Fix Your Caffeine Fix.

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In the U.S., we’re pretty much all about convenience when it comes to our daily dose(s) of caffeine and it’s led to some pretty wasteful habits. EcoWatch points out that Starbucks alone “goes through 4 billion to-go cups annually but most of them end up in the landfill. Why? Even though these cups are mostly made of paper, these single-use items are almost never recycled or composted because they are lined with plastic.”

I’d never dare come between you and you’re morning joe, but I will suggest 10 ways you can cut the crap out of your caffeine fix.
1. Make it at home…

Making coffee or tea at home means you can control how it’s made, what it’s made of, and avoid unnecessary disposable packaging. Oh, and you’ll save some serious bucks.

Here’s a little thought experiment for you: Let’s assume you stop to buy a Tall drip coffee from Starbucks for $2.10 every morning on your way to work (even though I bet you spend more). Let’s also assume (conservatively) that you get 30 cups of coffee out of a nice $18 12 oz. bag of coffee beans. That home-brewed coffee will cost you only 60 cents per cup. Meaning, in one year, you’ll save at least $390 (that’s a round trip ticket to some really nice vacation spots), but likely even more if you opt for less expensive beans or you’ve buying something fancier than your basic drip. 

2. …but do NOT use disposable K-cups.

Hopefully this one comes as no surprise, but K-cups are terrible for our planet. So. Much. Non-recyclable. Plastic. So terrible that their creator has said, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” If you can’t bear the thought of parting with your Keurig, get yourself a reusable cup insert. If you still can’t bear the idea of the clean up, you can get biodegradable k-cup filters

3. Make it naked…

If you’re a coffee lover, brew yourself a french press to cut out the unnecessary disposables. It may take a minute or two longer and a bit more focus, but you might just transform your morning coffee from a routine to a ritual. A richer more flavorful cup of coffee is waiting for you.

Tea drinkers, consider loose leaf diffusers. They come in all shapes and sizes. You can add a brewing basket, ball tea infuser, or a tea pincer right into your morning mug. You can also get a teapotmug, or travel cup with a built-in infuser. If the lure of less waste and richer flavor isn’t enough for you to make the switch, consider the presence of toxic chemicals found in many tea bags: 

“Some tea bags are made with plastic, such as nylon, thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. While these plastics have high melting points, the temperature at which the molecules in polymers begin to break down is always lower than the melting point, which could allow the bags to leach compounds of unknown health hazards into your tea when steeped in boiling water…[they are] frequently treated with epichlorophydrin, which hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD when contact with water occurs. 3-MCPD is a carcinogen associated with food processing that has also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function.”

4. …or pick your filters wisely.

If you want to stick to your traditional drip coffee makers, there’s still a solution for you: swap out coffee filters with chlorine-free (yeah, the ones you have might have some of that on there), compostable filters. Tea drinkers: you can also swap out your tea bags with the chlorine-free, compostable kind.

Want to get fancy? Make yourself the perfect pour over coffee with this guide (certified by my colleague, an ex-barista) using a Chimex or a ceramic coffee dripper. Pro move: pair them with a reusable, hemp filter. Or, use unbleached, biodegradable paper filters. Pro+ move: use a stainless steel pour over filter and make it naked.

5. Choose Fair or Direct Trade coffee or tea…

Ok, so now we’ve got you making your morning cup at home, naked, or with better disposables. The next one is about the beans and leaves themselves: buy Fair-Trade or Direct-Trade certified. 

Fair-Trade: refers to a certification by Fair Trade USA. It ensures that the farmers behind the products are receiving fair labor conditions and minimum wages. The Fair Trade organization also helps farmers compete in global markets and provides “a framework for farms to increase their environmental sustainability.”

Direct-Trade: refers to roasters who buy their beans straight from the growers, cutting out the different middle men that typically sit between them (including certification institutions like Fair Trade). Often roasters will do this to develop a deeper, mutually-beneficial relationship with roasters, establish specific quality standards, all the while still setting minimum prices for the farmers. Intelligentsia is the pioneer of the Direct Trade movement within the coffee industry, but many others have followed on, including Counter Culture and Stumptown coffee roasters. Intelligentsia’s Direct Trade criteria is as follows:

Here’s a great table that compares the two. While both Fair and Direct Trade businesses aim to set standards that promote environmental and economic sustainability, more and more roasters are trending towards preferring Direct Trade because on top of all that, it also aims to yield more exceptional coffee.  

6. …and compost your coffee grounds or tea leaves.

Don’t throw out all those grounds/tea leaves after you brew. Compost them or throw them in your garden as a fertilizer. The grounds can lower the pH of the soil, which is great for plants that grow well in acidic soil (azaleas, hydrangeas). It can also deter certain garden pests. Rather than running out to the garden every morning, get yourself an airtight container to collect the grounds throughout the week, and then do a big dump on the weekend. 

Pro move: put out a composting container at the office and collect the grounds from all your coworkers throughout the week.

7. If you’re out and about, dine in and request a glass/ceramic cup. 

In the U.S. we’ve built a tendency towards multi-tasking on the run, and our coffee shops are catering to it with a highly-efficient to-go service experience. If you jump over the pond to Europe, you’ll see a completely different picture: people sitting in cafes with tea reading a newspaper, or standing at a counter sipping ceramic espresso mugs; they’ve preserved the experience. 

When you’re out and about, challenge yourself to take 15 minutes to dine in and enjoy your drink. And when you do, request a dine-in cup, because most cafes now default to to-go cups unless otherwise specified. 

8. If you gotta run, say no to disposable cups…

If you really need to take it to-go, at least say no to the disposables. Bring your own travel mug or thermos. If you don’t have one yet, buy one that’s made of natural or recyclable materials. Want something designed by baristas with style in mind? Check out KeepCup

9. …and plastic straws, stirrers and stoppers. 

We consume enough straws in the U.S. on a daily basis to fill over 140 school buses…That’s enough to wrap around the Earth about 2.5 times. We can’t recycle plastic straws, stirrers and stoppers because they’re too small, which means they end up in our water or landfills, and they stay there for a very long time.

Take the pledge to stop using plastic straws, and kindly let businesses know why you’re refusing. Don’t worry, if you’re a straw lover. You can still slurp away with a glass or steel straw (I’d recommend glass because you can tell if it’s clean). 

10. Pro move: ditch the creamers

Those little creamers you get at diners are loaded with preservative and funky chemicals, and come in non-recyclable plastic. If you need some dairy in your drink, be sure to find out whether it’s organic, otherwise you’re potentially facing a swath of hormones and other unknown additives. 

What else have you done to cut out waste from your caffeine fix? Drop me a note at unpacked.space@gmail.com.

photocred: @nickkarvounis

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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Consumer demand is an amazing thing. Good companies listen to their customers and innovative to meet them where they are; those who don’t are just a sinking ship. So, the more we buy sustainable, plastic-free, chemical-free products and reward those companies aligned with those values, the more pressure the rest of the market will feel to follow suit. Companies can ignore climate change agreements, but they can’t ignore their customers.

Simply put: if no one buys a plastic bottle, the plastic bottle manufacturer won’t have any good reason to keep making it. Whether you know it or not, you have this powerful thing at your finger tips called buying power – you can use it to vote with your wallet. You don’t need to buy stock in companies working hard to do the right thing in order to invest in them (although I’ll write about impacting investing soon); first and foremost, companies need loyal customers to grow.

The point: next time you need to buy something, pause and consider whether there’s a greener alternative, be it less packaging, more natural materials, or less of those complex chemical names in the ingredient list. Consider it an investment in a greener, cleaner future.

photocred: @neonbrand

Meet Meatless Mondays.

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Almost two years ago, I watched Racing Extinction and first learned about how harmful the livestock industry is on our Earth. I was so affected by what I heard that I decided to trial ditching meat with my sister. Turns out I didn’t really miss it and never went back.

Giving up meat completely just might not be an option for you and that’s OK. Each of our unique lifestyles make certain dietary choices harder than others. Because I travel frequently, I’ve opted to keep fish in the equation to ensure I get enough protein when I’m on the road. My boyfriend decided he wasn’t ready to give up meat entirely, but could give up all red meat. We don’t need to bring everything down to zero in order to make a positive impact. Consider Meatless Mondays and see where that gets you.

If you haven’t heard of Meatless Mondays your parents or grandparents may have. It’s genesis was actually during World War I when the U.S. Food Administration wanted to reduce the certain foods to support the war effort. At that time, over 13 million families signed a pledge to participate in the campaign.

In 2003, a health advocate named Sid Lerner, brought Meatless Mondays back into the public sphere in an effort to draw attention to the impact of meat on both our health and our planet. Since then it’s blossomed into a global movement – one that you can participate in free of charge (you might actually save a little money in the process).

According to The Earth Day Network,

  1. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide – more than the entire transportation sector!
  2. Producing meat also requires a huge amount of water
  3. The livestock industry also uses almost 50% of the corn produced in the United States as feed for the animals.
  4. And if the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

So why Mondays? Alliteration aside, research has shown that Mondays are a great day to make positive changes. Not to mention, we all tend to indulge a bit on the weekends – your body will thank you when you eat a bit lighter as you enter into the week. So, give it a shot, take the pledge (and tell your friends to keep the movement going).

photocred: @mikeanderson

Plastics: What Do The Numbers Mean?

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While we should try to avoid plastic as much as possible, it’s still important to know what’s behind those recycling symbols on plastic labels.

First things first: that three arrow symbol that appears on labels is called the Mobius Loop. It’s an internally recognized symbol that means something is capable of being recycled, not necessarily that it will be recycled; that’s dependent on local recycling systems.

When it comes to plastics, you’ll see the Mobius symbol with a number inside of it known as the Resin Identification Code. This designates the type of resin in the plastic, which also tells us…

  • whether it’s likely to be accepted by recycling systems,
  • what it’s likely to become,
  • and if it’s potentially harmful.

A few quick rules of thumb:

  • Numbers 2, 4, and 5 are regarded as the “safe” plastics.
  • In the past 4 and 5 were not widely accepted by curbside recycling, so check your local recycling programs before you give them the green light.  
  • Numbers 3, 6 and 7 could contain additives, so you want to stay away from those.
  • If possible, it’s best to also avoid 1, as bacteria has been known to accumulate in this type of plastic.

The deets:

Plastic #1 (PETE, PET): Most soda and water bottles are made of #1. With repeated use, it has the potential to accumulate bacteria. Unfortunately, one it’s contaminated, cleaning it for reuse requires harsh chemicals. Typically, PET is recycled into new bottles or spun into fiber to be used in textiles (e.g. carpet or fleece).

Plastic #2 (HDPE): Typically #2 is used in food, cleaning, and toiletry containers. It is the most commonly recycled plastic because the process to turn it into secondary uses is general simple and cheap. It’s also generally considered as the safest plastic category. 

Plastic #3 (PVC): When you see “3” think “PPP” – PVC is the Poison Plastic. Even though it stands up to weather and sunlight, it contains toxins that leach over it’s lifetime. For that reason, virgin material must be used for household applications, meaning less than 1% it is recycled. Be sure to avoid any #3 products when it comes to food or baby products. 

Plastic #4 (LDPE): Most plastic wraps, films, soft containers, and in some cases textiles, are made of #4. It’s safe, but historically it hasn’t been accepted by local recycling programs

Plastic #5 (PP): Those plastic liners in cereal boxes are made of #5. So are diapers, chip bags, bottle caps, and straws because it holds up great against moisture and grease. Like #4 it’s also safe, but, only about 3% of #5 products are currently being recycled.

Plastic #6 (PS): Also known as styrofoam, #6 is used in take-out food containers and insulation materials, such as packing peanuts. Believe it or not, #6 makes up for roughly 35% of landfill material. Worse yet, because it’s so lightweight, it’s easy for it to disperse within the natural environment if it reaches landfills (how many times have you seen styrofoam washed up on the beach?). It gets worse: especially when subjected to heat, it has the potential to leach harmful chemicals. The final kicker: it’s still not widely accepted among most recycling programs. So seriously, avoid this completely. 

Plastic #7 (Other – BPA, Polycarbonate, etc): This is the category for all non-standard plastics. BPA, a endocrine disrupter, falls into this category. While not all #7 products contain BPA, unless a a #7 product explicitly states it’s “BPA free”, you’re still running the risk. A potential point of confusion: compostable plastics are classified at #7; they should not be tossed in the recycling bin, they should be composed. The remainder of #7 plastics are not recyclable. 

When I first learned all this, it felt like it was a lot to process and remember. So, in the moments when I have to use plastic, I memorized “245” as a way to, at a minimum, remember the plastics that are considered safe. Take ten minutes to know what you can recycle and commit the nasty plastics to memory – your body and our earth thanks you.

photocred: @carsonarias

The Sneaky Economics Behind Recycling.

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Disclaimer: if economics isn’t you forte, I promise I’ll make this simple.

I used to think that if I put my plastic bottle in the recycling bin, it guaranteed that it would get new life; I assumed that local governments were guardians of landfills. I know, looking back, that was a terrible assumption for a lot of reasons. The truth is, economics is a driving force behind whether or not that bottle actually gets a new life.

The skinny: The recycling industry is a for-profit business, just like your Walmarts and Chipotles. In fact, it’s a 200 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone. Meaning, it’s a big game of supply and demand. Whether or not something gets recycled depends on if there’s a buyer of the material. In order for there to be a buyer, the cost of the recyclable material (including the cost to transport it) must be less than the cost to produce it new. When oil prices swing low and the cost of industrial production plummets, it becomes cheaper to just produce new material. In that case, we end up with a pretty bleak situation: all those plastic water bottles head straight for the trash while we burn some extra fossil fuel to create new ones.

Plastic is one of the biggest culprits since it’s become so cheap to make. So, rather than trying to track fluctuating oil prices or predict whether or not your plastic will actually get recycled, try to avoid plastic all together. If you can’t utilize a reusable bottle, opt for aluminum (it can be recycled indefinitely!) or glass.

The beauty in plastic avoidance: ultimately we as consumers are driving demand. If we stop buying (demanding) it, they won’t have reason to supply it.

photocred: @umanoide