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Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • « February 2009 | Main | April 2009 »

    March 29, 2009 Shows It Really Is Possible to Live Almost Plastic-Free

    You think living without plastic is impossible?

    FPF_header_transparent_662 Not so. Just ask Beth Terry, an almost plastic-free diva who made headlines with her blog last year when she forced the mega-company Brita to agree to recycle its plastic water filters. Beth continues to amaze anyone who drops by her blog with her tactics for eliminating new plastic from her life - even when it means giving up her favorite cheese. Read my interview with Beth, and be inspired!

    Where did the idea of Fake Plastic Fish come from? "The name of the blog was inspired by the Radiohead song, "Fake Plastic Trees," actually. It's a melancholic song that matched my feeling of deep sadness on first seeing a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic. I substituted "fish" for "trees" to suggest that if we don't figure out solutions to our plastic pollution problems, fake plastic fish may be the only kind we have left in our oceans."

    Is plastic really so much worse than other "no-no's" we have to deal with, like synthetic fibers, conventionally grown food, Hummers? "Not worse. But plastic is unique in that it encompasses so many of the environmental problems we have to deal with:

    resource depletion (made from fossil fuels);
    waste (will not biodegrade & really only downcyclable);
    litter (nearly all litter on our beaches is plastic);
    harm to wildlife (starving albatross chicks with bellies full of plastic, sea turtles choking on plastic bags, fish swallowing toxic nurdles);
    air pollution (toxic fumes from PVC factories & dioxin released when buildings burn);
    toxicity issues (leaching chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, styrene, antimony, etc. as well as bioaccumulation in the marine environment that makes its way up the food chain.)

    "Because plastic is so fraught, it's a good place to start, no matter what your main environmental interest, from toy and foodware safety to climate change concerns to wildlife protection. And as individuals start limiting the amount of plastic in their lives, other steps often follow. For example, once I was in the habit of bringing my own bags, bottles, and containers to avoid disposable plastic packaging, it was easy to add a cloth napkin to save paper. These steps go together.

    "My definition of plastic, by the way, includes synthetic fibers. If a jacket can be made out of recycled water bottles, it's plastic!"

    Profile_avatar_180x180 What's the most effective way to encourage people to use less plastic? "Education is key. Through Fake Plastic Fish as well as Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics presentations, I hope to give people the opportunity to have the same kind of "Aha!" moment I did the first time I read about the devastating effects of plastics on birds, fish, and other wildlife out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and realized that my own actions had repercussions thousands of miles away.

    "Once folks have the desire to change, we should ask them to start wherever they are. Drastic changes usually lead to burnout and failure. In interviewing other plastic-free bloggers for Fake Plastic Fish, I've learned that what motivates each of us to act is very personal. A mom concerned about child safety might start by replacing plastic foodware with glass or stainless steel. Another person frustrated by waste and litter might begin by eliminating plastic bags and bottles and opting for reusables as much as possible. Someone concerned about climate change may want to find alternatives to products made from fossil fuels and may be interested to learn that wasting has a direct connection to greenhouse gas emissions."

    What makes choosing alternatives so difficult? "Plastic is cheap. Just look at all the cheap plastic crap we import every year. And plastic is convenient. Disposable plastic packaging and containers make our fast-paced lifestyle possible. Until our values shift as a society away from rampant consumerism and things that are quick and disposable, manufacturers will have no reason to stop producing plastic products and shipping them in plastic packaging.

    Plastic see through bags "Our government ultimately will need to get involved to make some of these changes happen, like bans and taxes on disposable bags, for example. But let’s also remember that we are the government. First, we need to change our own behavior and then let both our elected officials and the companies that produce the products we rely on know what we want. (DM Note: One alternative to plastic bags: mesh produce bags like those pictured here).

    "I love that Big Green Purse is a terrific resource, providing government and company contact information to those who want to take the next step and speak out.

    Thanks for the nod to Big Green Purse! What product or service has been hardest to give up because you want to avoid plastic? What's been surprisingly easy? These are the same questions I ask other plastic-free bloggers in my Voices of the Plastic-Free Blogosphere series! I’d say the very easiest change of all was switching from liquid soap to bar soap. Simple simple. My local Whole Foods Market has a huge selection of bar soaps that come wrapped in only a tiny bit of cardboard.

    "The hardest thing for me personally has been cheese. I could go to the cheese shop or deli and ask for cheese to be sliced and put into my own container. But the large blocks and wheels of cheese are either already wrapped in plastic to begin with or must be wrapped in plastic as soon as they are cut. So I just skip it. I did make homemade paneer today. And I can buy fresh mozzarella in bulk. But it’s just not the same as sharp, aged cheddar or gruyere. Not the same at all.

    "Another ongoing snag is plastic-free cat litter. The one brand that’s both biodegradable and plastic-free (SwheatScoop) is a complete turnoff to my cats, who would rather use the floor. *Sigh*"

    Does it cost more money to live plastic-free? "First, let me clarify that my life is not entirely plastic-free. My main goal is to stop buying any new plastic.

    "To answer your question, some things cost more, but overall, I’ve saved a lot of money. I buy fewer new things in general and find ways to borrow, repair what I have, or obtain secondhand through Freecycle, Craigslist, or thrift shops. We got our kitties’ plastic litter boxes and carrier boxes that way. And when my computer monitor died and couldn’t be repaired, I found a used one through Craigslist that cost much less.

    "Avoiding new plastic means jumping off of the hamster wheel of consumerism: compulsively needing the newest gadget, having to own every CD or DVD, engaging in mindless sport shopping and retail therapy.

    "I may spend more for fresh plastic-free bread from the bakery or fresh chicken in my own container at the butcher shop, but think about how much I’m saving on things like bottled water by filling my own Klean Kanteen with tap water or on sparkling water by using my soda maker instead."

    You had a big victory with the Brita filters campaign (please explain). Who or what is your next target? "Take Back The Filter collected over 16,000 signatures and over 600 used Brita water filter cartridges to demonstrate to Clorox (owner of Brita in North America) that consumers who opt for filtered tap water instead of bottled water want a way to recycle the filter cartridges. We were thrilled when Clorox announced its partnership with Preserve and Whole Foods to take back and recycle the pitcher filters.

    "But Brita pitcher filters, while the #1 filter method in North America, are still only a fraction of the market. We’d like to see other water filter companies follow Clorox’s lead. And we’d like Clorox to continue to research a way to recycle its faucet-type filters.

    "I don’t currently have any other company to target. These days, I’m more interested in motivating others to speak out for the things they want. I was thrilled when one of my readers contacted me about recycling plastic gift cards, and as a result of our brief conversation, was able to convince her local drugstore to begin a collection/recycling program."

    You said you are learning to sing! Are you learning punk rock, American ballads, or opera? I love La Boheme! "When I was in Junior High, I dreamed of being Pat Benatar. (That gives away my age, huh?) Rent is about as close as I get to La Boheme! I performed a couple of fierce Evanescence songs during my last karaoke night, if I do say so myself. But that could just be the plastic-free martinis talking."

    Greenmoms1 Want to know more? Check back with Beth and Monday, April 6. Beth is hosting the Green Moms Carnival. Topic? Plastic, of course.

    March 23, 2009

    Wearing my (green) heart on my sleeve

    We're honored to report that we're receiving recognition as a "visionary" from the prestigious website for our eHeart of greenfforts to inspire consumers -- especially -- women to use their money to protect the planet.

    The Heart of Green nod "recognizes those who are bringing "green" messages to the mainstream, and your work influencing the buying habits of American women fits the bill," said TDG editor Dan Shapley.

    A Heart of Green celebration, which will be sponsored by the EBay Green Team, will take place April 23 in the LEED-certified Hearst Tower in New York City.

    March 21, 2009

    Let's be "Ad Buddies"

    Don't let the economy get in the way of spreading the word about your blog or website. Our "Ad Buddies" program gives you the opportunity to reach our audience in four key ways without having to spend a dime on actual advertising. What it will do is generate more traffic to your site so you can charge more for any advertising you sell.

    Here's how it works:

    * We will place one of your ads on our homepage or blog when you place one of our ads on your site in an equivalent place.

    * We will run a feature article about you and your site on our blog. We would be delighted if you would reciprocate, but you're under no obligation to do so. If we become buddies, we want to make sure our readers get to know you, too!

    * We will highlight your logo and link to your site in our feature on you. Again, you're under no obligation to do so, but we'd really think you were a great buddy if you did.

    * We will add your site to our blogroll in our new Buddies category.

    We're only exchanging ads with sites we value, so please: if you're one of those companies that is trying to unload a Hummer or sell reusable water bottles that have "just a little" BPA in them, don't waste your time or ours.

    But if yours is one of those terrific "just got to know about us" resources, please get in touch! (Demand to participate is high, even though we've just launched this effort; it will help get you in the queue if you have traffic equal to or greater than our own, but since we believe you can never have too many buddies, we'll find a way to honor every request that meets the above criteria). The ads will run on a month-to-month rotation.

    We hope you'll want to be our buddy! If you do, please contact to get on our schedule. 

    March 20, 2009

    Glamour mag made me blush when they called me an "Eco Hero"

    Cover_glamour_190 My mother always told me not to brag, but I have to admit: it’s an honor to have landed on Glamour magazine’s list of Eco-Heroes. I’m in good company: the list also includes Laurie David, who worked with Al Gore to produce the Academy Award-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth; Lisa Jackson, the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Olympic soccer star Hope Solo, and supermodel Christie Brinkley (pictured here with me, right, and Anna Aurillo of U.S. PIRG, left).048

    “Future generations depend on our vigilance. We must care,” says Lisa Jackson in the magazine. I couldn't agree more.  (FYI, Katie Holmes was NOT at the photo shoot - but she still made Glamour’s cover!!!)

    Dig Dirt Like Michelle Obama!

    Michelle obama   Michelle Obama is planting an organic garden at the White House today. If the nation's first lady can dig dirt, can't you? What better way to get fresh, locally grown, organic vegetables and herbs?

    Plus, you can't beat the price. For a couple of dollars in seeds, you can enjoy an entire summer's worth of crops. In fact, gardening can save you hundreds of dollars in food each season you grow your own.

    Top Tips

    1) Plan your garden - Keep in mind that vegetables need full sun. Flowers span the range of full sun to full shade; check the seed packet or plant catalog for guidance. Once you have your location, consider not just how much space you have, but how much time you have. The larger the plot, the more time it will take to manage. Does your spot drain well, or will you need to build a raised bed so that water can easily move through the soil? Does it have access to water? Know what you're getting into before you plant the first seed.

    2) Clear out the weeds - If you're trying to convert a patch of grass or a section of field, you''ll probably need to dig the weeds out, to be sure they're gone. You can also cover the area with a couple of inches of newspaper. Lack of sunlight will kill weeds and grass and make them easier to remove from your garden plot.

    3) Add compost and other organic matter - If you're not impatient like me, you can test the soil first (see these handy tips from Lowe's). When you get the results back, you'll know how much nitrogen, phosphorus and/or potassium you'll need to add. You may also need to add an inch of sharp sand if your soil is clay.

    4) Rake your soil into beds or rows - Leave paths in between so you can walk through your garden without trampling the dirt. Mulch with shredded pine bark or other organic material, then leave the plot alone for about a month before you plant it.

    5) Set up a watering system - If your plot is small, you can probably water by hand with a garden hose. Otherwise, install an inexpensive DIY drip irrigation system so you deliver water directly to plant roots and don't waste it using one of those sprinklers that has such a long spray it sends more water to the sidewalk or driveway than your plants. If your garden is next to a garage or shed, you can set up a rain barrel to catch water coming off the roof.

    6) Meanwhile, start a compost pile - Use leaves, grass clippings, other yard debris, and kitchen waste. Making compost at home like this is probably the single most cost-effective way to turn dull-as-dishwater dirt into rich, black earth.

    Garden2 7) Pick your seeds and plants - Consider plants that grow well in your climate; most likely, those will be 'natives' that have evolved to take best advantage of the temperatures, rainfall, and soil conditions you have. Choose disease-resistant species for vegetables as well as ornamental plants. Buy organically raised seeds and seedlings so you're chemical-free from beginning to end.

    8) Plant, then watch and weed - Plant your seeds and seedlings to maximize growth. Keep a hoe handy to scratch out weeds before they take over. Keep an eye out for insects and diseases so they don't become a problem.

    9) Don't get bugged by bugs - Some gardeners can't stand to see even one little bug on one little leaf in their garden. Hence the continual bombing of their plants with insecticides and herbicides that, by and large, only serve to make the bugs that survive tougher than ever before. Most plants can tolerate a small insect invasion and still produce to abundance. Don't even start gardening if you don't like a few bugs with your plants.

    10) Enjoy your garden! - Stroll through your garden every day. Position a chair, stool or bench close by so you can sit peacefully and watch the butterflies and bees enjoy the fruits of your labor! Then get out a basket and start picking.

    March 11, 2009

    Big Green Declaration for Change Says It's Time for a New Biz Model

    There is a silver lining in the economic meltdown and environmental crises we face.

    Biz woman and globe These twin 'evils' have created an unprecedented opportunity to throw out old business models in favor of new approaches that will redefine prosperity in terms of health and wellness, work-life balance, and environmental protection.

    For decades, "old business" advocates successfully argued that we could not have both a clean environment and a thriving economy. We now know, nothing could be further from the truth. Safeguarding the planet is the linchpin to our economic renaissance.

    This realization could not come at a more critical -- or exciting time, especially for women? Why?

    For the first time, women are on the verge of overtaking men as the nation's breadwinners. Women are looking for meaningful employment in enterprises that are socially responsible and environmentally relevant as well as economically rewarding. Women are also seeking the kind of independence that allows them to fulfill their personal goals while cultivating their professional ambitions.

    I have just published: A Big Green Declaration for Change: Why Going Green is the Ultimate Success Strategy for Women Entrepreneurs. It lays out a vision for a new approach to business that I believe we must take to recover economically and get the planet back on track.

    Read it. Think about it. Do it.

    March 08, 2009

    Got Dirt? So What?

    Dirt doesn't scare me.

    In fact, generally speaking, I like dirt.

    Dirt under my fingernails means I've been working in the garden.

    Boy with dirty face Dirt on my kids' faces means they've been out having a good time.

    Dirt on my dog's nose means she's been happily digging for her hidden treasure -- bones -- in the backyard.

    According to my mother, when I was a little kid, my favorite kind of gum was the dirty kind - the kind I'd scrape up off the sidewalk or sneak from under the church pew when the sermon got boring. Yes, I chewed it all, and I'm still alive to tell about it. None of that dirt did me any harm.

    In fact, my theory is that my family and I are as healthy as we are because we've eaten so much dirt growing up. Our stomachs seem to be made of steel - after all, once you've eaten dirt and lived to brag about it, what can possibly take you down?

    I share my passion for dirt with you today because it's March -- spring cleaning season -- and people are about to start on a total tear about every mote of dust and mark of grime within eye-shot.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think everything should be dirty. I think clean has its place, no doubt about it. I prefer eating on clean dishes to dirty ones, I usually prefer wearing clean clothes to ones that stink (unless, of course, I'm gardening), and I like sleeping in a clean bed.

    But I don't think everything has to be clean all the time. And I certainly don't think that "clean" means antiseptic, germ-free, and smelling like roses or whatever darn synthetic fragrance is in the air fresheners being marketed today to make us feel like our homes just popped out of a spic-and-span bottle.

    In fact, I take issue with the glorification of "clean" that goes on, as if cleanliness were next to godliness. I'm pretty sure it's not. Cleanliness is next to the cash register, at least in the minds of most companies that produce cleaning products -- which is exactly why they produce them.

    What I find particularly annoying is that we're subject to billions of dollars of advertising messages every year exhorting us to clean clean clean - and to use, ironically, products that often contain toxic ingredients that actually make our houses dirty dirty dirty and us sick sick sick.

    Take, for example, products that kill germs. We've been made to fear modern "germs," as if they were the ancient bubonic plague. Having eaten probably trillions of germs in dirt over the years with nary even a stomach ache, I resent the fear marketers try to instill in consumers about the dang things.

    A lot of doctors do, too. Dr. Stuart Levy, Director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, says, "No current data demonstrate any health benefits from having antibacterial containing (i.e., germ killing) cleansers in a healthy household."

    Or consider "extra strength" cleansers, especially the ones that include nasty ingredients like phthalates, ammonia, and chlorine bleach.

    Whatever happened to good old soap and water? Water carved the Grand Canyon, for goodness' sake. Surely, it can tackle the dirt on my kitchen floor!

    Yes, I dust my tables and sweep the floors. I vacuum the carpets and wash out the toilet, too. But I certainly don't obsess about it, and I try like all get-out not to succumb to the marketing madness that has led to creation of a different cleanser for virtually every surface in our homes. (Mostly I use mild soap, water, baking soda, and vinegar. You can check out my DIY cleaning recipes here.)

    Greenmoms1 If we're going to focus on cleaning anything up this spring, I think it should be our attitude about dirt. Thank goodness the Green Moms Carnival is tackling this topic. You think I've got an attitude? Wait til you check out their posts!

    March 06, 2009

    BPA Banned from Baby Bottles; What About Other Chemicals and Other Products?

    Baby bottle  Six major U.S. baby products manufacturers agreed to remove the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles, in an agreement reached with the Connecticut Attorney General. 

    Said Environmental Working Group, the non-profit research institute that's been advocating BPA-free products, "The action represents a critical breakthrough in protecting infants from the hazards of the synthetic estrogen and plastics component, which leaches easily into formula and food from BPA-laden food packaging.
    "The industry agreement effectively recognizes that BPA is too dangerous for infants."
    At least as far as baby bottles are concerned. Says EWG, "there is much more to be done.  Other states and the federal government must take additional steps to see that this toxic hormone disruptor is removed not only from plastic baby bottles, but from the linings of cans for infant formula and other foods and from other sources of exposure such as sippy cups and bottled water bottles."
    “Today’s deal underscores the need for the Congress and the Obama administration to overhaul federal chemicals policy to protect infants and children from exposures to toxic chemicals,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) Executive Director Richard Wiles.
    “When the public is forced to rely on state actions to achieve nationwide protections, we know the federal system is broken,” Wiles said.
    In their news release, EWG reports that U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) will soon re-introduce The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate, with companion legislation to be offered in the House, according to California Congressman Henry Waxman (D).  The legislation proposes a major overhaul of federal toxics chemical law, requiring that manufacturers demonstrate that chemicals are safe for infants and children before they enter the market.
    The Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act sets an upper limit of 0.1 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA in bottles and cups. The measure also proposes to bar can linings and jars found to leach 0.1 ppb or more of BPA into any liquid, food or beverage designed for children 3 and under.    


    Check out these tips for keeping your kids' toys safe from

    Win a free copy of Big Green Purse book!

    April_2009_cover Throughout the month of March, Shape magazine is offering 20 readers the chance to win a free copy of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World. Here are the details! I hope you win.

    NOTE: No purchase necessary.  If you already have your own copy, enter for a friend!

    March 02, 2009

    Protesters Prepare for Civil Disobedience at Coal Plant with Inspired Songs, Speeches and Poems

    More than 1,500 women, men, students, children and babies held hands, sang songs, cheered and Coal stomped their feet last night in anticipation of their march on the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C.

    Just a stone's throw from the U.S. Capitol building, the power plant has become a powerful symbol for citizens who scoff at the notion of "clean coal" and argue that the world must stop burning coal completely by 2030. Today's march is expected to end in civil disobedience as 2500 citizens voluntarily face arrest in order to garner national attention for the climate change catastrophe facing the world.  

    Bill_mckibben Last night's event, called "Artists for the Climate," was organized by Chesapeake Climate Action Network and by Bill McKibben, the author and activist who organized StepItUp, 2007's national  demonstrations against global warming.

    McKibben introduced Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., MD), who got the crowd going by saying, "It's time to shift power away from the special interests and into the hands of the American people."

    "Our policy must be based on scientific facts, not science fiction," he said, referring to the Bush Administration's tendency to discount climate change as a scientific fraud.  "And science says, No More Hot Air when it comes to taking action to stop climate change!"

    Van Hollen closed his remarks by asking the crowd, "Are you ready to turn up the heat in Washington, D.C. so we can turn down the heat on Mother Earth?"  "Yes!!!," the audience roared in reply.

    McKibben praised the crowd assembled in the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. "For the last eight years, we've had no reason to come to D.C.," he said. "Now, our job is to give the Obama Administration the space it needs to get climate change under control."

    But McKibben cautioned, "Just because Obama got elected doesn't mean the job is done."

    "We didn't un-elect Exxon," he said. "We have to keep fighting."

    Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, reminded us of the coal miners buried alive in mining accidents last year and the Katrina survivors being evicted from their homes today. "Chertoff (Pres. Bush's chief of Homeland Security) told us how good things were. I don't think so!"

    Yearwood got everyone on their feet, holding hands, and praying for the work we need to do together to end global warming and restore health and prosperity to our nation and the world.

    Janisse Ray Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, brought the house to a standstill with her eloquent reading that reminded us that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Laelo Hood, 2007 DMV Rapper of the year for the mid-Atlantic region, riled the crowd back up with his exuberant rap that asked "how many people are ready to make change?"  "Turn the lights down, turn the water off, only use what you need, stop being wasteful, y'all," he chanted as the crowd rocked and rolled.

    Gus Speth was perhaps the most surprising speaker of the night. As Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I expected him to be low-key, academic, introspective. Au contraire. This former head of the Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration reported that he started conferring with scientists in 1979 about the mounting evidence supporting climate change. "But the science was trashed," Speth lamented, and thirty years later, "we're watching the Arctic melt."

    "For 30 years, the public has been purposely confused and bamboozled," Speth said with passion and anger. "We were told we couldn't afford to deal with climate change."

    Polar bear on ice "Well," he said, shaking his fist, "Saving the planet does not cost too much."

    Speth's solution? "We need a new national energy agenda based on no new coal plants, no more mountaintop removal, and a federal program that helps coal workers find new jobs."

    But that's not all. When the new round of climate treaty negotiations convene later this year in Copehagen, Denmark, "the U.S. has got to lead the charge for a tough climate treaty that will make a difference."  The crowd jumped to its feet and cheered with approval.

    In closing, Speth encouraged people to become involved. "What's been missing until now is a huge outpouring of public demand for action...We must make Congress feel the heat...Senators appreciate the issue intellectually but aren't emotionally committed to it. It's time to put a price on political inaction, not just on the price of carbon."

    One of the highlights of the evening was the performance of Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea. Mattea's grandfathers were coal miners; one of them helped organize the United Mine Workers. "It's broken my heart to hear the words "clean coal" come out of the President's mouth," she said, referring to Barack Obama's embrace of this technology as a part of his energy platform. Many in the audience glumly nodded in agreement.

    Later, when we were all asked to write our Senators and Representatives a letter that CCAN would deliver, I wrote to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, the Maryland senators who represent me. "Squash the ridiculous idea that there's such a thing as clean coal," I penned. "There's no time to lose."

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