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Lifestyle

What's In My Shopping Kit?

Organization is the name of the game when it comes to conquering the grocery stores plastic-free!  After too many times of getting to the store and not having what I needed, I decided to create a small shopping kit with all of the essentials, which is always kept in my car so I'm never without them.  If I lived in the states (where I'm from), or anywhere that had more bulk and deli items available, the kit would definitely include more metal tins like the one shown (much lighter than glass mason jars), but so far I usually only need one or two.

So what's in my shopping kit?  Let's take a look...

1.  Reusable Produce Bags:  We are all too familiar with those pesky thin plastic bags, used to carry and transport fruit, veg, dairy and frozen items, only to be thrown away pretty much the minute you get home.  These are one of the easiest things to find a reusable alternative for and the disposable kind is just unnecessary, plain and simple.  If you're crafty, you could make small bags from old pillowcases or fabric pieces found around the house, or if you're like me and haven't sewn since junior high, you might rather prefer to buy some like the ones I use.  (we sell several different bags of various sizes here at PFHK which you can view HERE).  I use these two shown in the picture to the right: 2 large size net cotton bags and 2 medium size plain cotton bags. I find these 4 bags cover all of my needs.  And if there ever is a bulk shop in Sai Kung, the plain ones will work brilliantly for seed, nuts, pasta, oats, etc!

2.  Beeswax Wrap:  If your family likes cheese and you're trying to avoid the plastic waste it's usually wrapped in, simply bring your beeswax wraps along with you and start buying your cheese from the deli or favorite cheese shop.  Beeswax wraps are made from organic cotton, jojoba oil and tree resin and can be used for up to one year or longer, assuming you care for it properly (wash in cold water only).  It's really quite simple for the shop assistants to use and every deli worker in HK that I've ever asked here in HK has been completely okay with it.  Here at PFHK we're huge fans of the Abeego wraps, which you can find on our online store HERE or if you're feeling crafty again, there are tons of videos online giving tutorials on how to make your own!

3.  Takeaway Tins for Meat or Other Prepared Foods: I know eating meat isn't very cool to a lot of eco-friendly folk, but my family still does eat some and we try to do it as consciously as possible: organic, grass-fed and fresh.  For example, today I used this tin to buy grass-fed mince for our favorite lasagna.  It's the perfect size for something like this and the deli assistant was more than happy to oblige (thank you Wellcome!).  I would also use these tins for any prepared foods, like pasta or veggie dishes from the deli counter, to bring them home in as well.  (You can see our entire food storage line HERE)  Depending on what you will be buying, you may need bigger ones or several more.  I would suggest always keeping tins/jars packed in your kit so you're never without them.  Mine are always in the boot with everything else!

4.  Reusable Grocery Bags: Personally I think disposable plastic bags should be made illegal.  There's nothing really that beneficial about them, except for the jobs they create for people to produce them, but aside from that I can't really think of anything else.  Cloth bags work great for me, and if you ever forget them, you can usually find a cardboard box at the grocery store to use instead.  For my usual shopping run, I've found that 3-4 bags is usually enough.

5.  One Large Gusseted Bag:  I like to use a bag like this one which holds my entire shopping kit and can also be used to carry food home in.  It's thick canvas material and has a large gusseted panel on the bottom.  This makes it very durable, sturdy and will stand upright while being stored in my car.  It's also great to use at checkout for any glass jars you may be purchasing, like pasta sauce or juice, as these more fragile items won't fall over as easily. 

Living life more sustainably just takes a little bit more preparation and thoughtfulness, but once you find what works for you and your family and get these new habits organized and running smoothly, it will just become the new norm.  And the world will be a happier place! 

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Our Meeting With City'Super


As some of you know, we met with a large supermarket chain this week to discuss their unnecessary and excessive use of plastic wrapped produce, and I'm happy to report it went very well with the people of City'Super.  Although it wasn't all roses, they were welcoming, open and willing to listen to all of our suggestions.  And though they resisted some ideas, they also responded quite positively to many others.  

Myself, Dana Winograd (Director of Operations, Plastic Free Seas) and Emily Botsford (ADM Capital Foundation) all met with the Head of Product Development (HPD) and here is a report of the positives takeaways!

  • We asked if all of the weighing of produce could be done at the till with the cashier, instead of in the produce area.  This would eliminate any need for pre-bagging items together in a plastic bag and putting a price tag on it, as well as customers being given another produce bag when the store employee weighs it for them before checkout. (I don't know about you, but in my country this is just normal!)  The HPD was very keen on this idea and thought it was feasible and made sense.  Yay!  
  • We asked City'Super to allow customers to bring their own reusable bags and containers for deli/cooked food/butcher/produce items and anything else that they sell in a takeaway fashion.  This would also entail educating all of their staff to know how to weigh items using customer's bags/containers/etc.  She also responded positively to this idea and felt this would be something they could implement in the near future.  We also said that once they're ready to move forward with this, they'll need to promote this "Bring Your Own" philosophy so customers know their options, and that incentivizing them to do this would be even more amazing.  It will be very interesting to see how this one goes.
  • We were given details, from the Ocean Recovery Alliance, about a company in Tsuen Wan who recycles those styrofoam "socks" we often see on fruits and veggies, and unfortunately, on our beautiful beaches.  We suggested that City'Super collect these "socks" from the produce before putting them out for purchase, and then courier the collected socks to the plant in Tsuen Wan for recycling.  She was very open to this idea, and I'm happy to report, she will be meeting with the owner and operator of this recycling plant to discuss further details in the next couple of weeks.  I feel like this is such great progress!  
  • We asked if they would consider only offering paper bags at the bakery and they said no pretty quickly because the bread items could be "greasy".  We then suggested that instead of their employees automatically bagging the bread items into a plastic bag, that they could instead ask if the customer would like plastic or paper.  Since they wouldn't completely eliminate the plastic bag as an option, we hope that this question will stimulate awareness in the customer and that when given the choice, many will be encouraged to choose paper.
  • They are currently trying to source more sustainable packaging for their fruit and vegetables and have recently introduced trays made from sugar cane (although this is then wrapped in plastic wrap, eek!), and takeaway cutlery and produce bags made from PLA, a vegetable based product.  The PLA does come with it's own problems though.  Firstly, it shouldn't be put into the plastic recycling system, but often is, because people don't know the difference between PLA and plastic.  Also, we're not entirely sure if PLA is non-toxic due to the probable use of GMO corn.  So we accepted this "positive" cautiously.
  • She was very intrigued by other paper-based options I had sent her previously that could "protect" the produce from damage and will be investigating these further. 
  • They are currently collecting all of their store's food waste for composting, but no one knows this!  We encouraged them to engage more with their customers and let them know the great things they are currently doing that benefit the planet.  We suggested creating a sustainability page on their website as a means of communication.
  • I shared with her the zero-waste lifestyle and it's growing community, and that many many people are inspired by this movement and want to shop as waste-free as possible.  If they offered, say, a bulk section with rice, beans, shampoo, lotion, etc, where we could come with our reusable bags and jars to collect these items, their customer base would grow and they would be evolving as a company in such a positive way.  She was actually very aware of this movement and in agreement that this would be a good idea.  I was so excited she even knew what I was talking about!

I will continue to keep you updated about the progress being made and any new developments.  And get armed and ready with your reusable bags and containers, because it won't be long until you need them!

(And as a sidenote, I take my own reusable containers to Fusion and Wellcome here in Sai Kung for deli and butcher items, and have been 100% successful.  No problems at all.  So maybe give it a try next time you head to the shops and maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised as well!)

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Create Less Waste In Your Bathroom

I'd venture to say our kitchens create the most waste in the house, but our bathroom's aren't too innocent either.  Look around a typical bathroom and you'll see lots of disposable plastic - plastic which could be easily substituted with an earth-friendly option.  Let's check out these alternatives and see how to change a wasteful bathroom into a sustainable one!

bathroom alternatives

1. TOOTHBRUSH - One of the easiest ways to purge plastic from your life is to trade in your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one.  It's estimated that over 2 billion (yes I said BILLION) disposable toothbrushes are thrown away every year, which means if everyone opted for a sustainable option, a lot of waste could be saved from the landfills and oceans. Currently I haven't found a toothbrush that is 100% plastic-free, but Brush With Bamboo is getting pretty close.  Their bristles are made out of 62% castor beans and 38% plastic, and they're hard at work to get that number to 100% plastic-free.  We'll let you know when it happens! 

2 TOOTHPASTE - Sometimes I wonder if plastic toothpaste tubes don't pollute our world more than toothbrushes.  The paste doesn't last that long and many of the tubes aren't recyclable.  So what's the answer?  In my quest for the perfect option, I've settled on 3 possibilities.  

  • Firstly, and most simply, you can brush with a baking soda-based paste.  I tried this recipe from Trash Is For Tossers for a little while, and although it took some getting used to, I do think it's a very good and effective option.  Yes it's basic, but it really is all you need.  
  • Secondly, and the least eco-friendly, you can purchase a toothpaste sold in an aluminum tube, which aside from the plastic cap is recyclable.  I've sampled two as of late, David's and The Goodwell Company, and I'm a huge fan of both.  Top-notch ingredients made from companies who care about the environment and sold in a tube that can be recycled.  The down side is the cap is plastic, and for me, one small plastic cap is one too many.  All I can think about when I throw that cap in the bin, is a sweet little sea turtle ingesting it and suffering.  
  • Which brings us to my final option, toothpaste sold in a glass jar with a metal cap.  For me, this is the best option at the moment.  Plastic-Free HK has found a fabulous paste from Georganics, made with natural, organic ingredients and sold in a 100% plastic-free container.  And we're happy to be selling it too!

3. FLOSS - What gets me with floss is that most of the product is just a bulky, plastic case which gets tossed when you're finished, left to sit in a landfill for 400 years until it fragments into teeny, tiny pieces.  And of course the floss is plastic too, so every way you look at it, it's just a big blob of waste.  There are a few different alternatives for this as well, so let me tell you what I've discovered.  

  • Toothpicks: they're wooden and come in a cardboard box.  Can't get much better than that.  But for people like me, who really love the effectiveness of floss in between the teeth, this just won't cut it.    
  • Biodegradable flossers from The Goodwell Company (and sold here at Plastic-Free HK) made from bamboo and vegetable starch.
  • Silk floss which comes in paper sachets from Radius (also found on iHerb.com).
  • Or our favorite option, silk floss sold in little tin cases by Le Negri, which Plastic-Free HK is currently in the process of importing.  
  • And if none of these options excite you, then do it like the zero-waste founder herself, Bea Johnson, and unravel a piece of silk thread and floss away.
81YYbKyh+oL._AC_UL320_SR246,320_.jpg

4. RAZOR - I am still in the process of using up my disposable razor heads for the Gillette razor I use, but once they're gone, I'll be trading mine in for a straight razor, similar to the one pictured here.  From what I've been reading, they're easier to use then one would expect and much more economical since the replacement razors cost a fraction of the price than the typical disposables.  Aside from straight razors, the only other waste-free option is laser hair removal.  Although you'll dish out a chuck of money up front, the benefits of your hair being gone forever could make it worth it for you. 

5. SOAP - HAND + FACE + BODY - Two words: bar soap.  You really don't need anything other than this.  And there are so many amazing products out there, made with such quality ingredients, you won't be craving for anything more.  Ditch the liquid soap and change your perception on what convenience and necessity look like.  I used to think I needed a different soap for every part of my body, and that my baby needed some sort of special liquid soap separate from what I used.  The only thing true about this, is that there are some very clever marketing companies behind these campaigns.  Advertisements have made us believe we need way more than we actually do.

6. SHAMPOO + CONDITIONER - I'll be the first to admit, I LOVE my bottled, liquid shampoo.  It took me many years to find a shampoo and conditioner that leave my hair feeling exactly the way I want it to.  But the more I learn about plastic pollution, the more I find it hard to justify my desires for soft hair in exchange for more non-biodegradable bottles in the world.  So I've been looking around for alternatives, and this is what I've found.  

  • Firstly, you can go for the "no poo" method.  From baking soda to apple cider vinegar, coconut oil to water, our sisters out there have experimented with lots of different waste-free products.  Maybe one day I'll get on this train, but for now I'm too attached to an actual shampoo product.  
  • Then there's the shampoo bar, sold in a form very similar to bar soap.  The two products I've purchased to try are from Lush and JR Liggets.  Between the two, my fellow shampoo bar users have said JR Liggets is more effective and that Lush's bars have too many nasties like SLS's.  So we shall see and I'll be sure to update you once I give them a try.  
  • I think in my perfect world, I'd be able to refill my shampoo and conditioner at a local bulk shop, but I haven't found anything like this in Hong Kong yet.  This is what I'm hoping for in the future.  
  • And finally, if you absolutely cannot part with your plastic-bottled shampoo and conditioner, at the very least, buy it in the biggest size possible and only wash your hair once or twice a week.  Before I became mindful of creating less waste in my life, I bought huge bottles of my favorite shampoo and conditioner last year, and since I only wash my hair every 3 or 4 days, the bottles have lasted me months, and in fact I'm still working my way through them.

7. SHAVING CREAM - The good ole bar soap wins again!  Just make sure you lather really good when using the straight razor and you should be fine.

8. LOTION - Buy coconut oil, or any other natural nut or vegetable oil in a glass jar, and use this instead.  Pure, unadulterated oil straight from nature's heart.  What could be better for us?  I'm a huge fan of almond oil for the body as it doesn't leave your skin too greasy, and I love evening primrose oil for the face for it's anti-aging properties.  What are your favorites?

9. EAR BUDS - With this product, just like many others, the plastic waste often comes more from the packaging more than the product itself.  Make sure to purchase ear buds sold in a cardboard box and ones without the plastic stick.  There are paper based sticks, as well as ones made with bamboo, so it shouldn't be too difficult finding a better option.  PFHK is currently trying to source ones made from bamboo and we will let you know once we have these stocked!

10. FACIAL ROUNDS/COTTON BALLS - Just like the ear buds, this product is often packaged in some form of plastic.  And although the rounds/balls themselves aren't toxic to the environment, it is a waste that doesn't need to be occurring.  Instead, you can either use a washcloth solely designated for make-up removal and such, or buy reusable, washable facial rounds that can be used over and over again.  We stock some super soft ones that have been very popular.  Check them out HERE.

Cosmetics are another huge waste maker, but we'll tackle this in a blog post all for itself.  We're currently working to source quality, effective make-up products to stock and will let you know the very minute we have them.  

I hope this helps some of you transition to a more sustainable bathroom and please let me know if there's anything you'd like to see more of on the cyber-shelves of PFHK!  

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How Long Until It's Gone?

Have you ever wondered how long your waste takes to break down and return to the Earth?  I did and some of the statistics are shocking!  


As I've always said, change comes through education.  Once we know the implications of plastic waste in our world, we will be able to do nothing other than CHANGE!  So let's Learn: The biggest takeaway from this information is this: plastic will never fully biodegrade.  "While plastic may break down into smaller and smaller pieces, some as small as grains of sand, these pieces are never truly biodegradable. The plastic bits, some small enough that they're called microplastics, threaten marine life like fish and birds", explains Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the U.K.

  • Paper towel: 2-4 weeks
  • Apple core: 2 months
  • Cigarette butt: 1-5 years
  • Plastic grocery bag: 10-20 years
  • Tin can: 50 years
  • Styrofoam: 50 years
  • Rubber sole: 50-80 years
  • Aluminum can: 200 years
  • Plastic beverage holder ring: 400 years
  • Plastic bottles: 450 years
  • Disposable diapers: 450 years
  • Fishing line: 600 years

*Again, it's so important to remember that the plastic items on this list will never disappear, rather only break down into tiny pieces which will then either get ingested by wildlife or poison our waterways and soil.

***Source: U.S. National Parks Service, NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, U.S.)

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10 Ways To Go Plastic-Free!

To kick off our first blog post, we thought it would be good to share with you our top 10 ways to reduce the plastic waste in your life.  Most of these might seem obvious or insignificant, but if everyone got on board with these changes, the world would be impacted greatly in such a positive way!  Let's motivate, encourage and help each other to make these lasting changes!

 

1. Stainless steel straws:  The amount of single use, disposable plastic straws used globally on a daily basis is frightening.  And the impact they have on our environment is equally so. The Plastic Pollution Coalition has estimated that over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used every day in the U.s. alone.  Yes, I said billion. And they find their way into our waterways and oceans and create havoc with the marine life, either by being lodged into sea turtles noses like the one in this video, or ingested and getting into the food chain, which then brings up concerns over our own food safety.  How much are we affected by the plastic ingested by the fish we eat?  What strikes me the most with disposable straws is that there isn't any real need for them.  We use them because we're used to them.  But wouldn't it be just as easy to use paper straws or bring along our own stainless steel or glass straws?  I think so!  Check out the ones we love Here!

2. Cloth shopping bags: Single use, disposable plastic bags is another big contender in the plastic pollution debacle.  Think of it this way: they're made from a non-renewable resource (crude oil), and once they're made, they're impossible to get rid of.  So basically it's a huge waste any way you look at it.  And once these bags are made and distributed to stores around the world, the consumer uses them for maybe 20 or 30 minutes to get their goods home, then throws it away.  Why?  I just ask myself why? What's the point?  Why spend so much time and effort to produce such a wasteful product that creates so much pollution throughout it's lifecycle?  Cloth bags are easy to come by, easy to carry, and I believe, much more efficient than it's plastic counterpart.  And more comfortable too!  

3. Bamboo toothbrushes: Yes, every single plastic toothbrush that you have ever used in your lifetime is still sitting somewhere.  These don't biodegrade, and from the research I've done, most recycling programs don't accept them.  

And moreover, since this is another item that is frequently replaced (every 3 months or so) by most people in the world, it's another item that creates horrendous amounts of unnecessary waste.  So here I go again asking myself "Why?".  Why are we all using these wasteful, non-biodegradable items when there is an equally effective product out there that could replace it?  I think for most people it is lack of education.  We just don't know any better.  Well, I can tell you I've been using a bamboo toothbrush for quite some time now and it's amazing.  And not only is the handle sustainable, but the bristles are made from 62% castor beans and can be recycled too!  Click on the picture above to see more details.  Happy brushing!

4. Stainless steel water bottles: #4 follows suit as the previous three.  Throwaway, single use plastic bottles is an item used by millions, maybe billions, of people every day, and it's unnecessary.  
It creates harmful waste that doesn't need to occur.  All we need to do as a whole is agree to carry our own reusable drinking vessels (preferably a sustainable option made from renewable, biodegradable materials). And while we're at it, let's find a way to provide clean/free drinking water throughout our cities and towns that everyone has access to.  Water should not be a commodity!  Here at Plastic-Free HK we're big on providing sustainable options to replace the big plastic polluters that we all are privy to and threatened by on a daily basis.  I've done lots of research on good options, and I sing the praises of both Pura Stainless and S'well bottles. 

5. Food storage: Plastics are big in the food storage industry.  Plastic wrap, plastic baggies, plastic containers.  You get the picture.  Eventually these items will break or wear out and you will need to throw them away.  And into the landfill they go.  So we see these items as important ones to find sustainable options for.  So far we've found beeswax wraps to replace the cling film and beautiful stainless steel and silicone food containers for storage at home and on-the-go.  Such simple changes that will make lasting impact.

6. Sustainable soap options: My family is almost completely switched over to bar soap in all of our bathrooms and showers/bathtubs.  My husband and I have been using it for quite some time, but for some reason I fell under the spell of believing my toddler son needed a "special" liquid soap for his bath time and that we needed "special" hand soap for our bathrooms.  There are some marketing geniuses out there, that's for sure!  I was duped for a long time but now realize bar soap works pretty well across the board.  And for our dishwashing liquid, I only buy from companies that use 100% post consumer materials to produce their plastic bottles, which means they're only using plastic that is already in the system.  The two companies I support completely are Ecover & seventh generation.  It's so important to consider the source!  Get to know the companies you are giving your dollar to.  It matters!

7. Plastic-free produce: Here in Hong Kong, it's an uphill battle finding produce that is not wrapped in plastic a million times over, but there definitely are options.  The two things that have helped me the most are farmer's markets and wet markets.  


8. Buy fresh meat & cheeses: I found an amazing butcher I love and trust that I can buy fresh meat from.  I either bring my own container for him to put the meat in or he wraps it in paper and off I go!  I've also found the best quality cheese sold right here in Sai Kung where I can buy it without the plastic too.  If I can remember, I bring my beeswax wraps and he uses this for transport.  If not he has paper as well. Again, a bit more planning and effort goes into purchasing these items, but the benefits for our environment far outweighs what it costs me.I buy as much as I can from the farmer's markets because this produce is mostly local and very often organic.  And for everything else I try to pick up at the wet markets around town.  It does take a bit of concerted effort, but to me it's worth it and makes me feel like I've achieved a small miracle when I come home with produce that is free of plastic wrap or plastic containers.

9. Drink more water: A lot of plastic waste comes from beverages: juices, sodas, etc.  At home we use a Big Berkey gravity water filter, which is long lasting and sustainable, making it a very good investment.  (And can I just say, I'm so in love with this water filter!  Highly recommended!)  I fill my water bottle up before I leave the house and have yummy teas throughout the day as well.  When we want juice for our son or guests, we either buy it in a glass jar or make it fresh.  For awhile I got into buying apple juice for our family, but every time we emptied it I felt a little sad that I was putting more plastic into the system, so I stopped and found other sustainable options that I felt good about.

10. Refuse!: This is one of the greatest lessons I've learned this past year as I educate myself about plastic pollution: refuse the things we don't need or will only use once. Just say NO!

9. Drink more water: A lot of plastic waste comes from beverages: juices, sodas, etc.  At home we use a Big Berkey gravity water filter, which is long lasting and sustainable, making it a very good investment.  (And can I just say, I'm so in love with this water filter!  Highly recommended!)  I fill my water bottle up before I leave the house and have yummy teas throughout the day as well.  When we want juice for our son or guests, we either buy it in a glass jar or make it fresh.  For awhile I got into buying apple juice for our family, but every time we emptied it I felt a little sad that I was putting more plastic into the system, so I stopped and found other sustainable options that I felt good about.

10. Refuse!: This is one of the greatest lessons I've learned this past year as I educate myself about plastic pollution: refuse the things we don't need or will only use once. Just say NO!

9. Drink more water: A lot of plastic waste comes from beverages: juices, sodas, etc.  At home we use a Big Berkey gravity water filter, which is long lasting and sustainable, making it a very good investment.  (And can I just say, I'm so in love with this water filter!  Highly recommended!)  I fill my water bottle up before I leave the house and have yummy teas throughout the day as well.  When we want juice for our son or guests, we either buy it in a glass jar or make it fresh.  For awhile I got into buying apple juice for our family, but every time we emptied it I felt a little sad that I was putting more plastic into the system, so I stopped and found other sustainable options that I felt good about.

10. Refuse!: This is one of the greatest lessons I've learned this past year as I educate myself about plastic pollution: refuse the things we don't need or will only use once. Just say NO!

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