Goats on campus?

This morning, I saw a (small) herd of goats on campus. I was quite taken aback for a moment, then figured they must be there for landscaping purposes. I don’t know what exactly they were eating – this particular hill is mostly covered with vines and invasive-looking trees (which the goats were chewing the bark off of…).

It turns out there was a news feature on the goats!

CMU Goes Eco-Friendly, Brings In Goats To Landscape Overgrown Hillside

Apparently this particular hill is too steep and weedy for easy landscaping, hence the goats. I hope they get used for milk or meat!

A visitor! and patching

My older sibling C visited a few weeks ago. We did tons of cool things, starting with… the public library! It was sewing night, so I worked on the never-ending supply of holey clothing. Here are some of my recent patches!

Pocket was tearing off.
Back of patch.
Highly sophisticated machine darns where the corners of my wallet have started to wear through my jeans. I discovered that setting the stitch length to be the same length as the carries in the weave makes the patch blend in a lot better.
That linen shirt (homemade!) that continues to fall apart. I patched a huge worn spot where my backpack rubs.
Inside of the shirt. I’m trying to use up scraps of cloth first.

While I was patching, C looked at books, getting cool ones like:

Edible and Useful Plants of California by Charlotte Bringle Clarke, written in the ’70s for the back-to-nature movement, and

Handmade Pasta Workshop & Cookbook by Nicole Karr, which shows you how to make a dazzling array of pasta shapes, many of them machine-free!

Anti-spam apps

AT&T offers these apps (smartphone only) to help block fraudulent calls and phishing attempts.

PaperKarma is an app and associated service that help stop junk mail. You take a picture of the address label on junk mail and the app magically unsubscribes you from it. The app is free to download, but the actual service costs $2/month. So, save up your junk mail for a year and unsubscribe from it all at once?

Dumpster diving

Expired snacks put out on trash day. I got a previous load of food from the same house last year. I’m really enjoying the fruit leather. Everything else is meh.
Preserved lemons made from dumpster-dived lemons from an Austin Råndålls.

And the newest acquisition:

From the local CeeVeeSss’s dumpster. Includes some weird sauerkraut-tortilla chips. Other stuff I didn’t get: diapers, makeup sponges, shower scrubby.

New frontiers in boba!

Someone online said that no Bay Area boba establishment has turned them away for asking to use a non-disposable boba cup. That sounded amazing, so I implored sibling C (visiting) to attempt it for the first time. It was too nerve-wracking for me to try in untested waters.

When asked if it was okay to use a jar (wide-mouth quart jar in this case; pint jars wouldn’t be big enough for a normal serving of milk tea), the cashier not only agreed, but did so immediately without any weird looks! Maybe she just saw us coming and prepared herself, or maybe it’s common here! I will definitely do this at Teaspoon again 😀

A quart of milk tea. The bigger jar was awarded bonus tea!

I usually use the provided plastic boba straws (or wrapped ones that ended up on the ground that no one else wants), but am thinking of buying or making a reusable one. J and I get boba a couple times a month with friends, so it would make sense.

Do I avoid plastic?

I’ve been drafting this follow-up to the pros/cons of plastic post for a long time, but can’t quite articulate my thoughts (which probably means they are irrational…). This is my best attempt.

I try (although not suuuuuper hard) to avoid disposables, plastic or not. Plastic is of particular concern when in contact with food because of leaching concerns, but I also avoid multi-use plastic products. When buying something, I consider these characteristics:

  • Apparent quality. I perceive metal, wood, glass, and natural textiles to be higher quality than plastic. Part of this is correlation, since companies often make higher-quality products out of non-plastic (i.e. more expensive) materials, and part of it is an appeal to nostalgia and tradition.
  • Repairability.
  • Durability.
  • Recyclability/end-of-life concerns. If it breaks, will I be able to dispose of it so that it can be reused in some way?
  • Safety. Does it offgas? Does the material have a long history of use? Is there any doubt about the material’s safety? (That aluminum pressure cooker is still on probation.)
  • Does it have desirable qualities for the intended purpose? For example,
    • Plastic food storage isn’t dishwashable without a degradation in quality. For example, tupperware seals worse after enough dishwashes.
    • Cooking utensils must withstand high temperatures without degrading or melting. Plastic is particularly bad for this purpose.
    • Synthetic textiles often don’t breath well or age well (pilling, sagging, smells), although this is also true of low-quality natural fibers, and contribute to microfiber pollution during their lifetimes. They perform poorly in various late-in-life textile uses (e.g. you definitely want natural fiber rags), and often feel strange. They require polluting, sometimes toxic synthetic dyes, since most natural dyes won’t adhere to synthetic fibers.
  • Is there a good non-plastic, non-electronic, non-electric alternative available? E.g. Teflon pans are easily replaced with cast iron; plastic cooking utensils are easily replaced with metal or wood utensils.

The only areas I can think of where synthetics clearly win are in backpacking, where gear needs to be lightweight, flexible, and waterproof, and electronics.

I don’t avoid plastic entirely, but definitely lean away from it. If I need to buy something plastic, I try to buy it used. I avoid disposable plastics and plastic items that I know to be less than durable (e.g. Teflon cookware).

 

 

Why would one want to reduce plastic usage?

A friend asked why someone would want to reduce plastic usage. It’s an interesting question. Plastics are very useful (versatile, lightweight, long-lasting, relatively low carbon footprint), but there are people who want to avoid all plastics (see My Plastic-free Life, for example). In fact, a lot of people in the zero-waste community are anti-plastic to the extent that they replace functioning plastic reusables with items made of other materials (not the best thing to do, by the way!) .

Pros of plastic:

  • Doesn’t decompose in landfills, which makes plastic good for sequestering carbon. (FYI biodegradable and compostable materials are only worth using if you actually compost them. If you put them in the landfill, they will produce methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plastic, on the other hand, sequesters carbon basically indefinitely. It is ideal for landfills.)
  • “Natural” materials, such as paper and cotton, generally require more resources to produce than plastic (for example, although this apparently isn’t true for some types of synthetic fabrics, where the plastic has a small footprint, but processing is very resource-intensive), so plastic may be a better choice of material for single-use items (e.g. packaging, medical disposables).
  • Durable, in some ways. Unlike glass and ceramic, plastic doesn’t usually break when dropped. This can be good for storage containers. Plastic is also resistant to many caustic chemicals.
  • Plastics have amazing and varied characteristics. Transparent, yet flexible. Lightweight. Remoldable (sometimes). Cheap.
  • Plastic is lightweight, making it cheaper and less resource-intensive to ship.

Cons of plastic:

  • Leaches unknown and hazardous known chemicals at unknown concentrations into whatever it is containing or touching (e.g. BPA from receipts can be absorbed into your skin when you touch them), or off-gases into the air. See Plastic Free for detailed info + citations. I’m sure there are articles online as well.
  • Plastic additives are largely unregulated. Despite the recent hubbub over BPA and a lot of scary research, the FDA’s stance is that current levels of BPA in food are safe (despite the fact that endocrine disruptors may have stronger effects at lower doses (source). They even have inter-generational effects. For example, one study concluded that higher blood BPA concentrations in mouse mothers was correlated with “loss of sexual dimorphism in brain structure and behavior illustrated by animal studies, findings concordant with human epidemiological studies” (source, text). I can only wonder if BPA and other hormone-mimicking plasticizers are the cause of the apparent uptick in the number of transgender people.).
  • Made from a non-renewable resource (fossil fuels). Petroleum and plastic are incredibly valuable and irreplaceable resources that should be reserved for uses where they are not easily replaced (medical purposes, for example).
  • Supports the petroleum industry, which has a history of “downplay[ing] the significance of climate change [using approaches] copied from tobacco lobbyists” (source) and damaging the environment through extraction.
  • Difficult to reuse. For example, many plastics are porous and can’t be properly sanitized for reuse. Others leach additives faster as they degrade.
  • Can break down over time and via exposure to UV, causing brittleness, flaking, and leaching. Unfortunately, the tiny bits of plastic will still probably not degrade for several hundred years.
  • Difficult to repair (although this is definitely not unique to plastic).
  • Difficult to recycle. Only plastics 1 and 2 are commonly and easily recycled. Glass and metal, on the other hand, can be recycled indefinitely. Paper can generally by recycled 7 times until the fibers are too short and weak to be useful. (However, recycling in the US is not stellar for any material, largely because people want single-stream recycling for convenience. Unfortunately, this causes contamination due to materials being difficult to properly separate, so companies don’t want to use the recycled materials.)
  • Not biodegradable. Stick around a long time (100-1 million years, estimates vary and depend on type).
  • Cheap. Encourages thoughtless consumerism, fast fashion, unnecessary disposables, etc.
  • Have a propensity to become litter. Plastic in general is lightweight and easily blows out of trash bins. Film plastics are particularly aerodynamic.
  • Synthetic textiles are flammable. They also melt and release more-toxic-than-usual smoke when on fire, making them poor choices for high-heat uses (cooking and welding come to mind).

These problems can be largely ameliorated by refusing single-use plastics and by regulating plastics additives. Durable plastic goods are exempt from many of these issues.

And here’s a well-written post on reducing your carbon footprint. In summary: eat less meat (especially beef), insulate your home, and buy less stuff.