I love Tu B'Shvat!
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
I love Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees! Centuries ago, Tu B'Shvat was the time when it was determined whether the trees were mature enough for their fruit to be harvested.
As has become customary, our family holds a Tu B’Shvat seder (meal) every year. We love discussing the different fruits that we eat, and the symbolism of each type: those with shells, which remind us that the Divine Presence is often hidden from us; fruits with pits, which remind us that there is a Divine Spark within us; fruits that are entirely edible, which remind us that the physical and the spiritual exist together.
My family also enjoys the symbolic mixing of the seder wine (although in my house we use grape juice, because who wants to ruin a good glass of wine?) – starting with white wine and gradually mixing it into a dark red or purple over the course of the seder. The changing color of the wine/juice is a lovely reminder that while in wintertime the world is less colorful, with the changing of the seasons more and more color is added to the landscape around us.
Finally, we love that Judaism has a New Year for the trees! In addition to celebrating with these fun rituals, today, we can think about the importance of saving our forests and reforestation – not only for Israel, but also for our planet. Trees, as you may know, absorb carbon dioxide. Saving trees is something we can all do to help our carbon footprint.
So this month, instead of plastic, let’s take a moment to talk about paper. There are some things for which we should prefer to use paper: shipping containers, packing material, etc.
There are some other things, though, that might not require wood pulp paper – or at least not new paper. Let’s talk paper towels and toilet paper.
Did you know that, according to National Geograhic, we flush 27,000 trees every day? That comes to 9,855,000 trees per year (btw – this is old news from 2010 – it may very well many more trees in 2020). That seems like a ridiculous waste (pun intended) of trees!
There are some pretty decent brands of toilet paper out there that are made from recycled paper or bamboo. Some of these can be found at your local grocery or Whole Foods (although they are probably wrapped in plastic). There are also companies from which you can order directly. Who Gives a Crap (yes, that is their name) for example, offers a triple ply very reasonable toilet paper made of recycled paper, as well as a “premium” toilet paper made from bamboo. They ship everything wrapped in paper and all of that is recyclable. And – 50% of their profits go to building toilets – working to bring better sanitation to the 2 billion people who do not have access to toilets or latrines. (BTW - all of the reference and product links mentioned here can be found below.)
The Grove Collaborative offers bamboo toilet paper, packaged in a recyclable cardboard box. Hello Tushy (who comes up with these names?) also offers a bamboo toilet paper that is wrapped in paper, as does Bim Bam Boo.
Pure Planet also offers an eco-friendly toilet paper that is a mixture of bamboo and sugar cane pulp (the waste left behind after extracting sugar from sugar cane). Their product is also wrapped in paper and shipped without plastic materials.
These are only a few of the many companies that make earth friendly TP – your own Google search should turn up many more. That being said, I am partial to companies that do not use any plastic in their shipping or wrapping.
What about paper towels? It’s harder to get a handle on the number of trees that get thrown out each day in paper towels – but we in the U.S. seem to be weirdly addicted to using them. If you are a big paper towel user, here are some pretty easy ways to save some trees:
Who Gives a Crap makes a very decent paper towel out of a combination of bamboo and recycled paper. The Grove Collaborative also makes a bamboo paper towel. You will find other brands, but many of them come wrapped in plastic (but do your own Google search – there are probably plenty more). Additionally, Grove makes a very sturdy reusable bamboo paper towel that can be rinsed out and reused - for up to a week!
Better yet, instead of using paper towels every time you need to wipe up a spill or wash and dry your produce, try using plain, organic cotton tea towels instead. Yes, you have to pay more upfront, but then you have them for years. I use cotton tea towels to dry my fresh herbs, dry my freshly steamed veggies, dry off my fruit after I wash it, to wipe down counters, floors, etc. I just throw them in the wash once a week with my other towels. This way, I can save paper towels for the things that really need them, like patting chicken or seafood dry before I cook it. In the end, you will not only save trees, but you will actually save money.
It takes years – maybe decades – for a seedling to grow into a tree. Planting trees is good for all of us, but we need to save them too. This year, as we celebrate the New Year of the Trees, try a different kind of New Year’s resolution and promise to save as many trees as you can.
Happy Tu B’Shvat!
P.S. I almost forgot this month’s letter: I didn’t mention to-go cups in my post above, but we throw away way too many of those! According to Earthday.org, we throw away 16 billion disposable coffee cups each year. To get a sense of how big that number is, try this factoid on: it takes more than 30 years to live a billion seconds. And – to go coffee cups are not recyclable or compostable, because they are lined with plastic. So, please feel free to use my words, or to add your own:
Did you know that we throw away 16 billion to-go coffee cups each year? To-go coffee cups are harmful to the planet in two different ways: they not only contribute to the buildup of plastic in our oceans and landfills, but they also use millions of trees in their making.
I have been told that “for here” cups are discouraged, because if a cup is chipped, it cannot be re-used and must be replaced. I believe that a company deserves to make a profit, but I also believe that it is incumbent upon each of us to do what we can to help our fragile planet survive. Whenever I go to (insert name of coffee company here) I see many, many people sitting enjoying a cup of coffee in a to-go cup. If they are not planning on leaving the premises, can’t they be encouraged to use a “for here” cup?
If this does not seem like a good plan to you, then how about investing in compostable cups? If the right one hasn’t been invented yet, perhaps you might invest in researching this technology - you could be an industry pioneer and a role model to others.
I know that you care about this planet on which we live, and that you care about the future we are creating for our children and grandchildren.
Thank you for your consideration.
For Starbucks: Kevin Johnson Kevin.Johnson@Starbucks.com
For Peet’s (sorry only corporate info here) https://www.peets.com/contact-us
For Dunkin’ Donuts (also only corporate) https://www.dunkindonuts.com/en/about/contact-us/faqs
References and product links:
How many trees get flushed every day?
Who Gives a Crap https://us.whogivesacrap.orgHow many people in the world do not have access to a toilet?
The Grove Collaborative https://www.grove.co/catalog/?category=grove-collaborative
Hello Tushy https://hellotushy.com/products/premium-bamboo-toilet-paper-36-rollsBim Bam Boo http://www.bimbamboopaper.comPure Planet https://pureplanetclub.com/products/double-length-tree-free-toilet-tissueHow many coffee cups are thrown away each year? https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-how-much-disposable-plastic-we-use/