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All this week, we’ve been focusing on reducing our use of plastics as part of our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action.

We’ve talked about plastic bottles, those pesky plastic bags, and phthalates.

Well, today, we”re going to focus on reducing our packaging waste. According to EcoLife, containers and packaging make up over 30% of the average American’s trash bin, most of which is not recycled. And that packaging represents wasted resources such as petrochemicals, trees, chemicals, water as well as transport emissions – the heavier the product, the more greenhouse gas emissions emitted.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use.

Today’s proposed action is:  Consciously reduce the amount of products you buy that have excessive amounts of packaging.

How to reduce packaging waste

  • Look for unpackaged consumer goods: Many companies have put in a lot of effort to reduce their packaging to zero. When the option is available, take it!
  • Bring your own containers: Whether you’ll need a water refill while at the park or are looking for ways to take your restaurant leftovers home, you can reduce packaging waste by bringing your own reusable containers like glass water bottles, stainless steel coffee mugs, and collapsible food containers.
  • Select products in refillable containers: Some personal care products and food items can be purchased in refillable containers like glass jars and reusable plastic bottles.
  • Buy in bulk: Real bulk items are those in a single large container (refillable is even better) that holds many individual servings. Don’t confuse bulk with many individually-wrapped items bundled together in one large palette, though.
  • Look for recycled packaging: Wrappers and boxes made from post-consumer recycled materials are definitely better than virgin-made packages, though this option should come only after you’ve looked for ways to reduce your packaging waste.
  • Choose lightweight packaging: Minimal packaging is always the best and can significantly reduce the materials needed for packaging, the fuel needed to transport an item, and the energy needed to make it. Aluminum beer cans made with 12% less metal saved Coors 637 tons of aluminum.
  • Seek out biodegradable packaging: This type of packaging is usually made of some sort of corn-based plastic that can be broken in a commercial composting facility (not your backyard compost pile) that reaches very high temperatures under just the right conditions.


  • Contact companies you support with your concerns:  It’s not enough to merely avoid buying products with excessive amounts of packaging. As consumers, we need to communicate our decisions to companies in order to encourage them to significantly reduce the amount of packaging they use for their products.

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we’ve turned our focus to plastics.

Today, it’s all about the phthalates.

According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient. Phthalates are also used as solvents and are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo. 

Phthalates are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastics in your daily life.

Today’s proposed action is: Make your house phthalate-free.

Do a thorough sweep of your house — from your children’s toys and cosmetics to food packaging and shampoo — to minimize the phthalates in your house.

Phthalates aren’t often listed in an ingredients section, so here are some ways to identify them in your home:

  1. Read the ingredients. According to the organization Pollution in People, you can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:
    • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
    • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
    • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
    • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).
  2. Be wary of the term “fragrance,” which is used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthalates.
  3. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we’ve turned our focus to plastics.

Yesterday, we talked about the issues surrounding water bottles. Today, we’re focusing on plastic bags.

According to Environment Oregon, there are 100 million tons of plastic trash in the North Pacific concentrated by the ocean’s currents into a toxic soup 1000 miles off our coast where plastic outnumbers plankton 40-to-1.  All this plastic pollution in our oceans poisons, strangles, starves, and suffocates millions of sea turtles, seabirds, whales, and fish every year.

For example, here in Oregon alone, we use 1.7 billion plastic checkout bags every year — that’s 500 per person!  So many of those bags make their way into our ocean, onto our beaches, and into marine ecosystems. These bags are also notorious for clogging up the gears of recycling machines, creating constant mechanical problems at recycling stations.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use.

Today’s proposed action is: Vow to always bring your own reusable shopping bag whenever you go shopping.

If you’re already doing this, give a reusable bag to a friend or neighbor to double your impact.  My wife and I keep a few canvas bags in our car so that when we make those impromptu grocery shopping trips, we never have to use plastic bags.

Also, contact your local elected officials and urge them to ban the use of plastic bags in your community.  Several states, including Oregon, are currently considering statewide bans on plastic bags. Make your voice heard!

During this week of Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we turn our focus to plastics.

Take a look around — many of the items that we eat, drink, or use in any way come packaged in petroleum plastic. This plastic material is often designed to last forever, yet is commonly used for products that we use just once and then throw away. The effects of this throwaway mentality can be readily witnessed in our landfills and at our beaches that are being overrun with plastic packaging.

As the organization 5 Gyres points out:

“The short-term convenience of using and throwing away plastic products carries a very inconvenient long-term truth. These plastic water bottles, cups, utensils, electronics, toys, and gadgets we dispose of daily are rarely recycled in a closed loop. We currently recover only 5% of the plastics we produce. What happens to the rest of it? Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains “unaccounted for”, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea.”

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use on a regular basis.

Today’s proposed action is: Reduce one piece of plastic that you use in your daily lives.

If you’re still using disposable water bottles, go get yourself a stainless steel water bottle. If you’ve got friends or family that are using water bottles once and then throwing them away, take this opportunity to talk to them about the long-term impacts of plastics.

Consider contacting your local elected officials and urge them to enact legislation that will decrease the amount of bottled water waste your community creates. This issue in particular is one in which individual communities can make a big difference, so contact your city council and county officials.

NWEI is very excited to introduce our newest discussion guide: Just Below the Surface: Perspectives on the Gulf Coast Oil Spill.

Just Below the Surface is a one session discussion guide that explores the connections between Deepwater Horizon, energy policies and our lifestyles. The course offers an opportunity to reflect further on this historical event and the lessons it holds for us moving forward—individually and collectively.

The course is available for order now and it’s just $5.  Order today!

For a limited time, we’re offering a complimentary copy of Just Below the Surface with each order of Global Warming: Changing Co2urse.

Quite enjoyed this great article on simple living and wanted to share it.

For many of us, this time of year often evokes images and memories of home.  So, we’re offering a special 25% off deal on our Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course to help explore the places from which we’ve come. Order today!

  • What makes your home special?
  • How is it unique and different from other places?
  • How has your place impacted the person you’ve become?
  • What plants and animals are native to your place?
  • Where does your water come from?

This time of year offers us an opportunity to spend valuable time with friends, family, and neighbors.  It’s a great time to organize a discussion course to help us all discover our own sense of place.

From now through December 3rd, we’re offering a 25% discount on our Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course, so each copy is just $15.   Order today!

by Meg O’Brien

Recently, my family participated in the NWEI EcoChallenge with the goal of reducing our driving.  My initial suggestion to my family to go “car-free” for two weeks was not wildly popular, so I settled for cutting our driving in half.   Though I thought we could be a bit more ambitious, I agreed to the compromise goal and hoped this small step might lead to something bigger.   I was confident the EcoChallenge would convince my husband that we could in fact, manage with one car.  And I had high hopes for converting my car-loving children into young champions for alternative transportation.  I imagined that they would come to realize that biking or bussing is more fun, interesting and freeing than being driven everywhere and that our efforts , no matter how small do matter.

How did we fare?  Well, in terms of our primary EcoChallenge goal of reducing our driving, it was an absolute success!  We found that with a little more biking and bussing, and a lot more coordinating of rides, we could reduce our driving by 60%!   The weather cooperated perfectly – we had sun for most of our bike commutes and bus rides and rain to cancel the long-distance baseball games.  Soccer games happen rain or shine, so we relied on a lot other families for rides to games.

My plan to become a one-car household was furthered by the timely demise of our station wagon.  For months it had been emitting a nasty plume of exhaust each time it was started and the repairs cost more than the car itself.  So once the engine light went on, we knew it was only a matter of time before it landed in a scrap heap.   But by that point, we’d nearly completed the EcoChallenge and were confident we could continue to choose more alternative forms of transportation and make one car work.

As for the third hope of converting my children into champions for alternative transportation- well, it may be a bit too early to say. There was a fair amount of grumbling about the extra busing and biking, but once it was over, my daughter (the most vocal grumbler) allowed that she really didn’t have to do that much.  No kidding!  And my son, who remarked during the EcoChallenge that he wished he could just have a normal family, recently gave me reason to hope.  As we biked home from his soccer practice the other night, we passed a teammate who lived, no joke, two blocks away from the park and was being driven home.  Owen looked over at me and said “that’s pretty silly, isn’t it?”

So, all in all, two out of three of my EcoChallenge goals were met.  And realistically, the third goal of raising eco-conscious kids is going to take a lot longer than two weeks.  So I’m not at all discouraged, after all, I have many more years of EcoChallenges  left to whip my children into shape!

Excerpt from Think Like an Ocean by Andi McDaniel (used in A World of Health: People, Place and Planet)

Lately, millions of well-intentioned shoppers have begun to connect the food they buy with the land from which it comes. They read the fine print on their vegetables, meat, and dairy to assure themselves that their purchase will benefit the iconic farmer, cow, and beautiful pasture featured on the label. What could feel more wholesome than helping out these friendly, familiar characters, so central to our concept of America?

It’s harder to identify with tuna.

And yet, mysterious though they may be, our oceans sustain us. As renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle says, “Without the ocean, life on earth would simply not be possible. Should we care about the ocean? Do we care about living?” All told, the health of the oceans affects our livelihood as much as our farms and forests do. The connection just isn’t as apparent.

  1. Do you agree with McDaniel’s assessment that “It’s harder to identify with tuna?”  Explain.
  2. To what extent are you aware of the issues plaguing the health of oceans?  Is your environmentalism more “land-oriented” as McDaniel suggests?
  3. What actions can we take to reflect an understanding of the connection between the health of the oceans and our livelihood?

Excerpt from “Beyond the Patient” by Lee Thirer (this full article was used in our newest course, A World of Health)

Hippocrates taught that nature was the doctor, the doctor its aide. Studying the interchange of the internal and the external, a Hippocratic healer paid careful attention to food, exercise, and the ways the waters and the climates acted on the four humors—blood, phlegm, and yellow and black biles, each associated with a particular temperament. By trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health, Hippocrates’ students sought to provide preventive care over a lifetime. Only after nature had begun to fail would the doctor prescribe treatments that would, in Hippocrates’ words, “help, or at least do no harm.”

For the first time in millennia, however, nature itself is so unwell that doctors cannot fulfill their ancient duties. Twenty-six centuries of medical innovations cannot now protect the patient from the wider world, with its modern stresses and toxicity. And even if they could, modern doctors are focused elsewhere. “We shouldn’t pretend that clinical medicine is really doing primary prevention,” says Ted Schettler, science director of the non-profit Science and Environmental Health Network, “because it’s not—and it’s not particularly interested in it.”

  1. What does preventative medicine look like to you?
  2. If healthcare practioners are to be “trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health” what actions might they prescribe for individuals? For society as a whole?
  3. What are ways an individual can be “helping nature to maintain health?”

Here’s the third of our salon series which pulls an excerpt from our newest course, A World of Health: People, Place and Planet.  We hope this little snippet gives you a sense of what the course is like.  Enjoy!

“One Approach To Sustainability: Work Less” by John de Graaf

In response to escalating fuel costs, many companies are now considering going to a four-day work week.  They believe this will save large sums on commuter fuel expenses and reduce traffic congestion.  The problem is that they mean four 10-hour days.  But for many American families in which both parents work, such long days will intensify daily stress.

The real solution to this problem is to go to a four-day workweek of eight-hour days.  Total production would be reduced slightly, but this will make us more sustainable.  The commuting/energy benefits of the four-day week would be kept, without the negatives.  We could expect significant reductions in energy and resource use, and in health problems and health care costs.  Talk about a win-win situation!  The Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland non-profit has had such a 32-hour week for 10 years, with excellent results for productivity, creativity and worker morale.

  1. Do you tend to agree/disagree with John DeGraff’s assertion about the positive health and environmental benefits of a shorter workweek?  Why?
  2. What concerns might employers have regarding a shorter work week?  Are they valid?
  3. Does a 32 hour week sound appealing to you?  Would it affect your productivity?

Just because fall is starting to set in doesn’t mean we all need to hunker down indoors.  This article excerpt from A World of Health is a great snippet to give you a sense of what the course is like.  Enjoy!

Excerpt from “Leave No Child Inside” by Richard Louv

The future of children in nature has profound implications not only for the conservation of land but also for the direction of the environmental movement. If society embraces something as simple as the health benefits of nature experiences for children, it may begin to re-evaluate the worth of “the environment.” While public-health experts have traditionally associated environmental health with the absence of toxic pollution, the definition fails to account for an equally valid consideration: how the environment can improve human health. Seen through that doorway, nature isn’t a problem, it’s the solution: environmentalism is essential to our own well-being.

Howard Frumkin, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, points out that future research about the positive health effects of nature should be conducted in collaboration with architects, urban planners, park designers, and landscape architects. “Perhaps we will advise patients to take a few days in the country, to spend time gardening,” he wrote in a 2001 American Journal of Preventive Medicine article, “or [we will] build hospitals in scenic locations, or plant gardens in rehabilitation centers. Perhaps the . . . organizations that pay for health care will come to fund such interventions, especially if they prove to rival pharmaceuticals in cost and efficacy.” …

  1. Has a physician ever prescribed “time in nature” to you?  How would you react if she/he did?
  2. Given that health care in the U.S. is a profitable business, what will need to happen for doctors to start prescribing “a few days in the country” or in the garden?
  3. Do you view spending time in nature as integral to your health and well-being?

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to post your comments here!

Hey Everyone,

Last week, we officially launched our newest course, A World of Health: Connecting People, Place and Planet.  At a launch party last Wednesday night, over 80 people came together and participated in this snippet from World of Health.  The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelming. If you’d like to order A World of Health and start your own discussion course, you can order it here!

If you’d like to get the flavor of World of Health, here’s a short segment with some discussion questions at the bottom.  Enjoy!

Excerpt from “The Myth of the BPA-Free Diet “by Kat Kerlin

Though reports of its potential health effects and presence in the linings of containers and cans have long been reported in science journals and the media, an article, “Concern over canned foods,” in the December issue of Consumer Reports has brought concerns over BPA to a broad audience.   ….

It got me thinking, if I were to try to cut BPA from my diet, how might that affect my life? I’d already replaced my trusty #7 (polycarbonate) plastic water bottle with a stainless steel bottle, amid reports that #7 leached BPA. (Nalgene and other companies have since started making BPA-free versions of these bottles.) I knew not to microwave any sort of plastic, as that’s been shown to leach a range of chemicals present in various plastics, BPA and hormone-disrupting phthalates among them. But if I stopped eating foods packaged in materials known to house BPA, what would my diet look like?

I decided to find out by challenging myself to a seven-day, BPA-free diet. The parameters: No canned foods or drinks. No food packaged in anything with a waxy liner. (Not that all waxy lined containers have BPA, but some do, and I wasn’t sure which ones, so I decided to try to stay away from them all.) Nothing with a metal lid since the coating beneath it has been shown to have BPA, which ruled out almost all glass jars. No frozen foods. And my diet had to be nutritionally sound. If all I ate were eggs and fresh foods, unpackaged in the produce section, I could eat a relatively BPA-free diet (discounting the lining on some of the boxes they were shipped in). But I’m six months pregnant, which was another reason BPA-free sounded appealing, since laboratory animals prenatally exposed to it developed various health and developmental problems, and babies take in more of it per body weight than adults. So I was not going to give up any of the major food groups. …I drew up a careful shopping list, focusing on bulk and fresh foods and headed to the store.

  1. To what extent are you concerned about the health impacts of BPA in food packaging?
  2. What, if any actions have you taken (or are considering taking) to reduce your exposure to BPA or other toxins found in household items?
  3. Should keeping BPA out of one’s diet be the consumer’s responsibility?
  4. Beyond reducing exposure to BPA, what might be the other benefits of purging it from one’s diet?

The energy here in the NWEI office is hard to ignore.  That’s because our newest course book, A World of Health: Connecting People, Place, and Planet, just went to the printers.

To celebrate, we’re offering a 20% pre-sale discount for today.  After today, you’ll still be able to save 10% off the regular price of $20 until early September.

We think this will be one of our best courses yet as it examines all the places where our personal health intersects with the environment — from our food and homes, to our highways and shopping malls.  To learn more, click here.

But take advantage of the 20% discount and start a discussion course with your friends, family, and co-workers today!  Every course that’s started helps put us all one step closer to a healthier and more sustainable future.

But this special offer is only good until the end of the day on Wednesday August 25th, so order A World of Health today!

For the Earth,

The NWEI Team

Organizational Background:

Northwest Earth Institute is a grassroots organization of volunteers and community organizers around the country who have brought together more than 115,000 people to dialogue and take action on behalf of the Earth.  NWEI offers nine discussion courses on a variety of sustainability topics.  Please visit our website for more information on our work to promote social and environmental change.

The Shipper will have the primary areas of responsibility:

Processing of book orders, which includes stocking and packaging books as well as arranging for the books to get from NWEI to USPS.  Some light lifting will be necessary.  The book boxes weigh about 15-20lbs per box, but we do have a hand-truck for wheeling books within the office.  The shipper will also need to update and enter orders into our database.  We are looking for someone who is organized, and who can adapt to new situations as protocol may change.  This is relatively easy, but very important work, and we are hoping to find someone who can fill this crucial part of our team.  This is a great job for students wanting a steady job with relatively few hours a week.


Dependable.  Database entry experience; Salesforce preferred.  High attention to detail and organization. The position is based in Portland, OR.


Minimum of one year commitment requested

Start Date: Ideally, starting August 5th for a training day with our departing shipper.

Hours: 4-6 hours a week, 2 days a week


$10 per hour and a supportive office environment

Application Process:

Application deadline will be Wednesday, July 28th.  Please send a resume and two personal references to

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