Plastic Free July

It’s the end of July 2017 and to your knowledge or not it is the end of another annual campaign to cut back on plastics use. Plastic Free July is a worldwide campaign that began in Australia a couple of years ago. I mention that you may not have been aware of the movement because sadly it is still on the fringes of public awareness. My feeds are sprinkled with posts and hashtags, but yours may not be. Mine are because I am a known plastic hater, I seek out information on how to cut back on use and what other’s are doing around the world to make a change to the mindless use of single use plastics.

Plastic Free July is a challenge simply put and you don’t have to think too far out of the box to get a sense of what it’s all about. Of course the challenge is not to cut plastic out of your life for a month 100%-completely, that would be impossible. Plastic makes up the computer I type on, the fibers in the carpet I lie on, the watch face of the sports watch that I wear and never take off, and almost everything else in the room that I am in at the moment (fan, lamp shade, parts on my bike, my phone, my phone case, the list goes on.) No, it would be very close to impossible to give up plastic totally, instead what the campaign is about is cutting back on single use plastic.

Single use plastic make up big portions of our day-to-day lives in the modern world, but unlike what was listed in the last paragraph, single use plastics can (and very much should) be cut from your life.

To the point, single use plastics are described in the name but if you can’t think of an example  then let me list a few: plastic forks, knives, spoons, plastic zip lock bags, plastic bags at any grocery store or shop, saran wrap, straws, lids on to go cups, plastic cups, lids, and straws for cold beverages, most packaging of processed foods and many vegetables at grocery stores, etc. These are things that have a life span, or a use of roughly 20 minutes which is said of plastic shopping bags and straws. Oh how I hate plastic straws. Those little buggers get given to us without thought or question at restaurants and cafes. If accepted they’re sipped out of for a few minutes or at the most for the length of the meal at the restaurant which may extend to be an hour or so. After the meal or smoothie is finished they’re tossed in the garbage can – they are not recyclable – from the bin they are put in the dumpster, taken to the landfill, buried underground or possibly first put on a container ship and shipped to another location where they may make their way into the ocean on their way and stay there for quite sometime. Whether in the landfill or the ocean that little straw that was useful for less than 30 minutes will then stay on this earth for up to 200 years.

Think about that. Two-hundred-years. That is a long time for an item that has a life cycle of five minutes from opening the wrapper to tossing in the garbage. If John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the Unite States, had enjoyed his beverage of choice with a straw, it would still be here today. The next time you’re at a restaurant, cafe, or bar, look around you and notice all of the straws in use there. I bet it’s a lot, and those are just the straws in use while you’re there, think of how many were used during that entire day, week, year… all of them will be around for a very long time.

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It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

Straws are almost the worst of the single use plastic items in my opinion because at least with a plastic bag you can recycle it when you return to the store (although I’d argue that most people don’t – I have dug many plastic bags out of other people’s garbage cans) if you don’t recycle them you can use them as trash can liners (which is what I do with all of the plastic bags that I rescue from trash cans.)

To give up single use plastic for the month of July you have to think ahead. You have to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. You have to tell the waitress when you order your drink that you do not want a straw. Everywhere you go you must carry your water bottle with you – to work, in the car, to your yoga class.

And why? Why do all of this hard work to not use plastic? The dramatic answer is to save the world. Or at the very least to save the ocean and her inhabitants. And if you’re like me and you live hundreds of miles from an ocean so may think that floating plastic islands the size of Texas in the ocean are not only unfathomable to you but do not really affect you living in the middle of a big country, think again. Those plastics break down in the sun, are consumed as food by fish and other sea life, we consume that fish which has chemicals from the plastics inside it’s body, then the plastic is inside of our bodies and they cause a lot of disruption in there. If you don’t like seafood, do you drink bottled water or soda from a plastic bottle or iced coffee from a plastic cup? If you answered yes then the same chemicals are making their way into your system, too.

Plastic is for sure a convenience in our lives, we almost cannot live without. It’s in everything, likely even the clothes that we wear (if you’re wearing synthetics), but single use plastics can be avoided and refused. Learn to say “No straw” at a restaurant and “I don’t need a bag” at the checkout. Those are the best places to start.

The month of July will be over in a few days, whether you knew of the Plastic Free July challenge or not, I encourage you to try the Plastic Free Life from now on. Habits are hard to change, but with effort they can be altered.

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Thoughts on America’s Busiest Shopping Week

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a time to meet with family and share a meal. It’s an odd holiday that no longer represents anything much historically, thoughts of relationships between native cultures and the population at large have been substituted for turkeys and shopping (a statement that surely can’t be denied with the ongoing strife happening at Standing Rock – Native Americans and protesters freezing and being sprayed with water cannons and rubber bullets while we all sit down to a hot meal. It’s been on my mind a lot, I couldn’t stay silent on a post about Thanksgiving without bring it up, I hope you couldn’t either.) After the turkey and potatoes have been consumed thoughts quickly jump to the deals the box stores and malls. No, let me correct myself, thoughts of the deals happen much earlier than the day of Thanksgiving as the advertisements flood television, newspapers, and the internet weeks before Black Friday.

Now, I’ll admit it, I like a bargain. As my Mom likes to remind me, I am cheap, and there’s a reason for my cheap behaviors beyond trying to keep my savings account as it is. One of my primary reasons for obtaining my clothing via hand me downs and second hand shops is that I have come to disagree with mass consumption because of the harm it does to people working in factories far away as well as the land that surrounds them. So while I can understand why people get excited for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I try my best to refrain from buying unnecessary items, no matter how good the door buster.

Personally I have primarily acquired my clothing from clothing swaps, friends, and thrift stores for the past 2+ years. The last time I went shopping at a mall for fun was the summer of 2014, which was a major change of habit for me; shopping used to be one of my hobbies of choice. I’d go out, find a deal that I may or may not have needed, and go home to call my sister to tell her about it. It’s how we used to bond. With time and awareness however our phone calls about our recent buys have switched from bragging about a good deal found at the mall to telling one another of a new item that was Made in America, fair trade, bought second hand, or made locally. We’re ethical shoppers now.

The change wasn’t easy and I don’t write this in a self righteous way. My point here is that we as Americans are consuming far more than we need to. The cost of our purchases are low to us monetarily, but high to those who produce them in terms of their health, general well being, and to the degradation of their waters, air, and land. And even though the products are produced and assembled far away, an environmental cost is incurred to us  in terms of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere in production and shipping, and then there’s the wonder of what to do with all of the things that we had purchased in the past, things that no longer give us a shopper’s high, they either take up space in our homes unused or get sent to the landfill –  out of sight out, of mind.

Let me stress again that I am not trying to preach that shopping and consuming is entirely bad, but rather I wish to convey that it is completely possible to limit consumption and in doing so to become a conscious consumer. Seek out companies and products that are made of natural materials that are safe to the earth and to our bodies. Support items made in your country or better yet in your local area (helping out the economy as you shop, not just massive corporations that produce their products in unethical ways.) Learn to live with less, it takes time but is doable. I haven’t conventionally shopped in two years, but I still have a closet full of clothes and never struggle with what to wear, I have given up concerning myself with trends and sales, but I am so much happier for it.

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As you check off your Christmas shopping lists in the coming weeks give consideration as to whether there is a better way (and there always is.) Shop local, shop small. Show your love in other ways than monetarily, I don’t know when Christmas morphed from a time of religious celebration and being with loved ones to showing we care with our credit cards, but it feels as if it has. It will take time and dedication to cut back on consuming and to shop mindfully, but after some time it will become your new norm.

How are you and your family ethically sharing love for one another this holiday season?

Natural Building an Introduction

My path to a more sustainable lifestyle has brought me to a very interesting and enjoyable place, to a whole morning and afternoon spent splattering and spreading a wet mix of clay, sand, water, and little strands of straw onto a wall. A morning of hands-on-learning in the field of natural building. Playing in the mud may sound odd, but this sort of building technique is ingenious – and it’s old. It is is a style of natural building, possibly dating from as early as the 13th century in England with other types of natural building originating all around the world, because if you think about it – in the past we all used to have to build our own structures to live in, so clearly in every corner of the world there lies an historic tradition, passed down generation to generation, as to how to build a house to live in.

Nowadays, however, it is quite rare that a family builds their entire house from the ground up. In modern times it is more normal to hire a company, or rather a plethora of companies to build components of the building where you will spend most of your time. Separate contractors are hired to plan and design the home, dig and lay the foundation, and do everything in between until the very last sheet of drywall is nailed into place. Then decoration begins which is also commonly hired out to an interior designer. Modern homes are often beautiful structures made for convenience and luxury living, but they often lack authenticity. What they don’t lack however, is quite a lot of toxicity in the materials used for building and decorating. Not to mention price tags that will make anyone’s jaw drop. Natural building can offer an alternative to conventional building; you can learn to build an entire house, a second structure, or spruce up the interior with natural modifications to existing rooms in your home.

Learning to build or modify an existing structure using natural building techniques is a great way to make your house your unique home while at the same time saving you, your loved ones, and your furry friends from exposure to toxic chemicals. Natural building uses as often as possible, materials that come straight from the earth. Some common materials used are straw bales, bare tree limbs, and good old clay and mud. Examples are the structures that still exist in Wales and England today. They’re called cob and they’re being reinvigorated and recreated in countries all over the world by normal, everyday people just like you and I.

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A cob building in construction, by a totally normal dude.

Examples of natural building that I have seen and wondered over have ranged from cob ovens, whole cob-hobbit-like houses, to the most stunning and thoughtfully/naturally built yoga studio I have ever seen. The ovens and houses I have seen in places like the U.S. and Greece. Houses I’ve seen were in Canada, Greece, Czech Republic (featured image,) and the U.S. And the yoga studio, majestically called the Maloca, is situated on a cliff side surrounded by mountains at the awe-inspiring Re-Green. (A detailed write up featuring the Maloca to come in the future.)

Natural built structures can be described as adorable, fairy-like, hobbit homes and the like. Unlike conventional homes lined up row after row in the same color with the same basic shapes, natural buildings are unique and organic. They get formed slowly, thoughtfully, and beautifully. After seeing natural homes around the world I wonder why anyone would want to live in a square, white box when they could live in a warm, cozy, hand-built house.

There is a lot to be said and shown regarding natural building. Just like yoga, it’s hard to give a brief introduction because both natural building and yoga have such depth, history, styles, and detail about them. For that reason I’m going to cut this intro short and end it here. Look for more posts with descriptions and inspirations of natural building in the future.

For now if you’d like to see more fairy-like natural building, simply type in “natural building” in google search and click on the Images – so many beautiful, hand-built, non-toxic structures to admire out there on the interwebs! Or satisfy yourself with the pics provided in this post.

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Straw bale house in construction, Ohio, USA.

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Admiring the rain on the garden of the largest cob house I’ve ever seen in Canada.

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A cob, tadalakt finished cob oven, in use! Re-green, Greece

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Natural Building techniques to make a beautiful facade on an ashram in the Czech Republic. 

 

Come On, Get Real!

Modern food technology advancements have made eating cheap and easy, but what exactly is it that we are eating?

Living in the modern day means that life has become significantly more convenient for most of us. Technology advancements in the food industry have been making it easier and easier to get a quick bite. It’s so quick that we call it fast food when purchased from a drive-thru window (so quick that we don’t even bother stepping out of our cars.) Another benefit of it is that it’s cheap, with most fast food restaurants offering dollar menus. Who can argue with that? I’ll tell you who – me.

Eating at [fill in your choice of any fast food franchise] can feel pleasing initially because it’s so fast, convenient, and cheap, and hey, the food fills up the hunger-hole that was once there, so job complete. But does it make us feel good?

For the past few years I have been taking better care of my body, not only physically with yoga but also nutritionally. I try my best to stick to the rules of eating mostly whole foods – foods that are purchased in their original shape and form, not processed into a box or plastic bag. I try my best to eat everything that isn’t quick and conveniently bought at a counter and because my body is more conditioned than it used to be, it doesn’t even agree with fast food or highly processed food.

After eating a combo meal my taste buds are happy because food scientists have designed the food to smell and taste good, but digestively my GI tract is not at all happy. I know that this may not seem like proper writing material, but digestion is a major part of health and it is something that we need to keep an eye on, quite literally – daily. That’s my yoga teacher tangent for the post though, back to what I was saying – I believe that my body rejects processed foods because I have been trying my best to take care of it and feed it real, whole foods.

Quick and convenient foods are everywhere, not just at highway rest stops and strip malls. They have made their way into our cupboards and refrigerators. Walk down every aisle and frozen food section in any typical grocery store or big box store and the “food” that you find there  will be distant cousins to the real food that it aims to mimic. Grab one of those “food” items off of the shelf and turn it on it’s side to have a read of the ingredients.  Good luck trying to recognize or pronounce most of the multisyllabic, chemical words. I’ve heard of a rule that I like to apply to my diet and my cleaning cupboards as well as my cosmetics, if I can’t pronounce it, I look for other options. Another good one to live by is if my grandmother wouldn’t know what it was when she was my age, put it back. Or a favorite of my boyfriend’s is, if we wouldn’t let Freddie (our adorable rescue dog) eat it, then we shouldn’t be using it or consuming it either.

It’s not easy to make the switch to eating better. Fast food and processed foods taste good and some have found that they’re as addictive as cocaine. I know personally that I’ve had a hard time keeping my fingers out of the Cool Rancher bag; no matter how many times I think to myself, “Just one more!” there always ends up being two or three more handfuls. That’s why the best thing to do is to keep unhealthy, processed foods out of your house. Switch to healthier options like fruit or veggies to snack on. Or if you have to have that addictive crunch of a chip, try  whole wheat crackers and humus instead.

A lot more could be said about this issue and I intend on writing a couple more posts on this topic and other ways that you can Get Real in your lifestyle, but for now I’ll leave you with encouragement to make some healthy changes in your diet and celebrate the healthy choices that you already make in the kitchen or when out to eat. It is not easy to be a health nut, especially if you already eat processed foods regularly, but I assure you that once you make the switch you will be glad that you did as your body and brain will be feeling and functioning much better.

Thank You for Your Labors

This weekend is a long, holiday weekend in the U.S. Monday marks Labor Day, generally a weekend in which everyone gets together with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that they don’t have to go to work on Monday. Labor Day was started in the late 19th century by union workers  and laborers as a way to recognize those that work day by day. It has been an official American holiday since 1894, always falling on the first Monday of September. This year I decided to get back to the roots of the holiday and celebrate some of my favorite activists, commending them for their dedicated work – on top of the typical barbecues and bonfires.


 

Jamie Oliver

You might just think of Jamie Oliver as a chef with a funny accent, but he’s much more than that. Jamie digs into our modern industrialized food system and delivers displeasing knowledge. (Pink slime is a prominent example.) His primary work was with school lunches in both his home U.K. and also here in the U.S. That’s noteworthy, a famous chef who champions for quite literally the little guys.

Food these days has transformed into chemically-laden, pesticide-pumped, GMO, never-rotting, highly processed science of convenience. Now, do I eat processed food now and again? Yes, but I try to keep it out of my kitchen and my body as much as possible and to educate myself on nutrition and health. Do I think that America’s and the world’s children should be protected from being fed it daily in their homes and public school cafeterias? Definitely.

Jamie had a reality show back in 2009 in which he embedded himself in America’s most unhealthy city, Huntington, West Virginia. He investigated what the children were in eating in their schools and it wasn’t appetizing. The rest of the series Jamie worked with schools and the community to educate them about eating fresh and healthy foods as opposed to quick and easy processed food, attempting to alter the way that food was prepared in the schools and homes in the area.

Since then Jamie has spearheaded a Food Revolution, click on the link and read articles about how to be healthy and current write-ups on the food industry.

 

Safia Minney of People Tree

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“slow fashion” fair laobr

Another Brit is my notable hero – Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People TreePeople Tree clothing, a U.K. based, slow fashion company. I first heard of Safia in a great documentary, The True Cost which is about the horrendous industry that is Fast Fashion. In the documentary Safia is not only inspiring because she is a female CEO, but also because she displays her fluent Japanese, which she uses when working with craftsmen and women in Japan who make pieces of art for People Tree’s clothing. Having a second language has always been inspiring to me. If you get a chance to watch the documentary I highly suggest it as it outlines the problems with the fashion industry today while at the same time giving alternatives such as People Tree.

But back to Safia, she is a woman of power who promotes fair trade in an industry that generally treats it’s labor extremely poorly. People Tree not only pays attention to the way that the people creating the clothing is treated, but they also source traditionally made, artisanal materials that help keep traditional crafts alive. The company also uses organic cottons and other sustainable materials that are better for our bodies and the earth.

Leo & Jin of BAPS

BAPS stands for Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary and is a dog rescue organization in Busan, South Korea. Although BAPS has grown in the years with many expat and some Korean volunteers helping the organization, donating time and money, and fostering and adopting furry best friends; the vast majority of the work done for the completely privately run dog rescue organization is done by two people alone. They are Leo and Jin and what they do inspires me completely. Leo and Jin are a married couple, one expat one Korean, who started BAPS in 2008 and have saved the lives of hundreds of Korean street dogs and abandoned pets.

They not only run the shelter, but they also have a dog kenneling business, and have recently started an international pet travel company although they have been assisting with international travel of countless dogs to their new forever homes for years (including my very own Freddie.)

The Day We Fostered Fred

We instantly fell in love with that little face with big ears the first time we walked him and he kept looking back to make sure that we were still with him.

The kindest, most from-the-heart work that these two do is run a related organization called Wendy’s Last Meals. This is heartbreaking work that I am certain I would not be strong enough emotionally to do. As the name suggests, the work involved is providing a final meal to dogs at a pound in Busan whom have not been claimed or adopted and therefore face certain euthanasia. You can read more about the process and how you can help by donating by clicking here. Before the meals are given, Jin takes pics of the dogs in a last hope effort of getting them rescued, so if you’re looking to find your new partner in crime, then have a look at the beauties that are waiting for you.


 

There is great work being done around the globe to help fight for those dis-empowered to do so for themselves such as school children, laborers working in developing nations to produce our clothing, and dogs left on mountain sides by families unwilling to continue raising them.  I am so grateful for all that they do and am motivated to do my own positive work to make a difference in my community.

Who are you tipping your hat to on this Labor Day weekend that works hard and inspires you?

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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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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Conscious Dining – Boycott Single Use Plastics at Restaurants

I’ve written before about the importance of switching from a plastic to-go-cup to bringing your own tumbler whenever you get an iced coffee out at a cafe or restaurant to save landfills and energy of recycling hundreds of plastic cups, lids, and straws. I am really proud of the plastic that was not used by me in the past five years since I’ve been using my tumbler daily. There’s really no need to create all that waste – either bring your own or ask for a mug in the cafe. Recently I have expanded my actions of decreasing my single use plastics, I now pay attention to the restaurants and cafes that I visit and have made conscious decisions to boycott  places that regularly serve with plastic utensils or cups.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

There are of course times when plastic silverware has its benefits, say for a picnic, but even then there are alternatives such as metal or single use wooden utensils. But at a sit down restaurant, I see no logic in it. It was over a year ago that I went to an expensive restaurant here in Busan that sits on a marina, has modern interior design, and caters to wealthy customers. Their fare follows their aquatic theme, concentrating on deep-fried seafood baskets with french fries – fish ‘n chips basically. At this “nice” establishment the food comes out in a cardboard box with a wax paper lining, to eat they supply plastic forks and knives, and condiments are given in 2oz plastic dishes with lids (With lids! With lids to sit down and dip your fish into and then immediately throw away.) That is a lot of waste from one meal. And is it just me, or doesn’t using disposables cheapen the image of a restaurant?

Lids! To dine in! Madness

During my first visit there I sulked as I ate, trying not to ruin the vibe for my friends, and I vowed to never go there again. Over a year later the place was suggested to eat at for a friend’s birthday and I had to speak up and be the Debbie Downer that often makes an appearance as an environmentalist and say that I could not eat there based on the waste. It was uncomfortable to vocalize and certainly put a damper on the issue, but I had to say it. In the end, plans changed and we didn’t go there, but I am glad I spoke up none-the-less.

I also once ate at a pizza place that serves by the slice. They served that slice of pizza on a nice wooden board but also lined that board with a piece of paper – totally unnecessary. Plates were of course paper as well. The utensils were plastic so I opted to just use my hands. Even the draught beer, which was from a local brewery, was served in plastic cups. I really enjoy that local beer but couldn’t bring myself to order it.

Side note on the beer cups; there are times when they are required, say a crowded concert floor where glass could be a danger, or at an outdoor event where again it’s a hazard to have glass. In that case, breweries and restaurants could serve their beer in a compostable, corn-based cup, which is what I found back home in the U.S. at my favorite local brewery – Southern Tier Brewery of Lakewood, NY. I was sad to have to switch to plastic in order to follow my friends onto their stones course*, but was relieved when I saw that it was a compostable plastic cup. (I heard from a friend that there is a cafe in Busan that serves their to-go coffees in a similar cup, it’s on my to-do list to check it out and of course there shall be a post.)

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A - dream product

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A – dream product

It really might seem crazy to most people that I am so affected by this issue (I once described how it feels as if I’m strangling a kitten, or some other such heinous crime, whenever I use plastic, or worse still, don’t have the option to recycle it) but since I have been living by the sea and witness the amounts of litter and waste that makes its way into the water, I have been more and more adamant about limiting my contribution to our dying oceans.

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

So, what to do about this? After I realize what’s going on, I decide not to visit the restaurants again. Another option could be to go but to bring my own utensils and tumbler. I have even gone so far as to bring my own dishes along to an event that I knew would be using single use. Sure, I got a few weird stares, but I also got some compliments and hopefully inspired at least one or two people to be more aware. I wouldn’t suggest lugging your picnic basket around with you everywhere you dine, but sticking some silverware in your purse at all times might be a good middle ground. They’re not big and you can even find compact camping style ones. One of my next projects is to sew a little fabric carrier to keep my chopsticks and spoon clean when I carry them around. Post on that when I get around to it. Until then, I shall simply be boycotting single use plastics at restaurants.

How do you avoid it?


100% recycled apparel

*Footnote: Stones is a cool new game which from my understanding was invented in my region of south-western New York State. It’s a game similar to bocce ball that requires a grass and sand course. I noticed it was gaining a lot of popularity at Southern Tier, they even had T-shirts, which to my delighted surprise were made from 100% post-consumer recycle material. High five!