Disclosure: I am a happy paying member of Ridwell. I am extraordinarily annoyed at every waste management company’s attempts to stop Ridwell from recycling items they refuse to/are to lazy to recycle (which also stops Ridwell from redistributing still-useful items). Some of the companies have threatened to sue or actually have sued.

Maybe you’re like me: I try to avoid excess plastic with my purchases when I can, I try to patronize businesses that try to avoid plastic, I don’t use the plastic produce bags. Yet neither of us can avoid generating any plastic waste at all–and for us (for me, at least) it’s not a realistic option. We can’t choose how our prescriptions are packaged (we can’t even avoid the totally unnecessary plastic birth control pill dispensers). We can’t choose a “plastic alternative” if we need to use an ostomy appliance or get a blood transfusion or need to be intubated. We can’t opt out of plastic

Curbside Recycling?

KNOW THE RULES! I’ve lived in multiple houses, dorms, and apartments in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Texas, California, and Oregon. In each place the rules for recycling varied wildly, sometimes differing dramatically from one town to the next one a few miles over. If you have access to curbside recycling (I remember in one place it was optional and cost extra–WTF??) I hope you’re both using it AND using it correctly. For most of my life to determine whether I could recycle a plastic I had to look at the logo with the arrows and see what number it was; mostly, #1 and #2 were a go, and the rest were a no.

Imagine my surprise when I moved (back) to Portland, only to discover that in Portland, the numbers are irrelevant and it is the shape of the container that matters!

Size and shape determine what’s recyclable in Portland, Oregon (image by City of Portland)

According to the official website for the City of Portland, “When sorting your plastics, ignore the recycle symbol and number: Plastics recycling in Portland is based on the size and shape of the item. Please rinse containers. They do not need to be perfectly clean, but should be free of food residue and dry before they go in your bin.” Um, really? Yes, really.

Oregon Metro explains it this way: Ignore the numbers. Ignore the arrows. Sort by shape. These items are OK in your recycling container–rinse thoroughly.

Plastic bottles, jugs and jars 6 ounces or larger, any container with a threaded neck (for a screw-on lid) or neck narrower than the base. This includes milk jugs, peanut butter jars, and bottles that held personal care and cleaning products (shampoo, laundry soap, etc.).

Round plastic containers that can hold 6 ounces or more, with a wider rim than base, and typically contain products such as salsa, margarine, cottage cheese, hummus, etc. (no drink cups).

Planting/nursery pots larger than 4 inches in diameter and made of rigid (rather than crinkly or flexible) plastic. Remove any loose dirt. 

Buckets 5 gallons or smaller. Handles are OK. 

(Incidentally: the fact that I can put something into my recycling bin does not mean it is, actually, factually, really, truly, recycled. Given the absolutely abysmal rate at which plastics are recycled–check out what Consumer Reports has to say about how little plastic was recycled in 2018–I doubt it’s very much. It didn’t get better when China started to refuse loads of plastics from the U.S. It didn’t get better during the global pandemic. I’d love Waste Management, my curbside provider, to provide data on when, where, and how much of the collected plastic is recycled. Unfortunately, that transparency remains lacking.)

What I Can Recycle in NE Portland

Okay, so both in Portland and the Oregon Metro area, I can avoid using a decent amount of recyclable plastic. I use shampoo bars, Blueland hand soap and toilet cleaner, and Dropps laundry products and dishwasher soap; I put my plastic deposit containers into a blue charity fundraiser bag and take them to a Bottle Drop drop-off location (like at the grocery store).These cover the main categories of what I can put into my recycling bin. I’m a bit stuck when it comes to some of the things that come in plastic tubs.

What I CANNOT Recycle? Everything else. According to Metro, that’s:

Any plastic that is not shaped like a bottle, round tub, bucket, or jug :

  • NO plastic bags or plastic film of any type: pallet wrap, bubble wrap, stretch wrap (think: Amazon bubble mailers, the air cushions in packages)
  • NO plastic caps or lids
  • NO plastic 6 pack can holders (all types, including rigid plastic)
  • NO plastic take-out food containers and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery
  • NO prescription medicine bottles and other plastic containers under 6 oz (think: no contact lens solution, no travel-sized anything)
  • NO disposable plastic or latex gloves
  • NO bottles that have come in contact with motor oil, pesticides or herbicides, or other hazardous materials
  • NO hoses, ropes, or cords

Some of these things are avoidable, but others are not. Just try to buy a loaf of bread (the regular sliced kind, not the fancy artisan rock-hard-in-two-days kind) without a plastic bag. Or a jug of milk without a cap. It’s not like you can order online and avoid bubble wrap or “plastic pillows” entirely.

Ridwell: Supplemental Recycling

Since I can’t avid plastic bags or film, plastic lids/caps, and many of the other items, what’s a smart woman to do? Join Ridwell.

My Ridwell box

Ridwell is essentially a supplemental recycling service. Every two weeks they pick up plastic film (that’s bubble wrap, bread bags, etc.), batteries (which should never go into a landfill or dump as they release chemicals that form a hazardous toxic soup), light bulbs (samesies!), and “threads” (clothing, fabric, shoes). These are part of my core service, and I paid around $100-125 for an entire year of service (26 pickups). I have a porch box, and a (washable, reusable) cloth bag for each of the core categories. If I have more stuff than my porch box can hold, I can add a bag for $1. I also have the option to add a (separate) bag of plastic clamshells (like strawberries come in at the grocery store) for $1, a large bag of styrofoam pieces for $9, or fluorescent light tubes (starts at $4).

In addition, each pickup has a “featured items” category. A few things I remember in that category: crayons, Halloween candy, corks (like from wine bottles), metal bottle caps, plastic bottle caps, prescription medicine bottles, holiday lights, winter coats, electronics, school supplies, sports equipment, bicycles and bike equipment, diapers, bread bag tags, toiletries, kids books, non-perishable food. There have been more. It includes many hard to recycle plastics. Many of these items are not recycled, because they are still reusable; so they are distributed to non-profit partners in my area.

Three of my Ridwell bags–the categories I use most.

Ridwell sends customers a newsletter with information on what percentage of the core categories gets recycled. There’s also a blog with articles about Ridwell’s activities, and my account page links to a page about the Ridwell partners in Portland, such as PDX Diaper Bank, Children’s Book Bank, and WashCo Bikes.

So, for example, in May I got an email that informed me: ” You packed our warehouse sky high with clean, compressed #1 PET plastic. Together, we diverted over 112,000 lbs (>56 Tons) of clamshell plastic waste from landfills. Instead, the clamshells were recycled by our partner, Green Impact, and given a second life as 2 million new containers, protecting your favorite berries and snacks. This is all thanks to 25,000 Portland members, like you. Happy Clamiversary!” It also had a link where I could learn more about Green Impact. This is one of many such emails I have gotten from Ridwell. Transparency matters. (Too bad Portland’s contracted waste haulers are too busy protesting Ridwell to let their customers know where the recycling actually goes, eh?)

By the way, if Ridwell operates where you are, I think I still have a few opportunities to give you one month of free Ridwell. Drop a comment, and then shoot me an email.

Other Supplemental Recycling in Portland: James

Maybe you can’t get Ridwell where you live. I hope you have another option like James’ Neighborhood Recycling Service. James is a Portland resident who works in certain neighborhoods here. He runs a pick-up service and operates at community events. James can take all sorts of plastics for recycling, including things like cassette tapes, empty contact lens blister packs, styrofoam, straws, plastic utensils, and more. He takes electronics like batteries, lightbulbs, power cords, laptops, and more. James also accepts some other unusual, hard to recycle items including: wine corks, cereal bag liners, toothpaste tubes, floss containers, toothbrushes (non-electrical), inkjet and toner cartridges, pumps (from lotion, hand soap, etc.) and spray nozzles from non-hazardous products.

If you’re not in Portland, try running a search for local recycling options, community recycling, or similar. You might even have a zero waste group in your area that operates on Facebook, NextDoor, or another social media platform.

Plastic Film Recycling–Near You?

Avoiding plastic film is really difficult. (Bread bags, bubble wrap, etc.) Check out Plastic Film Recycling for more information and resources. To find a drop-off location to recycle plastic film, try the drop-off directory. (I found 160 locations near me, searching by zip code.) The directory also has a page for what falls into this category (yes to product wraps, air pillows, and plastic mailers) and what is excluded (no to frozen food bags, “compostable” bags, and six-pack rings).

If it seems like a pain in the butt to make a special trip for a handful of bread bags, why not reach out to your neighbors? If you have kids, they could turn it into a community service project with their Brownie Troop, Cub Scout pack, church youth group, school, or other organization.

Disclosure: I bought these products with my own money, because I wanted to try them. I’m writing about them because I like them. Affiliate links are clearly identified. (If you use one, there’s no cost to you; I may receive a small compensation.) Also HEY! Look at me getting a “Plastic-Free July” post out during the month of July for the first time ever!

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Zip-Top Bag

Stasher bags drying on a rack

Single use Ziploc-style bags may seem innocent, but they produce a TON of waste. One source does the math like this: “The average United States family uses 500 Ziploc bags each year. With 325,719,178 people living in the United States as of July 2017, and an average family size of 2.8 people, that means that the United States alone uses an average of 58,164,139 Ziploc bags per year.” (internal citations omitted) The number might be even higher; this blog cites the EPA for 100 billion such bags used per year. This isn’t to pick on Ziploc–a brand name owned by Dow Chemical–because Glad’s Flex n’ Seal, and Hefty’s Slider Freezer, and Target’s Up and Up, and every other brand of single-use zipper-top bag is just as bad for the environment. It’s not just their creation–plastic bags are made from crude oil, the manufacturing process can include trips through multiple countries, and their production and transportation create greenhouse gas emissions. While zipper bags are theoretically recyclable–the Ziploc bag website loves to tout how they can be recycled–you can’t just throw them into the recycling bin (if you even have recycling bins). The percentage of bags recycled is super tiny, maybe as low as 0.2% of bags used.

A stack of Stasher Bags

Stasher. Single-use plastic baggies–whether zipper type or not–are simply not your best choice in the vast majority of circumstances. (Nothing is an absolute in this world.) I’ve started to use Stasher bags instead. Stasher is made from food-grade platinum silicone, and made to meet the higher EU food package standards. In addition to food storage, you can use Stasher bags to cook (they are safe for the microwave, stovetop use like sous vide, and more). Stasher holds up to the freezer and the fridge. I prefer to wash mine by hand in hot, soapy water (I got a drying rack with the discount bundle I bought) but you can also put them in the dishwasher.

While some will argue silicone is plastic, it is made from silica (you know, like sand) and not from fossil fuel materials. Stasher bags are reusable and have sturdy seals (but don’t turn them inside out–it puts too much stress on the seal). Even if your puppy manages to get a hold on one and chew up the seal, you can still use the bag for storage (you just can’t seal it up). Once your bag is totally useless (maybe the pupper did more than chew up the seal?) you can even send it to Stasher for recycling through their partnership with Terracycle. No plastic baggie company does that.

A Stasher bag (rear) and a Stasher bowel (front)

Stasher comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some bags stand up, others do not; some Stasher bags are more like bowls. You can find them online, in stores like Target, and in some grocery stores. The only downside is that Stasher bags cost a lot more than plastic baggies (but they also last a lot longer too!). My first was a snack sized bag in blue, and I paid about $10. (That was five years ago; I still have it.) You can get a better deal by choosing a set, or subscribing to their email and stalking the sales. Stasher donates a part of each sale to non-profits like Surfrider, and the Emeryville-based employees pitch in to community service projects like the Save the Bay waterways cleanups.

Ready to try Stasher? Use my affiliate link HERE to get 20% off of your first order.

Beyond Stasher. There are multiple other brands of reusable bags you can try beyond Stasher. Not all are created equal–some are less sturdy construction, others cannot be recycled. Investigate before you buy.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: The Shopping Bag

One of my first Chico Bags, still kicking (carabiner still works)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that single-use plastic shopping bags are a major source of pollution. What you probably don’t know is that paper bags actually aren’t that much better. The BBC points out some fun facts in this article, including that it takes more energy to make a paper bag, the extra weight of paper bags uses more fossil fuel to move them around, and paper bags need to be reused four times to make them more environmentally friendly than a single-use plastic bag–and it might not be durable enough to last that long. The Flexible Packaging Association reached similar conclusions–which you might expect, since they make plastic bags. The Columbia Climate School also reached similar conclusions about paper versus plastic, and noted that cotton tote bags aren’t that much better. One thing everyone agrees on: reusing a bag of any kind is better than getting a new one.

The Ben & Jerry’s bag on the left is a bit larger than the original Chico bag, and made with recycled fabric

The key to choosing a shopping bag, then, is to pick one you will re-use. (That’s in addition to choosing one that will last a long time, and not end up in a landfill.) For most people convenience is a key factor–it’s one reason I try to keep a stack of reusable bags in the trunk of my car–so my advice is to pick bags you like and can put in a handy place. If you don’t drive to get groceries, putting the bags in your trunk won’t help.

Chico Bag. My favorite bags since the early 2000s have been Chico Bags. Initially I purchased a few of the originals, and later I received several co-branded bags as swag. It’s now 2022, and I still have the first bag I purchased. I like that I can throw them in the washing machine (but I won’t gross you out with any data on the germs and such living on your unwashed reusable bags). I’m also particularly fond of their built-in stuff-sacks (you don’t have to fold up the bag, you just stuff it into the pouch) and carabiner clips; I’ve stashed Chico Bags in my backpack and briefcase, and I’ve clipped them to my backpack, handbag, wristlet, and zipper pull.

Professor Nick Sterling inspects one of my original Chico Bags for damage

Original bags, like the kind I have, are made from a durable polyester in bright colors. I think I chose from 4 or 5 colors and paid $8ish for my bags; currently there are 10 colors and one bag $10 on the website. (Go in with some friends on the 25 pack for $200.) The reviews for the original bags have many from others who have had their bags for 10, 12, or 15 years or more–so you don’t have to take my word for it, or rely on Chico Bag’s estimate that one Chico Bag can replace 1,040 single-use bags. The fabric used to make rePETe Chico Bag products is made from recycled plastic bottles (the PET kind, get it?). Chico Bag has come a long way since I first bought their bags. They now make may products other than shopping bags: sling bags, shoulder bags, travel bags, backpacks, reusable snack and sandwich bags, and more.

One of my favorite things about Chico Bags is that they have committed to reducing post-consumer waste through the Zero Waste Pay It Forward program. When your bags are broken (or you’re bored of them) you can send them back to Chico Bags. If they can be reused, they will be given to someone who can use them; if they are truly dead, they will be repurposed or recycled.

Replace Disposables with Reusables: What’s Next?

There are still a few disposable things I’m not willing to swap for reusables. (Toilet paper is one, though I might change my mind.) Where possible, I’m trying to “vote with my dollars” by purchasing durable, reusable items that will last me a long time.

Do you have a favorite disposable/reusable swap? What should I try next?

Disclosures: I paid full-fare for this race and all associated expenses. Yes, I went into this race under-trained which was 100% my own fault. I’m not upset that I took a DNF (despite the 3:14:11 that shows in the race results). I AM pretty salty about some of the apparent mismanagement of the event itself, as well as the blatant lie that was the “3.5 hour course limit.” The TL; DR here is that if you are a slower runner–someone who either plans to walk large segments, is at or near a 16-minute mile pace–and want to do the full distance I absolutely DO NOT recommend this race because your chances of getting to finish are zero.

The ongoing global pandemic rescheduled thousands of races, from local favorites to the iconic Boston Marathon. While this created conflicts for some, it created opportunities for others. When I learned in April that Napa to Sonoma–one of my favorite half marathons, one that in years past sold out promptly–was moved from summer to December, I asked a friend to join me on a December getaway. I last ran this race, then owned by Destination Races (more on that later) in July 2014 and sang its praises in my subsequent blog review. I just knew we’d have a blast based on my past experiences with Destination Races in the past in general, and Napa to Sonoma in particular–gorgeous course, generous 3.5 hour course limit… Yeah, hold that thought.

Napa to Sonoma is Spendy

Let me start by explaining that this is an EXPENSIVE race. My bib was $195. (Compare a pre-sale not-Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon at $65, or the local-to-me Appletree Half at $70-95 depending on when you register.) In order to avoid crowds at the Saturday packet pickup, I also opted to pay $25 to have my bib and shirt mailed to me. (Worthy.) I also paid $19.99 for a photo package from Finisher Pix. (In hindsight, a Bad Idea.) Add a donation to the American Cancer Society (the official charity partner) and a $20.47 Active processing fee (I’m an Active+ member, but they only gave a $10 discount) and I put down $270 before I even booked airfare, a rental car, and lodging.

To be fair, the $195 plus processing fees covers more than many half marathons. In addition to the usual shirt and medal, runners are shuttled to the starting line because this is a point-to-point course. After the race there is a wine tasting festival with live music, and each runner is given a wine glass. (Based on Instagram posts from prior years, it looks like they bought the glasses in bulk a few years ago; the glass we received this year looks just like the one from years past.) This year the fee also included use of a coaching app called Bird, free to all runners. (While I did not make full use of Bird, I imagine I would in the future–but that’s a post for another day.) That said, $195 plus fees is on par with what Disney charged for the 2021 fall half marathon–still very expensive.

What’s the Motiv?

No More Destination Races. Next, I should note that Destination Races (who I knew as the owner/operator of Napa to Sonoma and other runs in wine country) was acquired by Motiv Running. Or perhaps Motiv just bought their races, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that Motiv Running, in turn, is owned by a big conglomerate named Black Shamrock Partners (formerly known as Consumer Concept Group). I was familiar with Motiv because they began to buy up a bunch of races that had been local to me before I moved from California to Oregon in 2017. All I really knew is that they were a big Denver-based conglomerate of some sort, and based on the rate they were buying up events in California I assumed they had some sort of venture capital or other outside funding. According to this 2018 press release, at that time they had already purchased a bunch of races the company referred to as “investments,” including “the Sydney Marathon, Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon, Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, The Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, The Wildflower and Malibu Triathlons as well as the Denver Oktoberfest.” You can see a list of some of their current “investments” on the Motiv website linked above. (I’m sad to learn they now own Portland’s Shamrock Run.)

Yes, it’s a wine-themed race, but I discovered this delicious beverage as well.

In hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention to Motiv between its creation in 2015 and the buying spree they took up during the next two years. (If I had, I might have chosen a different race.) Instead of taking a hard look at the changes to the races, I was wowed by their roster of “content creators.” (The content creation seems to have fallen by the wayside, since there are no articles or commentary on the Motiv website right now.) Initially the company seemed to be all about preserving the “local race” experience–ironic, since it was in fact eating up actual local race companies–but the more recent press releases I found are all extremely corporate “identifying opportunities for growth” and not about presenting the best possible running experience. Priorities noted, Motiv.

Let’s Talk Pre-Race Weekend

Communication prior to the race seemed excellent. Emphasis on the “seemed” part. About ten days prior to the race I received an email with a very clear schedule of events, including information on the on-course amenities (water, nuun, Base gel) and a link to the detailed final participant information (where to park, etc.). The email also included links to pre-order race merchandise and wine developed for the race by Meadowcroft wines.

As I mentioned, I paid to have my packet shipped to me. Communication there was also excellent (I received tracking emails before the packet arrived), and everything arrived in November–plenty of time in advance of race day. Bonus: I got to run my race shirt through the wash.

Ominous Weather! As race day neared, I received multiple emails warning me that the weather forecast was for rain, and advising me to dress in layers, consider bringing a cover-up layer to shed after the start, and to pack dry clothing to change into after the race. At least one email also mentioned the cooler temperatures (race day high temp: approx. 47 degrees). I had planned ahead with layers for race day–long sleeved shirt, quarter-zip, jacket–and plenty of medical tape and Squirrel’s Nut Butter (to prevent blisters on my feet). I also packed a full set of dry clothes, including shoes and socks, for after the race.

Comedy Tonight! The first moment of “oh this is ridiculous” was the night before the race. I went to lay out my race kit and discovered that I had left my bib on my dining room table in Oregon. After putting it there so I could not possibly walk out of the house without seeing it. After planning for weeks to use it as a bookmark in the book I would take for the plane. D’oh! But hey, at that point it was way too late to do anything about it, and I just figured it would all work out.

Race Day: Let’s Start At The Very Beginning.

Parking and Shuttles. I personally thought communication about parking and shuttles was fairly clear, but others may disagree, and it doesn’t seem like Motiv followed through on their shuttle plans properly. In any case, this is a point-to-point course with runner drop-off but NO PARKING at the starting line. As I did in 2014, I chose to park near the finish line and take one of the shuttles to the start. There were three identified parking locations (not including plentiful on-street parking).

It was raining on race morning, as we got up in the dark and made our way from the Air BnB to Sonoma. Sunrise was supposed to be 7:17 a.m., and the last shuttle was supposed to leave at 6:20 a.m. in order to make the 7:00 a.m. start time, so we planned to arrive between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m., aka Ouch O’Clock. I had intended to park at the Sonoma State Historic Park, but the address provided (and which I pumped into Google Maps) did not lead to the parking lot, so I ended up on the street, which was fine. There were shuttles waiting right across the street from us, waiting to transport us to the starting line. Since masks were required on the shuttles–I’m fully vaccinated and have my booster, but I expect races to follow best practices vis a vis preventing COVID-19 transmission–we planned to use the shuttles.

The LOLs Continue! As I got my post-race gear bag out of the car and took out my rain poncho, I realized…it wasn’t a rain poncho at all. I’d somehow managed to pack one rain poncho (the kind you buy at Disney World when it rains on race weekend) and one…shower curtain liner. I still have no idea how a newish, clean shower curtain liner ended up in my closet packed with my rain ponchos, but I just laughed–after leaving my bib at home, I guess anything is possible!

Step Two: The Starting Line

First, The Good. The race begins at the Cuvaison Carneros Winery in Napa. I have mostly good points for the starting area. (1) The bag drop truck was easy to find–you had to walk past it to get to the waiting area–and there were plenty of clear plastic bags, bag tags, and markers available. The area to stuff and mark your bag had one of those square canopies over it so the supplies stayed dry. (2) There was another canopy nearby with coffee and enough cups for everyone. (3) I went to race day packet pickup and explained I’d made a mistake and left my bib at home, and they quickly assigned me a new one. (4) There were plenty of porta-potties.

Now, The Bad. (1) It wasn’t a great idea to leave the paved but lumpy path from the bus to the runner holding area at the winery, up a hill, completely in the dark (no lights at all and with sunrise more than a full hour after the first arrivals). I’m not sure who failed to think that through, but runners did stumble and fall. (2) Since the race organizers had repeatedly emailed the runners to warn us it was going to rain, I thoroughly expected that the race’s starting line would also be prepared for rain, with some dry pre-race accommodations–inside the winery, under some big rental tents, or otherwise a cover to keep runners dry. Nope. I get that you can’t control the weather, but after all of the extensive email advice about dealing with weather I expected the race would also make accommodations of some sort. (3) The speakers on the P.A. system were terrible. Even 10′ away they sounded like an adult character from “Peanuts” talking through a broken Fisher-Price toy. It was difficult to hear and understand the pre-race announcements, to the point where my friend with less race experience could not tell what was going on; I was barely able to piece it together based on the hundreds of races I’ve done. (4) There were a few of those outdoor gas-powered heater-trees (like you see at restaurants) but there were not nearly enough for all of the runners–by the time I arrived, there wasn’t space near enough to get warm. (This was fine by me–I brought plenty of clothing–but distressing to some of the runners who waited more than an hour for the race to start.)

Finally, The Ugly. The published starting time for this race was 7:00 a.m. I heard a garbled announcement that I interpreted as a 15-minute delay, and later heard “7:30 or 7:35” and–based in part on lack of movement back down the hill towards the starting line–assumed that was further delay. I’d left my Coros back in Oregon (charging in my office) so I don’t know what time we moved down towards the starting line but some people had been waiting long enough to need to pee again and with the porta-potties way back up the hill and no indication when the race might really start there was quite a bit of peeing in the vineyards of Cuvaison! As a slowpoke I was near the back, so couldn’t hear anything from the speakers at the starting line itself. Eventually, runners were released in groups–a smart move, to prevent bottlenecks and crowding–with a minute or so between groups. Group 6 (mine) crossed the starting line at 7:42 a.m. but I wasn’t worried since there was a published 3.5 hour time limit and there were PLENTY of people behind me–not to mention those still arriving at the bottom of the hill as shuttles continued to drop off runners after the start. (Listen, I don’t know what the problem was here, but this race has been going on for like 10+ years; to have the shuttles turn into such a cluster was pretty much inexcusable.)

Step Three: It Was A Dark And Cloudy Morning…

The Course is Beautiful. Even in the rain. Due to the point-to-point nature and limited road options there are a few features that most runners find somewhat unfortunate. For example, the course starts on a downhill leaving the winery, turns, and then immediately begins a hill climb. Another example is the transition from well-maintained, flat asphalt to a road made almost entirely of potholes; this transition happens exactly at the point you move from Napa County to Sonoma County (and you can tell because it is spray-painted on the road). Pretty minor annoyances though when you consider how gorgeous the wine country is! Even with grey skies, wrapped in a shower curtain, I loved being out on the course. How often do you get to run on a semi-closed course (the race had half of the road, vehicles had the other half) in such a beautiful place? Sure, I liked it better in the sun we had in July 2014 but I still loved the scenery.

Oh look! New goodr! Wine-colored glasses!

On Course Support Was Solid. The pre-race emails identified the aid stations by mile marker and on a map of the course. In addition, the emails spelled out which aid (water, hydration, gels, bars) would be available where, and the brands, so there was no excuse for arriving unprepared on race day. I knew my tummy liked nuun, but I also brought my Orange Mud pack and filled my bottle with Hydrant. I packed Honey Stinger chews, also friendly to my tummy, for fuel. At mile 8 there were gels, bars, hand warmers, rain ponchos, and other assorted supplies. The hand warmers and rain ponchos would have been a million times more useful at the starting line so I’m not sure what the race director was thinking.

About that 3.5 hour course time limit…it’s a lie. Or at least VERY misleading. The website with the race FAQ states: “The half marathon course limit is 3.5 hours.  You must maintain a pace of 16 minutes per mile to finish the race.” If you do the math, this is accurate. As far as my experience of 100+ half marathons has taught me, the course time limit is measured from the time the last runner crosses the starting line. If you’ve run a Run Disney event, you know those last runners as “the balloon ladies,” runners who carry balloons and keep a strict 16 minute pace. Other races use literal “balloon ladies” (the last runner carries balloons), though some just have a final pacer. That is NOT how this race works…

…which I learned when I was swept nearish to Mile 10, around 10:30 a.m. Instead, the 3.5 hours is measured from the published start time for the race–not even when the first runner starts! So the 3.5 hours began to run about 45 minutes before I did. The poor runners who got stuck in whatever problem the shuttles had? Some of them did not start until 8:00 a.m.!

Again, I knew I wasn’t properly trained for this race (all on me, 0% on Bird), and it was cold and wet. (A pre-race email advised, “Respect your limits. Cold temperatures restrict blood flow, which can cause muscles to contract and even cramp.”) According to the one timing mat (okay, bib scanner thingy) I was a 17:00/mile at the 10k mark–definitely behind pace, but only by 6 minutes at that point. I passed mile 8 and the aid station and was well into mile 9 when a truck pulled up and a race official told us that they “have to get the runners off the course by 10:30” and so the shuttle bus behind us was going to pick us up and “bump us forward.” Since I know how much work goes into planning a race and how stressful race day can be, I will not give a race official any smack talk on race day. So I got on the bus.

There were already a dozen runners on board. We picked up another dozen as we passed the markers for mile 10 and 11. Frankly, at that point I was disappointed–I paid $195 and had certainly not had 3.5 hours on the course–but the weather was crap and I was developing a weird, new blister in an inexplicably puzzling location on my right foot, plus again with the not giving smack to the race officials–but I determined that I’d have a good time anyway. I made new friends on the sag wagon and we all cheered each time a new person boarded.

Honestly I don’t know if they ever intended to “bump us forward” or if that was a lie too (given I boarded around 10:30, which appears to have been the actual course cut-off, 3.5 hours from the published start) but they took us all the way to the finish area. The bus dropped us off one block from the finish line (which we all then ran across and yes I accepted a medal, and no, I’m not adding this to my Half Fanatics record since I did not finish). My friend Melissa later told me that after she crossed the 12 mile marker she heard there was a head-on collision at the intersection just before that, which may explain why we were sent to the finish line. Or maybe not? The starting line was such a mess I’d believe almost anything.

Step Four: The Finish Line

Finish Line Food Was NomNom. I picked up a bottle of Oxigen water (the one time I drink bottled water because that’s all they had), a banana, Bob’s Red Mill peanut butter coconut bar, squeezable apple sauce pouch, and a bag of Sonoma Creamery cheese “crackers.” Despite the encouragement to “take as much as you want” I knew the people who were not scooped up by the sag wagon would also want snacks, so I limited my grab to one of each. I saw the nuun truck was nearby with four flavors on tap and made a note to head back. Then I went to find the gear check truck, which was all the way across the entire park–literally as far from the finish line and chute as possible.

Naively, I Expected A Changing Tent. In every race where I’ve been advised to pack dry post-race gear, there’s been a changing tent. Most races do not have such a thing, so why did I expect one here? Motiv told me to! For example, the December 7th email contained the following advice: “Check some warm gear. Be prepared for outdoor conditions at Cuvaison Winery before the race starts. Wear your warm clothes to the start and then check them at gear check, which closes at 6:45am. We’ll transport your gear check bag to the finish line so you can get out of wet clothes immediately after the race. It’s important to change the clothing closest to your body to stay warm and dry. Plus you’ll have a much better time at the post race wine festival.” Also this: “Make sure you change out of cold or wet clothes before attending the wine festival.” This seems to imply there will be a place to change clothes, no? Actually, NO. There was no place to change clothing. No tent, shelter, building, or other area to change clothes. I suppose I could have stood in the rain and changed outside in the park, but then I didn’t want to get arrested. So I enjoyed the post-race wine festival in my wet racing duds, shower curtain, and an added heat sheet.

The medal is sort of Christmas ornament themed; it’s got a ribbon to hang, and the middle bit is a spinner.

Wine Festival! In July 2014, the wineries were distributed towards the edges of the downtown Sonoma plaza/park. This ensured that the line for one winery didn’t impede traffic flow. This time, all of the wineries were crammed into the center of the plaza. Since it was still raining, and there were zero other covered places to stand, people tended to jam themselves under the little tents that had the wine. While there were some larger wineries, I was thrilled to see smaller winemakers present as well. I did go back to get some more nuun, and I also took the opportunity to try the other Sonoma Creamery cheese crisps. Michelob Ultra was in a beer tent and since I dislike beer I wasn’t going to go there until I saw that Michelob Ultra now makes hard seltzer. Surprise! It is actually delicious. I tried two flavors (because I’d also been sipping wine and I had a brief but winding drive back) and the spicy pineapple is my favorite. I’m looking forward to finding this locally.

The only completely covered place that wasn’t crowded to the gills was the merch tent. Pre-orders were ready and waiting for pickup. I scored some new goodr, which I clearly needed because I only have like 20 pair. It was still raining, I was still wet, and after grabbing a cup of coffee we headed to Sonoma’s Best for a grab-and-go breakfast (mocha and an egger) before heading home to showers, a nap, and the Air BnB’s hot tub!

What Others Said

The following are direct quotes from the race’s Facebook page, posted in response to a race-day announcement that the company knew about the delay. I have used the initials of the names as used on Facebook (which may or may not be a person’s legal name). So far, there are no response from the race.

  • “Really disappointed in this race. Reeked of greed with no regard for the safety and well-being of the runners. Between the poor transportation, late start leaving underdressed runners standing in the cold rain for an hour waiting to start, and having cars driving both ways on the course, you’re lucky someone didn’t get seriously hurt. And a $200 ticket price? No thanks. Never again and will never recommend to anyone.” B.J.
  • In response to B.J., above, J.G. wrote: “well said. A total slap in the face.”
  • “Last shuttle arrived at 8 am to start after waiting an hour in the rain. Just to be told “run that way” no warm up no excitement no start line experience.. Doomed to get picked up by a van to drive us to the finish because “despite the late start” they had to open the roads. I feel cheated out of what should have been a great experience.” J.P.
  • “Ran this one in 2017. Enjoyed my time there, but the race was not well-managed. Would not recommend.” A.T.B.
  • “This was such a disorganized mess of a race. No lighting on the walk to the top of the hill waiting area. Tripped on a wire the guy was installing at the starting line as I had to use phone flashlight to try and see. Delayed start waiting 30+ min in the cold after having warmed up AND my checked bag was lost. I love this race but this was just too much. Hoping my bag gets found!!!!” W.J.
  • “This is the worst company – all they really care about is signing you up for next year! They actually pretended there was NO wetgear concern at all[.]” J.D.
  • “Stood in the cold rain for 30 minutes trying to get a shuttle… now the shuttle driver is blasting the A/C… is this a joke? I’ve run many many races… so far this one is a double thumbs down[.]” J.G.

In Conclusion

  • Pre-race: Good communication, timely packet mailing. Misleading published start time and course limit. Misleading statements about changing clothes after the race.
  • Race Day, starting line: The shuttles were inexplicably a hot mess. Do not wait until the last shuttle, please. If you do, don’t demand a late start. It is obnoxious. If it rains, expect to get soaking wet at the start, and possibly stand around for an hour in the rain–plan ahead for this.
  • Race Day, post-start: Do not believe the published course limit. You absolutely do NOT have a full 3.5 hours unless the race starts on time AND you are the first across the starting line.
  • Course: Beautiful! Lovely! Amazing!
  • Post-Race Festival: Have fun!
  • I’m not sorry I went to this race, but this will be my last year running it. The experience doesn’t justify the cost for me (and I can run other races and enjoy wine country).

Did you run Napa to Sonoma 2021? What did you think?

TL;DR: hell yes they are. Plant-plastic is not “green” or friendly to the environment in any way. (It’s also not vegan.)

The iconic American brand Coca-Cola–historically no friend to the environment or to consumers in foreign markets–just announced the first plant-based plastic bottle. Coca-Cola, the world’s leading producer of plastic waste, generating more than 2.9 tons of plastic waste per year, has recently decided to go green–by making plant-plastic.

I came across this article on the LinkedIn feed for Vegan Business News and immediately questioned whether this development is vegan (it’s not), and whether this development is merely green-washing, roughly defined as the practice of making something look very eco-friendly and environmentally conscious for the purpose of cultivating consumer good-will (it is). Green-washing is also called eco-washing, or referred to as trying to add a “green halo” to a product to make consumers think it is good for the plant or the environment. The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got.

My initial comment: “So…we’re going to continue to have microplastics pollution and regular plastic pollution, just now it will also be made from plants? I don’t buy it. Why not use glass or aluminum, both of which are much more easily recycled and have a longer useful life? This is greenwashing, plain and simple simple.  #greenwashing #notVegan #NotAVeganBusiness

One response I received claimed: “because the glass and can solutions are not clean either and the costs will not easily transfer to consumers. compostable would do…we are heading in that direction.” I’m not going to name the author of that comment, since he clearly had not read the article–this magical new plant-plastic will NOT be compostable.

Plant-Plastic is Still Plastic

Let’s start with the obvious: the plant-based plastic IS STILL PLASTIC.

Bottles? Unlikely to be recycled. Caps? NOT recyclable, despite that chasing-arrows recycling logo. Plastic bottle holder? Destined to choke wildlife.

Personally, I do not see how the solution to the single-use plastic problem is to make more single-use plastic. According to the article linked above, the plant-based plastic called bPET “is identical in molecular structure to virgin fossil-based PET.” This means that regardless of the ingredients, plastic is plastic. A spokesperson for Coca-Cola explained that the plant-plastic “can be mixed with rPET and virgin oil-based materials interchangeably including in the recycle stream.” These plant-plastic bottles will not be reusable or compostable. Coca-Cola is planning to increase its own capacity to recycle plastic (more on why that’s problematic below), but it’s still plastic.

Plastic is a “forever” product.

Since the plant-plastic is identical to the plastic we already have, with the same molecular structure, plant-plastic will pose all of the same problems as plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable and cannot be composted. (The corn-based “compostable plastic” forks and other single-use items you have seen? NOT compostable in municipal compost, where that service even exists. If you’ve experimented with composting these in your backyard composter, I’d love to hear how long it took them to fully break down. Oh, and some of them break down into micro-plastics!) The majority of plastic is not recycled, even if you put it into your recycling bin, assuming you even have recycling where you live. (People like to cite the statistic that “74% of Americans have access to recycling” but they always leave out the fact that data is based on access to recycle glass and aluminum–not plastic.) I’ve talked about this in prior posts, such as this one. In the past much of our plastic waste was shipped to China for recycling, but China started rejecting shipments before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plastic is the wrong kind of “forever.”

Aluminum (made from metal minerals) and glass (made from silica, limestone, and soda ash) are “forever renewable.” You can basically reuse or recycle your aluminum beverage can or your glass beverage bottle until the end of time. (More on that when we talk alternatives.) Unlike aluminum and glass, plastic cannot be endlessly recycled. The article about Coca-Colas plant-plastic admits this: “While the majority of the company’s plastic packaging material will come from recycled content, some ‘virgin’ material will apparently still be needed to maintain packaging quality.” In other words, to continue using this plant-plastic, they will have to continue to produce more plastic! More single-use plastic is simply a bad idea.

Grow Plants to Eat, Not to Plastic!

I didn’t do a deep-dive into land use for this post, but if you’d like to, please drop a comment. A basic fact of planet Earth is that we have limited arable land, meaning land that can grow plants on it. Quite a bit of land is unavailable to grow plants for human use–deserts, swamps, wetlands, permafrost, etc.–so we should probably be thoughtful about how we choose to use the land that we do have available to us. I’m not going to argue we are doing a good job with this, but in a world where we’re already mowing down rainforest to start cattle ranches, shouldn’t we be focused on using our arable land for crops to feed humans and animals? (I’m not debating whether to go vegetarian or vegan here, that’s a different convo.) Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to set aside land to grow plants to turn into plastic? Especially for the world’s largest producer of plastic waste (plastic that is not recycled)? It does to me, especially when climate change is threatening to take away some of the land we currently use, whether due to rising sea levels, change in the growing season conditions, or increase in severe weather events (including droughts and floods).

Plant-Plastic Will Likely Get Incinerated

According to the article cited above, Coca-Cola plant to introduce the plant-plastic in Europe. Unlike the United States, where few things are diverted for reuse or recycling and the remainder go to landfills, a large chunk of Europe produces less waste to start with and then deals with the rest using a trash incinerator. (Read about those here.) Currently many of them are “trash to energy” incinerators with environmental controls for many of the most dangerous pollutants and for particulate matter. That’s where single use plastic goes too—and “Burning plastic in a climate emergency, that’s insane,” said Georgia Elliott-Smith, an environmental engineer, according to that article. Even the most environmentally-friendly of these trash incinerators are falling out of favor in the age of climate change, as they produce CO2 (which we all know is a bad idea). As much as Coca-Cola claims they are going to collect and re-use this plant-plastic, in reality they have little impact on what consumers choose to do with empty plant-plastic bottles. The UK burns more than it recycles (across the board); why should we expect the rest of Europe to suddenly get on board with recycling for plant-plastic? We should not. Incinerated plant-plastic will contribute to CO2 production, which is the opposite of the eco-friendly label Coca-Cola has put on their plant-plastic. This, my friends, is greenwashing.

We Have The Alternatives

Glass

(c) Taras Chernus

Glass is endlessly recyclable. One article describes the state of glass recycling as sadly broken, and notes: “glass can be recycled endlessly by crushing, blending, and melting it together with sand and other starting materials.” The components are basically sand (silica), limestone, and soda ash. The article notes that about one-third of the glass in the U.S. is actually recycled (versus putting it in a recycling bin and then it goes to a landfill). This is a problem that is potentially fix-able if we–or Coca-Cola–can devote resources to expanding glass reuse or recycling. (The same isn’t true of plastic, which is not endlessly recyclable.)

While glass does have the disadvantage of being heavier than plastic, which has an impact on shipping costs (and associated fossil fuel usage), large companies like Coca-Cola already use a distribution system where products are bottled in multiple locations with an eye towards reducing the shipping distance. (Let’s not forget that beer, wine, and spirits are almost exclusively bottled in glass in the United States, with some notable exceptions for aluminum cans, and continue to be shipped from coast to coast.) Coca-Cola continues to distribute products in glass bottles in many non-U.S. countries. Have you ever bought Coca-Cola imported from Mexico? Always in a glass bottle. Coca-Cola has other brands in its portfolio that are bottled in glass (not plastic) so this isn’t a stretch at all!

Coca-Cola could even lead the pack by returning to returnable–not recyclable–bottles. You might not remember those, but Coca-Cola vending machines used to dispense heavy glass bottles. (In the 80s and 90s we had one in the basement of the church where my Girl Scout troop met.) These were returned, sanitized, and refilled. As a kid I remember getting all of our family’s sodas at a place called Towne Club, a private-label warehouse-type brand, where we returned the bottles not for a deposit but to be reused. In Portland, several companies dispense their beer or cider into refillable growlers, and a few are part of a glass bottle return program. (Those bottles are washed and sanitized, then refilled for retail sale.) This isn’t a radical concept.

Aluminum

(c) Alexander Antropov

You know about aluminum, right? The stuff all Coca-Cola cans–and even some bottles!–are made of? Aluminum is the most valuable thing in your recycling bin. (That article has a great summary of how reusable aluminum is, an how much energy is conserved by recycling it instead of making it from scratch.) Like glass, aluminum is almost infinitely recyclable. Nearly 75% of all aluminum ever made is still in use today. You cannot say the same for plastic, the vast majority of which is in landfills (or perhaps the ocean, or burned in European incinerators).

How valuable is aluminum? When I worked in the Texas legislature and a bottle deposit came up for a vote, the reason it always failed was aluminum. Why? Independent recycling centers rely on the income from aluminum recycling–the buy-back price more than covers the operations to collect and recycle it–to fund their operations and help recycle cardboard, paper, #1 and #2 plastic, and glass.

Coca-Cola already makes aluminum bottles, which are lighter than glass ones and not much heavier (if at all) than plastic ones. Again, this is not a new or radical idea! If they took a serious interest in recycling aluminum on a world-wide basis, they could easily use more aluminum bottles and maybe even use less plastic to make bottles. That would make a bigger impact than inventing a fake “eco-friendly” plant-plastic.

(Steel might be an option too, though I don’t know whether Coca-Cola would react with steel. Gnarly Sports Nutrition recently started a shift away from the plastic tubs most nutrition companies use, in favor of steel. According to Gnarly Nutrition, steel has the highest recycling rate of any material at 71% while plastic is at 8%. Their packaging is tin-coated. The switch from plastic to steel increased the price of the tub by 80 cents.)

Creativity: Concentrating or Dry-Shipping Beverages

With just the tiniest bit of creativity, Coca-Cola could shift many of its brands out of plastic OR reduce the amount of plastic they use instead of using more and making it from plants to look “green.” One option would be to only ship concentrated beverages. They already do this, shipping containers of Coca-Cola syrup to restaurants that use a system to add carbonated water to the syrup to make your beverage–all fast food restaurants, and nearly all other restaurants, obtain Coca-Cola this way. If you’ve got a Soda Stream or similar carbonation device, you can buy concentrated soda syrups to flavor your carbonated water, essentially making your own soda by just adding (carbonated) water. This solution has already been implemented by liquid laundry soap and fabric softener manufacturers, many of whom now sell concentrated formulas that require smaller packages and therefore last plastic. (Skip these and go plastic-free for your laundry though.) Again, not a novel or crazy idea–and Coca-Cola is already doing it on a small-scale.

Another option would be to create formulas that can be shipped dry. For example, Coca-Cola owns many brands that make tea. Historically, tea was shipped dry (either in bulk or in individual tea bags). There’s no real reason why Coca-Cola couldn’t ship tea brands as dry tea, and it would probably require fewer additives (i.e. colorants to make the product’s color appealing on the shelf, stabilizers so it can wait in a package before you drink it, etc.). Given the amount of money they must have thrown into making plant-plastic, surely they could redirect a few bucks to making dry mixes for their non-tea products as well. Coca-Cola classic only has like six ingredients, and 90% of it is carbonated water! These reformulated dry products could be shipped in individual compostable/recyclable paper packets (like sugar) or in bulk packing like a tin, steel tub, or a glass jar, avoiding plastic altogether.

Paperboard boxes and aluminum cans are both more likely to be recycled than plastic anything.

Conclusion: “Plant-Based Plastic” IS Totally Greenwashing

Plant-Based News recently wrote an article explaining that Coca-Cola is vegan except when it isn’t. A similar post at LiveKindly agrees, and notes that Coca-Cola is also an environmental disaster for using so much plastic. (LiveKindly notes that Coca-Cola has made a public commitment to use 50% recycled materials by 2030, but as the article that led to this blog post indicates, that’s because they’re planning to use more plastic!) There’s nothing particularly vegan about plant-based plastic (unless you intend to eat the bottle, which I’m going to assume Coca-Cola does not recommend).

Plant-based plastic is not compostable and has the same molecular structure as regular plastic. This means a single-use plant-plastic bottle creates the same problem as an oil-based plastic bottle.

There is nothing eco-friendly or “green” about creating more single-use plastic. The obvious alternatives, aluminum and glass, are both already in use and endlessly recyclable. With creativity, Coca-Cola could ship products that are more concentrated (they do for restaurants) or dry, further reducing plastic use. Instead, they have opted to invest in plant-plastic and using arable land to grow plants to make plastic instead of food.

Consumers should not be fooled by this blatant attempt to reclassify plastic as environmentally friendly, “green,” or any other version of good for planet Earth.