Mother Earth News Fair, PA

After a short road trip to D.C. and a few stops at farms in Pennsylvania, my boyfriend and I made it to our weekend destination of Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pennyslvania for the Mother Earth News Fair. It was a weekend of speakers and vendors, all with the intention of spreading sustainability ideas and practices.

From Friday early afternoon through late afternoon on Sunday, it was speaker after speaker on topics ranging from managing worm farms to how to make DIY skin care and everything in between. Searching through the schedule and circling my top picks every morning felt like being back in college looking through the course catalog choosing my subject of study. Sitting in the hour long lectures taking notes was also reminiscent of being back in school, and I am such a book-wormy student, writing down page after page of notes. There certainly was a lot to learn throughout the weekend. I listened to talks on diet, gardening, business, natural building, mushrooms, permaculture, and livestock.

The fair was just what I needed and came at the right time. My return the U.S. has been a little difficult after five months of travel around the world visiting homesteads and learning how people live as sustainability as possible.I have had great opportunities learning about plants, animals, food, and wellness systems all in beautiful locations with equally beautiful people. Returning home has been great to see my friends and family, but I have been missing the alternative lifestyles that I witnessed while traveling, so finding out about the Mother Earth News Fair couldn’t have come at a better time.

Really good things are happening in this country as hard as it is to keep in mind during this outrageous election time. It’s not just the election, there are other things that have been hard for me to adjust to upon my return to this country. Any repatriation is probably difficult no matter which country you call home, but I think many would agree that now is an absolutely crazy time to come back to land of the “free.” Attending an event full of hope and innovation was just what I needed. I may be a long ways away from having my own yoga-rescue-dog-homestead paradise, but it’s never too early to start planning.

The only down falls of the fair were the food and a lack of yoga. I expected to find grass fed beef burgers and fresh produce, it would have only made sense, but instead the food was that of the ski resort. Overpriced and packaged in plastic. We opted to picnic the last two days and skip the unhealthy resort food. I know yoga isn’t a given at a sustainability fair, but I think it can be woven into anything. It’s so holistic and universal; maybe they need a yoga teacher for next year? Regardless, I hope to be returning year after year to the Mother Earth News Fair.

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The Magic at Re-Green, Greece

This has been a summer of travel for me. After leaving Korea back in February I started travelling, meeting people, and learning through experiences in countries such as India, Greece, Poland, Czechia, and now Canada. I’ve been able to do so through a network called Help-X which you can read more about right here. One of my favorite stops in all of my travels and all of my Help-X past experiences has, by far, been at Re-Green in Greece.

Now before I get started and carried away, typing out hundreds of words on the wonders that I found at Re-Green, I’d better reign in my thoughts right here and right now. To make things easy on both of us, I’ll narrow down my thoughts to just four simple bullet points. And before I do so, let me also explain that I hope that this write-up can stand as a review for those considering trying to volunteer through a work exchange network there, or those who may attend one of their many workshops (including yoga and PDC.) More than a review, maybe it will open your eyes and mind to some cool new ideas that they’re doing over there. If nothing else, may Re-Green inspire you on your path to sustainability, whichever route it is you are taking to get there.

Why Re-Green is Magical

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  • Their View on Life – The people over at Re-Green have called their homestead-retreat center/little-piece-of-paradise Re-Green for a reason. The name stands for a conscious lifestyle that is about living a sustainably by doing more than recycling and buying energy-efficient light bulbs. To Re-Green is to work with each other and nature in order to live harmoniously with the surrounding environment, which is exactly what they strive to do at their home.  You can read  more on their website about what Re-Green stands for. A real life example of Re-greening that they have there is turning an old trunk into a solar oven to bake your potatoes in for dinner. It was so cool.

 

  • The People – From the first time that Ben and I were picked up on a cold cloudy day  in April by a big white, windowless van (I know that sounds more scary than magical, but it turned out just fine in the end – don’t let the media scare you out of having adventures!) The friendly people in the van were of course the owners and stewards of  Re-Green. It’s not always that you meet new people and instantly click, but that’s what happened. During the weeks that we stayed there were a handful of other volunteers from all over Europe and they too we jived with straight away. Lots of late nights sharing stories and laughing. It was easy and obvious why so many new friends were made there, it was because people were drawn there who believe in a philosophy of bettering the world by enhancing nature.

 

  • Surrounded by Beauty – Stunning mountain peeks surround the valley that the retreat center nestles in and almost every day I found myself wondering how I’d ended up at such a majestic place on earth. Looking closer to the ground you’ll see wildflowers and abundant gardens blossoming all around. Cuteness overload with puppies, ducklings, and little baby chicks added to the happiness.  On clear days you can see down to the Gulf of Corinth; the view of the sea from the middle compost toilet is especially lovely. At night-time the stars take over and during rain or cold, it’s the natural buildings that inspire.

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  • Experiences Not Things – Going to a retreat center that hosts events from yoga, to learning about detoxing herbs, to preserving the gardens gifts, means that you are bound to learn loads. Sharing ideas and ways with other volunteers and guest teachers will also translate to learning and as a volunteer the learning will be hands on and practical. If working on your vacation sounds like torture then check out their events on Facebook and visit as a guest. The rooms alone are reason enough to spend a weekend there, they are housed in an old, stone farm house with so much attention to detail in the remodel (they’ve been Re-Greened you might say!) While I was there I was in heaven doing yoga, teaching yoga, learning about vegetation, hiking, natural building, cuddling dogs, reading books, pulling weeds, and the list could go on.

 

This post is not so much a review as it is a gush of a place that I absolutely fell in love with. They had me at their description of their purpose and I hoped, and prayed, and crossed my fingers back in January 2016 when I applied for my boyfriend and I to volunteer there that they would take us, and then I jumped for joy when I got an email that they would. Our six weeks there were so absolutely astounding that we never wanted to leave. Maybe one day we’ll do as so many others who have visited there have done – move our lives there. Previous volunteers have fallen in love with the place and the people so much so that they bought land to become part of the Re-Green community. Moving to the mountains of Greece may just be a day dream of mine for now, but I can still day dream. If you likewise find yourself daydreaming about living life in a  real-life-sustainable-fantasy-land, then make it a reality and get yourself to Re-Green.

Plastic Free France in Plastic Free July!

Plastic Free July is an initiative that challenges us to say no and refuse single-use plastics for the entire month of July (and hopefully the newly strengthened habit will carry over into August, September, and every other month.) You can read more about the campaign on the official website here.

Examples of plastics to say no to for the rest of the month are plastic forks/knives/spoons, red solo cups, plastic bags at the check out, and straws. Shop smart by choosing items packaged as lightly as possible, and go to a farmer’s market and buy your produce there, have them place your fruit and veg straight into your reusable bag instead of using those pointless produce bags at the grocery store. Bonus! – you support local farms and eat healthier, local foods!

What’s the big deal about single-use plastic anyway? Well quite frankly, it sucks. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. These items of “convenience” are produced with oil (polyethylene) and other chemicals at very high temperatures (500 F), packaged and shipped out to stores, where they’re freely given out or are charged at a very low price, carry your items where you are going and then likely get tossed in the garbage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows thinking, “But wait, I recycle!” well then I am grateful that you take that extra step, and everyone should be recycling by now, it’s 2016 after all, but I’d argue that the energy used in transporting, cleaning, and processing the recycled plastic is unnecessary. Consider if instead we all used real knives and forks (or any other real, multi-use item instead of a single-use plastic one) and then washed them after use to be used again, and again, and again. Recycling is energy intensive, and although yes, it is better than tossing plastic into the trash or on the street; I don’t think that it’s the answer to all of our problems.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. This is not a post about why we should refuse plastic, no that can be found here  and here, and tips on how to cut back on plastics in your life are written here. No, this post is actually a celebration of an entire country banning plastic bags – an entire country! That country my friends, is France.

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This is what happened: starting on July 1, 2016 all shops and super markets no longer carry thin, single-use plastic bags at their check out. Instead shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, or buy heavy-duty bags that cost more than the typical 10 cents. Bags that yes, _DSC4495are plastic, but that are meant for multiple uses. Plastic bags generally have a life span of carrying your groceries from the store check out line to your car and then from the car to your kitchen where they likely get tossed in the trash, recycle bin, or in a designated area where they’ll sit with all of the other useless plastic bags that have come home with the shopping and that have no other purpose. It is a beautiful thing that France realized the waste and inefficiency and made laws to get rid of them all together.

What’s more, is that starting on January 1, 2017 in France plastic produce bags found next to the fruit and vegetables will go from being plastic (the norm) to being paper or a compostable corn-starch plastic. A lot of waste is going to be saved in France not just in the shops and super markets but also in the weekly markets and night markets that are still alive and thriving in  almost every small town and village.

Thank you, France! What an inspiration for all other cities and countries to aspire to. In my most optimistic dreams the U.S. will follow suit one day, and I will anxiously be awaiting that day.


*Note on Photography: All photos were taken on the ground near Bordeaux, France by my accommodating partner, Ben Lear.

Fast Fashion 101

The most recent post over here at karabemisyoga.com was a short, introductory, factual write up about the often overlooked dark truth of how our clothing is produced in our modern, globalized world. A remembrance of a day in April when over a thousand people lost their lives stitching together pieces of fabric to be shipped all over the developed world and sold with no mention of the countless people whose hands assembled the clothing, other than a tag that is rarely checked labeled “Made in Bangladesh.”

The anti-industry name associated with this type of fashion is “Fast Fashion,” and it’s become the norm these days. I say anti-industry for lack of a better descriptor, and what I mean by this is that once you learn the ins-and-outs (that often go un-publicized) of the Fast Fashion industry – the labor conditions, pollution, waste, product quality, etc. – you’ll quickly turn against it and search for alternatives.

To understand the term Fast Fashion a little better,  think of Fast Fashion the same way you probably think of fast food – yes, eating at McDonalds is quick and easy, tastes “good,” and gives an instant satisfaction, but after you go home your belly might hurt and after you read up on what those “chicken” nuggets are really made of, you probably won’t go back for a while. Similar to walking into the golden arches, you may at first have a feeling of satisfaction, the pastel-floral-pink racerback is cute enough and at that price how could you resist? But when you get home and try it on again the fit turns out to be just a little bit off and the feel of the polyester on your skin isn’t that nice, so you might wear it out once or twice, but it quickly makes it’s way to the bottom of the drawer, so undervalued that you don’t even bother to fold it, it’s just wadded up lost to the world forever.

Or lets say that you love this top and wear it multiple times in one season, that’s great – to give a product a full life instead of losing it in your wardrobe or dumping it in the trash, but the cheap material (polyester/acrylic/etc.) doesn’t last through many wash cycles. Soon enough the seams start to come out, but it’s not worth any upkeep or care, no one would ever bother to have a low quality item dry cleaned for example (and the skill of mending has no value when you can just go out and buy a replacement for a few bucks.) Instead the falling-apart top gets taken to the thrift store where it won’t even get put on the over-crowded racks because it has no value, it winds up in the trash in the end after only a few months.

Look into the pink top’s production and you’ll find environmental pollution and lax labor laws in developing nations where the industry has been outsourced for the past few decades. Rivers run rainbow colors in China, synthetic material is often oil based, using up non-renewable resources, and all of the international shipping from seed to fabric to T-shirt damage the environment. Of course the reason why production has been shifted to other countries is cheap labor, low taxes, and nearly nonexistent environmental protection laws.

A shirt made in Bangladesh is made for a fraction of the costs it could be made in the U.S. or other developed nations, but that cheap price tag has hidden costs, i.e. Rana Plaza. These extremely low wages paid abroad are often not even at a living wage standard; meaning workers might make their country’s minimum wage, but still they struggle to get by day to day.

As if remembering the human toll and struggle that goes into the production of our cheap clothing wasn’t enough to sway you to shop differently and more ethically when possible, then consider as well the price that the environment pays (which was only skimmed here.) And ask yourself if that $5 pink-pastel top is really worth it.

There are alternatives to Fast Fashion, some you can read about on this site and some that maybe you can share with me. May you happily shift into well informed, ethical, well made shopping and away from Fast Fashion.

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Rana Plaza Remembered

Rana Plaza, located just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh was an eight story building that collapsed due to poor construction and lack of maintenance on April 24, 2013. Thousands of workers were housed within the walls of Rana Plaza and were forced to go to work although there was knowledge of a large crack in a column of the structure that eventually led to the collapse. One thousand-three hundred-thirty four people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand people were injured.

One thousand-three hundred- thirty four (1,134) people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand (2,000) people were injured.

 

The thousands of laborers worked for very low wages for big-name western companies such as Joe Fresh (Canada,) Carrefour (France,) Primark (UK,) J.C. Penney (U.S.,) and Zara (Spain.) As of this 2014 Forbes article some companies had paid  financial compensation to the families of the deceased, and some had not. Other large companies like Walmart and the Children’s Place (both U.S.) had paid compensation even though they did not house workers in the building at the time of the collapse, but had  at some point in the past. On top of financial compensation, those found responsible for the collapse were charged with murder back in 2015.

Even though such large North American and European clothing manufacturers are overdressedassociated with the collapse at Rana Plaza (and countless other collapses and tragedies,) consumers often fall deaf to such news. Personally, I first learned of Rana Plaza a few months after the tragedy via an NPR interview by Terry Gross with author Elizabeth Cline speaking about her highly recommended book on the Fast Fashion industry, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.”

My shopping habits have changed drastically since hearing that interview and reading the book (I haven’t shopped at or even entered a large clothing chain since summer 2014.) You can read about my lifestyle changes in previous blog posts which outline hosting clothing swaps, a great alternative to supporting Fast Fashion.

Swap in full Swing

 

I don’t write this post to be self-righteous or to encourage readers to shift their shopping habits as drastically as I have, but rather to inform consumers, because we are all consumers, of a tragedy that they may not be aware of. The collapse at Rana Plaza happened just three years ago,but I’d bet that many shoppers have never heard of it. You can dig and dig and dig and find many other similar stories of ill-treated, cheaply hired labor in developing countries. Laborers whose stories are not shared enough and who may even sacrifice their lives in poor working conditions for a cheap price tag in a department store. Bangladeshi workers work for a fraction of the cost of other laborers elsewhere and are often forced to work 12 hour days in unsafe conditions. The lives of laborers are the hidden costs of cheap clothing that we blindly consume.

It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, and I often feel that I’m a “Debbie Downer” because I share tragic news with friends and readers, but if we never know the truth then we’ll never change our ways, and if we, the consumers never change our spending habits then we’ll never shift the way of production. Whether you decide to go to a second hand shop this weekend instead of a mall or department store, or share this link or story with a friend, every little bit helps and adds up eventually. But we have a lot of sharing and changing to do to defeat the Fast Fashion industry.

My Guide to Packing for Beach Vacations

It’s holiday time which means vacation time here in Korea, which of course means travel to other parts of Asia for many expats. This year I’ll be packing my backpack for a 10 day trip to Panglao, Bohol in The Philippines.

This will be my second visit to The Philippines, a beautifully romantic, tropical place made up of thousands of islands. The Philippines is home to great  dive spots and stunning beaches, not to mention very friendly people. On my last trip, my boyfriend and I snorkeled twice daily, seeing stunning sea turtles and swarms of sardines. This trip I plan to snorkel again as well, and so am being mindful about what to pack.

Beach sunset (Nicaragua)

Beach sunset

When taking a beach vacation, especially one in which you plan to spend a lot of time in the water, it’s important to consider the lasting effect you and the items you bring with you might have on the environment. For your next beach trip, give some thought to what you bring, wear, and leave behind.

Do your part when packing to make your footprint as small as possible.
  • SUN PROTECTION – Sunscreen: Not all sunscreens are created equal, do a little research and find a product that is labeled reef safe, especially if you plan to swim, snorkel, SUP, or dive. Some chemicals in sunscreen (oxybenzone) damage reefs and marine life, avoid screens containing the chemical and opt instead for more natural products that contain zinc oxide.

  • SUN PROTECTION – Cover Up: Get a rash guard. Rash guards are thin, breathable tops worn over swimsuits or in warm waters for surf and other water activities to protect against harmful UV rays. As much as I prefer natural fibers for my clothes, when it comes to active and performance wear, synthetics perform best. Buy quality and treat your clothes with care for an extended and purposeful product life. Bring a small cap or beach hat for your trip, too; sunglasses are great for protecting the eyes, but hats will keep rays off of your face and will therefore be cooling.

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Hat and rash guard.

  • FROM THE SHOWER TO THE SEA – Pack Wise Toiletries: Just like sunscreen, other toiletries that you bring on your trip with you are potentially harmful to the environmental. Bring, or DIY your own shampoos, conditioners, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste and more that are paraben-free (a common, dangerous preservative.) Making this extra effort is especially important when staying at eco-lodges or resorts where the gray water (water from showers/laundry/washing) runs straight back into the environment. Some mindful accommodations even require that you bring only safe products with you.

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Without… PARABENS

  • REDUCE PLASTIC – Bring a Tumbler: The Philippines is one of the top five producers of plastic ocean pollution in the world and I do not want to contribute to that statistic while visiting, so I’ll be bringing a metal, reusable water bottle and my trusty tumbler with me. Potable water is not always easily found in remote places, so bottled water becomes the norm. Bringing a personal, filtering, reusable water bottle might be a solution for the brave. Other options include iodine drops or this LED purifier I’ve recently learned about. My boyfriend and I traveled Costa Rica & Nicaragua for a month with a filtering water bottle and had no problems.

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My well-weathered tumbler!

  • LEAVE A POSITIVE PRINT – Donate: Backpacking is a basic way to travel the world, I say basic because you have to edit your packing list again, and again to get it all to fit into a 40 liter pack that you will then carry with you – everywhere. Packing light is a necessity when it comes to backpacking, but if you’re traveling internationally and get a baggage allowance that comes with your ticket, then consider packing a second suitcase of donations for your intended location. Get in touch with an organization ahead of time so you can drop them off at the beginning of your trip. Collect used clothing  or other needed items from friends and relatives. Tip – plan to wear some donations during your trip and leave them at the end to decrease your packing load.

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Donations that went with me to my YTTC in Nicaragua, modeling with them is Pepper.

This is just a short list of packing tips, concentrating on conscious/eco travel. Be sure to read your toiletries and cosmetics labels the same way that you read your food labels, and ditch the generic for greener items, or DIY some baking soda toothpaste. Then, relax on the beach, knowing that you have done a small part in reducing ocean pollution!

Flea Market Fun

Like Kara Bemis, I’m a teacher of young Korean children in Busan, South Korea. Unlike Kara, who spends her days teaching the world’s most adorable 3- to 7-year-olds, I teach elementary school students in a private after-school academy.

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Kara’s most adorable students

Each age group comes with its own set of positives and negatives, but one plus of teaching slightly older kids is their level of communication and greater understanding of the world around them.

Most of my elementary students are still excited to play and have fun as they’re learning to express themselves in English. The foreign teachers at my academy wanted to build on their enthusiasm while helping them practice English vocabulary and conversation in a real-world scenario, so we teamed up to plan a Halloween flea market – a day when the students could have fun together, invite friends and walk away with a few new goodies.

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students shopping at the Halloween flea market, held at my academy last month

It’s a common practice for academies to have market days, but they can typically involve nothing more than cheap, Made-in-China crap from Daiso, the Korean equivalent of a dollar store. A good alternative to buying single-use items or tiny plastic toys, which would only create more waste among young citizens, is to turn the familiar student market into a flea market.

For a couple months leading up to it, students at my academy earned points for good behavior, high test scores, completing puzzles and bringing in slightly used items to sell at the market.IMG_4472

Students and their families donated a wide range of goods they no longer needed. As the teachers sorted through boxes and bags of the goodies brought in, we were delighted to find high-quality stuff: stickers, notebooks, pencils, purses, costumes, jewelry, posters, clothing and snacks. Without an outlet for these nonessentials, they could have easily been tossed in the trash or left in an impromptu pile of discarded materials on the side of the street.

On the day of our Halloween celebration, the kids were finally able to cash in their points and spend their hard-earned money. They loved seeing a room full of potential toys, stationery and candy, and they had a blast shopping with their friends. It was great to see students excited about doing something that didn’t involve their cell phones.

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The event turned out to be a playful way to reuse old things instead of throwing them out. The remaining items will be donated to other schools, used as school supplies or given away to students as prizes in the future.

Interested in planning a flea market at your school or academy? Here’s how.

  1. Set a date. Coordinate with other teachers to figure out the best date to host a flea market. Do you want to plan a one-time event around a holiday, or would it be best to have annual or semi-annual markets?
  2. Find a space. A classroom in your school will probably work for the market because it keeps the amount of kids in the space under control, and you can cycle them through, group by group.  
  3. Create a points system. Make sure teachers are on the same page with the amount of points (dollars) given for certain things. On the day of the market, we had students trade in their points for $1 and $5 bills.
  4. Get donations. Ask students and their parents to bring in new or gently used home goods, school supplies, books, etc. that they no longer want or need. You can reward students by giving them points based on the quality and value of the donation.
  5. Assign roles. Plot out which teachers will be with the majority of the students, watching a movie or playing games, and which teachers will work the market, collecting money and supervising shoppers.
  6. Set up and sell. On the day of the market, set up the room with goodies, pass out dollar bills and let the kids browse. We had about 10 shoppers at a time, and most of them stayed in the room for about 10 minutes.

This type of event works on so many levels. For older, more advanced or native English students, it could be an opportunity to learn about conscious consumerism, using less and reducing waste.

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Ethical Shopping this Holiday Season

We’re all guilty of letting time slip buy and having to quickly grab something for someone as a gift during the busy holiday season. This year may you take your time, start early, and shift from mindless consumption to being a little more conscious of the sources of what you buy as well as where it comes from, how it was made, and who made it.

Do your research and look for craft shows, privately owned boutiques, or shop ethically online. You can opt for buying from a small producer made in your area or find a big name company that functions ethically.

Top Reasons Why Ethical Shopping is Much Better Than Mindless Consumerism:

  • Support Local – Imagine if most everyone supported a local artisan by gifting from them rather than a piece of plastic something-or-other bought at any old box store, it would be amazing. The artisan would be financially supported and continue their work, the gift giver could smile knowing they’ve spent their money well, and the receiver would get something unique to enjoy.

  • Good for the Earth – You have control over what products you support. Opt for natural, handmade products instead of off the shelf generic. Some examples are soaps, candles, beauty products, baked goods, and more. You’ll bypass the unpronounceable additives for a more natural product. You can of course shop online at Etsy or try Amazon’s new line Handmade if you don’t have local crafted goods near you.

Mama's Binoo Soap

  • Less Packaging – Take your reusable bags when shopping markets or shops and pass on the plastic. Be thoughtful about any packaging, politely decline boxes and plastic containers if they can be avoided and aren’t necessary in keeping the product safe from damage. When wrapping gifts, use boxes from your recycling and newspaper as wrapping. You might even find companies that are consciously packaging.

  • Support Ethical Work – Seek out local or commercial companies that treat their labor fairly. Find a slow fashion producer, buy fair trade products, and look for companies who give back to both their employes and the land and oceans, like Teva who runs a project called A PAIR FOR A FOOT, for every pair of shoes it sells the company commits to cleaning a linear foot of shoreline.

Have fun shopping ethically, and share your finds with friends and family to encourage them to do the same. We have power as consumers to support fair, ethical, and environmental practices. What ethical goodies have you found near you?


*Here are two events happening in Busan where you can purchase ethical gifts:

  • Holiday Trunk Show, Nov 22 4PM (Slow Fashion)
  • BIWA Christmas Charity Bazaar, Dec 5 10AM-4PM

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Hosting a Plastic Free Event (and Why I Did It)

This post is about my first experience hosting a plastic free event. I did not do this alone, the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest were amazingly proactive with my initial idea to go plastic free for their event, and did a lot of work. Initially I thought this would be a simple, short bulleted post  comparable with, but not as bad, as Buzzfeed, but it was impossible. I had to include the reasons why to host a plastic free event, because it’s not just something to do for fun. There is substance and ethics behind it. You have two options as a reader, you can jump to the bullet points and read the How-To’s, or you can read the post in it’s entirety.


Single-use plastic is everywhere. When I comb the beach for litter, I mostly collect cellophane wrappers, candy wrappers from individually wrapped candies, coffee cups (paper and plastic,) water bottles or other beverage containers, and straws.

That plastic that either comes in with the tide or goes back out with it, or is haphazardly dropped by a hand,  will be floating around the ocean for quite some time as it slowly photo-degrades, seeping out chemicals as it does so. An equally depressing result is that it will be consumed by marine life that mistakes the small, broken down plastic for food. If you’re no animal lover and could care less about flounder being discovered with plastic stomachs, then at least consider this – that plastic consumed by fish, will make its way through the food cycle straight onto your plate. Plastic is even being found in table salt. You can do your part by planning Plastic free Event and sharing why you did it.

Generally people planning parties find it more convenient to buy a box of plastic forks, some colorful paper plates, and those ubiquitous red cups for their guests to eat and drink from. I agree, it is easier to toss a box of plastic forks into the cart with ingredients for your food, but is it wise? Those forks might not make it to the recycling bin and instead go straight into the trash where they’ll take hundreds of years to go away. That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away. And recycling is nice and green, but it still uses a lot of energy to transport, process, and reproduce when the alternative would be to wash some forks in the sink.

That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away.

Ditch the straws and plastic forks and opt instead for what’s in your kitchen drawer. Here are some tips for planning a plastic free event.

  • PROMOTE – As you promote your event let everyone know that no single use plastics will be used, so they must B.Y.O.E., Bring Your Own Everything. Include this information in your invitations if you go old school with paper invites, or write a prominent description in the events page if you use social media.

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  • EXPLAIN – Although it wasn’t that long ago that plastics were nonexistent, the majority of the population has gotten used to the convenience of using plastic. It might seem odd to some guests to pour holiday punch into a coffee mug that they carted with them as opposed to filling up a red dixie cup, so be sure to let them know why you are making them do so. Once people learn or are reminded of the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans, they will hopefully jump on board for your party (and carry the habit into their daily lives.)

Above: An informative display on the afterlife of plastic if disposed of improperly. The numbers are the estimated years it takes for such items to decompose. Photos are of a local beach, covered in PLASTIC LITTER FROM A TROPICAL STORM.
  • RECRUIT HELP – Ask like-minded friends to help you get the word out. My first attempt at a plastic free event would not have been possible without the help of the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest. They let the providers of food know and even provided plates and supplemental utensils.

The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

  • CONSIDER OPTIONS – If you have a kitchen with enough utensils, cups, and plates for all of your guests, then of course you would provide everything instead of asking your guests to B.Y.O.E. If you’re hosting a big event and do not have enough to go around, then do both: encourage guests to bring their own, but also bring extras for those that are uninformed or lack the materials.
  • BE KIND – It’s not us vs. them when it comes to environmentalism, it’s educating those who simply are unaware of the extremely negative impacts of single use plastics. Before public awareness and mass drives of knowledge, people used to smoke cigarettes without a care in the world, but once the science came out actions and laws changed. I’m saddened almost daily by the damage that human beings are causing the land, but I try to remain hopeful at the same time. If someone comes to your event with a fresh bottled water in their bag, don’t scorn them or even double take. In order to get your point across to everyone give a small talk about why you chose to make your event plastic free, and/or create an informative display or poster, hopefully inspiring the water bottle holders to go to their local thrift store and look for a tumbler.

Best of luck in all of the planning of your next event. It’s not impossible to host an event plastic free. On a smaller scale, say a family event, it might be what you’re doing already, I hope that this post inspires you to expand that to bigger community events. The Busan Veggie Fest had around 30 guests and not a single plastic utensil or bottle was provided for them.

How have your plastic free events gone?

Leave No Trace – Litter on Korean Mountains

Surrounding myself by nature is a wonderful luxury that I try to make part of my life as much as I can. Living smack in the middle of a city, it is not always easy to feel totally engulfed by the beauty of the natural world. Don’t get me wrong, Busan has great hiking and of course beaches, but often reminders of being in a city are there – noise pollution, light pollution, and straight up litter. Recently though, I was able to get out of Busan for a little trip up north over the Chuseok holiday to visit Seoraksan National Park.

Years back when I made my first trip to Seoraksan, a fellow American expat taught me about the idea of Leave No Trace, it’s as simple as it sounds, take with you whatever you brought up when you go, leaving no trace of your visit. This means clean up after yourself, that simple rule we learn in kindergarten. Don’t leave any wrappers, single use utensils, or even fruit peels (as they are more than likely tarnished with pesticides and are probably not native of the land so therefore might cause disruption to the ecosystem.) This is a rule that I strictly follow whenever I get up into the mountains (or parks, beach, etc.)

Admittedly though, I am not an avid hiker. When given the choice I much prefer to stay near sea level as opposed to climbing up a big ‘ol mountain, but once I have been dragged along on a hike I always love that I’ve done it. It feels rewarding and the views are fantastic.

Seoraksan

Unfortunately, not all of the views are beautiful. On my most recent hike I couldn’t help but be upset by all of the litter left behind by fellow hikers. Feeling affected, I collected as much of the litter as I could and stuff it in the side mesh pocket of my backpack, by the time I finished the hike the trash was spilling over the sides.

Water bottles were a common sight

Water bottles were a common sight

When I returned to my hotel I emptied it all out and arranged it to have a closer look. It seems that most of the trash was individually wrapped candies. (Candy wrappers are also one of the most frequently littered items on my local beach.) If only the sweet-toothed, nature “lovers” loved nature enough to leave no trace. Other items I took notice of were bits of gear that had apparently fallen off mid-hike, a reminder to buy quality when you shop so that you don’t have the problem of your backpack or footwear falling apart during use, and if it does, please take it with you and dispose of it properly.

It is so important to Leave No Trace; I can’t imagine how long all of this might have stayed on the gorgeous Seoraksan floor. Sure, there are probably teams that go up and clean, but wouldn’t it be nice if everybody took their own responsibility and left places as beautiful as they found them, with no traces?