Thursday, June 07, 2012

Plastic and People: The Plastic-Free Gardeners

Where is the plastic-free gardener who can help us with gardening, as The Plastic-free Chef  does with cooking?  That person has not yet stepped forward.  Instead a bunch of people are tinkering, and sharing their experiences.

Shreveport, 1950's:  my Aunt Grace lets me "help" harvest produce in her lovely and productive backyard garden.  We feast on beans, tomatoes, boysenberries, figs.  No petroleum products, no  plastic.

NYC, 2012:  plastics have become deeply embedded in the gardening mindset and in supply sources.  Even organic gardeners often choose plastic pots, petroleum-based weed cloth and row covers, and buy organic fertilizers, composts, and manures in plastic bags.

However, along with all the plastic window boxes and plastic mulch, hints and help with alternatives do exist.  For instance:

  • Beth Terry of My Plastic-free Life , entertaining and informative as usual, shares her plastic-free gardening adventure, parts 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 .
  • Organic Gardening offers thoughtful posts on oil-free gardening and on alternatives to plastic in the garden.
  • Jenna Spevack, artist and PSFC environmental committee member, recently did a gallery show, 8 Extraordinary Greens , that featured salvaged furniture retrofitted with stainless steel trays, hemp-wick sub-irrigation, and grow lights, in a system that beautifully grows vibrant plastic-free greens indoors.
  • Even YouTube has a few relevant offerings, e.g., 4 Tips on Plastic Free Gardening, and how to start seedlings in old cardboard toilet paper tubes.

This gardener wishes today that she'd paid more attention long ago to Aunt Grace's gardening expertise, instead of devoting herself to eating boysenberry cobbler.  I find that plastic-free gardening in 2012 is, even given the available information, an experimental activity.  Try something, observe results; if it fails, change it and try again.

Odd though, isn't it, on a planet with an 11,000 year history of agriculture, approximately 10,950 years plastic-free, that so many of us today don't know how to grow food without using plastic?

My own most recent opportunity to learn:  the bamboo tripod I made to support climbing beans and avoid the big-box plastic-coated gizmo, fell flat on the ground in a big wind.  It's maybe fixed now; I await further developments.  Notwithstanding the collapse of my first plastic-free vertical gardening attempt, Aunt Grace would be pleased, I believe, to hear that I and many others are now learning again to garden plastic-free.

Do you have experience with plastic-free gardening?  Please share with us.

Photo by Vilseskogen, on flickr

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

BPA in Canned Foods & Drinks

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is an estrogenic-like chemical used in many plastic products. BPA can can interfere with hormones and normal development in children and has been linked to everything from infertility to diabetes to heart disease. Some products—such as sippy cups for toddlers—advertise themselves as being "BPA-free".

The presence of BPA in the linings of many canned products has been less publicized. Several manufacturers, such as Eden Organics, have voluntarily stopped lining their cans with BPA. Weruva is one of the few pet food companies to have canned food with BPA-free linings.

Four Swedish reporters decided to do some informal research about BPA in canned foods. They ate nothing but canned food for two days and doctors found that their BPA levels rose between 2,800 and 4,600 percent. These levels are below what the Swedish government estimates to be safe, though what is a safe level of BPA is still being debated. Since April 2012, the Swedish government outlawed the use of BPA in food packaging for children under three, but adults are left to take their own precautions.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has some tips to help people avoid BPA. They have been urging legislation to phase out BPA from consumer products, but this has yet to happen.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Can You Recycle This?

Question: Which of the following items are recycleable?
  1. hair
  2. blue jeans
  3. wine
  4. cotton swabs
  5. crayons
  6. keys
Answer: All of them!

Keys are made of valuable metal. Keys For Kindness is a small, family-run program designed to raise money through metal key recycling for the Multiple Sclerosis society.

Wine really is a zero-waste beverage. Its bottle can by recycled in a glass program, and ReCORK America has drop-off locations for corks at local Whole Foods stores.

Jeans to your local Goodwill, but if they are too worn to be reused they can be recycled into other products. Companies like Green Jeans Insulation and Bonded Logic manufacture insulation products from recycled denim and cotton fibers. The Grand Army Plaza and other local greenmarkets accept fabric donations as well.

► Read more about these less-known recycleables at Earth911