The Art of Sustainability Spring Book List

Tales from my table.

Please hold, we are experiencing a global pandemic…

The Art of Sustainability was on the shelf for about a month while I put my “home-school teacher” hat on and our family got used to a whole new routine. But, it’s Earth Day 2020 and I wanted to share something positive and engaging as part of the March-April Engage! art theme on The Art of Sustainability Instragram feed.

As outward activities are off the table, and after a day of juggling teaching, consulting, and a bit of art here and there, I find myself ready to reach for a good book (OK, if I’m not video chatting with friends, or out enjoying the sporadic sun of a Seattle spring). But I am definitely reading more than I did before the “stay at home” orders came through, and thus offer you this list of engaging reads fresh from my end table:

Design by Nature: Creating Layered, Lived-In Spaces, by Erica Tanov

I picked this book up at one of my favorite bookstores, the James Bookseller in Port Townsend, on my last out-of-town outing before the Seattle shut-down. This book pretty much sums up what I’d like my home style to be. We are slowly remodeling and updating a 1908 Craftsman house that we moved into 2 weeks before becoming parents. So my space has glimmers of hope, but is a long way from “finished”. I find browsing through the pages very calming and inspiring. I appreciate the tales of second hand finds, the artful curation of objects and the organic, cozy, bohemian but modern vibe. I aspire to be minimalist when it comes to possessions but not necessarily when it comes to art and design, plus with a young child and the fact that we are all working and schooling at home right now, these pages offer a much more attainable aesthetic.

A World of Three Zeroes: The New Economy of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions, by Muhammad Yunus

Mr. Yunnus won the Nobel Peace Prize, so that piqued my interest in learning what he might envision as a positive path forward. Of course the current pandemic may change things, or just make it even more pressing as we recover from the crisis. Two major themes emerge: the role of businesses in adopting social benefit metrics in their missions, and micro-banking that emphasizes small loans for individuals and small businesses. The book covers policy changes needed, but here in the U.S. it might just have to start directly with businesses of all sizes to lead the way since government currently cannot move forward. I appreciated the emphasis on solutions, some of which relate to actions we can take ourselves: vote, shop locally, support businesses that support your values.

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, by Phillip Ball

As an artist, I enjoy making things. I also want what I make to reflect my values and interests. The materials I use are also important. As an oil painter, I’ve been making changes in my materials to be more eco and health friendly. Learning more about the pigments used in art materials, their history and how they’re made is fascinating. It will also help me continue to green my studio practice. More to come on that in future at my fine art site.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The interlocking fables of The Overstory (winner of 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction) each feature a tree in some fashion. In a n almost mystical world slow and interconnected with ours, some of the tales are uplifting, some a bit dark. The tales intertwine in later sections of the book, much like the extensive networks below our forests. I’m still reading this one, so will update this section once I finish. Suffice it to say, now is the perfect time to lose yourself in the trees.

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

I worry a lot about where we’re heading as a society. When I discovered this book, I knew I had to read it. The matsusake is the most valuable fungus on the planet, so that alone made me curious. It only grows in human disturbed forests; these little morsels thrive in and help restore damaged ecosystems. The commerce and culture of the international matsusake trade along with lessons for environmental renewal from a mushroom provided an interesting and suspenseful narrative for a non-fiction work.

Support local bookshops, books available at, on the first The Art of Sustainability booklist!

(Disclaimer: The Art of Sustainability will earn a commission on purchases made via this link. Purchases from The Bookshop also support participating independent, local bookstores.)


From renewing the old to inventing the new, artists and designers are creating the materials of our future.

We’ve defined the problem, oh, how we have defined the problems of climate change, habitat loss, plastic-filled oceans, and so forth. Yes, we humans are altering the planet in ways that don’t look promising for our future, or our kids futures for sure. It’s a big call to action. See some of my earlier posts to dig further into the art and actions for climate, plastic pollution or endangered species.

However, sometimes it all seems abstract – 2 degrees celsius global temperature rise – and far away – 2030. How about things you can touch, right now, that are cool to look at, fun to use, feed the soul, and don’t create trash we can’t figure out what to do with? YES! The future is here, or at least the first tiny bits of it. What was once trash is now redefined as “raw material”, and renewable isn’t just for energy, it encompasses ingredients for daily living that grow rapidly (such as bamboo or corn).

Sustainable Materials for a Sustainable Future

I went on a search for new green materials, particularly plant- or waste-based low-carbon options. I found two that are almost poetic in their simplicity, resourcefulness and luster!

Shell Homage: Rania Elkalla

German designer Rania Elkalla created Shell Homage, a new bio-plastic from organic waste – egg shells and nut shells. The resulting material can be used to fabricate a variety of industries from art and interior design to consumable goods and jewelry. The material is also biodegradable so could help eliminate the plastic pollution problem. See more on YouTube here.

What was once trash is now redefined as “raw material”, and renewable isn’t just for energy, it encompasses ingredients for daily living that grow rapidly (such as bamboo or corn).

Fernando Laposse – Tomomxtle

The Totomoxtle veneer panels are made from corn husks with warm variegated tones. The whole process of farming, harvesting and creating the art and furniture with this material helps preserve heritage corn varieties and boost the economic outlook for the farmers in Tonahuixtla, a small village of Mixtec farmers and herders in the state of Puebla. This is a win on so many levels, good for people, planet and prosperity. This is what we need more of. Great design and art have the power to transform us, our communities, our world.

A low-carbon future also means using less raw materials, and using and reusing them wisely. This set of art and design touches on mining for materials in the waste ends and disposable detritus of our society.

Nick Lopez Studio

Nick Lopez turns reclaimed wood scraps into sinuous sculptures and furniture that are truly greater than the sum of their parts.

En Pieza

Given the plastic pollution problem, turning disposable office stationary items into glowing light fixtures sounds like a great idea. Volivik is the elegant offering from Lucs Muñoz at Spanish design studio En Pieza. Constructed of 347 Bic pens – the elegant eco chic chandelier maintains the expected reflections and sparkle of crystal. Reused clips are used in the structure also.

DO|SU Studio

Averting global climate change will require materials with even more carbon cutting potential – on much larger scales. Art can help build acceptance and excitement for changes in industry, building and transportation. The high tech-low tech materials of DO|SU Studio are some I hope gain ground! Architect Doris Sung seeks to make “passive architecture active”. Sung is developing smart materials, such as thermal reactive metals, that allow building walls or other features to self-manage air flow, shading, or even assembly, in response to temperature changes. See some of Sung’s kenetic and sculptural building materials here.

See more MATeRIAL art & design at The Art of Sustainability on Instagram.

These are just a few highlights to wet the appetite – for new green materials that can thread through our everyday lives. Let’s unleash the powers of our big human brains, all that renewable energy called creativity and imagination. Let’s make the Anthropocene a turning point, not the end. In a future where the world went on a carbon diet, was it dwelling on what we gave up that made us change, or did we use some of these new materials and methods as inspiration to chart new courses? I’m banking on the latter, and look forward to using my time, energy, and creativity to create, support or promote new eco art, design, travel, food, buildings, transit, and more.

Joy to the World

Take a holiday from the “end of the world” as we know it, and explore art that shines a light on solutions for a sustainable future.

Sustainable Solutions

2019 included the launch of The Art of Sustainability, and began my curation of a plethora of amazing eco-inspired art. But the news and the messages throughout the year also often contained too much “doom and gloom” for the holidays. So for the Christmas-Channukah-New Year-New Decade holiday season, I decided it was time for a positivity infusion. The Art of Sustainability December 2019 and January 2020 feed focused on art celebrating solutions for our sustainable future. Project Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Edited by Paul Hawken served as my prompt to seek out art exploring the strategies highlighted in the book. Like wine and cheese, for almost every top sustainability strategy, there’s art to go along with it, from Wind Turbines to Trains, and Educating Girls to Forest Protection. OK, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen art about Refrigerant Management (yet)*.

Let’s assume we ARE going to have a future, a bright green, shiny, amazing one; how did we get there? Maybe we tried some of the ideas highlighted in these artful visions.

The heartening thing is that these works shed light on just a few of the types of solutions that we need to create a sustainable future, and that are available right now.

To view all the art from December and January, visit The Art of Sustainability Instagram page (no account needed to view).

Take Heart

The heartening thing is that these works shed light on just a few of the types of solutions that we need to create a sustainable future. The technologies, materials, and methods for our planetary salvation exist, with more are coming online every day. The key challenge is us. To save ourselves, both individually and collectively, we must act in ways that are good for each other and the planet (and by “good for the planet” I mean good for allowing our planet to maintain the temperature range, biodiversity, and clean air and water that we as humans depend on for living), and we must do so quickly. A powerful motivator for change, as it turns out, is storytelling. Rather than tales of woe, however, we need visions of a world we want to see, across all art media. Through art, what seems impossible can be made relatable, and paths to possibility can be glimpsed. Yes, we can do it! We must do it.

*If you have seen art about Refrigerant Management, I’d love to see it! Drop me a line at teresa [at]

Food for Thought

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Planet

Save the bees! Eat less meat! Cut the sugar! Grow your own food! Go organic! Go vegan! So many messages… so little time each day. Let’s simplify things shall we?

Each U.S. household produces emissions, and 17% (8 tons of CO2 per year per household) is based on food consumption. Worldwide, livestock agriculture produces around half of man-made emissions. So eating a lower-carbon diet would be better for the planet by helping to fight climate change. As I researched this month’s Food for Thought Insta-exhibit, a simple set of “healthy eating for a healthy planet” guidelines emerged. And it also turns out these steps are good for you as well as good for the planet.

The cult of mass meat consumption may be nearing its end… Can we balance our diets for the benefit of world and our waistlines?
“Pushing the Grow Up Button” by artist Rich Steven’s, 2015, watercolor on paper, india ink, spray paint, photo collage, crochet thread, plexi-glass, epoxy resin, and aluminum foil on wood in hand-built shadow-box frame [18 1/2″ W x 18 1/2″ L x 2.25″ D] Image courtesy of the Food Art Collection and the artist.
  1. Eat More Plants: No matter which food pyramid you follow, it pretty much suggests a lot of vegetables and fruits, and a mix of grains. My family has been working on this one a lot over the last year. We reworked our front yard, had the neglected lawn removed, and my husband built two eight foot long by three foot wide planter beds. We’ve enjoyed a cycling list of local goodness since around late June: tomatoes, lettuces,basil, chard, kale, green beans, onions, and carrots. Having fresh food literally steps from our door has definitely helped the household eat more plants. Having an awesome network of farmer’s markets in Seattle also helps, along with the plethora of grocery stores in our area that offer a wide array of organic produce. There are so many ways to up the plant factor too, from sneaking zucchini into baked goods to coconut or banana-based “ice cream”.
  2. Eat Less Meat: Well, I only have so much room in the tummy, so if I’m filling it with more plants, ergo there’s less room for meat. But, we’ve employed some tricks to make it easier, to balance my family’s desire to eat some meat with that of eating lower-carbon foods, and we fall well below the U.S. average on that. Apparently this makes me a “flexitarian”. There are so many ways to stretch meat, and go beyond Meatless Mondays. I’m a big fan of salads and stir fry dishes, and soup especially once fall hits. In pretty much any recipe, you can just add more veggies, halve or remove the meat, and replace with beans, lentils or mushrooms.
  3. Eat Local: From veggies and fruits, to dairy, eggs, and meat, fish or poultry if you eat it, local is awesome! Local means less transport energy from farm to table, and more nutrients in our bodies as foods can be allowed to ripen more before harvest. Local products also support local economies, and keep heirloom varieties in the market, which is good for flavor variety and resilience as one type of tomato or grain might be more or less resistant to specific pests for example.
  4. Eat Variety: Eat a rainbow, and collect more vitamins. Each color of food generally relates to different vitamins and minerals. Different plants, from vegetables to grains, have different protein, fat and nutrient profiles. So variety boosts nutrition. And, many foods these days, even organic ones, have issues. From transport energy to toxins from the past lives of the fields, it’s best to eat a wide mix of foods to limit both the environmental impacts and the personal health impacts. For example, globally rice is typically contaminated with arsenic thanks to the past lives of many rice fields. (consumer reports link) Yet the health benefits of the food outweigh the risks, if you don’t eat too much of any one thing. So variety helps from both directions. It boosts nutrition and reduces risks. For those worried about gluten and wheat, mix in other grains from quinoa and rice to buckwheat and farro (and buy bulk when you can to reduce plastic). Meat has a high carbon footprint, so mix other proteins from lower carbon sources, from poultry and fish to mushrooms and pulses.
  5. Skip Processed Foods: Cook at home, incorporate tips from #1-4 above, and you’ll do this automatically.
Abundance – let’s eat to keep it that way! Artwork by Julie Paschkis.

…all of the above can be mixed and matched to help us eat a lower-carbon diet that is better for our world and our waistlines.

Experiment and have fun! And know that all of the above can be mixed and matched to help us eat a lower-carbon diet that is better for our world and our waistlines. As I continue on my The Art of Sustainability journey that started last April, and refine my personal ecological footprint, I will continue to seek new ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. So far some ideas have resonated, like eating the oh-so fresh greens from our new front yard vegetable beds and dialing down the meat volume. These changes don’t feel like sacrifices, they just feel right, for me and for the planet.

A special thanks to Jeremy Buben at the Food Art Collection for the leisurely Sunday afternoon tour! For those in the Seattle area, it’s definitely a delightful little gem tucked away in a residential area of Capital Hill. Visit their website for exhibit information and hours.

Keep It Wild

Saving species to save ourselves.

As I’ve explored this month’s theme, Keep it Wild, looking at the work of wildlife and conservation artists and powerful images of flora and fauna that inhabit our world, I noticed there is an artist partner or partners out there for almost every endangered or threatened species. From snow leopards to song birds, artists have rallied to help draw attention to the issues and support the organizations working on behalf of those without words.

What will future generations miss out on? Heck, we might miss some species in OUR lifetimes!

So I wondered, how many endangered species are there? What is the picture closer to home? While many people might express a note of concern over the plight of an exotic species such as a rhinoceros, are they willing to change behaviors to make a difference? How our actions impact creatures on the other side of the planet might seem hard to connect with. How about how our actions impact species in our backyard, and how their loss could impact us? For example, let’s look at the avian state of the world here in North America – where the bird population is three billion birds short of 1970 numbers. Birds are a vital part of our food chain and ecology. In a nutshell, pesticide use (= less bugs) and habitat loss have resulted in lower bird populations, which means less bird predators, and eventually less animals overall. That means less bird watching for one, but as the creatures in the food chain change, there may also be impacts to the human food chain too. And birds are just one category of animals on the decline.

Across the world there are over 41,000 species of mammals, birds and insects on the U.N. Red List, with 16,000+ listed as endangered. Closer to home, in Washington State, 45 species are endangered or threatened. Another 102 candidates are under review, including several species of salmon (Chinook, Chum, Sockeye and Steelhead) which are a key part of the northwest ecosystem, as well as a vital ingredient in local culture, cuisine, and economies. So, what kinds of creatures might future generations miss out on? Let’s take a look at just the 45 species on the Washington State Endangered and Threatened Species List:


  • Pygmy Rabbit
  • Fin Whale
  • Sei Whale
  • Blue Whale
  • Humpback Whale
  • North Pacific Right Whale
  • Sperm Whale
  • Killer Whale
  • Gray Whale
  • Gray Wolf
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Lynx
  • Fisher
  • Columbian White-tailed Deer
  • Woodland Caribou
  • Sea Otter
  • Western Gray Squirrel
  • Mazama Pocket Gopher
“Blue” is gray wolf from artist Julie Devine (, who shares her love for these wild creatures in her art. Gray wolves roam in the Eastern part of Washington, and are a vital component of the ecosystem which help maintain HEALTHY herds of deer and other wild grazers by keeping herds smaller and reducing the spread of disease.


  • Sandhill Crane
  • Snowy Plover
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Tufted Puffin
  • Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse
  • Northern Spotted Owl
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Streaked Horned Lark
  • American White Pelican
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Common Loon
‘Silent Skies’ is an international collaborative mural mosaic featuring all 678 endangered species of birds of the world.  It is a collaboration between Artists for Conservation and the 27th International Ornithological Congress in Vancouver, Canada. Imagine no birdsong the next time you take a walk – an eerie thought. The good news is that we can still take action and keep our skies full of song.


  • Western Pond Turtle
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle
  • Green Sea Turtle


  • Oregon Spotted Frog
  • Northern Leopard Frog
  • Larch Mountain Salamander


  • Oregon Silverspot Butterfly
  • Taylor’s Checkerspo
  • Mardon Skipper
  • Pinto Abalone


  • Pygmy Whitefish
  • Margined Sculpin
  • Olympic Mudminnow

I was surprised to find so many just in my own state, and these aren’t even the ones up for consideration! If this state of the species spurs you to take action, here are four ways you can help save species at risk:

  1. Support non-profit organizations (World Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, etc.) working to save an animal, plant or fish you’d like to see stick around.
  2. Visit a local, state or national wildlife refuge, park or forest.
  3. Create wildlife habitat by planting native plants in your yard or by lending a hand at a native planting event at a local school or park.
  4. Volunteer to count birds and other wildlife, catalog urban trees or participate in other citizen science projects in your area, from beach or stream cleanup to non-native plant removal.

And see my pasts posts tips on fighting climate change and using less plastic, both of which would be beneficial to all species.

Practice What We Teach

Science isn’t just a topic taught in schools, is it?

On September 20, 2019, Seattle youth joined those in NYC and across the globe in school walk-outs to march for pro-climate policies and to fight for their future.

The 2019 Climate Week in New York City is in full swing, kicked into high gear with last Friday’s Global Climate Strike led by the world’s youth.
Their DIY artful protest signs shared their messages to the world’s leaders and inspired this post. This week, young climate advocate Greta Thunberg admonished governments and big corporations for not doing enough, and stealing her future and that of youth everywhere.

Being young, female or autistic doesn’t make one wrong or a pawn of adult manipulation, as some right wing politicians have implied. Rather, Thunberg’s impassioned plea to congress to listen to the science is direct, and is based on the consensus of the world’s scientists. Thunberg submitted as part of her testimony to Congress last week the
United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 report, which states that we must reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 (and to net-zero carbon by 2050) to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celcius to avoid the worst of environmental disasters. How can we teach kids science in school, but then tell them to leave it at the door when the bell rings at the end of the day? One segment of the media holds Thunberg’s message up as a banner cry for change; others worry that her focus on government and big business shifts focus away from the significance of individual actions. And then the U.S. President mocks her on Twitter. .

Climate Science

So, the science has set our metrics and our deadline; step one is to cut carbon almost in half by 2030 to avoid the worst climate scenarios. Eco-advocates have pushed for individual actions for the last 20-30 years, and Thunberg calls for governments and corporations to change. So who’s right? That’s a question that creates a false construct. There is no need to choose. All three groups must implement change; all three are, and must continue to be, interconnected to hit the carbon targets.

So, if we need all three sectors of society to change, what does that look like?

Climate Action Trifecta

We need a trifecta of climate leadership and action – from individuals, private sector businesses and governments at all levels.

Individuals: Many concerned citizens have heeded the climate change call; personal actions range from eating vegetarian to carpooling to work, installing solar panels on our homes to downsizing our housing or amount of goods we buy, and on and on. And these collective actions have influenced the market – we see B Corporations, and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting, and big business actions. But the rate of change has been too slow; climate change is already happening and we need help. To learn more about how you can take individual actions to cut carbon, read the action section of my post Climate Shift.

Private Sector Business: It’s time for the next industrial revolution, moving toward carbon-neutral technologies, waste-free products, and resource-efficient methods, while also supporting local economies and creating jobs. It’s time for businesses to innovate, to lead, to adapt or die. That’s what free markets are supposed to do. From Amazon to Walmart, more and more businesses are joining in carbon reductions, in part based on consumer, shareholder, and employee demand. Yet, 70% of emissions come from just 100 companies, most in the oil and gas industry (including the consumption of their products by consumers); it’s time for those companies to shift to the industries of the future, and fast.

Governments: Regulations, policies and incentives must be put in place that support the private sector and foster a market that moves us toward a climate positive future. From carbon taxes to transportation and energy subsidies to renewable energy and fossil-fuel free transportation, to clean air and water regulations, we need governments to step up. 24 U.S. States have stepped up so far, so there are clear precedents for the other states and the Federal government to join, follow, or use as a starting point.

Climate Solutions

There are hosts of lists of solutions, steps, and strategies. Two that are concise yet comprehensive are the Washington Post’s “Here Are 11 Climate Change Policies to Fight For in 2019” and , and Scientific America’s “10 Solutions for Climate Change.”

There is a lot of overlap, with common themes of personal actions from diet to transit and home energy to family size; business practices from eco-agriculture to open electric markets, and policies including carbon taxes, emissions goals, and a Green New Deal. If we all pull together in the same direction, we can cut carbon, while also boosting the economy by creating jobs, and supporting eco-friendly technologies, products and methods. It’s time for every sector and every level of society and in every corner of the globe, especially in the developed world which has the highest carbon footprint, to act and to act now.

Eco-Art Outside

An unscheduled month of summer art-ing outside & on-the-go.

Off exploring I go… Looking forward to sharing the eco-art discoveries!
Birch View, detail from oil painting by Teresa Stern.

Between working while juggling my daughter’s swim lessons and summer camp schedule, camping, park outings, and travel, I decided I needed to do things differently for August. So I’ll take my The Art of Sustainability lens with me, and point it toward my eco-art finds wherever I go. But with no schedule for the week’s Instagram posts and a minimal blog.

Join the Eco-Artventure!

Follow along with my summer eco-artventures on Instagram @the_art_of_sustainability and on Facebook @theartofsustainabilityblog. Share your own eco-artventures – tag one of the accounts above. I’ll feature shares along the way as well, with citation of course!

Don’t Trash It! Part 3

Turning Art into Action

The pretty plastic-free paper and humor are a plus. Shipping TP from China is a minus, or is it? The answer can be surprising.

One thing The Art of Sustainability project has done for me is provide a regular process whereby I see amazing environmentally inspired art with a message. The messages range from “protect our oceans” to “prevent more extreme climate change”, from “reduce waste” to “preserve habitat”, and on and on. The creativity is inspiring, the messages, to me, compelling, and they have a common underlying thread: PLEASE ACT and ACT NOW. When I heard about #plasticfreejuly, I decided to see what changes I could make to heed the messages to reduce waste and prevent plastic pollution.

This is a summary of my #PlasticFreeJuly journey. It has by no means been a perfect journey, as my July was not 100% plastic-free. However, there will be more stops ahead, and it has been a fun adventure with much learned. I was ready to go beyond the basics – reusable shopping bags and coffee cups. So to dive deeper, I decided to tackle some of the other plastics I use daily, some single-use, some not. I focused on health and beauty products, and foods in plastic packaging. There was no rigorous weighing of options, I must admit. Rather, I looked at the plastics I saw myself using (or discarding) each day, and looked for available alternatives that suited me, either from a cost or convenience perspective. I was looking for repeatable options preferably, that would survive July.

Who needs plastic to wash their hair? Not I!

July’s “Plastic-Free” Destinations:

  1. Beef up the Basics: OK, I went into July with a fairly well-stocked set of what I’d call the Plastic Alternate Basics: reusable coffee mugs, shopping bags, cotton produce bags, reusable food containers, and reusable or compostable straws and utensils. So for July I set some rules: no reusable cup or bag = no purchase. This resulted in having coffee at the coffee shop a few times when I really wanted it to-go instead, or sometimes skipping coffee until I could get my cup. Full confession, I did get one frosty iced-coffee this month in a disposable plastic cup. Sigh, a moment of tired weakness. Oh, there were a couple deli purchases that required new plastic containers. So now I’ve stashed a couple in my shopping bag pile. But otherwise, the tactic of sprinkling cups, mason jars, and bags at the office, in the car, and by the door at home helped immensely in my somewhat-plastic-free July.
  2. Laundry Detergent: After my April blog post “Plastic Apocalypse” which featured Stuart Haygarth’s Tide Chandelier, I’d just had it with plastic laundry soap containers. Haygarth’s glowing orb of plastic containers haunted me. I searched for “plastic free laundry soap” and found Tangie from Waste Free Products. (Yes, there are powder detergents that come in paper-board boxes, but the boxes have a plastic coating as a moisture barrier so are not recyclable.) Tangie products are made in California, so fairly local to Seattle, and offered the most local product I could find at that time. I ordered their laundry soap paste, which is a soap sized bar that comes in a small compostable paper box. I’ll save my current laundry soap jug to refill with the paste and dilute the paste water to make my new liquid laundry detergent. I have not tried it yet but will add a comment below once I have. I like that this approach skips the paper vs glass container conundrum and jumps right to much reduced and compostable packaging. Additionally, since we are not shipping the water which I will add at home instead, it likely has a lower transportation emissions impact on the climate. At $0.08/load, this is less than the detergent I buy now.
  3. Shampoo and Conditioner: When I’m in the shower, besides the bar of soap, I’m surrounded by plastic. Shampoos, conditioners, make-up remover, baby shampoo, and shave lotion. So for my personal July journey, it was time to hack away at some of those bottles. When I’d ordered my laundry paste, I also purchased Tangie shampoo and conditioner bars. With the first order, WasteFreeProducts offered the option to include free loofah discs labeled “shampoo” and “conditioner”, which are very handy and help the bars dry and last longer. (Note as of today, the loofah option appears to have been replaced with wood drying discs that require purchase. Or just cut up your own loofah.) I finished my bottled set earlier this month and started using the bars, and I LOVE them! My hair feels soft and clean. It’s also easy to use just a tiny amount of conditioner, which is great for my hair type. My 7-year old daughter started using them this month, and it’s really good for her curly hair too; her frizzies are much reduced. I keep the set on their labeled loofah bases in a metal wire soap dish that suctions to the back shower wall to keep them out of the shower spray. The cost was about the same as buying a new set of eco-friendly shampoo and conditioner at my local drugstore, and based on usage so far the bars should last as long as a bottle if not longer, so this eco-swap might also be a cost saver for me.
  4. Toilet Paper: I know that toilet paper is wrapped in plastic wrap for hygiene and to keep it dry. It’s basically a “bag’s worth” of plastic film that I can drop off at the store-recycling bin at one of the stores I go to about monthly, but still it bugs me. I used to see individual paper-wrapped rolls at our local drug store, but haven’t spied them recently. So after seeing the Who Gives a Crap ad go by on @the_art_of_sustainability Instagram feed numerous times, I decided to try the “feel good toilet paper”. Advertising really does work I guess… I went the full distance and ordered a case of 100% recycled 3-ply, plastic-free TP. So far, it really does feel good. It’s soft enough (not scratchy, but not downy soft either) and does what it’s supposed to do without disintegrating during use. And helping fund toilets in developing countries also feels good. At a dollar per roll, it is more pricey than buying standard TP on sale at the grocery store (my previous practice) but is comparable cost-wise to other recycled toilet papers (that come wrapped in plastic). But, despite being the prettiest TP I’ve ever seen, with the patterned paper wraps (which can be reused for crafts or wrapping gifts), and a sense of potty humor that I appreciate, the fact that it’s made in China gives me pause. Great life cycle review here from The Kritic; I’ll need to confirm that similar lower carbon footprint for WGAC holds true for U.S. buyers before my next TP purchase.
  5. Snack Time: The daily challenge of providing healthy, tasty and packable snacks for my school-aged child has proven to be one of the largest conundrums of parenthood. Now, for July and beyond, these snacks need to be healthy, tasty, packable AND plastic-free. Which means granola bars were out. I grabbed a few reused bulk bags and headed to the bulk aisles at the local grocery and Whole Foods (bonus, WF provides paper bags for bulk purchases). After taste and texture testing with my daughter, we settled on a good blend of healthy and tasty treats: bulk sunflower seeds, dried apricots, yogurt-covered pretzels, and cheddar sesame sticks. I also started baking this Oatmeal Banana Bread. Chunky slices in an snap lock container are hearty and travel well. But, I do have to remember to bake during the weekend.
  6. Food Staples: Last fall my husband took up bread baking, for purely culinary and entertainment reasons. He bakes a loaf of whole wheat bread every week so we have sandwich bread covered, with the bonus of skipping plastic bread bags and the excess sugar common in standard store-bought bread. (He uses just a touch of honey.) So I identified two other high volume staples in our household, milk and yogurt, and decided to try making them plastic-free. Our local market has locally milked milk in returnable glass jugs, so I purchased some to drink and some to use to make yogurt. Thanks to this Instant Pot yogurt recipe from A Mindful Mom which shares tips for tailoring the yogurt to your tanginess tastes, the process was super easy. I’d heard that making yogurt was easy but wow, I had no idea just how easy, and at about half the price of store-bought yogurt!
  7. Farm to Table: Truly community supported agriculture, or CSA’s for short, are a win on many levels. Having a box of vegetables, fruit, or both, delivered to your door or somewhere in the neighborhood direct from the farm provides fresh, local, tasty, healthy, seasonal ingredients. And it comes with little or no plastic. We enjoyed a couple of boxes from Full Circle Farms this month. FCF lets you customize ingredients as well as the schedule, so we’ve been ordering 1-2 times per month so far this season. I also lucked into being vacation coverage for a friend who hosts a pick up site for fruit boxes from Collins Family Orchards. They have consistently delivered the most amazing peaches, nectarines and cherries, and at a slight discount compared to farmer’s market. Next year I will reserve my spot as soon as the announcement comes out; I moved too slow this year and they sold out before I signed up.

So, I definitely made some progress on my “plastic-free path”. It feels good to celebrate this month’s successes, while also mapping out a few more things for my ongoing adventure. Much of the above will continue long past July, and now that I’ve noticed the plastic in my home and learned how easy it can be to swap things out in some areas, I’m ready to look for some more plastic-free options. A few things I haven’t gotten to yet include tackling the toothpaste tube dilemma (they’re not recyclable, most tubes don’t even have a recycling logo and plastic number), getting my child to eat fresh peanut butter that we can grind in-store, in our own container (right now she hates it, so we buy Cadia which comes in glass jars), and buying meats and poultry that’s not sitting on foam and shrink wrapped in plastic (even the farmer’s market meats come in plastic). But, there’s one thing I gave up in July that I’m not sure I can live without permanently: tortilla chips. I might give myself a limit, I might still use carrot sticks instead sometimes, but I’m going to need to feed that particular addiction from time to time. My salsa needs its true soul mate.

Whether or not anyone can truly live plastic-free in the western world is also a question to ponder. There are advantages to plastics – they are flexible and durable and plastic packaging weighs less and can reduce shipping costs and emissions – but the loop we’ve created is certainly unsustainable. For now, using plastic alternatives where they are available and affordable, which varies by location and person, and supporting businesses who offer those alternatives are solid steps in the right direction.

Double plastic with beef? How do I say “No thank you!”?
(Image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay.)

My list of plastic-free living is more like “less plastic living” and is by no means comprehensive. If you want more “plastic free” tips, visit Beth Terry’s excellent website and blog My Plastic Free Life.

If you have comments, tips or resources to add, please share below. I’d love to hear from you!

Don’t Trash It! Part 2

A Gallery of Art from the Reclaimed

This month’s theme, Don’t Trash It! explores art that mines the reclaimed and the discarded, and turns that trash into art treasures.

PET Cactus Collection by Veronika Richterova. Photo by
Michal Cihlář. This lovely little garden creates beauty out of waste. There really is no reason any plastic bottle should wind up in the ocean when it could become something like this instead…
Detail of Color Collage piece, reclaimed tin, by Nan Wonderly. For Wonderly, working with materials near the end of their intended lifecycle was a conscious statement about environmental destruction and the human role in it. To me, her color-blocked abstracts offer a positive reminder to look at things in a different way.
Banff, recycled mixed media, by Magical Zoo. Magical Zoo’s post-consumer, up-cycled creatures embody zero-waste as a call for environmental conservation, and animal protection. These creatures remind us of the wonder in nature, the majesty of word’s species, of which humans are but one.
The Falter, mixed media on canvas, 30″x40″. Artist Brittany M Noriega
literally paints with trash to create luminous textures.
Fertility, medical detritus, glass, cement by Kalindi Kunis. Pulling from collected non-recyclable waste, Kunis merged the botanical inspirations from her 2D work with the hard “facts” of human activity – waste with nowhere else to go.
Fading Cloth,liquor bottle tops & copper wire, by El Anatsui. I was lucky to see this shimmering sheet of golden yellows, reds and metallics while at the St. Louis Art Museum earlier this year. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui sews a “cloth of gold” from flattened, discarded liquor bottle tops and copper wire. Beyond the alchemy of turning trash into “gold”, Fading Cloth weaves in socio-political meaning; as Europeans historically had traded textiles and liquor for gold and slaves in West Africa. My sister graciously served as a model to illustrate the grand scale of this glowing work.
Joshua Tree, acrylic on found trash, by Mariah Reading. The artist sees the consequences of our consumption on the ground, literally. After traditional sculpture and painting, she turned to trash as the base for her landscape paintings as a conscious move to reduce waste associated with making art and with the hope of “snapping us out of our complacency.” Brava!
Colt 45, found aluminum cans, rocks by Vancouver B.C, artist Robi Smith. Smith’s work is deeply rooted in the NW coastal ecosystem. Her playful recycled beer can fish belies the reality of the impacts of human activities, including pollution and waste, on local forests, beaches, rivers, and ocean life.
Christy Rupp‘s “The Threatened Swan” is modeled after historic art by Jan Asselijn, ca 1650 (image below), recreated here with discarded plastic net bags, steel, plastic, fish line, and paint. 24”x41”x15”
Pipette Necklace, medical waste, by Sheena Mathieson. Mathieson celebrates the “art of the found” in this art for you neck… Truly the resources available to artists to mine for art making is astounding. This statement necklace makes more than one statement!
Scenic World Installation, plastic bottles, Jane V Gillings. Gillings’ work highlights the impacts, and extent, of our man-made materials. Is it a ray of light or a plastic crashing “wave”?
Little Green, geo-metric wall sculpture made with plastic drinking straws and nylon string, 1999. Artist Tony Feher was an American sculptor known for working with low cost and found objects. I spied this pieced at the James Harris Gallery in 2018; now it’s in the Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. 25 ¼ × 25 ½ × ¼ in (64.1 × 64.8 × .6 cm)

Don’t Trash It!

Art that transforms trash into treasure, with a message.

How do we reach a zero waste future? Can art show the way?

We’ve got a problem with waste. It includes single-use plastics, and so much beyond. We have a global dependency on plastic that has been manufactured into every level of consumer society. Hybrid materials mix multiple ingredients that are difficult to recycle or impossible to compost. Synthetic fabrics leach micro-plastic fibers into the water system every time we wash our clothes. The design of fabrics, materials, and products do not address the waste they create during and after their use. The disposal or recycling of products is not handled by the companies that create them, but by the consumer and the communities in which they live. Thus taxpayers tackle disposal, removing corporate financial incentives to reduce the production of waste-generating goods.

So in July, The Art of Sustainability will feature art that mines the vast abundance of waste and trash and beach litter and plastic bottles and caps and so on, and transforms those discarded items into art treasures. Can art inspire us to reduce and reuse, lowering the demand for the challenge of global recycling? Can art inspire demand for plastic alternatives, for slow fashion, for compostable products, for natural materials, for zero-waste pathways?

Also, The Art of Sustainability will experiement with a new format this month. The Don’t Trash It! blog will be split into 3 sub-posts. First, will be the introductory statement, similar to the exhibit description at a museum. The second post of the month will include a gallery of images that grows throughout the month, in parallel to the @the_art_of_sustainability feed on Instagram. The third post of the month will offer reflections and observations from the month’s art with a review of related actions for those who are interested in making change. I’ll include steps I’ve taken in my own life as well as a record of my own journey.