Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day 4b: But It Doesn't Help to go Dancing

Well, folks, I fell off the wagon. It happened tonight when I attended my dance lesson. After teaching stats at 6:45pm on Thursdays, I go to Dan O'Day's Ballroom for my group lesson, which starts at 7:15pm. Tonight, we covered the foxtrot and swing, which was fun (but that's besides the point). And after the group lesson, there's a party from 8pm to 10pm.

So all that's to say is that I was absolutely starving by 9pm. And it's at this point when I began committing the following infractions:

1. I used 4 paper towels tonight (two trips to the girl's room).

2. I had refreshments and ended up using one styrofoam plate, one plastic fork, one napkin, and one plastic cup.

3. I threw those disposable products in their trash bin since I forgot to bring my own trash bag with me.

So there you have it. I'm not proud of this, but I'm not going to give up on myself so quickly. Tomorrow's another day, another chance to hop back on the wagon.

Day 4a: It Helps to Work From Home

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I spend half of the day working from home, which means generating much less waste because I'm not using disposable products as often. So far, I've added two paper towels to the bag this afternoon. And that's it. Honestly, the real challenge for me has been trying to write an interesting blog about this experience!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Day 3: The Bag's Bulging (a little bit)

Well, the bag's gaining a little girth: In addition to my growing paper-towel collection, I'm now carrying a salad bag and a cereal bag. Yah, and more floss was added to the bag.

I decided to bring my bag to my statistics class this morning. I think some of my students were somewhat amused that I would collect data on my garbage. A student asked me if I was reusing my paper towels--I am--as I told my student, those paper towels were used to dry my clean hands, so it doesn't bother me to reuse them, especially now that I'm carrying them with me everywhere I go.

I also showed my students my data-collection sheet and told them I would conduct some descriptive stats on these numbers. I don't think they were too impressed by my penchant to run the numbers, but I told them how this challenge has really made me become more deliberate about my behaviors (i.e., what I choose to do--and not do--like eat chicken wings--I am not going to carry around chicken bones in my bag for a week!). And it really has challenged the notion of throwing my garbage away and forgetting about it. A few students nodded in agreement. I wonder if any of my students would participate in Tess' Trash Challenge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Day 2: Paper Towel Waste

So far, there's not a lot of trash data for me to report. Yesterday I used six paper towels, 1 coffee stirrer, and dental floss. (Thanks for the coffee-stirrer tip, Meghan!)

And today, I've used only two paper towels. That's it. Really. And the only reason why my paper-towel usage has declined today is because I worked from home this morning, so I used a cloth towel for drying my hands.

Ho hum, these data are not compelling. (I know, I know, I should probably be rejoicing for not generating a lot of waste!)

But I was confronted with a challenge last night when I went out to dinner. I was determined to eat everything on my plate--I didn't want to stow uneaten food in my bag, nor did I want to carry a styrofoam container after I was done with my leftovers. With that in mind, I ordered curry fries and a steak salad. Not bad, though with the size of food portions these days, I was quite stuffed afterwards. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I was still full from last night's meal!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Data Crunching w/ Trash

Beth from Fake Plastic Fish has encouraged me to join the Tess' Trash Challenge from American Public Media. I had been debating on whether to join this trash challenge for a couple of days, but with a little prodding, I decided to participate. I guess I figured this really wouldn't be a challenge for me; I already compost my food waste, reuse items regularly, and recycle like a fiend. I know I'm beating the national average when it comes to generating waste. (Each day, a person generates about 4.5-6 lbs of trash.)

But maybe I'm being overly confident about my trash collection. (This is me playing Devil's Advocate with myself--gosh, am I my own worst critic or what?) Besides, I reasoned, I love statistics. So why not track how much trash I generate? I've decided to collect my garbage data for exactly one week, starting today. So far, I've used three paper towels and one coffee stirrer. (I may actually hang on to that coffee stirrer for later use. Lord knows I need the coffee!)

So let's see what'll happen this week as I become more cognizant of my trash--yah, here's the catch: As part of the challenge, you're supposed to carry your trash with you throughout the day. I've stowed my garbage in a compostable bag, which you can see in the photo. Now I'm no goody-two shoes...because I'm throwing away items that will end up in the landfill, including that bag, there's no chance for that bag to decompose. (Landfills lack sufficient oxygen for biodegration, so I might have well have used a plastic bag.)

local cloth bag resource

I went to the farmers market today (here in the bend). They have a sweet little booth devoted to selling wonderful cloth shopping bags. For $2 each!!! Printed on the front-"one bag at a time" yea baby! They had a lot of nice colors to pick from. Each bag holds 5 whopping pounds. They have a little insert for the bottom to make it nice and flat. These suckers will not tip over in the car! They don't scrunch up to fit nicely in your purse or what not, but other than that I am enjoying mine greatly. I haven't tried them on the meijer bag carousel yet however. They also have a website What a great idea at the market! I wonder how many people will get one just to have a market purchase container, only to return home thinking about other way in which to use the bag.

Anyways, I thought I'd finally post rather than passively absorbing all the info. I was starting to feel like a cyber stalker!

Thanks, Michelle, for who knows how long it would have taken me to wise up about plastic bags had it not been for you! It feels very good to use my cloth bags!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Are We Talking Past Each Other?

Mike Tidwell wrote another guest essay for Grist magazine, this time in response to a commentary written by social scientists who took issue with Tidwell's first essay on voluntary actions not being enough to fix the climate problem.

Tidwell writes:

[The social scientists] accused me -- wrongly -- of dismissing altogether the virtues of voluntary change. As I type this essay from my solar-powered house, with a Prius in the driveway and a vegetarian lunch in the oven, I assure you I view voluntary measures as very important. They just won't save us in time, that's all. The Arctic ice is melting way too fast.
So, are we talking past each other?

Voluntary actions AND legislative changes are needed if we are going to effectively solve the climate problem. (To be clear, this is not an either/or issue.) I think what Tidwell is saying that voluntary action, though necessary, is not sufficient. But in raising the collective consciousness for political action, I think he inadvertently downplayed the role of voluntary action.

The bottom line (I think) is that we're on the same page. But now I'm wondering if the disconnect between Tidwell and the social scientists is how we're communicating this point. I just hope that in communicating this message, we find a way to express our ideas in a cohesive manner.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Martin's: A Test Case for Recycling Plastic Bags

Since I first started blogging about plastic bags last year, I learned that Wal-Mart was the only store in my area that recycles plastic bags. I also discovered that Martin's grocery store used to recycle plastic bags, but they stopped the program in 2001.

Well, Martin's is making a comeback. They're running a test case at one of the store locations (for those of you who live in South Bend, the store is located on Ireland Rd.).

Piqued by this information, I called Martin's this morning to find out where they ship their bags for recycling. (To date, the state of Indiana does not have facilities for recycling plastic bags, so these bags have to be shipped to other states for recycling.)

I spoke with Frank Leddy, the store manager. According to Frank, Waste Management collects the bags. "Do you know where the bags are shipped to after Waste Management picks them up?," I asked. He didn't.

That's okay. I'm friends with Susan O'Brien, who's the Account Manager of Waste Management. So I gave her a call and left her a message. Hopefully, she'll be able to give me the skinny about Martin's recycling program. I'm really curious to know more about this recent development! And of course, I'll let you know what I find out as I gain more information about Martin's recycling test case. :0)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Do You Live in a Cool City?

Originally uploaded by mverges
Turns out, Step it Up 2007 has partnered with Sierra Club's Cool Cities (

What's Cool Cities? Basically, these are cities throughout the U.S. that are committed to reducing global warming.

Saugatuck, MI, for instance, is listed as a cool city. South Bend, unfortunately, is not (yet).

So, do you live in a Cool City? Click on the cool-city link from this post to find out! :0)

(And here's a photo of Sean showing us how Saugatuck deals with its pet waste by offering dog owners free biodegrable bags.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Experimentaholic here.

It has just come to my attention that despite the fact that my university claims to have "one of the most successful recycling programs in the nation" my specific campus does not recycle plastic, metal, or paper waste. This is not to say that we don't have recycling bins - we have plenty and they are quite visible, but apparently all the waste in these bins end up in the same dumpster that is carted to the landfill. I call this process 'fauxcycling.' because it gives my university all the appearance of being concerned about the environment...without all the inconvenience of actually being concerned about the environment. I always wondered why the custodian who comes around my office dumps my paper recycling in with the trash - now I know: it is because it costs $200 a month to hire a company to come around and collect the waste, and it would inconvenience the custodians to have to make multiple trips or keep separate containers for the various kinds of recycled waste.

The worst thing about a university is that it is a bureaucracy of otherwise intelligent people who would rather not be part of a bureacracy (figure that one out). I am sure most of us have long thought that we have been recycling all this time, while in reality, all we have been doing is wasting the plastic bags used to line the recycling bins. It is disturbing that all along, under the guise of doing something positive to improve the environment, all we have been doing is contributing to the waste (yet looking so good!). It makes me want to throw those recycling bins in the trash just to make a statement.

So my question to the readers of this blog is this: how many cases of faux recycling do you know about, or have personal experience with? Do you know where your recycling goes? And how does one address this and get facilities or mantainance to start recycling?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Translating Personal Into Collective Actions

This weekend, I received a phone call from StepItUP2007. They're calling folks across the country, asking people to get organized, take action, and participate in the National Day of Climate Action on Nov. 3rd. The purpose of this nationwide rally is to grab our political leaders and candidates' attention and ask them to do something about bringing the U.S. into a clean energy future.

In the next two weeks, I'll be attending the Recycling and Sustainability Club meetings on my campus. I'm going to make a few announcements about this event so I can determine who wants to help me organize this rally at IU South Bend. I'm also going to ask student members of the Environmental Justice League Club for their support and involvement with this effort.

Lately, there's been a debate on whether voluntary behaviors have any effect on the environment. For the most part, this debate has focused on personal-lifestyle behaviors (e.g., using energy-efficient lightbulbs). Maybe it's time we broaden our focus. Why not translate our personal actions into collective actions? Sure, it means stepping outside of our individualistic comfort zone, but it also gives us the opportunity to collaborate with others who share the common goal of protecting the environment.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tag, I'm It!

Okay, so Beth from Fake Plastic tagged me to participate in the 8 Random Things About Me meme. I figured this would be a nice reprieve from my usual postings about plastic bags. And as Beth mentioned in her comment, this could even be fun. So, to participate in this meme, the first thing I'm supposed to do is post the rules:

1) Post these rules before you give your facts

2) List 8 random facts about yourself

3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them

4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged.

And now, here are 8 random things about me:

1. I have Batrachophobia. This means that I am terrified (absolutely terrified!!) of frogs. I've been deathly afraid of frogs since I was a child, thanks to my brother who would chase me around with buckets of frogs. This is how I learned to ride a bike--my brother chasing me with a fricken frog and me hopping on the bike trying to flee from him in horror. Of course, I didn't realize I had developed a phobia until I was in high school. To my chagrin, this phobia lingered on into college. It's actually the reason why I'm a psychologist and not a pediatrician. When I was a biology/pre-med student at the University of Georgia, I was told that I had to dissect a frog in my biology lab. Too embarrassed to tell the teaching assistant about my phobia, I withdrew from the course and changed my major to psychology. Please, please don't tell me that frogs are harmless. I already know that--that's the thing with phobics--all rationality goes out the window.

2. When I was three-years-old, I dreamed that I would grow up to become Wonder Woman. That, of course, never happened. But I still love watching episodes of Wonder Women to this day.

3. I was born in Puerto Rico, but raised in the South. When I was two-years-old, my family moved to Texas. We also lived in Kentucky for a couple of years, and by the time I was ten-years-old, we moved to Georgia. As a result, whenever I speak Spanish, I sound like a "gringo" (i.e., an American). I don't have a Puerto Rican accent at all. In fact, I learned how to speak Spanish in high school. (My father didn't want us to speak Spanish at home.) To be honest, speaking Spanish is a mixed blessing. I'm glad I can speak Spanish with my relatives, but I don't like speaking Spanish with other people. I guess I've been teased one too many times. I've lost count as to the number of times people have told me I'm not a "real" Puerto Rican.

4. I'm the oldest out of five children. I have two brothers (Raphael & Joel) and two sisters (Erica & Rachelle). Rachelle is the only sibling who lives in Puerto Rico. The rest of the bunch live in Georgia. And they all work at Mood Lounge, which is located in Buckhead (Atlanta). My brother Raphy is the general manager, Erica is a bartender, and Joel is a bar back. I'm so jealous--I wish I could join the gang and work with them at Mood. :0)

5. I'm turning 30 on October 4th! I've really not felt any dread about reaching this birthday milestone. In fact, I'm looking forward to celebrating the big 3-0 with my friends here in South Bend! One anticipated highlight will be dancing the waltz with my dance instructor, Dan O'Day. Because everyone who attends these dance parties will be watching us, I've been very motivated to learn how to dance the waltz accurately and gracefully!!

6. I got braces put on my teeth two-months ago. (And I've been bitter about this ever since!) But here's the rub: Not only do I have to wear these braces for two years, next summer I'm having surgery to "correct" my jaw. In other words, my lower jaw will be broken! I'm meeting with the oral surgeon soon--he'll be able to tell me whether I'll need to have my jaws wired shut after the surgery or not. I think it's a two-month recovery period. Not fun, that's for sure. As you can imagine, I'm already planning for my hiatus next summer.

7. I don't have a middle name. All my other siblings do, but not me. I guess my father figured that naming his first-born daughter after a Beatles song should suffice. And come to think of it, my first and last name is French. Verges in polite French conversation has two meanings: orchard. And penis. Please don't ask me about the penis reference. To make matters worse, my second last name is De Jesus. Go figure.

8. I played the clarinet (and the bass clarinet) in the school band. Yes, I was a band geek! :0) To this day, I'm grateful for the experience. My music background has come in handy with my dance lessons; I can hear the rhythm, the strong and soft beats, quite easily. Maybe one day, I'll play the clarinet again.

Ok, now I'm tagging:

Closet Environmentalist
Blue Monster
Merry Meghan
Modern Day Shmoozing
One Bulb at a Time

(I know I should have tagged eight blogs, but I could only think of six!!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Social Scientists Respond to Grist Letter

Mike Tidwell certainly ruffled some feathers when he argued that voluntary actions aren't enough to protect the environment and that political legislation is necessary to fix the climate problem.

I was quite discouraged by this report. But thankfully, several bloggers like Beth in the Plastic Fish Tank, Experimentaholic, and Merry Meghan, as well as social scientists from Conservation Psychology, provided me with moral support and encouragement.

I think Tidwell was right when he said political action is needed to make significant changes in reducing global warming. But as I said in a recent comment, political and personal actions should not be considered as mutually-exclusive endeavors. This isn't an either/or situation: Both actions are necessary for making significant changes in our environment.

Anyway, the good news is that several conservation psychologists recently pulled together to write a response to Mike Tidwell's report. The response letter was published in Grist this week. It's entitled "The power of voluntary actions," and I hope you take a moment to read it. If anything, the Tidwell report challenged and strengthened my beliefs concerning the environment. Honestly, I'm grateful for this experience; it's good to be challenged and reminded why we do the things we do to protect the environment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bagonaut Triumphs!!

Egan "Bagonaut" Sanders sent me the latest press release concerning the Big Bag Event he hosted last weekend. Here's an excerpt:

Donned in his canvas bago-suit and helmet, self-proclaimed “Bagonaut” Egan Sanders emerged from BIGBAG1 at noon on Sunday, Sept 9th ending his 24 hour environmental odyssey. Bagonaut slowly descended an external ladder as the crowd of onlookers cheered. Moments later, he planted a large flag of the Earth into the ground and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for Bagonaut, one giant leap for reusable shopping bags!”

In addition, I received a small gift from Bagonaut today--a reusable canvas bag! I can tell this bag can easily carry groceries. It's mighty hefty! And the other cool feature about this bag is that there's a pouch to hold your belongings (i.e., wallet, keys, and so on).

That's me posing with my new bag. Sorry for the poor image quality; this photo was taken using my cell phone! Anyway, to read Bagonaut's latest press release, click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I gave my friend Dan some reusable bags about two months ago. He sent me this photo to prove to me that he's finally used his bags. Sweet!! Welcome to the club!! :0)

Our Plastic Waterfall

I must still be primed from the recent discussion concerning the use of disposable water bottles. This video does a nice job illustrating how much water-bottle waste is generated and subsequently trashed into landfills in contrast to the number of water bottles that are recycled. I think this visual illustration helps us comprehend what happens to those 28 billion water bottles after we're done drinking from them. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little flick!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bagonaut's Big Bag Event

This morning, I received a surprise call from none other than Bagonaut himself! I was so happy to hear that the Big Bag Event was a success. Over 1,000 people attended. As promised, the Mayor of San Angelo and the State Representative also came to the festival. Bagonaut was even blessed by a local Bishop!

In just 24-hours, 1200 reusable bags were given away to festival attendants and 3700 lbs of food were collected for charity. Wow, that's tremendous!!

And of course, Bagonaut was the star of the show! He was crane-lifted 80ft into the world's largest reusable bag. And he stayed in that bag for 24-hours. What a brave man!!

But on a more serious note, we both discussed why raising awareness about the consumption of plastic bags is important. "It's planting seeds," Bagonaut said.

And consistent with the growing plant metaphor is the idea of sustaining this momentum. Bagonaut has a few ideas on how to continue this project. One idea is to have a "Bagonette." Hmm, I wonder who might be the lucky girl to take on that role?? ;0)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

GreenFest in Philly!!

My friend Sean sent me a couple photos from today's GreenFest in Philadelphia. I'm jealous--this festival is only 50 feet away from his apartment. Lucky guy!! So, for the time being, I guess I'll have to live vicariously through Sean.

Here's a photo that raised an eyebrow (at least for me):

Hmm, using plastic water bottles at an environmental event?? tsk, tsk...they should be using reusable bottles made from aluminum or non-leaching plastic, and/or disposable cups made from cornstarch.

Surely, these folks know that drinking water from disposable plastic bottles is problematic. According to the Consumer Recycling Institute, Americans consume an estimated 28 billion bottles of water each year. And it shouldn't surprise us that 80% of used water bottles get trashed into landfills, slowly leaching toxins into the environment for hundreds of years.

Okay, but before I get too persnickity, here's an alternative to trashing a used plastic bottle. Create a bird feeder!

It's apparently easy to make, though I'll let Sean provide the instructions on how to create this bird feeder.

You know what? Enough of this vicarious posting!! Here's Sean to tell us more about GreenFest:

Greenfest was a wonderful event, and I am proud that local residents are emphasizing this important issue. However, I think that there were several problems with the festival that need to be addressed in the future. For one, and if you know me, you know that I am into counting things; of the 120 booths I walked by, 90 of them were staffed by people drinking water out of plastic bottles. This seemed to me to be a bit disingenuous. Philadelphia tap water is known to be one of the best tap waters of the country, but instead of tapping (pardon the pun) into that resource, these individuals were drinking filtered tap water from plastic bottles, the same filtered water that I get from my own tap.

In addition, there were many people on the street handing out glossy pamphlets on heavy cardboard stock, and I was a bit perturbed by this. Given that the festival was about the environment, I was surprised that so many people were walking around handing out their position papers on expensive, hard to recycle paper. And there was an artist there who made a life-size human sculpture out of food...such as pumpkins and squash. I wondered whether that food would be better on a table as opposed to on the street.

So as much as I appreciated GreenFest, I think that there could be several improvements for future events. For one, having water stations where people could fill their aluminum or glass bottles as opposed to using thousands of plastic bottles. Another would be for the people who have booths at this event to not bring their materials in their SUVs...the neighborhood is filled with these big sports utility vehicles that are great for carrying sample solar panels but only provide 10 miles to the gallon. Finally, I think that there needs to be more thought and analysis into how to get people to make better decisions in respect to the environment and understand how to make people reduce their waste and their impact on the environment. Hopefully, such studies would shed light on how people understand the relationship between their economic and social practices and how that influences the environment.

Anyway, one thing I did see in the booths was how to make a bird feeder from a plastic bottle. Basically what you do is you get a soldering iron and burn a few holes in a plastic soda bottle so that you can pass a wooden dowel through the holes. Then, about an inch above the dowels, you burn another hole in the bottle so that the birds can eat the seed. You then use a funnel to pour bird seed into the bottle and make sure that no birdseed falls though the holes you burned into the plastic. You can alternatively use an exacto knife to cut the holes because I am not sure how wise it is to burn holes into plastic bottles in terms of the smoke that is formed from doing so. You hand this on a tree outside your home and you have an instant bird fill it through the top opening of the feeder and hang it on a tree by wrapping some string around he mouth of the bottle. I am not sure whether this results in the best bird feeder out there (beware of squirrels) but it is one way of reusing a plastic bottle in a creative way, and a good project for young children.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tomorrow is Bagonaut's Big Day!

Bagonaut's big day is tomorrow!! I really wish I could transport myself to San Angelo, TX to attend this event. In case you haven't heard, Egon "Bagonaut" Sanders has organized a Big Bag Event to raise public awareness on the consumption of plastic bags. As with any big event, there will be fun activities (e.g., live music, film festival) and insightful discussions about this issue for kids and adults. Bagonaut is also giving away free reusable bags for anyone who donates a canned food item for charity. Plus, the Mayor and State Representative will be in attendance to provide their support--good, we need this kind of political support. People need to know that these environmental issues is everybody's problem, and that everyone needs to pitch in to reduce the negative impact we're imposing on the environment.

And who wants to miss the greatest spectacle of all? Bagonaut will be lowered by crane into the world's largest reusable bag. He'll remain in this bag for 24-hours nonstop starting at 12pm tomorrow!

Good luck, Bagonaut!!! I am sending you positive thoughts and wishing you success for tomorrow's Big Bag Event! :0)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Baroda Fest

I would just like everyone to know that I will be in my town of Baroda, Mi this Sat from 10am-5pm having a craft booth. Let us hope the weather will be good. I will have most of my craft items for sale. So bring the wallet or plastic (visa, mastercard, discover, amex); hope to see some of you there. Thanks Jennifer,

This Really Is TMI...

Too much information, that is. And especially if you're a guy, you may want to stop reading this post right about now!! (Or consider yourself fairly warned, this post is about menstration.)

There, that ought to have scared all the guys away from this post! :0) So, okay, I finally joined hundreds of other women out there who have switched from using tampons to the DivaCup.

And why has this taken me months to make the switch?

Honestly, I was very, very apprehensive (ok, scared! There I said it!) to make this change. But I finally buckled down this morning and did it. And you know what? It works like a charm! I'm not kidding. I'm really amazed with this product. It's much, much better than using tampons. Seriously! But I totally understand if you feel squeamish for making this change--just remember, it's really not as bad as you might think. To read other reviews about this product from women all over the country, check-out the comments posted on Crunchy Chicken's blog here.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Voluntary Actions Aren't Good Enough

In today's Grist Magazine, I read a provocative article by Mike Tidwell who argues that voluntary actions aren't good enough to solve the climate problem.

I think he may be right.

And it's downright troubling for me to think that my personal attempts to reduce, reuse, and recycle may have no effect on reducing the so-called "ecological footprint" or resolving the current climate crisis we're facing.

So, if personal action is not enough to combat global warming, then what's the alternative solution? To find out about Mike Tidwell's suggestion, click here to read his report.