Opening Up to What is Possible in a Crisis

As I mentioned last week, the coronavirus pandemic is challenging all of us. And many in the world are suffering and even dying because of Covid-19. In addition, many more people throughout the world are suffering because of the efforts to reduce or stop transmission of the coronavirus. These efforts, while saving lives, have, unfortunately,  adversely affected people’s livelihoods. In addition, some people can no longer get the medical care or other services that they need. This brings me great sadness, of course, and should not be minimized. 

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At the same time, our effort at social distancing has actually done some good, in terms of our carbon footprints. In a recent article in the NY Times, Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” He added that these same actions could have a benefit to the environment.

In fact, the efforts of so many have reduced the carbon footprints in a number of areas, including transportation — both commuting and airplane travel are way down. People have reduced their shopping and their eating out too, which also should have a positive effect on climate change.

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The net effect is a reduction in our carbon footprints, but perhaps just as important, is the realization, that people can rise to the occasion and change their habits when it is important. Let’s hope that the lessons learned from this pandemic can empower us when the emergency is over and we again turn our attention to the climate crisis. 

Until then, please continue to hunker down, practice social distancing and good hygiene. And don’t forget that acts of kindness are always appreciated, as long as they don’t put you at unnecessary risk.

Paul Litwin

On adjusting but not abandoning your goals

These are trying times. And in these trying times we may need to adjust our goals, alter our approach, and exercise more caution and patience than we normally would. 

For example, Suzanna and I had to cancel our Eat for the Planet talk that was set for March 8th. It was certainly disappointing and required an adjustment of our goals. On the other hand it hasn’t stopped me from thinking about improvements I would like to make to the talk, because I know that we will reschedule the talk for a later date. Even Pope Francis has had to adjust too. On a recent Sunday, he prayed from the Apostolic Palace and live streamed his prayers, rather than from the balcony in St Peter’s Square, to reduce the crowd size.

The Coronavirus pandemic is challenging each of us. That challenge can be answered in a couple of different ways. I can adjust my approach, adding a healthy dose of patience, while maintaining my focus on my goals. Or I can just give up, put everything on hold indefinitely, and abandon my goals. 

The current health crisis has forced many of us to temporarily increase our use of single-use items. Starbucks and many coffee shops are refusing to fill customer’s reusable cups. Similarly, the use of disposable masks and gloves, and chemical disinfectants have increased significantly. But these are temporary (and understandable) setbacks in reducing our carbon footprints. This doesn’t mean that you should abandon all sustainability plans and actions. 

On the contrary, fears of the Coronavirus have forced many of us to adjust our routines, and maybe the silver lining here is that we can actually use this crisis to lower our carbon footprint. Since many of us are now forced to work from home, we won’t be commuting, so that means less of us needing transportation. In addition, the pandemic may force many of us to eat out less, travel less (goodbye, Italian vacation), delay making purchases, conserve more, and consume less. 

Once again, we are at a crossroads. We could always take the selfish, wasteful approach: eating, drinking, stockpiling, and consuming with reckless abandon since we have lost all hope. Or, we could go for the ecological conversion espoused by Pope Francis in Laudato Si and take the opportunity to pause, reflect, reduce our carbon footprints, and actually do a better job of taking care of the planet and our neighbors, albeit safely. It’s our choice.

Paul Litwin

Alternatives to Plastic

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that purchasing and using plastic has numerous negative consequences, including the release of a significant amount of greenhouse gases and pollution from the production of plastic, the entanglement and poisoning of birds, fish, and other animals, the increase of toxins in our food chain and our bodies and the bodies of our children. I also pointed out that the most insidious type of plastic is the single use item. 

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Before getting into plastic alternatives, you might wonder why plastic is such a big deal if you recycle your plastic. The truth of the matter is that most (around 90%) of the plastic we use either isn’t recycled or can’t be recycled, and even when it can be recycled, remember that recycling itself exacts a carbon footprint. See my recycling article for more on this topic.

A better approach is to reduce your consumption of plastic. Start by taking an accounting of the plastic in your home and office. Walk through each room of your house and note what items are made of or housed in plastic. Then start replacing those plastics, especially single-use plastics, one by one. 

Ideas for reducing plastic usage:

  • Refuse to purchase single-use water bottles. Carry a metal or glass water bottle with you when you are away from home.
  • Say no to straws. (Seattle has banned plastic straws, but remember to stay vigilant when travelling elsewhere.)
  • Stop using paper cups (usually lined and topped with plastic) at your coffee shop. Bring your own steel coffee mug to your espresso stand and to work.
  • Bring metal flatware and reusable dishes to work so you can avoid single-use plastics.
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  • When purchasing food, look for items in bottles, boxes, or cans (not lined in BPA plastic). As much as possible, purchase bulk items in reusable containers and store them in glass jars.
  • Purchase cloth shopping and produce bags. We use
  • Get rid of vinyl shower curtains, pillow, and mattress covers and replace with natural fabrics.
  • Consider replacing your foam mattress with a natural cotton mattress.
  • Replace plastic food storage containers with glass (even with plastic lids, they are better), metal tins, or reusable alternatives to plastic wrap such as etee (
  • Purchase cosmetics and other bathroom supplies in non-plastic containers. Buy bar soap rather than liquid soap.
  • When purchasing appliances look for ones that have minimal or no plastic.
  • Download the Detox Me app on your phone to get more suggestions on reducing your exposure to plastics and other toxins (

Paul Litwin

The Problem with Plastic

Many aspects of our lives are dependent on the use of plastic. Most of the food we purchase is wrapped in plastic. And our leftovers are often stored in plastic bags and containers. The cords we plug into the wall, and the things that attach to those cords are frequently plastic or made primarily of plastic. Our toothpaste tubes, ketchup bottles, sponges, cosmetics, baby bottles, shower curtains, mattresses, cups, power tools, garbage cans, laptops, and automobiles are usually plastic or made up of plastic parts. Most medical equipment, containers, and devices are primarily plastic. And let’s not forget that many synthetic fabrics are essentially plastic too.

It’s no mere coincidence that the word plastic also can mean “phony,” because the overuse of plastic crowds out natural fabrics and substances and comes with a significant price tag. Plastic exacts a heavy carbon footprint, especially for single-use plastics that are used once and then thrown away. 

Plastic is manufactured from oil and uses a large amount of energy in the process. Furthermore, plastic waste is a major ingredient in our landfills and our oceans. But the story doesn’t end there. That landfill plastic slowly breaks down, becomes microplastics, and enters our water tables and our oceans and the food systems via the tiny sea creatures who consume those microscopic plastic particles and then who are consumed by larger sea creatures and the fish that ends up in our diet.

But it’s not just microplastics that are wreaking havoc to ecosystems. An article from 2019 in the Washington Post profiled a massive die off of hermit crabs on islands in the South Pacific caused by the crabs mistaking plastic trash for shells. And we’ve all read about birds being regularly strangled by plastic six-pack rings.

Plastic enters our bodies through the aforementioned microplastics, but also via utensils, bottles, cups, and containers we use to consume food and beverages. BPA plastic is surprisingly still quite prevalent in our food system, lining most of the cans in our grocery stores. 

Reducing the use of plastics has numerous advantages: less plastic means lower greenhouse gases, less environmental waste, less chance to entangle birds and other animals, less toxins in the food chain, and less toxins in our bodies and the bodies of our children. Yes, despite its convenience, our planet and the life on it would benefit from far less plastic. 

Next week, we will talk about how to reduce our exposure to plastics.

If you live in the Seattle area, you may be interested to know that Suzanna and Paul Litwin will be giving a talk entitled Eat for the Planet on Sunday, March 8th, 2020 at 7pm in the Admin Building at St John’s Catholic Church at 106 N 79th Street, Seattle 98103. Please consider joining us for lots of tips and tricks on eating more plants.

Paul Litwin

Eat More Plants

We make many decisions in our lives each day that impact our carbon footprints. Surprisingly, one of the most significant decisions to affect climate change is the food on our plates. 

The food on our plates you say? Yes, and here’s why: The raising of livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 15-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. According to the EAT-Lancet report written by a team of 37 leading scientists and published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal in 2019, “A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

So how do you shift your diet towards plants? There are a number of different approaches, but the key is to be motivated (you are!) and to take the first step. 

As a first step, focus on adding more plants to your diet. Add fruit to your breakfast. If you only eat salad with your dinner, consider adding a small salad to your lunch as well as your dinner. And eat an apple, orange, banana, or other piece of fruit for a midday snack. Try a plant-based milk in your coffee.

Once you make these small additions, shift to slowly removing animal products from your diet. Replace the eggs and bacon on your breakfast plate with whole grains like oatmeal and fruit. At lunch, replace your cold cuts and cheese sandwich with a bean burrito, veggie burger, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. At dinner, move to meat as a condiment rather than the main course. Replace your typical meat pasta sauce with a meatless red sauce and add more vegetables to your plate. 

Beans and lentils are your new friends. So are greens, tofu, and more veggies. There are a plethora of vegan cookbooks and websites to help you on your journey. Try the recipes here: Another great resource  is the Vegan Starter Kit from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine at

You’ve likely been eating the Standard American Diet for a long time (i.e., your whole life), so don’t expect to be able to ditch meat, eggs, and dairy in a single day. Go slowly; give your body, your palate, your biome, and your mind time to adapt to the change. And any step you take, no matter how small is a step in the right direction.

If you live in the Seattle area, you may be interested to know that we will be giving a talk entitled Eat for the Planet on Sunday, March 8th, 2020 at 7pm in the Admin Building at St John’s Catholic Church at 106 N 79th Street, Seattle 98103. Please consider joining us for lots of tips and tricks on eating more plants. 

Paul & Suzanna Litwin


As I mentioned in prior posts, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, reconsider, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce, reuse, renew, and rethink. It’s time now to talk about recycle.

It’s not an accident that I put recycle last on my list of words. Certainly, recycling is admirable and you should not throw away recyclable materials. Nor should you muck up your bins by practicing what is called “wishful recycling,” when one ignores the rules and throws non recyclable items in the recycling bin according to recent article on

Industry-wide, an estimated 20 percent of what we recycle is trash, according to the Washington Refuse & Recycling Association.

Even when you get it right, recycling is not a panacea:

Alli Kingfisher, recycling coordinator for Washington state, said no one should be too smug about their recycling. “Recycling is only one step above disposal,” she said. Don’t get her wrong: recycling is important, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of green living. If you really want to increase your overall environmental impact, try to reduce or reuse before you even get to the recycling part,” Kingfisher said.

Are you practicing wishful recycling? Perhaps it is time to reread the Seattle recycling/composting rules and teach your family members (including children) to follow the rules. You can view an online version of the SPU recycling guide at

What about reducing your usage of single use items such as plastic water bottles and utensils, even when they are potentially recyclable? When possible, are you using reusable containers and purchasing bulk items that reduce packaging waste?

Reducing your consumption, reusing an item multiple times, or not making a questionable purchase is always better than purchasing an item that can later be recycled. But when you do use a recyclable item, make sure it ends up in the right recycling or compost bin.


As I mentioned in prior columns, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce and reuse. This time, I’d like to introduce rethink.

Reconsider could also have been “reconsider” or “re-assess”. The idea is to reconsider your normal patterns towards a more sustainable lifestyle. For example, if you currently drive to work, could you consider taking the bus or riding your bike instead?

This can also be applied to potential purchases. Most mobile phone manufacturers release new models of phones annually and many people have gotten into the habit of buying the latest each year. Should you reconsider if you really need to upgrade to the latest and can delay that upgrade for an extra year or two? Similarly, do you really need that new fill-in-the-blank appliance, piece of clothing, appliance, or other cool new gadget?

What aspect of your life might you rethink to come up with a more sustainable path?


As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. In prior columns, I discussed reduce and reuse. This time, I’d like to talk about renew.

When I think about renew, I think about the use of renewable resources. We need to reduce our usage of non-renewable resources such as oil, coal, and gas, and move in the direction of renewable resources. Making use of renewable resources is not something that is easy, but it can and must be done. When purchasing your next car, will you consider an electric or hybrid automobile? How about installing solar panels on your roof? Yes, I realize that this is a bit more of an investment than purchasing a steel water bottle. Nonetheless, these are viable options for some of us.

Another way you can work on “renew” is to lobby your state and federal elected officials for greater investment in renewable resources. An easy way to communicate with the governor and your state representatives is to go to the website At the federal level, you can go to,, and

How about contacting one federal or state official this week and making a pitch for investing more in renewable resources?


As I mentioned last time, my approach to consumption of resources can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Last time I discussed reduce. This time, I’d like to talk about reuse.

Using something multiple times is always a better alternative to the use of single use items, even if those items are recyclable since there is a cost to recycling an item. After years of using plastic utensils at work, I recently realized that a better approach would be to bring in a set of stainless steel utensils from home. At my office, I also keep a steel mug for coffee and tea, and a steel water bottle.

Reuse can also mean reusing someone else’s things. Instead of purchasing a new car, book, dress, laptop, children’s clothing, or mobile phone, have you considered purchasing a used version of the same?

The other side of this, of course, is to sell or donate used items when you no longer need them.

You can donate used baby items in the back of many churches and Goodwill, the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, and other thrift stores will gladly take most other used items.

What items in your life can you reuse that you are not currently reusing? What items can you donate?


It is up to each of us to change our lifestyles, and reduce both production and consumption. Will it be a challenge? Absolutely, but don’t we want to preserve this beautiful planet for our children and grandchildren?

My approach to resource consumption can be summed up with these five words: reduce, reuse, renew, rethink, and recycle. Let me explain.

Reduce: Try asking yourself these sorts of questions to help you reduce your consumption: Do I need to turn the heat on or can I put a sweater on? Do I need to drive to the store or can I walk there? Or maybe it can wait until tomorrow? Batching up your needs and reducing the number of times you drive to the store is another good way to reduce your use of fossil fuels. Do I turn the lights off when I leave the room? How about shortening my showers? When I use the dishwasher or washing machine can I reduce the amount of soap I use? Anytime I can reduce my usage of consumables, it will also reduce my carbon footprint.

What one thing can you reduce your use of starting today?

Next time, we will talk about reuse.