Thursday, February 22, 2007

Paper or Plastic?

It doesn't matter as long as there is meat in your bag.
It's not just the well-known and frequently joked-about flatulence and manure of grass-chewing cattle that's the problem, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Land-use changes, especially deforestation to expand pastures and to create arable land for feed crops, is a big part. So is the use of energy to produce fertilizers, to run the slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants, and to pump water...

Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that's more than the emissions caused by transportation...

Researchers at the University of Chicago compared the global warming impact of meat eaters with that of vegetarians and found that the average American diet – including all food processing steps – results in the annual production of an extra 1.5 tons of CO2-equivalent (in the form of all greenhouse gases) compared to a no-meat diet. Researchers Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin concluded that dietary changes could make more difference than trading in a standard sedan for a more efficient hybrid car, which reduces annual CO2 emissions by roughly one ton a year.

"It doesn't have to be all the way to the extreme end of vegan," says Dr. Eshel, whose family raised beef cattle in Israel. "If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you've already made a substantial difference."

You don't have to become a complete vegan. Simply consume fewer animal products and you will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Read Humans' beef with livestock: a warmer planet in the Feb 20 edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

I will repeat myself. You don't need to hang out all of your laundry on a clothesline. If you just hang out the stuff that takes forever to dry; like towels, jeans, sweaters and t-shirts; you have cut down dramatically the amount of energy you consume for laundry.

In addition, when you take a bath or shower, it would be a shame to let all the energy you used to heat the water go down the drain. Leave the water in the tub to release the heat into your house during the winter. Conversely, in the summer, drain hot water immediately to keep your house cool. This will suffice until we all remodel our houses with heat exchanger coils for incoming and outgoing water. ;-)

If you would like to avoid the whole paper or plastic debate at the grocery store, read on for directions on how to make your own reusable cloth bags to take with you to the grocery store.

I was going to write a full-blown tutorial, but that is not necessary because Nancy Restuccia, author of Hold It!: How to Sew Bags, Totes, Duffels, Pouches, and More, has beat me to it here.

I learned how to make my own bags by reverse engineering totes that I already owned, browsing the LL Bean website for functional tote sizes, and reading her book. It is a wonderful book that has gone out of print; I recommend snagging a used copy of it before they become extremely scarce.

I don't use straps all the way down the sides as Nancy recommends. I attach the straps to the top while I hem it. Then I turn the handles up and sew it down again in a box with a X across it.

I do reinforce the bottom.

I bought the canvas and denim from SAS Fabrics in Lawndale. SAS sells leftovers from factories (cheaply) by the pound. I bought a roll of the cotton webbing from Random, a fantastic store on State Street in Santa Barbara. They sell closeouts from businesses and salvage from places about to be torn down or remodeled. Once, we visited when they had piles of art deco tiles and glass blocks from a hotel about to be demolished. It was bittersweet.


  1. Anonymous18:07

    Our family was the lucky recipient of some Grace-sewn bags years ago. I think she used some end-of-roll pieces of canvas, the part where the dye is running out. It was a great visual effect, and they remain in almost daily use.


  2. Anonymous17:05

    It's been canvas bags for me for about 20 years now, and no meat of any kind has gone into them for almost as long.

  3. If I were able to get my hands on some of that misprinted fabric today, I could have tie-dyed those suckers.

  4. Anonymous14:53

    Hi Grace
    Is it okay if I plug my design contest here? I'm sponsoring a reusable grocery bag design contest. Deadline for entries is June 1st. No cost, enter as many times as you like. Prizes include free books, free bags, project consulting and having the winning entry to be evaluated for manufacturability by our sponsor (Reusable If the design was adopted, well, there'd be money for a licensing fee as well.


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