le plastique, ce n'est pas chic

Translation: plastic is out. Reusable is in. Reusable cotton bags, to be exact, courtesy of Eco-Chic. Eco-Chic, an Israeli company, recently began marketing it's reusable, compact, strong, natural cotton string bags through stores (mainly health food stores) and it's website with the purpose of reducing plastic bag consumption in Israel. According to Eco-Chic's website, the cotton bags are strong enough to hold 2-3 plastic bags' worth of items but are compact enough to fit in your purse without taking up too much space.

According to the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, 430 million plastic bags are distributed in Israel every month. These bags, which far outlive their users by hundreds of years, end up polluting rivers, waterways, landfills.... It's an ugly situation. A law has been proposed to the Israeli Knesset to levy a fee on plastic bags that would have to be paid by consumers, but who knows if that'll go through. Either way, it's obvious that the reduction of individual plastic consumption is up to individuals.

Eco-Chic bags are available in stores all over the country - their website lists where their bags can be found in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Gadera, Zichron Ya'acov... and the list goes on. But if these bags aren't for you and you're feeling creative, you could make your own bag from cloth scraps or follow No Impact Man's advice and make shopping bags out of old tank tops.

crunchy granola, crunchy greenola style

A few months ago I decided to stop eating cold cereal. Cold turkey. Don't get me wrong, I love cereal - especially a combo of multi-grain Cheerios, Special K with dried fruit, and maybe some BranFlakes for good measure. But I couldn't justify all the garbage and energy associated with this small morning meal. Even though you can recycle the paper cardboard box that the cereal comes in, there's still that nasty plastic sleeve that holds the cereal. Not to mention, most cereal is produced far, far away meaning it has to travel a long way to make it to my bowl. I decided I could do without it.

Which lead to a search for the alternative, and tracking down my boyfriend's mother's amazing granola recipe which she's been making for years. Whenever my boyfriend visits her in the US she always sends a big bag of her homemade granola over. It's easy to make, most of the ingredients can be bought in bulk (for a list of places to buy bulk dry foods in Tel Aviv, click here), and most importantly - it's delicious. And nutritious. Added bonus: your kitchen/apartment/home will smell amazing when you bake the granola.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (she uses spelt flour)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
1/3 cup maple syrup (you could also use honey)
1/3 cup oil (preferably sunflower oil)
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnammon

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well-coated. Spread on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 160 degrees Celsius (325 degrees Fahrenheit) for 35 minutes (depending on oven).



don't leave a paper trail...

... or a paper footprint. Everyone knows the basic paper things that you can recycle - newspapers, old school papers, magazines... But what about all of the other paper products that we don't usually think of recycling? How about recycling your cardboard cereal box, your empty toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, gum wrappers, wrapping paper, cardboard boxes? All of these can be recycled as well.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, paper waste constitutes 25% of the volume of all waste in Israel, and annual paper consumption is 700,000 tons. Only about 30% of all consumed paper is currently recycled. Recycled paper is used in order to produce products such as new paper, toilet paper, cardboard, and egg cartons.

The paper recycling companies in Israel include Amnir, KMM, Tal-El, S.G. Grisa, and Amek (08-5793489). If you don't know where to recycle paper in your area, or if you own a business and would like to arrange to have your paper waste picked up and recycled, contact one of these companies. Many of them offer pick-ups from businesses.


know thine enemy: plastic

In order to conquer the enemy you have to know the enemy. And enemy, your name is plastic. We may live in a small country, but there is nothing small about our consumption of plastic here in Israel - especially in recent years. Approximately 600 million large beverage bottles and 300 million small beverage bottles are consumed in Israel each year, with a 10% - 15% annual growth rate. Plastic constitutes 28% of the volume and 11% of the weight of Israeli waste.

In 2005, the average Israeli citizen produced 1.8 kg of garbage every day - a total national waste of 4.2 million tons during that year. This amount increases by 4% - 5% each year and by 2010 the space used to bury waste will be all used up.

Pretty scary stuff, right?

There's an upside, though. Separating and recycling your waste at the source (meaning, in your house before you take out the trash) could lead to a 60% reduction in the amount of waste transferred to waste burial. Only 20% of the plastic bottles produced in Israel are currently recycled, but if more of them were recycled it would make a big difference in the amount of space required to dump our garbage. (Or, alternatively, you could stop drinking bottled water altogether and get a Brita, whose filter can also be recycled.)

But first you have to know what you can recycle. Most people already know that you can recycle empty bottles from water, soda, etc. But did you know that you can also recycle the empty bottles from your shampoo, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and cooking supplies? In fact, you can recycle any plastic container marked with one of the triangular recycling symbols above except for the yellow symbol with the number 3 inside. The stamps are usually imprinted on the bottom of the bottles.

For more information about plastic recycling in Israel, see the Aviv Recycling website.


what would buddha do?

I've been a vegetarian since I was 7 years old, but I never thought of vegetarianism (or veganism) as an environmental issue. I just didn't like the thought of eating cute little cows and chickens. But I've recently become aware (partly thanks to a recent NY Times article called "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler") of how much energy and space is required to raise animals for meat, and what terrible effects this has on the environment.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one fifth of the world's greenhouse gases are the result of livestock production (making it a larger contributor to climate change than transportation). The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Nevermind the ethical issues related to raising animals in order to kill and eat them, but there just isn't enough land to support our planet's hamburger habit. Livestock production leads to deforestation (just in the past five months, 1,250 square miles of rainforest in Brazil were lost to livestock production) - both to raise the livestock and to produce the feed for the livestock.

But what if we decided we could do without the meat, or, at least, eat less of it? Even if you switch one meat meal for a vegetarian meal every week, that's a big difference. The National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

So here's my meat substitution suggestion for those of you living in Tel Aviv: Buddha Burgers. Delicious, "meaty", and totally guilt free. This vegan burger place has two branches - one on 21 Yehuda Halevi (which is bigger and has more seating room) and one on 86 Ibn Gvirol. Along with a variety of vegan burgers, Buddha Burgers offers healthy juice drinks, salads, and vegan desserts. Who said trading in your ground beef burger had to be a sacrifice?


the incredible bulk

Hulk, bulk, shmulk. He's green, so it sort of counts. And he rhymes, too.

In an attempt to reduce the amounts of garbage that my food consumption generates, I've started buying as many of my dry foods in bulk as possible. Not only does this reduce the packaging (and garbage) associated with the food I eat, but it also means that the energy used to get my food to me (such as the gas used to transport the food) is more efficient. It is much more efficient for a truck (or van, or whatever) to transport large bulk bags of a product as opposed to a much lesser quantity of individually packaged products. Plus, since it is much more efficient means of food supply, it is way cheaper to buy food in bulk.

If you live in Tel Aviv, then your average AM:PM definitely won't have a bulk food section. But if you go to some of the health food stores that are all over Tel Aviv, it's easy to find a wide variety of foods offered in bulk. My favorite is Nitsat Haduvdevan at 58 Ibn Gvirol. They have a really big selection, and the products that I get there in bulk are always a fraction of the price of their packaged counterpart. Their bulk products range from grains to dehydrated vegetables, to all kinds of flour, legumes, nuts, and dried fruits. Teva Castel, which has stores all over Tel Aviv (including a really nice new one on the corner of Dizengoff and Frishman), also has a big bulk selection that includes spice blends and granola. The Organic Market at 59 Sheinkin Street has a small bulk foods section, but they offer organic bulk products. It's definitely the yuppiest store of all three.

Buying in bulk means you need to figure out your own means of packaging the food, though. I keep a bunch of reused plastic bags for buying bulk foods in my bag so that I have them whenever I want to go shopping. Then I transfer the food into reused glass jars and containers when I get home so that I can reuse the plastic bag instead of consuming another one the next time. A little fanatic, but plastic is bad.


recycled toilet paper (it's not what you think)

I promise you, it's definitely not what you think. I'm not going to go into what it is you might think recycled toilet paper may be... but trust me, it's not that. Emphasis on the recycled paper and not on the recycled toilet paper.

Toilet paper is a product we use constantly, and most brands are made from virgin paper. Meaning, lots of trees are cut down so that we can use toilet paper. If you calculate how many trees that means for your own personal consumption, I don't know the math, but it's gotta be up there. And it could be easily avoided.

Shmurat Teva (שמורת טבע) toilet paper, which is available in most supermarkets, is made of quality paper fibers that were specifically sorted and collected for the purpose of making toilet paper. Although it comes in plastic packaging (for packages of 32 rolls), the company emphasizes that the minimal plastic wrap can be recycled. I made the switch about a month ago, and can't really tell the difference (except for that it doesn't smell like pineapples or roses like some other brands of toilet paper which, frankly, I think is a very good thing). And it's definitely not gross... if the whole "recycled toilet paper" thing still freaks you out. I promise.


brita is brighter

In some parts of the country (like Kiryat Shemona), the tap water is tastier and healthier than bottled water. I live in Tel Aviv. And that is definitely not the case here. But I am not going to resort to drinking bottled water and consuming countless plastic bottles. Yes, the bottles can be recycled, but that's still a huge amount of plastic on a regular basis that I'd rather avoid. Think about it this way: if you consume one 1.5 liter bottle of water a day, that adds up to 31 bottles a month as opposed to the one Brita filter you'd use over the same period of time. That's why I have a Brita filter and pitcher (and no, I'm not working on commission to help them promote their filters).

The filter itself is made of plastic, though, so a couple of months ago I called the Brita offices in Israel to find out if they are part of the Brita company's recycling program in Europe. I finally got to speak to a very nice woman called Ilanit who told me that they were starting to recycle filters in Israel and that I could collect a few of my used filters and somehow get them to her (she suggested a few different methods of doing this). My tiny household of two only uses one Brita filter every month and a half, so at this rate my contribution of filters to be recycled by Brita isn't going to encourage them to continue with their recycling program. So if you're out there, living in Israel, and you use Brita filters - I'd like to encourage you to contact Ilanit (03-9762448) or whoever else you can speak to about recycling the filters in order to encourage Brita to continue with their new program. (If you live in the US and want to encourage Brita to start their recycling of filters then please see Beth's posts on the subject at Fake Plastic Fish).


five recycle, six recyle, seven recycle, more!

I know I told you about Freecycle already, but someone told me about Israeli websites that operate according to the same idea and serve as a place for people to give and receive items. They're great websites, and all allow you to search or post items according to categories. They are Agora, Altezachen, and Barvaz. Worth giving a shot!


one recyle, two recycle, freecyle, four

Freecycle. Until recently, I didn't really understand what this catchy name meant. I mean, I got the "free" part, and I got the "recycle" part, but I didn't really understand how they went together. Wasn't recycling always free?

Until I joined the Freecycle Tel Aviv group, which is part of the larger Freecycle network. Freecyle is a grassroots, non-profit movement of people who are giving away and receiving items for free (and preventing stuff from ending up in landfills). You can easily recycle paper or aluminum cans or plastic bottles, but it's a little harder to figure out how to recycle that kitchen appliance that's in good condition but that you just don't use, or that old piece of furniture that you don't want anymore. You would feel bad throwing those kinds of things away, but just don't know who would want them. Enter freecycle. Freecycle connects people within the same area so that those trying to get rid of things can post a message to the group and give their items to someone nearby. Conversely, if someone is looking for a particular item, he or she can post a message to the group asking if anyone has one to give away. Unlike craigslist, this all takes place without the exchange of money. It is truly "free recycling".

The Freecycle Network, which was recently the subject of a New York Times article, is composed of 4234 groups with 4,449,618 members around the world and it is constantly growing. Recent items I've seen offered on Freecycle Tel Aviv include closets, printers, scanners, small ovens, furniture, and more. The people offering these items are genuinely happy to give them away.

There are additional freecycle groups in Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Yokneam Ilit, Zichron Yaacov-Alona, Herzliya, and Ramallah. Even if you have nothing that you want to "freecycle", its worth joining the group - you never know what you might find.


i struck oil!

My most recent bottle of olive oil, which came from my infamous Moroccan grandmother, was in a Jagermeister bottle. Not because my grandmother is an alcoholic, but because she buys olive oil in big containers and then distributes the oil into glass bottles (that she reuses from other products, such as Jagermeister). Without even knowing it, she's reusing resources and reducing consumption of packaging.

It's not easy to buy olive oil in bulk when you live in a city, though. Even though I would like to buy it in bulk and reduce the packaging associated with olive oil, especially since it's something I use on a daily basis, I just figured it was pretty much impossible since I currently live in a city. I thought I'd just rely on my grandmother for all of my bulk olive oil needs.

But no more! Today I passed by Shook Levinsky (a great market for bulk dry goods) on my way home to pick up some loose black tea and found an olive oil store that lets you bring your own glass bottles from home and fill them from an olive oil tap that they have in the store. Some of the types of olive oil that they carry are even organic. The owner of the store is very nice and will let you try the different kinds of olive oil, too. The store - called "Hamesik shel Oded (המסיק של עודד)" - is located at the corners of Levinsky Street and Hachaluzim Street.

If you do decide to go there, my grandmother swears by keeping olive oil in dark glass bottles such as - you guessed it - Jagermeister.


recycling my... toaster?

Two weeks ago my toaster died (I haven't had toast since). But I couldn't bring myself to dump it with the rest of the regular trash and have it outlive me, my children, and my grandchildren in some landfill. Not only would the plastic not biodegrade, but the metal part of the toaster would disintegrate fairly quickly and trickle into the water system. So my toaster has been collecting dust in my apartment ever since.

This morning on Freecycle someone posted a link to a company in Israel that recycles all kinds of electronic devices. The company, Snunit Recycling, is based in Pardes Hana but has collection days all over the country. The company also has a free recycling notification email service, so if you want to know when they'll be collecting items in a certain city or area they will let you know.

Snunit Recycling collects any type of device that is operated either by electricity or batteries - communications equipment, computer devices, home electronic appliances, etc. They then break the materials down and reuse whatever materials may be reused (plastics, metals, etc.) and transfer hazardous materials to an appropriate facility.

I can now feel good about giving my toaster another life.


in a pickle

One of my new year's resolutions is to make more of my own "processed foods" (and rely less on industrial energy, packaging and transportation to nourish my cravings for a quick hunger fix). Even though it takes more time and energy, there is a special satisfaction that comes from eating something that you made entirely by yourself and of knowing exactly what's in your food. When I make my own veggie burgers, I don't have to worry about hydrogenated corn syrup or preservatives or food coloring. And I can make exactly what I want.

So far, I've started making my own jam, bread, granola, gnocchi, and veggie burgers. This week my CSA put a lot of cucumbers into my vegetable delivery - a lot more than I could eat before they went bad - so I decided to try making my own pickles. They were surprisingly easy to make, and were ready to eat in a day. Since I made pickle slices (and didn't pickle the entire cucumbers), they'll go great in sandwiches or on top of a burger. The jars (which were re-used, of course) are very pretty and would make nice gifts, too.

Here's the recipe:
6-7 large cucumbers, sliced
1-2 onions, sliced
1/4 cup salt
1/2 liter white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
5-10 whole black peppercorns

Use fresh cucumbers; wash and slice. Slice onions. Mix vegetables with salt and let stand 1 hour. (This makes them crunchy later on.)

Drain and rinse with 2 cups cold water (or until most of the salt is out). Combine vinegar, sugar, celery seeds and peppercorns and heat to boiling. Cook 3 minutes.

Pack vegetables into jars and add hot vinegar mixture over them, leaving 1/4" headspace. Seal the jars immediately and let them cool before refrigerating or storing.