A better Brita, thanks to Beth

December 11, 2008


Just thought I’d fill everyone in on my recent interview with the fabulous Beth Terry, aka Fake Plastic Fish, for the National Post (that’s her in the photo above… isn’t she cute?). We spoke about her Take Back The Filter campaign, about tackling Brita bureaucracy, and what 581 mouldy filters smell like. The full story is here, and below (P.S. scroll down to the bottom and check out Beth’s Top 5 tips for aspiring activists!):

(Also, P.P.S. I promise, one of these days, I will eventually stop talking about water and filters and Brita)

National Post
December 11, 2008
By Vanessa Farquharson

There are 581 mouldy Brita filters stinking up Beth Terry’s dining room, and she couldn’t be more pleased.

The 43-year-old accountant will eventually deliver all of these back to Brita, the water-purification company, to be properly recycled — something that’s only possible thanks to a campaign she spearheaded called Take Back The Filter. It took a lot of back-and-forth letter writing and phone calling, numerous posts on her blog, “Fake Plastic Fish,” and over 16,000 petition signatures, but on Nov. 18, Terry finally succeeded.

In a press release, the company explained that as of January, consumers across North America would be able to recycle their old filters by dropping them off at participating Whole Foods locations, where they’ll be included along with yogurt lids and other No. 5 polypropylene plastics in the Preserve “Gimme 5” program (those who aren’t near a Whole Foods can mail them directly to Preseve; see www.recycline.com/gimme5).

Eventually, the filters will be turned into new plastic products, from toothbrushes and drinking cups to cutting boards and other types of kitchenware.

It’s a significant move on behalf of Brita — which is owned by Clorox — because they had recently spearheaded their own enviro-campaign called FilterForGood, using television ads and a website to inform the public about the amount of waste generated by plastic water bottles, and how using something like a Brita filter can produce clean-tasting water without the need for petroleum. It was somewhat hypocritical, however, considering the Brita filters themselves are made of plastic and must be replaced every few months; as well, the only place to recycle them up until now was in Europe.

When Terry — who lives in Oakland, CA, and keeps track of all the plastic she purchases and discards as part of her green blog — realized she couldn’t recycle her filter, she decided to email Brita and ask why. In return, she got a standard form letter explaining there was a lack of recycling infrastructure available in the U.S.

“I sent another email after that,” says Terry, “asking why Brita was able to build its own facility in Europe but not here, and then I didn’t really get anything from them, so I just kind of blogged about it and ranted, then eventually let it go.”

Sometime later, however, when she was checking her Google analytics to see what search terms had directed people to her site, Terry noticed the words “Brita” and “recycling” came up a lot. This prompted her to ask around and see if there was interest in starting a campaign, and so began the process of letters, petitions, websites and meetings with various environmental organizations.

And how, exactly, did she end up with 581 used Brita filters in her dining room?

“We were inspired by a bunch of guys who were collecting those promotional AOL CDs you get in the mail,” says Terry. “Their aim was to return a million of them back to the company. We liked the idea of that and decided to try for 1,000 Brita filters.”

So she set up a P.O. Box, but realized she’d still have to store them somewhere, and somehow, they ended up under her dining room table.

“It smells pretty bad.”

The reason for the foul odour, she explains, has to do with moisture.

“Some of them were all right, but others were soaking wet and full of water, and that was the worst because the Ziploc bags holding them would collect all this mould and bacteria. You’ll notice the Brita press release says they’re collecting dry filters.”

In the end, she received filters from all over the place; in fact, after California, Ontario had one of the highest mail-in rates. While Terry never reached the 1,000 mark, this is probably a good thing. It not only demonstrates the efficacy of her campaign, it means her dining room will probably smell a lot better come January.

What’s most impressive about the Take Back The Filter campaign, though, is that it began with a single, frustrated woman not knowing how to get rid of her water filter and ended with massive structural change at a multi-national corporation in just months.

One might guess Terry, herself, is astounded by such a feat. But she downplays it.

“When I received the call from Brita saying they were going to make an announcement and basically go ahead with [the recycling plan], it wasn’t as big of a rush as it maybe should have been,” she says. “Brita is obviously a huge company, but Clorox was already taking steps toward improving its environmental image, like with its Greenworks line of natural cleaning products, which were developed with the Sierra Club. So we weren’t really pushing a huge boulder. It was moving slowly to begin with — we just got behind it and helped to push it faster, and in a slightly different direction.”

Terry — who now chooses to drink plain tap water without any filtration mechanism — believes that what ultimately convinced Brita to make such a significant change probably had more to do with keeping customers happy than saving the environment.

“I think they just needed to know that people really wanted it,” she says.

Beth Terry’s top 5 tips for aspiring activists:

1)    First, conduct research — a lot of it. “Find out what the company is already doing, what their position is and what factors are involved.”
2)    Put out feelers. “See who else is concerned about the issue and what organizations are already doing something or may get behind you.”
3)    Connect online. “Get in touch with bloggers, the media or other connected, influential people. Being creative by making little icons and badges that bloggers can easily put on their sites also helps.”
4)    Don’t go after a company that has no desire to change. “Start with companies that are already moving in an eco-conscious direction.”
5)    Pick up the phone and call people. “You never know who will support you, so just start talking to anyone who will listen.”

Recycling just for kicks (Day 362)…

February 25, 2008

recycled sheos

For whatever reason, I’ve always thought Nike was evil (Ed note: that reason is most likely this woman), and have lumped it in with all the other big retail corporations like Gap, Coke, Nestlé and so on, avoiding the swoosh at all costs if I had to buy athletic wear. But when I was looking into how I might get rid of some old running shoes, I remembered hearing about this thing called Nike Grind, a material used on basketball courts and race tracks made entirely from recycled kicks.

The more I researched, the more it seemed Nike wasn’t so bad after all. They have a goal to be carbon-neutral by 2011 and have eliminated fluorinated gases from their products, they’ve got the Nike Foundation and campaigns like Let Me Play, are incorporating organic cotton into more lines, giving $315 million in grants and donations to those in need and seem pretty open about all their manufacturing standards and wages.

While they do have a strong Canadian presence — in 2006, Nike opened a new sports training facility in Scarborough with a Grind track, made in this case from some 50,000 shoes donated from participants of the previous summer’s Nike RunTO — they unfortunately do not seem to have a drop-off location for the Reuse-A-Shoe program anywhere north of the 49th parallel. I can apparently mail my sneaks to one of their recycling depots in Wilsonville, OR, but that seems like quite a steep carbon cost.

Another option, if I want to keep things more local, is this organization in Ottawa called Sole Responsibility, which sends new and gently uses kicks over to Africa (which, fine, isn’t very local at all and would involve even more of a carbon cost, but I figure it’s justified).

Anyone want to cast a vote on which route I should go?

Image from Nike Grind

I’d rather be lickin’ than stickin’ (Day 360)…

February 23, 2008

green stamp

I went to buy stamps the other day, and because I’m at the point where I start going postal at the mere prospect of waste, I felt outraged that the stamps came as stickers, not the paper tear-offs you can lick. This of course meant that the set included a non-recyclable wax paper backing.

I went online, trying to find out if there was any way possible of getting the licky kind instead of the sticky kind these days, but it was hopeless.

However, I then saw that Canada Post had this site where you could design your own postage stamp, which gave me an idea.

If I came up with a stamp that had a green message on it, it might at least encourage others to not waste as much. So I created the one you see above — I was going to put ‘reuse’ instead of ‘recycle’ but I figured most people wouldn’t be willing to make that commitment — and will now be able to spread eco-awareness as far as the postal system can carry it.

People in recycled glass houses, um, still shouldn’t throw stones (Day 349)…

February 12, 2008

recycled glass

Glass is an interesting thing, especially for the eco-minded — those who are health-obsessed or who avoid plastic like the plague tend to love it because it’s reusable, recyclable and doesn’t leach any toxic chemicals.

But on the other hand, manufacturing glass is hardly easy on the environment; this site provides a fairly comprehensive overview of what’s involved in each production stage — as it points out, carbon dioxide emissions related to glass manufacturing in the UK and Ireland amounted to 4.2 million tonnes in 2005 (that’s not including the 3 million tonnes of electricity required). And recycling is limited to both the quantity and quality of glass available; and correct me if I’m wrong, but coloured glass presents more of a problem than clear glass.

Some glass manufacturing companies have taken steps to incorporate certain levels of recycled material into their final product, like Consumers Glass, for example (although their website is written in Comic Sans, which is never to be trusted, if you ask me).

Either way, in the end, I think it comes back to the first and most important step in the waste hierarchy: Reduce. So from now on, I’m going to try to avoid buying any new glass, or at least glass that isn’t recycled. As well, if I’m at the liquor store and deciding between a few different bottles of Ontario vino, I’m going to opt for the one that’s in a clear bottle and make sure I rinse it well before “Bagging it Back.”


P.S. Valentine’s Day is soon approaching, and while Yours Truly will of course be spending it alone with a bottle of local plonk and a generous portion of cynicism, those looking to green their lovey dovey ways might want to read this here Washington Post story (Green as a Thistle was consulted for it, which makes it extra cool).

Image courtesy of this nifty, but kinda pricey, shopping website

The sound of Evian flapping (Day 323)…

January 17, 2008


OK, so technically, I haven’t done this change, but I am trying to do it. Here’s the deal: I’ve been riding my bike through winter as much as possible, and thanks to global warming it hasn’t been so bad. In fact, there’s been more rain and sleet than there has snow. However, what sucks about this is that while Quentin has a basket on his rear end to protect my behind from getting slushy, Deni‘s got nothing. He needs a fender or some mudguards, stat.

I’ve been putting off buying any, though, mostly because I think they look kind of ugly, but also because a lot of them are plastic, which would mean going against my pledge. But then, as I was coming home the other night, I saw this bike locked outside my building with a funny improvised fender — it was basically one of those 1.5L plastic bottles of Evian, sliced vertically in half and fastened to the frame with an elastic.


So, this is what I’m trying to do. I don’t have any plastic water bottles, of course, but I rummaged through my recycling bin and found some other things I could use. I tried to cut an old plastic bottle of Cab-Sauv ’cause I thought that could be kind of wino-chic, but it was too tough. Nothing glass will do and my leftover vinegar bottle was too lopsided.

I was thinking of going a little rectangular and using one of my old Tetra Paks of soy milk, but part of me is also scared to slice any of them open, lest any stale soy odours come flying out — I really don’t need more dry heaving right now, thanks. So I might have to wait until another plastic container of something runs out.

My other problem is that I can’t see where I should attach this contraption — how does it not interfere with the back brake cables? I’d have to hook it up to the seat post or something, but that’s really high up.

Ideas? Suggestions? Help?

E-vite? I like! Well, no I don’t, but it’ll do (Day 322)…

January 16, 2008

Stupid CFL

All right, confession time: As much as I [heart] being an earth-worshipping hippie, I can’t wait for March 1st. There are many, many things I’m going to keep up after completing this challenge, but for the first 24 hours after it’s finished, I’m planning on indulging in as many sins as possible: Public transit? Puh-lease — I’m renting a Hummer, driving to the corner store and back at least eight times, and refusing to carpool. Cook my own food? As if! It’s called delivery — and I want each and every one of my ethically corrupt California rolls to be individually packaged in Styrofoam.

OK, so that’s exaggerating somewhat. But I am hosting a big un-greening party (it’s doubling as a housewarming party), and that means sending out invitations. The irony, of course, is that I have to send these out while I’m still being green, which brings us to today’s post.

Now, back on Day 162, I promised to buy eco-friendly greeting cards, like the ones made from recycled paper with wildflower seeds embedded into them. That’s cute and all, but they are also expensive, and this is an UN-greening party, so it’s kind of inappropriate. In the end, I decided an electronic invite was the best way to go.

So recently, I created an event on good ol’ effbook, uploaded the above photo of me giving the finger to my stupid CFL bulbs (I freakin’ hate those things — and don’t even try to tell me about the kinds you can get with “soft” lighting because you clearly don’t know from lighting; fluorescent anything is inherently evil), entered in all the vitals and sent it off. Next up will be a straightforward e-vite for all the people who aren’t on my friend list, like my Mom (love ya, Mom, but you’re not allowed to read my wall).

In this day and age, everyone has an email address, or at the very least access to the Internet, so there’s no one I’ll be leaving out. And while I do think there’s something old-school and romantic about real, tangible invites to things, it’s not like this is my wedding day or anything — it’s just a house party (and although I can’t invite all you amazing readers, believe me, you’ll be there in spirit, reaming me out for the countless glasses of Veuve I’ll be downing).

Recycling my cycling (Day 319)…

January 13, 2008

This is Mike, of Mike the Bike. I discovered his underground repair shop the other day while in Kensington — poor Deni was suffering from a squishy front brake and some rust spots, and I figured I should tend to these ailments now before the Springtime rush of tune-ups.

Now, I usually go to Sweet Pete’s for all my cycling needs because I love Pete and he knows what he’s doing. But his shop is also somewhat out of my way, so when I drop Deni off, it’s a long, lonely walk home. Mike, on the other hand, is right around the corner.

But more importantly, he specializes in recycling bikes, and has a whole wall full of used parts and equipment. Plus, he even gave me a loaner to keep overnight (it was single-speed, bright blue with red handlebars and back-pedal brakes — I felt like some sort of hipster Mary Poppins on it!).

Aaaand, get this: Turns out, he also has this delivery company, where for as little as $5 you can get your take-out food, laundry, office supplies, etc. dropped off right at your front door, courtesy of Mike and his custom-made bicycle with two honkin’ baskets on either end — so there’s no carbon guilt attached! (Well, except for the Styrofoam container holding your curry roti; you should definitely feel guilty about that).

Finally, you’re guaranteed service with a smile, maybe even a few jokes, too. When I got home yesterday, I looked at the bill he gave me, and instead of writing “half tune-up” as he said he was going to do, he had written “1/2 tuna” — cute!

So from now on, I’m greening my bike maintenance by only getting used parts and tune-ups from someone who understands the importance of recycling and refurbishing.

Photo courtesy of torontofotobug on Flickr