Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The preamble and my politics

OK, entirely political post follows. I would love to hear your opinions, but you have been warned.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My political views can be summed up in this simple paragraph and my interpretation of it. Starting at the beginning...

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union"
To me this meant that the founders recognised that no matter how well written the Constitution was, and how much deliberation and consideration went into it, it would not be totally perfect - or they would have left out the word "more." It is this passage that allows for re-interpretation of the Constitution based on today's values of Justice.

"establish Justice,"
This one seems straightforward enough, but it is very important. It doesn't say Justice for some, or Justice for those whom we deem fit to receive it, it is simply Justice. This to me establishes the absolute rule of law in the United States, without exception.

"insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence"
These two are interrelated, especially in these times. This means that it is the governments responsibility to help peaceably settle disputes between members of its society (hence civil courts), and protect its citizens against all threats, both foreign and domestic. But, this comes after "establish Justice", which in the end must be how such threats are dealt with. An armed forces is absolutely necessary, as is an effective police force; however, criminals and enemies must be treated according to the rule of law.

"promote the general Welfare"
It seems like some people seem to like to pretend this phrase doesn't exist. It is absolutely part of the purview of the federal government to care for its citizens and promote their welfare - the welfare of all, not just those who are best at using the capitalist system. This clause is what makes me believe in universal health care, unemployment benefits, welfare, and a graduated taxation system.

"and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"
Another thing that people like to forget is that this comes AFTER promoting the general Welfare - when someone's individual liberty tramples on another's individual liberty or the general Welfare, the federal government can and in many cases should get involved. Thus, pollution (which both goes against the general Welfare and against my individual liberty to breathe clean air and drink clean water) is something that should be regulated by the federal govt; whereas owning a gun, which neither goes against the general Welfare or interferes with Liberty (unless you put a bullet into someone, then you've definitely interfered) should not.

So, this is my interpretation of the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, and this is where I draw my political opinions from. I'd love to hear your interpretations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dannon yogurt cups, part 1

Dannon yogurt. I have been a user and aficionado of Dannon yogurt for as long as I have been eating solid food - I especially love apples & cinnamon and blueberry flavors. I fondly remember the old paper-and-wax packaging. And the other day I had it driven forcefully home to me how much plastic is being wasted every time I enjoy this healthful snack.

So, I wrote Dannon. In addition to the above, I wrote the following:

Has your company looked into returning to the wax-and-paper containers? I'm sure it would be more expensive, but I cannot continue buying a product that I feel is so wasteful. Please consider going back to an old standard. Thank you for your time.

And of course, I got a lovely form letter back.

Dear Tasha Wassink,

Thank you for contacting Dannon regarding your concern about plastic packaging. We sincerely appreciate your interest in our packaging.

Please be assured that Dannon shares your concern about the environment, and within the past few years, we have made significant changes in our cups to reduce the amount of plastic that is used. Our primary concern, however, has always been and always will be to protect the quality and integrity of our product. Any action we take must maintain the same quality that consumers like you expect from Dannon.

Plastic containers provide superior durability and ensure superior quality. Since not all plastics are alike, we are continually testing and evaluating the various types of plastics available to us. At the present time, polypropylene (#5) and polystyrene (#6) cups have proved to be the best "match" for Dannon yogurt.

You may also be surprised to learn that in many communities with recycling programs that accept #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE) plastics, only bottles are actually recycled. The wide mouth plastic containers are frequently removed and discarded at the recycling processing plant. Additionally, containers made from PETE and HDPE require more plastic to be produced than similar containers made from either polypropylene or polystyrene.

Currently, there are over 1700 communities throughout the United States collecting polypropylene. Consumers like yourself can play a role in working with local governments to help expand the number of centers accepting #5 plastics.

Dannon regularly evaluates ways to reduce the overall amount of plastic used to produce Dannon yogurt cups. We have already introduced new single serve cups that require 20% less plastic to produce. In addition, Dannon has decided to remove our overcaps in fall 2005, symbolizing our belief that there are better uses for 3.6 million pounds of plastic. Over time, this means that Dannon will have eliminated the use of 11 million pounds of plastic. Imagine a pile of 666,000 cups and overcaps? - that is how much less plastic we're using each year. Please be assured that we are continually to evaluating our process in the interest of eliminating unnecessary solid waste.

You may be interested in learning more about source reduction from a newsletter called "The ULS Report". The newsletter's goal is to help conserve resources and reduce waste by Using Less Stuff. We believe the publication is free and can be obtained by writing: The ULS Report, P.O. Box 130116, Ann Arbor, MI 48113,, or calling 313-668-1690.

Thank you for contacting Dannon on this important matter. We appreciate your concern and hope we have earned your respect for our on-going environmental efforts.


Lisa Moore
Consumer Response Representative

I particularly enjoyed the passive-aggressive "Well, communities don't recycle wide mouth containers ANYWAY" part... but I didn't ask them about switching plastics. Since they didn't actually answer my question, I had to write back once again.

Thank you for the reply Lisa, but I have to ask again... what about
the paper and wax containers you used to use? I see that switching to
a more recyclable form of plastic was addressed in the form letter,
but I didn't see anything about the way you used to "protect the
quality and integrity of our product" - one that I remember worked
perfectly well. Source reduction is great, but in the past you didn't
need to do source reduction.

Thank you again for your time, and I look forward to your response.

Tasha Wassink

And today, got this back:

Thank you for your recent contact with The Dannon Company Consumer Response Center.

Although we understand that email may be your preferred method of communication, we would like to have an opportunity to speak with you directly regarding your question about wax cups. Please call our toll-free number, 1-877-DANNONUS (1-877-326-6668), Monday through Friday, 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. Eastern Time.

Thank you for your interest in Dannon. We apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to speaking with you soon!

Best Regards,

Lisa Moore
Consumer Response Representative
1-877-DANNON-US (1-877-326-6668)
(Mon-Fri, 9AM - 6PM ET)

I'm guessing they think either that e-mail is too low a barrier to communication and that I'll be afraid to talk to a real person, or that they don't want their answers to be in print. Either way, once my cold is better Dannon is going to be getting a little call; especially in view of products like the Ecotainer (which isn't wax-and-paper; it might be even better). Come on Dannon, prove worthy of my love.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Planned obsolescence and products designed to avoid obsolescence

So, I've been on a "stuff" kick. Getting rid of stuff, only buying used stuff, repairing stuff that breaks instead of throwing it away. Planned obsolescence makes me batty - and perceived obsolescence is insane. This is the opposite of everything that I've ever believed in in design; that things should be beautiful and functional - well designed means lasting.

Now, the things that I'm ok with buying new include organizational tools (shelving, food containers) that are difficult to find used... not at all impossible, as the house is full of garage sale and thrift store shelves, but I just couldn't find a five gallon glass jar with lid used. (I'm having the same problem with a small chest freezer... they cost between 150-250 new, and everyone wants 125-200 used... come ON people)

The doctrine of planned obsolescence so pervasive I'm having a hard time coming up with products that are really made to last these days. Shoes fall apart so quickly, and good luck finding a cobbler to fix them. Ziplock and its ilk have made throw away leftover food containers standard (I admit to having some). Computers... yeah. Even much of the MDF furniture that is manfactured isn't expected to last more than a little while. I got a ironing board less than a year ago that is now no more than a hunk of scrap metal... totally worthless.

So, I'm wondering, what are some new products that are still made to avoid obsolescence? Things that are made to either not break, or made that if they break they are very much fixable? (One thing that I can say with some confidence, they most likely aren't made of plastic) Off the top of my head, I thought of these products (just talking about buying new here!):

Kitchenaid mixer - the old standby, and I dearly love mine. I know that there are local machine shops that work on them, and I know I can always send it to Kitchenaid for servicing.

Pyrex dishes and containers - yes, they can maybe break if you drop them, but they're made to last... and last... and last. I'm going to be trying to replace the plastic containers in my house with these. I know they won't leach anything into the food, and they're microwaveable!

Handmade wood furniture - talk about stuff thats made to last, find a local furniture maker, and you'll have what you get forever, and then some. I'd still opt for antique pieces most of the time, but if you want something new that won't fall apart and will be good for the local economy, this is the way to go.

And... humph. I'm sorta stumped. I could only think of two brand names. Does anyone else have any ideas? I'm in the market for a good small chest freezer...