Extended Producer Responsibility, etc

Here are more resources related to corporate responsibility and extended producer responsibility:

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition “promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry”. They write various articles on green electronics, including how to recycle and proposed laws.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics campaigns for the removal of toxic and harmful ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. The website includes information about what ingredients to look out for.

The Environmental Working Group does a lot of different stuff. Broadly, EWG monitors ingredients and contaminants in products that consumers use, including food, water, electronics, etc. The company promotes safe and sustainable products, and they produce many different consumer guides to help do this. EWG is most famous for their extensive Skin Deep cosmetics database, which includes extensive ingredient information and safety ratings.

The Bottle Bill Resource Guide compiles information about regions of the world with current or proposed bottle bills. Bottle bills (or container deposit laws) require consumers to pay a small, refundable deposit for every bottle purchased. When the bottle is returned for recycling or reuse, the deposit is returned. Bottle bills significantly boost recycling rates. Here’s a cool history of the switch from reusable to disposable bottles and cans.

How to use a handkerchief

A lot of y’all probably know that I use handkerchiefs in place of (disposable) tissues. I find them very convenient and, since they’re such a foreign concept to most people, I want to explain the ins and outs of their use and care!

What do you use hankies for?

I treat hankies as a cross between a tissue and a cloth napkin. I use them to blow my nose, and occasionally wipe my hands and mouth, but appropriate use varies by culture. For example, in Japan, it is rude to use your handkerchief to blow your nose (or to blow your nose in public at all); handkerchiefs are meant only for drying sweat or your hands. And in the US, handkerchiefs are just not used (except in hanky code by the gay and BDSM communities), so there is no particular etiquette I am aware of.

How many handkerchiefs do you need?

I carry one handkerchief in my pocket every day. I use it until it gets too dirty, then I switch it for a new one. Unless I’m sick, I usually use the same one for a week. I carry a couple backups in my backpack in case I suddenly get hit with allergies, or a friend needs a tissue.

I have about 20 hankies in my personal collection, but that’s way more than I need for day-to-day use. If you’re gonna switch to tissues for a really runny nose, 5-7 hankies should be fine for the rest of the time.

What do you do when you’re sick?

I use hankies when I’m sick too! I’ve never needed more than my 20 hankies in a single day. If it looks like I’m going to run out, I wash some handkerchiefs by hand and let them dry overnight to use the next day.

How do you wash handkerchiefs?

You can wash hankies either by hand, or by machine in a mesh lingerie bag. I usually put mine in with the rest of my laundry. In either case, unfold each hankie and soak in water for a few hours before washing. This rehydrates dried mucus so that it can be washed off 🙂 Handkerchief fabric is very lightweight so they dry very fast. I always airy dry them.

Where do you get hankies? What should they be made of?

My handkerchief collection is all from my maternal grandparents’ estate. My grandparents had a huge number of handkerchiefs and bandanas. Apparently, they had grown up using handkerchiefs (during the Great Depression) and continued to do so until disposable tissues took hold.

Some of my collection. Almost all are embroidered. Some have crocheted or tatted edging. A few have handmade lace!

Because of the switch to tissues, there are lots of old hankies available at thrift stores, antique stores, creative reuse stores (I’d say this is your best bet), and on eBay. You can use thin woven fabric, like a bandana, or t-shirt material.

The fabric should be natural (cotton and linen are common) and not a satin weave – your snot will slide right off 🙂 (Pocket squares make poor handkerchiefs because they’re usually made of glossy fabric.) A color or patten will help hide stains. If you’re worried you’ll look weird using a hankie, use white ones; they’ll look just like tissues.

How do you fold handkerchiefs?

I fold mine into sixteenths (in half, in half hamburger-style, in half the same direction, then in half hamburger-style again) to make a sort of “book”.

Each time I use the hankie, I use a “page” of the book so that I have a new surface available. I use the main fold of the hankie booklet for wiping my mouth so that I can keep food and mucus separate. To keep the outside of the hankie clean, don’t use its “cover”.

A lot of people think hankies are gross, but you’ll be fine if you’re used to washing other cloth items that come in contact with bodily fluids, like cloth menstrual pads, cloth napkins, even underwear. If it really bothers you, you can also use each hanky just once before washing (but then you’ll need a lot).

Good luck!

Unsubscribe from Xfinity marketing emails?

I have Xfinity (Comcast) internet and, unfortunately, part of signing up is getting sales emails that are impossible to unsubscribe from. The emails include an “unsubscribe” link, but it sends you to a webpage with an “unsubscribe” button that doesn’t actually do anything. Maybe if you click the button a bunch you’ll forget that you’re getting unwanted spam…

I contacted Customer Service to try to get unsubscribed (and told multiple representatives that the Xfinity unsubscribe tool doesn’t work) – we’ll see how that turns out. I figure I can just keep bothering them until they finally get it fixed.

Let me know if you’ve managed to fix this particular problem! I’d be glad for tips!

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?

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.

Did you know that you can stop getting the Yellow Pages?

A past tenant of the apartment really liked mail subscriptions. We got one of her Victoria’s Secret catalogues today, which then had to be dealt with (I sent Victoria’s Secret an email requesting to be removed from their mailing list).

While looking for an unsubscribe tool for Victoria’s Secret, I discovered that you can unsubscribe from the Yellow Pages phone book, which are huuuuuge. You first have to make an account at the linked website, then go to the “Select which directories you receive” page. Although the page has an “Opt out from all” button, it doesn’t do anything… You have to manually toggle the number next to each directory to 0, meaning 0 copies delivered. Let’s hope it works!

Better phone options

Electronic devices never seem to last very long. The fancier they get, the shorter their usable lifetimes (think smartphones vs flip phones).

Planned obsolescence is a major part of this. It is manifest in such design choices as soldering the battery to the phone case, or putting the battery underneath the motherboard. Doing this makes it really hard to replace the battery. You can’t do it yourself, so you have to pay someone else to do it. The difficulty of the repair makes it more expensive and more likely to break or damage something else in the device. You probably won’t be able to replace the battery more than once.

Next time you’re in the market for a phone, keep these things in mind to get a longer-lasting mobile phone. Basically,

  • if feasible for your needs, get a simple phone
  • consult the iFixit list of phones by repairability (notice that the newest highly repairable phone is from 2016)
  • if you can’t get a highly-repairable phone, at least get one with an easily replaceable battery
  • extend the usable life of your phone by installing other operating systems once your phone no longer gets security updates (you may need advanced technical know-how to do this!).

I probably won’t need to buy a new phone for a long time. I’ve used a cheap candy bar phone for everyday use since 2012 (with a free upgrade to a 3G phone when 2G was being phased out). I use a J cast-off phone (Google Nexus 5) for traveling. In fact, I’ll probably be able to provide for all of my phone needs using old phones of J’s 😛

If I did need a new phone, I’d either: buy a used one that is listed as highly repairable by iFixit, or buy a Fairphone (pending additional research, although the concept alone is extremely appealing).

The Fairphone  is a modular Android phone made with ethically-sourced materials and components (Wiki). It was specifically designed to be easy to repair and upgrade without throwing the whole phone away. The end goal is device longevity. But the Fairphone isn’t perfect.

  • Unfortunately, support for the Fairphone 1 has already ended, only 2-3.5 years (depending on batch) after the device’s release, partly due to poor choice of SoC. This is worse than Apple, which generally supports devices for 5 years. Fairphones are only sold in Europe (although they are unlocked and would presumably work in most countries).
  • Replacement (e.g. battery, screen) and upgrade (e.g. camera) modules are available only from Fairphone, whereas components of other phones are not proprietary and can be bought from various suppliers. Fairphone is such a small company that it could go out of business at any time.
  • Because of the small size of the company and ethical sourcing requirements, the phone is relatively expensive for its specs. The Fairphone 2 was €529 (~$650), which although on par with other high-end smartphones is expensive for, e.g. it’s camera quality, lack of USB-C, etc.
  • The modularity of the phone means that it is a little bulky (11 mm thick).

The Fairphone 3 will be released sometime in 2018. Previous models have only been available in Europe; it is unclear if the Fairphone 3 will be available on other continents. Fairphone is aiming to support the Fairphone 3 longer by, for example, stocking up on repair components that are in high demand. The Fairphone 3 will be a smaller, less fancy smartphone with a correspondingly lower price of ~$500. (It is unclear why Fairphone feels the need to release additional phones at all. Shouldn’t they be making modules to update the Fairphone 1?)

Edit: J says to use swappa.com to buy used phones. Devices sold on eBay tend to be stolen D:

Sustainable cleaning basics

The majority of the time, I clean things (wipe surfaces, hand-wash dishes, etc.) with a wet dishcloth and soap, if needed. It is rare that I need anything else.

More specialized cleaning tools (in no particular order):

Kamenoko tawashi – Japanese vegetable scrubbing brush, but really good for getting stuck-on food off of pots and pans. Do not use these on Teflon or soft plastic; it is incredibly stiff and will scratch delicate surfaces.

Baking soda – Good for removing stains (apply to surface with some water and let sit for 15 min) and odors, good for scrubbing. Can also use it for deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo.

Salt – Good for removing ground-in dirt, but very abrasive.

Vinegar – Takes off limescale, can be added to baking soda to unclog drains. Can also use as a conditioning hair rinse.

Soap – J and I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap. We bought a gallon of it – the biggest size available! – since we anticipate using it for all of our liquid soap needs. We use it for hand-washing dishes, for example.

A scrubby brush, rag, or cloth (sponges not recommended because of low durability and unsustainable materials). Loofah is a good sponge-like sponge substitute.

You might want a toilet brush, although old toothbrushes work fine for cleaning toilets. LifeWithoutPlastic has a plastic-free option.

Plunger – J and I use our plunger to unclog the shower drain (I’m not sure why it gets clogged in the first place, but it happens regularly).

Broom, dust mop, vacuum come in handy occasionally.

Advanced cleaning tips

I don’t know any, ’cause I don’t clean that much. I just google when I need a fancy solution, like what to use to get blood or tomato stains out.

The 47 most effective ways to shrink your carbon footprint that you won’t believe, especially number 7 it’s so cool

I came across a super cool infographic and article (based on this research paper) ranking different actions by environmental impact. You know those things that people always say to do – recycling, washing your clothes in cold water, changing lightbulbs? They don’t do that much 🙁 Too bad, since those are some of the easiest and least controversial changes to make.

Pretty infographic from phys.org.

The article says that the most effective things you can do (if you live in a developed country) are:

  • Don’t have kids (The study attributes 1/2 of your children’s emissions, 1/4 of your grandchildrens’ emissions, etc. to you)
  • Don’t use a car
  • Don’t fly
  • Buy green energy (This is easy to do!!!)
  • Don’t eat animal products (The study actually specifies no meat, with no mention of other animal products, although dairy in particular has a large carbon footprint.)

Less effective actions include:

  • Recycling
  • Doing laundry with cold water
  • Hanging laundry to dry

There’s a table with a bunch more actions listed. Improving home insulation and producing no food waste are both moderately effective; composting is listed as not very effective, but no carbon footprint reduction estimate is given so maybe they just couldn’t find any data on it.

The less effective actions are obviously more attractive; after all, they don’t require major lifestyle changes. This may be why “textbook and government writers intentionally [promote] low-impact actions,” following a ‘foot-in-the-door’ approach, “a type of positive spillover where encouraging small actions is hoped to lead individuals to take more substantial behaviours later”. It’s unclear if this actually happens, though… Man, behavior modification is hard.