As the enormity of the waste situation unfolds, it is now reported that only 9% of the world’s plastics are being recycled.

Most plastics will never be reused or recycled, and yet the plastics industry continues to produce more, nearly half of which is packaging, to be used once and then discarded.

Cynthia Albers

Cynthia Albers

Paper, metals and glass stand a better chance of recovery, but we need to understand this: just because something can be recycled (or is marked recyclable) doesn’t mean it will be.

Alternatives to our single-use habitudes do exist. The challenge lies in adjusting our consumer mindset. Positive change stems from looking beyond the ubiquitous “disposables” that masquerade as conveniences.

• Choose one shopping habit you’d like to change, and replace it with a simple-but-consistent new habit. (I began by using cloth produce bags instead of plastic.) Make a list of products your family can live without or seek alternatives sold in minimal packaging or from bulk bins.

• Use or repurpose items you already own (bags, containers, utensils) and avoid the urge to spend money on trendy new zero-waste gear. Reduced-waste principles have everything to do with acquiring less, not more, and seeing the potential of items we might otherwise discard.

• When packaging alternatives are not available for priorities, like prescription medications, allow those exceptions and move on.

Be creative and remain optimistic. Christiana Figueres, architect of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, says, “Being optimistic is not a result of what we do, it’s an input that will determine what we will achieve.” Farmer-poet Wendell Berry adds, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

Let’s explore Sebastopol’s “Global Vision and Local Flavor”:

There are six grocery stores to choose from within Sebastopol city limits, plus a large number of specialty shops (including resale) and a weekly farmers’ market. We have an overabundance of options and many good reasons to investigate them.

• Community Market has the greatest variety of bulk products in Sebastopol. This is my primary destination when refilling laundry soap, dish soap and shampoo. Among their edible bulk offerings are a variety of seasonings, vinegars and cooking oils. Remember to have your solid containers weighed at the register before filling them.

• Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream uses fiber-based bowls and paper straws that can be composted.

• Herbs (medicinal and culinary) can be purchased in bulk from various Sebastopol vendors, including Rosemary’s Garden.

• Infusions and Many Rivers sell fine teas from bulk containers, and Acre, Cheeko’s Corner, Guayaki, Retrograde, Starbucks, Taylor Lane, and Whole Foods offer a discount when you bring your own beverage mug. Most grocery stores sell coffee beans in bulk and some allow container refills.

• People’s Music is a drop-off site for used strings (all stringed instruments) in partnership with the nationwide D’Addario/TerraCycle program.

• Sebastopol Hardware accepts used household batteries, empty ink cartridges, paint, old cell phones and (for a small fee) florescent lightbulbs.

• Recology and Conservation Corps North Bay have special collections for electrical and electronic devices. See for more information on e-waste and “What Bin” recycling basics.

Beyond those listed here, do you know of any other Sebastopol businesses that have supported waste-reduction or plastic-free efforts? Let me know at, and I’ll mention them in this column.

Consumer habits amount to consumer choices, and our choices strongly impact what manufacturers are able to sell to us. When we purchase sustainably packaged goods we “vote with our wallet.” A friend pointed out the power of incremental change, and I agree that all-or-nothing expectations for “zero” waste leave us without any will to begin. Celebrate what can be accomplished today. You’ll know when you are ready to add the next step.

Don't miss the zero-waste symposium

Zero Waste North Bay will present their 2019 Symposium on Wednesday, July 31, at Sonoma Mountain Village. This all-day event opens with keynote speaker Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. More info at

Cynthia Albers is a member of the Sebastopol Zero-Waste Subcommittee. Send your comments to her at

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