,392 pounds of plastic, and counting, since 2017.

4Ocean hopes that their business model will have to change in the near future. They hope there won’t be any more plastic to pull from the oceans, rivers and coastline. They imagine a world with plastic free oceans.

Tomorrow, a company using plastic bags to create eco-friendly decking.

REPREVE: Recycling over 26 billion plastic bottles and counting

Day 198 – I first mentioned REPREVE back on Day 24, when I wrote about purchasing a new couch from Love Sac. The upholstery fabric is made from 100% REPREVE certified recycled yarns.

Unifi makes REPREVE and this is how they do it:

  1. Source Recycled Waste: Recycled plastic bottles and post-industrial waste (including our own) are collected worldwide.
  2. Make the Chip: Waste material is chopped, ground, washed, melted and reformulated into high-quality REPREVE chip.
  3. Form the Fiber: Chip is melted into liquid polymer and extruded through tiny openings in a spinneret, creating continuous filaments that form REPREVE fiber.
  4. Process the Yarn: Fiber becomes yarn through spinning and air-jet texturing.
  5. Ship to Customers: Finished yarn goes into fabricsmaking everyday products more sustainable.

Unifi created U TRUST® verification to certify the recycled content in products made with REPREVE. With their unique FiberPrint® tracer technology, they can test partner products at any point in the supply chain to verify that REPREVE is being used properly. They’re not just finding new life for recycled materials. Compared to making what’s called virgin fiber, making REPREVE offsets using new petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.

Some of the brands you know and love use REPREVE to make products you use every day. If you see this bottle count badge when you shop, your purchase makes a difference. Look for it!

Many familiar brands are using REPREVE; Gap, The North Face, Under Armour, Aeropostale and Levi Strauss & Co., to name just a few. You can find a list of brands using REPREVE in their products, HERE.

Billions of plastic bottles go into landfills every year. Thankfully, companies like Unifi has come up with a solution to divert a great deal of plastic from landfills and waterways. However, it doesn’t stop there. We need to do our part to limit, if not, stop all together, the use of single-use plastic. REPREVE is not the answer to the plastic pollution problem, it is just a piece to the puzzle.

Tomorrow, plastic free makeup.

Jenga Ocean: Bringing sustainability to game night

Day 197 – I look forward to the day that an announcement by a company to use recycled material in their product isn’t big news. I look forward to the day when it becomes the norm and not the exception to provide customers with more sustainable products.

The folks at Jenga and Bureo have teamed together to produce Ocean Jenga made from 100% recycled fishing nets. Bureo is a company that takes discarded fishing nets, collected from coastal communities in South America, cleans and separates the material, and takes that material to be shredded and melted into NetPlus® recycled pellets. The pellets are formed into quality products, built for a lifetime of use with end of life solutions.

Ocean Jenga is the first board game made from recycled fishing nets. Each game is made from over 25 square feet of nets. The game features threatened marine animal block designs. Players of Ocean Jenga® are encouraged to ‘Save the Animals’ through special edition rules.  Learning about the damaging impact of discarded fishing nets, which account for 10% of plastic pollution in the ocean, players will gain an understanding of how discarded nets are harming marine animals, and learn about what they can do to help. 

Hand drawn and inspired by the sea, the artwork behind Jenga Ocean is the work of Lake Buckley – a surfer, designer, artist, and explorer. All packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable. 

“Robert Grebler, founder of Jenga and world record holder, approached Bureo at the 2015 Ocean Film Festival with an idea to incorporate Bureo’s recycled materials into one of the most well known ‘board games’ in the world. Appropriately named ‘Mr. Jenga’ by the Bureo team, Robert and his business partner Paul Eveloff are behind the game that is now enjoyed in over 80 million households. We are thankful for their support in helping to keep our ocean’s clean, with each game helping to prevent over 1 kg of discarded fishing nets from entering the ocean.” – Bureo

You can purchase Ocean Jenga HERE!

Tomorrow, a company making plastic pollution their #1 priority.