An Appeal to Restaurant Staff

First of all, if you are a server in a restaurant, I want you to know that I always do my best to tip 20 percent. I think you have one of the hardest, most thankless jobs in the world. And we depend on you. I’m sure I encounter servers at least a hundred times a year. So thank you, for all that you do, and all that you put up with.

Having said that, I’d like to ask you a favor. Could you ask me if I’d like a straw, rather than just giving me one? Because I don’t want one. Here’s why.

According to this article, Americans use more than 500 million straws a day. That’s enough to circle the globe 2 ½ times daily. And the vast majority of these straws are plastic. They’re used once, and then discarded. They wind up in our landfills and in our oceans, and as I have written recently, we are drowning in plastic.

As a server, you are on the front line of plastic straw distribution. You and your colleagues could help stem this plastic tide. That, and you’d be saving your restaurant money. Worth thinking about.

I know you are restricted by certain policies. I get that. If you aren’t allowed to make this change independently, could you at least show your manager this blog post? Hopefully she or he will see the logic in my request.

So, I’ll keep tipping 20 percent for your job well done, if you’ll do your best to fight the battle of the straw. Yes? Excellent! You’re awesome.

(Oh, and while I have your attention, if you’re the type to call me honey, I know you mean well, but could you please just… not? It comes off as condescending. Thanks again.)

Incidentally, if you don’t work in a restaurant, but know someone who does, please spread the word! Education is the key to stemming our plastic tide.

Server with straws

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How We Can Stop Drowning in Plastic

One of the things I love most about this blog is reader feedback. I enjoy reading the comments on the blog itself, and also on my Facebook Group Page. Often I learn quite a bit, and I do my best to respond to everyone.

In my recent post about Ghost Fishing, James suggested I watch a documentary entitled Drowning in Plastic. I was very excited to see that it was available for free on Youtube.

Even so, I have to admit that I was hesitant to watch this documentary. It was fairly obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be upbeat or lighthearted. We have a huge problem with plastic waste on this planet, and this film was going to shine a big old ugly light on it. Did I really want to bear witness to something that I feel so helpless to combat?

But in the end, watch it I did. And yes, it was heartbreaking. And sobering. And scary. But it was also really fascinating to see all the innovative ideas people are coming up with to combat this problem. I can’t possibly do those ideas justice. I suggest you watch the documentary for more details.

But I can share with you some of the many scary facts that I learned while watching.

  • Every minute, around the globe, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups, and two million plastic bags. Every minute.

  • Every minute, an entire truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean. Over a year, this adds up to 8 million tons.

  • The vast majority of the plastic that has ever found its way to the ocean is still there.

  • By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently 3 times the size of France, and it’s not the only garbage patch on the planet. It’s just the most infamous one.

  • By 2050, annual production of plastic will have increased by 500 percent.

  • Every time you wash synthetic clothing, more than 700,000 microplastic fibers are released into the environment, and these fibers have been found throughout the food chain, from plankton to walruses in the most remote parts of the arctic. (And if that doesn’t get your attention, this article states that “the average adult consumes 2,000 pieces of microplastic every year from salt alone.”)

But there really are some simple things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:

  • Use a reusable water bottle.

  • Use reusable grocery bags.

  • Use a reusable coffee cup.

  • Stop using straws entirely.

  • Provide your own container and cutlery for takeout food.

  • Pack your own lunch.

  • Choose ice cream cones instead of cups. (No cup waste, no spoon.)

  • Avoid buying synthetic clothing.

  • Don’t buy plastic toys for your pets.

  • Use bar soap and bar shampoo rather than liquid soap and shampoo from plastic containers.

  • Refill printer cartridges.

  • Get a water filter and drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water.

  • Don’t chew gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, which is a plastic.

  • Encourage manufacturers to reduce plastic packaging for their products.

  • Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.

  • Buy detergent and soaps that come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.

  • Use matches instead of a plastic disposable lighter. Better yet, don’t smoke at all, as cigarette butts contain plastic.

  • Buy food from bulk bins, using reusable bags, to avoid packaging.

  • Participate in river and shoreline cleanup efforts.

  • Recycle.

  • Shop locally to reduce plastic packaging.

  • Talk to your friends and family about our plastic problem.

Together we can make a difference. We can, and we must.


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Ghost Fishing

Before I throw them away, I cut rubber bands, circles of string, soda can plastic, anything that turtles might get entangled in, because I have seen what can happen to the garbage of the world, and I can’t even imagine the pain that’s associated with it.

Deformed Sea Turtle

It’s so easy to overlook those things you don’t have to see. What I don’t see, and rarely think about, are the hundreds of miles of nets and lines that are lost at sea every year. Even without human participation, those nets continue to fish, decades, potentially centuries, after their loss. Especially now that they are made of nylon and plastics, which can last forever.

It’s called Ghost Fishing, and it’s a major threat to our oceans. Fish get caught in them. Then predators are attracted to the fish and also get caught, and on and on. It must be a horrible way to die. And it’s so senseless.

Fortunately, there are many clean up efforts going on around the world. But they’re fighting an uphill battle. They need volunteers to start their own local initiatives. They also need donations to increase awareness of the problem. Long net fisheries should be required to support these organizations, and they should use biodegradable nets. Unfortunately many do not.

If, like me, you understand the need to reduce the harmful impact we humans have had on our planet, please consider supporting Ghost in their worthy goal of cleaning up the world’s oceans, one net at a time. Thank you.

Ghost fishing

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Stupid Stats

There’s a commercial that drives me up a wall. It’s for Glad garbage bags and it says, “Bargain bag users go through 60 more bags a year than Glad users.” And it includes a dire image of a bag bursting and scattering disgusting garbage all over the floor.

Seriously? Where did they get that particular statistic? First of all, I only use one garbage bag a week, bargain or no bargain. For me to burst 60 bags, I’d have to have done it every single week, and then some. I think I’d remember that. I also think that if I knew someone who had that extreme experience, he or she would be talking about it. But not a gripe out of anyone I know.

And then there’s the assumption that someone who did constantly have their garbage strewn all over their foyer would stupidly continue to use that particular product, over and over and over again, 60 times a year. That’s insulting. I mean, yes, we did re-elect Bush twice, but I’d like to think that the American consuming public is a little more savvy than that.

Whenever I hear a suspicious statistic like this, one that couldn’t possibly have been obtained with any degree of accuracy, I get annoyed. I don’t like being lied to. And it’s so unnecessary. Glad has a good reputation for putting out a quality product. They’ve been in business since 1963. They shouldn’t have to resort to dirty advertising tricks. Sorry Glad, don’t get mad, but this commercial seems a little pathetic and desperate to me. Give your customers a little credit.

That’s the end of my trash talking for today.


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Nifty Websites that Junk Mailers Do NOT Want You to Know About

It seems these days that the US Postal Service is mainly a purveyor of junk mail. When’s the last time you got an actual letter from Aunt Mabel? I miss those. What I won’t miss are the catalogs, flyers, credit card offers and magazines that I never asked for and do not want. With the holidays coming up, it will only get worse.

According to, more than 4 million tons, or at least 62 billion pieces of junk mail are printed yearly. And 40 percent of that junk never even gets opened. Imagine how much more rain forest we’d have right now if each one of us stood up and said no to all this crap?

Well, you can do that. And it only takes a few minutes. Please visit this website and opt OUT of all this stuff today! It won’t cost you a dime.

And while you’re at it, opt out of getting phone books, too! Who uses phone books anymore anyway?

For countries other that the United states, if you have similar websites, please print the links in the comment section below. And if your country does not provide you with the ability to do this, ask them why not!

I may not be the Lorax, but I think I can speak for the trees on this one. Thank you.


Our Compact World

I was looking at my new camera case just now. It practically fits in the palm of my hand. When I think of the 7 pound photographic albatross with its 6 inch telephoto lens that I used to lug around on every vacation, I get a sympathy neck ache. When I think of the hundreds of dollars I’d spend developing photos, most of which were not worth saving, I get a wallet ache. When I look at the boxes and boxes of albums I still lug around, I sigh. Someday I’ll scan them. I swear I will.

While packing for this recent move I came across all sorts of remnants of our super-sized world. Record albums. (And I don’t even own a record player anymore.) A rotary phone. Big glasses. DVDs and their players. My first cell phone, which was the size of your average brick. The only thing that doesn’t seem to be following this trend toward the miniscule is my waistline. People who excavate our nation’s landfills will think we descended from giants.

Everything is smaller now, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. With our rampant overpopulation and our seemingly endless desire to produce more garbage, we need all the space we can get.

big cell phone

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The Futility of Accumulation

I long to have one of those minimalist homes with wide expanses of floor space and no tchotchkes to dust or arrange. No clutter. No collections. I want to be able to move all my stuff from one house to the next in just one or two carloads.

I often look around at the mess in my life and wonder when, exactly, I lost all control. When did the stuff start controlling me instead of me controlling the stuff? This has been in the forefront of my mind quite a lot lately since I’ve moved 3 times in the past 3 years. It gets old, lugging boxes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those hoarders you see on TV. My home is sanitary. I don’t pick things out of the garbage, and you won’t find dead cats wedged behind my dresser. But I definitely have more than I need to survive, by a country mile.

The irony of it is that 2/3rds of my possessions currently reside in my sister’s garage, 4 hours away, and they’ve been there for a couple of years now. If I can live without them for years, do I need them at all? But there are things there that I love and miss. Certain pieces of furniture, much used tools and items that would really come in handy should I ever be lucky enough to own a home again. These items would also be expensive to replace, but what does it cost me, figuratively, to keep them?

I’m profoundly grateful that cameras are now digital, because I have a ton of photo albums from a bygone age. I’d hate to think of what life would be like if I were to have to collect hard copies and photo negatives for the second half of my life as well. What will become of these albums when I die? They won’t mean a thing to anyone but me, most likely.

And clothing. Don’t get me started. It’s high time I accept the fact that I’ll never be a certain size again. I keep telling myself that if I haven’t worn something in a year it should go. But I never seem to get around to doing that.

Thank heavens I’ve never been the type to own exercise equipment or highly specific kitchen gadgets or, I don’t know, action figures. Things could, indeed, be a great deal worse.

But I often think that if there were a fire, as long as my dogs and I made it out alive, there would be relatively few things I would be heartbroken about losing. Stuff won’t love you. It won’t even like you. It won’t keep you warm at night (unless it’s a blanket or a pair of thermal underwear). The more stuff you accumulate, the less you will be able to travel lightly through this world. And that is something to consider before making your next purchase.


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Climate Change: Points to Ponder

I think the worst thing that could have happened to those of us who hope to educate others about the dangers of climate change is one word. Warming. If it weren’t for the term “Global Warming”, people would be more able to focus on the facts rather than the terminology. Climate change deniers cling to the word warming as if it were a life ring in storm-tossed seas.

“Look! We had a snow storm in May!!! See? Global WARMING doesn’t exist!”

Poor short-sighted, deluded people. Because of increasing temperatures there is more moisture in the air. Ever notice that it’s more humid in the summer than in the winter? When increased moisture hits a cold front, what happens? Snow. And a crap load of it. Yup, snow is cold. But that doesn’t mean the earth isn’t getting warmer. It’s a complex system, people, and one which we learn more about with each passing year. But before I get into some facts that can’t be ignored, I have two sets of questions for those who so desperately want to cling to the status quo:

1)      What do you think scientists would gain by making all of this up? Do they WANT the end of the world as we know it? Why? Do you really think there aren’t plenty of other areas of scientific pursuit that they could, well, pursue? Do you really think that thousands of scientists, from various countries, races, religions and creeds are in a global conspiracy to terrify the populous so that they can keep their jobs or alter the economy in some diabolical way? You give them a great deal of power.

2)      Even if you are right and global warming doesn’t exist, why would you NOT want to do things in an environmentally friendly way? Are you in love with garbage, pollution, undrinkable water, the death of one species after another, and air that is increasingly dangerous to breathe? Do you want that for your children? Is it just laziness, or do you really prefer that sort of planet?

Okay, here are some points to ponder and some facts to feast upon:

  • I often hear people say that a few degrees temperature difference won’t matter much, surely. But if your baby’s average temperature is a few degrees higher, especially on a regular basis, you’d panic. You’d take that child to the hospital, as you know that such things are fatal. So too with our life on this planet.
  • Hurricanes are decreasing, but becoming stronger, and now they’re coming as much as 100 miles inland.
  • Islands are disappearing. The sea has risen 8 inches since 1870. It is expected to rise anywhere from 16 to 56 inches by 2100. The following island groups are already threatened: Kiribati, Maldives, Seychelles, Torres Strait Islands, Tegua, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu, as well as the country of Bangladesh, where they’re learning how to grow their crops on floating rafts. They never had to do that in the past. Don’t believe me? Talk to the people who are on the brink of being displaced.
  • Most scientists agree that temperature stability relies on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere or less. Anything more than that spells disaster. This carbon comes, for the most part, from the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is carbon. Oil is carbon. When we burn it, it doesn’t just disappear. That carbon still exists, and it’s now in our atmosphere. Humans are responsible for this. There’s no getting around that. Sadly, in 2012, we were already at a steady 390 parts per million. On May 9th, for the first time, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory recorded daily concentrations of 400 parts per million. This doesn’t fluctuate downward. It’s a steady and ever increasing rise.
  • Deserts are burning. Other areas are flooding. You’ve seen it.
  • Arctic summer sea ice has shrunk roughly 34% since 1979. The arctic summer could be ice free by mid-century. In the past 50 years glaciers have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water. That can be observed by the human eye, and all that water has to go somewhere.
  • Ice reflects the heat of the sun back into space. When it’s gone, what you have is dark land and water, both of which hold heat. This is a downward spiral that any person with a modicum of logic can follow.
  • For the past 3 decades the oceans’ surface temperatures have been higher than any other time in recorded history.
  • Coral reefs are dying.
  • A lot of Australia is in permanent drought. Farms have been abandoned forever because of firestorms. Just ask the people of Victoria about the walls of fire that killed hundreds. This has never happened before.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just a cycle. The planet has gone through cycles before. That’s true. It can’t be denied. In the Pleistocene we had ice and arctic deserts. At other times the ice caps melted and the planet was mostly ocean. The earth is a subtle system with subtle cycles that are millions of years apart. The creatures living during the Pleistocene wouldn’t have noticed a change, however, because it wasn’t occurring within decades like it is now.  It wasn’t even occurring within centuries. We’re talking millions of years. The change we’re seeing now is not a cyclical planetary change.

And another argument is that scientists make mistakes. True enough. People once believed the earth was flat. They also believed the sun rotated around the earth. Does that mean that all science should be discounted? We learn more and more over time. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us, mistakes and all. The more data we accumulate, the more accurate our knowledge becomes.

Argument number three: Al Gore is an idiot who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Okay, let’s stipulate that that’s true if it gives you some sort of perverse comfort. How does that negate the findings of thousands of scientists? I personally think Carrie Nation was an extremist crackpot, but that doesn’t mean I discount the fact that alcohol ruins many people’s lives. Go to any AA meeting throughout the world and you can hear it firsthand.

Stop listening to the lunatic fringe. Stop desperately clinging to beliefs that are not based on evidence simply because you would rather not alter your current lifestyle. Think for yourself. Look around. Apply some common sense before it’s too late for you, because here’s the thing: the earth will survive, even if it’s just a barren, lifeless rock floating through space. It’s humanity that’s in danger. And you can see that with your own eyes, once you let go of the word “warming” and actually pay attention. And yet half the people I know don’t even bother to recycle, which is the world’s simplest of first steps. How hard is it to recycle? Come on.

Here’s another thought: if I’m right about global warming, then we all need to make changes. If we don’t, it will be fatal. On the other hand, if I’m wrong about global warming, then we don’t need to make changes, but if we do make them, how’s it going to hurt? Is there something wrong with the concept of conserving our resources, for example? I say it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if it’s something that has to do with life on earth. To do otherwise would be the height of stupidity and selfishness.

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Chain Mail: It’s Not Just Body Armor Anymore

Several years ago, my best friend at the time sent me an e-mail. Your basic chain mail. You know the type. “Pass this on within 10 minutes to 10 friends and you’ll receive untold riches.” Except this one had a sickening twist. “If you do NOT pass this on, great harm could befall you. A lady in Florida did not pass this on, and the next day she was in a fatal car accident. A man in Texas did not pass this on and his house burned to the ground…”

So I replied to my friend, “First of all, I didn’t pass this on to anyone, because I don’t believe in this crap. But I was curious to know this: If you truly, honestly believe that this is true, why on EARTH would you send this to me, who is supposed to be your best friend? Why would you put me at risk like that? What does this say about you?” She didn’t respond. What could she have said? (Of course later on I found out she was a sociopath, so suddenly it all made sense.)

The fact is, chain mail is insidious. It wastes people’s time, it makes people nervous, and/or it gives false hope. It gives people who are living lives of quiet desperation just one more way to be disappointed. It also feels, to the receiver, like you’re sweeping your garbage into their in box.

Here’s a chain mail I WOULD pass on: “Pass this on to 10 people in the next 10 minutes and the person who passed it on to you will never be able to send you any stupid impersonal chain mail ever again.”

If you really do want to communicate with me, send me a personal e-mail. Tell me how you’re doing, what you’re up to, what you’re thinking. Reach out in your own words. I’ll be happy to respond.