Creating a new relationship with plastic bags

Creating a new relationship with plastic bags

I’m blaming AJ for my plastic bag problem.

You see, when AJ was alive I would use all sorts of bags to put her waste in, not just the traditional poop bag one finds at parks and the like.

More than a month since she crossed the Rainbow Bridge I am struggling to figure what to do with all the plastic bags in my life. At least they aren’t bringing me to tears anymore. The morning after she was no longer here I started balling when I saw the empty quinoa bag. I had to throw it in the trash without first reusing it as a dog poop bag. Bags are still reminding me of her; and I know she would want me to do something other than be wasteful.

I considered myself resourceful when I found another use for these bags that once contained food. The poop had to go into something. I wasn’t going to put it directly into the garbage can.

Now, though, I’m realizing how much plastic I have. Long ago I stopped putting every piece of produce in a bag. Some, though, is still bagged, like fresh herbs, or when I’m buying several of the same thing, say carrots, avocadoes or apples.

I could change my shopping habits and find a store where I could bring my own container; something other than a plastic bag. This works for some goods like rice, sugar, nuts and much more. S&S in Chico lets shoppers do this. The website says, “Bring in a reusable container and fill it up with many of our bulk items: beans, grains, granola, herbs, spices, teas, shampoos and conditioners, lotions, etc.”

A Granel in Todos Santos was all about buying in bulk. Grassroots in South Lake Tahoe also promoted this concept, though not to the extent the Baja store did.

This just isn’t something I’ve gotten into, but now at least I’m considering it.

When the kitchen garbage bag goes out weekly, the bag holding recyclables becomes the next week’s garbage bag. So, those bigger white bags are getting two uses. I don’t have a plastic bag in my office garbage can because 99 percent of the waste is paper. And in the bathroom, I empty the can, which is lined with a plastic bag, into the main can weekly. In a year’s time, I believe I’m on my second or third plastic bag in there.

An internet search about things to do with plastic bags shows the creativity some people have that I’m just never going to embrace, like braiding them into a jump rope, weaving them into a basket, or shredding them for filler grass for an Easter basket. No longer relevant is the idea to put a bag over side mirrors of a car so ice/snow does not build up on them.

I’ll never get rid of every bag in my life because there are some foods I won’t give up, like popcorn. I refuse to stop eating certain foods simply to keep another bag from finding the landfill. But I am rethinking my relationship and use of bags, which may lead to less plastic in my life, and therefore less that will wind up in a dump.

Baja California Sur saying no to plastic bags

Baja California Sur saying no to plastic bags

Plastic is ruining the world. Animals on land and in the water think it is food. It doesn’t decompose. China no longer wants to be the world’s dumping ground, so now it’s near impossible to even recycle it. Plastic is an environmental nightmare.

Individuals, businesses and governments are starting to address the problem. By 2021, the European Union said it will ban single-use plastic. McDonald’s in the next six years will only use sustainable wrappers.

Restaurants in Todos Santos-Pescadero are encouraged to get rid of plastic and do more for the environment. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In July 2018, elected officials in Mexico’s state of Baja California Sur passed legislation to ban single-use plastic, straws and some polystyrene. Starting Aug. 16, 2019, only renewable/compostable goods will be allowed at stores and restaurants.

It’s wonderful to see many places already getting rid of plastic. La Jardinera in Todos Santos, which is mostly a to-go restaurant, puts food in compostable containers. If people don’t want to compost it, the eatery will take it back and do so. For those who bring their own container, the bill is reduced by 10 percent.

At La Esquina in Todos Santos my leftovers were packaged in a small paper bag. No plastic on anything. This restaurant used to have reusable bamboo straws. Now my smoothie is served without one; even better.

A broader effort is under way in the Todos Santos-Pecadero area to get businesses to participate in what’s called a 5 Turtle Rating System. The first level is eliminating plastic straws; second includes straws, plastic bags and Styrofoam going away; third adds plastic bottles to the list; fourth includes a recycling program; and the top or fifth category adds organic composting on top of everything else.

Signs are up at some establishments to let patrons know it is a participating business.

Using my own bag at the grocery store is pretty routine for me. I was doing so before South Lake Tahoe implemented a ban, which was even before the state of California did. Unfortunately, I’m usually the only one with my own bag at the stores in Todos Santos. That is going to have to change in a few months.

The nonprofit Manos Magicas Todos Santos collected monetary donations for canvas bags that adults and children decorated, and then gave them to the low income Mexican population so they’ll have bags to shop with.

With about 5 billion single-use bags being used throughout the world each year, and most of those ending up in landfills or strewn as garbage on land and in the water, any dent that can be made in using fewer of them is a good thing for all creatures on this planet.

Todos Santos store selling goods in bulk, keeping plastic out of landfill

Todos Santos store selling goods in bulk, keeping plastic out of landfill

Often when people think of buying in bulk it means something from a big box store with a ton of plastic wrapping. Just the opposite is true when shopping at A Granel in Todos Santos.

A granel is Spanish for in bulk. The goal is to eliminate all the packaging and keep as much waste from the local dump as possible. In the first 10 weeks of being open owner Kimberley Gutierrez refilled more than 1,000 containers. That’s 1,000 plastic or glass jars that didn’t become garbage. That number is just for liquid goods; it doesn’t count the number of containers she has filled with dry goods from A Granel. She keeps track daily with a chalkboard that customers can see. This reinforces how they are contributing to keeping waste out of the landfill.

Instead of buying a product in a container, customers bring in their own vessel like a used a used yogurt container to have it filled with something from A Granel. People can also buy a reusable container at the shop. Gutierrez is quick to say that not everything needs a pretty label like one finds at a traditional grocery store. A homemade label with tape and ink to identify the contents works just fine. And no reason the same jar can’t be used for years.

Kimberley Gutierrez at her store A Granel in Todos Santos. (Image: Anne Patterson)

A Granel takes things a step further with bins and dispensers being repurposed, whether it’s recycled wood and pallets or the 5 gallon buckets for product.

“A Granel is providing an amazing service for those of us looking to de-plastify, stay healthy, source hard-to-find ingredients like tahini, or all three,” Todos Santos homeowner Anne Patterson said. “Her inventory keeps growing; which now ranges from household to body care and even to the gourmet like olive oil from the Valle de Guadalupe.”

A slew of bins and jugs fill the small store. Some are for dry goods like flour, some contain cleaning products, others are full of hard to find items. Ninety percent of the products are from Mexico. Olive oil from the Valle de Guadalupe is the best seller, along with peanut butter and tahini. After that, cleaning products and vinegar are popular.

“The most challenging task was and continues to be sourcing products I can get in Mexico. I get most everything from the mainland,” Gutierrez said.

The goal is for customers to be gringos and local Mexicans. The prices are so most everyone can afford them.

“When I saw the first Todos Santonian filling up dish soap and laundry soap it was my best day. Those are the people I was really trying to target,” Gutierrez said.

She and her husband have lived full time in Todos Santos since 2017. She is from Canada, while he is from Mexico. They had a place in Cabo since 2012, but knew three years ago it was time to move to Baja full time with their then 2-year-old.

Gutierrez opened the doors to A Granel on Feb. 28 before anyone in Baja knew what COVID-19 was. That has not been a problem. Clientele has steadily been increasing; even to the point to where she has needed to hire someone to help in the store. Inventory changes weekly, with new products being added based on customer demand. If she gets a handful of requests for the same thing, Gutierrez will add it.

“It’s been an adventure. Who knew I would be opening the store smack dab in the middle of a pandemic?” Gutierrez said. Despite the timing, she had remained open by making a few adjustments. “I don’t allow entrance to the shop. I now have the cash desk at the door. It fits perfectly, like it was the place it should go. We do all the refills ourselves. They hand us containers or drop it off. No one is touching anything. It works out better for cleanliness and safety for us and the consumer.”

In between each customer any bin she or her co-worker touched is sanitized. They are constantly washing their hands as well.

Gutierrez hopes demand will continue so she could have two more stores in the area by this time next year.


More diligence needed to break my straw habit

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

No straw? How the heck am I going to drink and drive?

My first encounter with a strawless lid on a cold drink was this past spring at Costco in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I’m pretty sure if anyone was watching me, I looked pretty funny as I searched for a straw in the outdoor food court. Then I paused. No one had a straw, but they had plenty of drinks. I finally looked at the soda. The lid had a little hump on it with an opening. It wasn’t an opening for a straw. I was supposed to drink out of it.

Straws have not been eliminated from The Beacon in Lake Tahoe even though California has a plastic straw ban. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Awesome, I thought. It was like an adult sippy cup. I had never seen one on a cold drink; just for hot drinks.

I figured if Mexico had this, it must be all the rage in the United States. Then I remembered Baja California Sur is more evolved than parts of the United States. In July 2018, lawmakers for that state of Mexico passed a law banning single-use plastic, including straws. The legislation took effect this month.

I’ve visited more fast food restaurants this summer than usual while I’ve been out peddling my hiking book. Much to my disappointment I’ve only encountered straws; no lids to sip from. All of these straws have me seriously thinking about buying a reusable straw so I can say no to the plastic ones.

The Costco in Carson City, Nevada, also has straws. It’s unfortunate the company seems to be acting on external mandates to do what is right instead of changing to sipable lids at all of its locations.

I’m not sure I can wait for governing bodies to pass legislation banning them or for companies to figure it out on their own. I know I need to get better at saying “no straw” when I order a drink. Change is slow even though the evidence is irrefutable about how bad straws are for the environment and wildlife.

Despite California no longer allowing straws at sit down restaurants, that doesn’t appear to be true at bars that are part of the restaurant. I was so taken aback when I went into a popular South Shore restaurant to have one of their trademark rum drinks and saw containers of straws at the bar. That drink doesn’t require a straw, but all came with one – even for the people seated.

Does any drink really need a straw?

Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

  • Forbes says La Paz is the place to visit, not Cabo.
  • The New York Times in this story delves into women in Mexico fighting back against violence.
  • Climate change is taking a toll on monarch butterflies in Mexico, according to this Washington Post.
  • The most dangerous source of ocean plastic is fishing gear, according to Sea Shepherd Global. Mexico is mentioned in this story.
  • Toyota is moving more vehicle production to Mexico, according to the Associated Press.


Scientists working to determine if Tahoe has a microplastic problem

Scientists working to determine if Tahoe has a microplastic problem


The first study about microplastics in Lake Tahoe was done in 2018 at four beaches. (Grapic: TERC)

Scientists are beginning to study how serious of a problem microplastics are in Lake Tahoe.

Called the Lake Tahoe Plastics Sink Study, the yearlong study started with the first samples being taken in August. Katie Senft is leading the UC Davis research team. Senft is a field researcher with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is funding the project.

Senft and Jenessa Gjeltema, a board certified specialist in zoological medicine and assistant professor of zoological medicine, gave a virtual talk this month about microplastics and Tahoe.

Microplastics can be any type of plastic that is a fragment less than 5mm in length.

Not much data exists about microplastics in fresh water or what they are doing to the overall ecosystem. TERC first started looking at the issue at Lake Tahoe in 2018. Samples were taken around the lake—at Hidden Beach, Commons Beach, Lester Beach and Baldwin Beach. Microplastics were found at all four. Baldwin, on the South Shore, had significantly more than at the other locations.

Researchers did a test sample of microplastics in Lake Tahoe in February 2020. (Graphic: TERC)

According to TERC, “Plastics enter the natural environment from a variety of sources including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. They easily break down into smaller and smaller fragments by UV light and physical abrasion from wind and waves, but never disappear. Research has shown microplastics are entering the food chain, leaching chemicals, and showing up in soils and drinking water.”

While many might first think of plastic bags and water bottles as trash that could break down, plastics are in so many products. Plastics are turned into synthetic clothes like fleece, stuffed animals, cosmetics, personal hygiene items, disposable masks, IV lines and other health care products, industrial processes and so much more.

“Most of us don’t love plastic, but most of us love what plastic can easily provide,” Gjeltema said. “What happens in the next lifecycle is some can be recycled, but large numbers cannot be recycled and end up disposed in various ways. It could be packaged in more plastic and disposed in a landfill. It also can be lost into the environment.”

With wastewater being transported out of the Lake Tahoe Basin, that keeps microplastics from entering Lake Tahoe in that manner.

The study going on now will use a variety of methods to test for microplastics. Different plastics have different densities, so taking water samples at various levels is key. A Van Dorn sampler will collect water at 0, 15, 30, 50, 250, and 450 meters. A manta net will be used to collect samples at the surface and 20 meters.

A trial test was done in February that proved microplastics are an issue, but not as bad when compared to other waterbodies, according to Senft. Five types were found (film, fragment, fiber, foam, and sphere), with polymer the most common. This did not surprise researchers because polyethylene it is the most widely used plastic in the world.

Animals will also be studied—fish, bears and eagles. “We want to know if microplastics in the lake are moving into the terrestrial food web,” Senft said.

Results from the current study, which will end in July 2021, are expected late next year. The researchers say reducing plastic consumption is the first step individuals can take.

“If you don’t consume the plastics in the first place, they can’t get into the environment,” Senft said. “Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled worldwide. Small actions by many of us can add up to big change.”

Nonprofit struggles to continue recycling program in Todos Santos

Nonprofit struggles to continue recycling program in Todos Santos


Alex Miro of Punto Verde brings a customer’s bin back to her. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A mound of cardboard nearly falls over the 6-foot fence. It stretches about 75 feet into the recycling center and is several feet wide. It’s been sitting there for about three months.

Punto Verde recycling center on the southern edge of Todos Santos had been a dream of Alex Miro’s for years. In 2014, he secured the land and that summer the fundraising began to get necessary supplies to make the enter functional.

Today the center takes aluminum, tin, paper/cardboard, plastic, clear glass and some electronics. That means all wine bottles end up in the landfill, along with most beer bottles. Not all plastic is accepted, though tennis ball containers are OK.

The material is sorted into what looks like extremely oversized white tote bags. Eventually they will be hauled an hour away to La Paz.

According to the nonprofit’s website, “On average, Punto Verde makes about $100 per month from the sale of recyclables. Though, the trips to La Paz generally cost more than this. Punto Verde continues to follow its mission to reduce the environmental negative impact by providing an integral waste management.”

Non-paper recyclable goods pile up in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The pandemic has been brutal to the recycling industry. Many who bought recycled material stopped doing so and then the prices kept falling. Now the goods are piling up at collection centers here and elsewhere. With the demand for oil plummeting, it has meant the cost to make new plastic is cheaper today than to use recycled plastic. Fossil fuels are necessary for the creation of most plastics.

In Mexico, of the more than 100,000 tons of trash generated every day only 10 percent is recycled, according to the Mexico Daily News. In Todos Santos, people make a donation to the center for taking their reusable garbage. The amount is up to the individual, but should be calculated on the size of the load. A 50 peso donation is common; which is about $2.50.

Punto Verde has a Go Fund Me campaign going on to keep it in business. The goal is to be self-sustaining.

In the time the recycling center has been open, this is what been kept out of the landfill:

  • 7 tons of paper and cardboard
  • 2 tons of plastic
  • 620 tons of motherboards, processors, etc.
  • 9 tons of different kind of metal.



  • Hours: Thursday and Friday from 9am-2pm.
  • Directions: Head south out of Todos Santos. Turn left on Huerto. Turn into the Romex parking lot, drive through and the center is to the left.
  • Email:



Dog walks double as opportunity to rid beach of trash

Dog walks double as opportunity to rid beach of trash

Scanning the beach, it looks pristine for miles. Looking down, that’s another story.

While the beaches of Todos Santos are not full of litter, there is something to be picked up along each walk. This could probably be said of any sandy oasis in the world. People leave things behind – sometimes deliberately, other times unknowingly. Debris gets washed ashore during a storm or with the normal ebb and flow of tides, while other particles are brought to the beach during rain events from higher land points.

Styrofoam protrudes from the sand in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Wind covers and uncovers items, so walking the same stretch each day can reveal something new. AJ and I walk a similar section on a regular basis, but it would be near impossible to walk the exact path because the beach is so wide and long.

It used to be when I had an unused poop bag after walking, I would bring it the next time. Now I use it for trash.

I have Jill to thank for this. AJ and I regularly walk with her and canines Ruby and Pepper. She has been picking up trash for a handful of years; starting after a neighbor she used to walk with was doing so. Jill and I share a bag, thus cutting down on the number of plastic bags when we walk together.

Styrofoam is Jill’s biggest pet-peeve. She has a knack for spotting tiny pieces of this non-biodegradable material. I confuse them for shells. Some of it is from cups, other is the tiny beaded Styrofoam used in insulation. Recently she found a syringe on the beach. My most interesting item was a pair of rusty pliers next to a barbed wire fence; guessing someone left them behind after the job was done. Mostly pieces of plastic, bottle tops and cigarette butts fill our bags, along with the occasional beer can.

While we are using plastic bags, that isn’t completely terrible. This last summer Baja California Sur outlawed single-use plastic bags at stores. Produce bags are still available. Those often become my dog poop/beach litter bags. I also have biodegradable poop bags I brought from the United States. Jill is even better, bringing bags that rarely see a second use like what dried beans come in. This is where I need a lot of improvement – to reuse my quinoa, trail mix and chip bags. Those bags are also being used to clean up after AJ in the yard. I used to toss them in the garbage without giving them a second life.

Jill isn’t the only walker I know who picks up other people’s garbage. My mom has been doing this for as long as I can remember. She does so when walking her neighborhood, picking up what she can carry. I, too, have picked up trash on any street I’ve lived on.

It proves garbage is an issue everywhere; not just on a beach. “Leave no trace” is a mantra for hikers, as is “carry out what you pack in.” These sentiments should be applied in all circumstances when it comes to trash. One day it would be great if nothing ended up in anyone’s bag because the world was that clean. But statistics make that seem like a fantasy.

According to National Geographic, “There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”

Human trash is an environmental nightmare – for the land, ocean and animals consuming our crap. It’s bad enough for wildlife to eat human food, even worse to ingest our trash. Think of all the toxins getting into the soil/sand, waterways, animals’ bodies. Plenty of humans are then eating those contaminated animals. The ecosystem can’t survive if we keep trashing it.

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

It was immediate. I knew this wasn’t the same Diet Coke I was used to drinking. It was more than the packaging, with it being called Coca-Cola Light in Mexico.

Sweeter, less carbonated. That’s what I think of Diet Coke in Mexico compared to the United States.

The difference is that in Mexico the recipe uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The carbonation factor I can’t figure out. I’ve had Coca-Cola Light out of aluminum cans and plastic bottles here. Both seem less fizzy than what I get north of the border.

Some in the U.S. prefer the Mexico blend, so now it is imported in some locales. Look for hecho en México to know that it’s made in Mexico.

Packaging is a little different. Three liter bottles are available here; some cans are larger than the “normal” 12 ounces (355mL). Glass bottles are also extremely popular here.

Mexicans drink more soda than any other country. Coke, though, dominates the market. On average, Mexicans drink 700 cups of Coke a year, which is almost double what people in the United States drink.

A 3-liter plastic bottle of Coca-Cola light in Todos Santos costs 36 pesos; less than $2. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Obesity and diabetes became a huge concern, especially after Mexico joined NAFTA in 1994. The price on sugary drinks like Coke and processed foods dropped. In some locales in Mexico it was cheaper to buy a Coke than potable water. The number of Mexicans diagnosed with diabetes doubled between 2000 and 2007.

Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000-06, had too close of a relationship with the mega carbonated drink producer to do much. He was once president of Coca-Cola Mexico.

It was President Enrique Peña Nieto who in 2013 proposed a 10 percent soda tax. It took effect the following year.

A study by BMJ showed a reduction in soda consumption. However, actual reduction in calories has not been significant enough to have serious impacts on reducing diabetes and obesity. Others are calling for education to be stepped up so consumers understand the impacts of their dietary choices.

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Purified water is available at a facility in the center of Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Not even AJ, my dog, drinks the tap water in Todos Santos.

I don’t know all the minerals or other contaminants that are in the water, but enough that even the native Mexicans use bottled water. With AJ having kidney disease, I wasn’t about to find out what it would do to her.

I shower and brush my teeth with the regular water. It’s also used to wash dishes and clothes, and for outdoor plants.

Using a custom-designed holder for water in the kitchen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I use treated water for cooking rice-quinoa-pasta, even to boil eggs. Guests use this “good” water for coffee as well. For washing produce I put a few drops of a solution into good water. This was recommended from Rhoda, who has wintered in Mexico the last few years.

The number of bottles I go through in a month varies based on how many people are here and the amount of cooking/coffee making. I’ve never spent more than $4 in a month.

Restaurants often serve bottled water when you request aqua. I often have my water bottle with me, at least for casual dining. The whole plastic issue is the main reason, as well as being cheap.

Water is a bit of a luxury here. In an average year, Todos Santos gets about 6 inches of rain. The Sierra de La Laguna mountains that run through a large swath of the middle of Baja California Sur get more rain. It is from these mountains that the aquifers of the area are filled.

Large plastic bottles are used over and over again for treated water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja California Sur is the driest state in Mexico. This doesn’t seem to bother the government since it keeps giving permits for development. This state is also the fastest growing one in the country.

Officials in Cabo San Lucas got smart a few years ago when they implemented a policy mandating major developments have their own desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Desalinization plants, though, have numerous environmental red flags associated with them.

As more gringos have moved to the Todos Santos area, more options are available for treated water. Many full-timers install purification systems so they can use their tap. It’s possible to do so just in the kitchen or on any faucet.

I get my drinking water in bottles that are just more than 5 gallons. There is a purification plant in town with a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Water U-2000, the company, has been doing this type of work for at least 35 years.

Water is available six days a week at the Todos Santos facility. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there are various workers there, usually it’s the same young man – who didn’t give me his name – who helps me. He washes the empty plastic bottle I bring him, then has two overhead faucets in order to fill more than one bottle at a time. He dries off the bottle, puts the cap on and collects my 10 pesos – 53 cents. When he carries it to the Jeep, he gets a 5-peso tip; not much, but still 50 percent.

It’s possible to have water bottles like this delivered, but this way is working for me. Carrying it upstairs and getting a bottle into the downstairs container adds to my weightlifting for the day.

Downstairs I use the custom-made metal container my sister had here. The bottle sits in it. When it comes to using it, the bottle is tipped forward to pour from it. Upstairs I have a pump on the top. Both do their job.

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