Trash Talk

This is probably my favorite awareness day all year long. Two years ago I wrote about some simple steps towards more sustainable living that give you very quick and easy little tips to live a more sustainable, earth-friendly life. Today, I want to talk a little more deeply on one specific area that we’ve been focusing on in our home: trash.
Trash is an inevitable part of our lives, but what we do with it can make all the difference. You probably remember being raised with the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but now it’s commonly the Four R’s with repair/repurpose added in. Using these four principles, you can greatly reduce what of your waste becomes trash to sit in our landfills.
This is the first, biggest, most important step in reducing waste. The concept is to reduce the potential trash that makes it into your home. Here are some tips to reduce your waste:
  • Borrow instead of buy. Ask a friend to borrow a dress for a formal occasion. Borrow that tool that you only need once a year from a neighbor. Borrow books from the library. Rent movies from a local video store. By buying less, you’ll have less waste coming into your home from packaging, receipts, tags, etc.
  • Buy used. Check out pawn shops, consignment shops/sales, garage and yard sales, church rummage sales, etc. for things you need and will use often. Kids clothes are a great item to buy used as they out grow each size so fast that there’s usually a plethora of used kid’s clothes that are hardly worn. Check out garage sales for appliances that need replacing or for unique housewares.
  • Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk can help reduce the packaging that comes into your house. Just don’t get fooled by bulk packages that are really just multiples of the normal package with extra packaging holding them together.
  • Don’t buy single use items. Paper plates, napkins, and towels, plastic cups, flatware, and bags- these convenience items are a terrible drain on our resources. Whenever possible, use reusable alternatives and if you have to buy one-time use items, try to recycle or compost them afterwards. (Go the extra step and eliminate single-use diapers, toilet paper, or feminine hygiene products.)
  • Bring your own packaging. Bringing your own shopping bags is becoming more and more popular, but you can also bring your own reusable produce bags or mason jars for loose items.
Reusable items can make any home more sustainable with minimal extra effort. Most items will simple need to be washed in between uses. Here are some reusable items to consider: cloth diapers, un-paper towels, cloth snack and sandwich bags for kids’ lunches, glass food storage instead of plastic bags, cloth rags instead of paper towels for cleaning, cloth menstrual pads, menstrual cups instead of tampons, cloth wipes instead of toilet paper.
Also, reuse items that are designed to be single use.
  • Save gift bags you receive to use again when you have a gift to give.
  • Rinse and reuse plastic food containers.
  • Save bread and tortilla bags and reuse to hold snacks or as trash bags for road trips.
Repair or Repurpose
How many times has something around the house broken and you immediately thought to go buy a new one rather than repair the one you have? It’s an easy thing to do and we’ve been told for over a generation that we shouldn’t have to repair old things. Whenever possible, repair broken items or buy a replacement part rather than replacing the whole thing. Learn how to fix a busted seam and sew a button back on. Ask friends to lend their skills to help you fix appliances or tech as it breaks. See if there’s a trade school in your area that would like to have the item to teach students.
When something is truly past repair, repurpose the item. Find it something new to be. Many household items can be changed into interesting planters or lawn art. Cut up worn out clothing for cleaning rags. Shred magazines for packing material. There are craft projects on Pinterest to cover just about anything from bottle caps to burnt out light bulbs. Before tossing something in the trash, make sure you can’t find some sort of use for it.

Most of us think of taking bags of plastic bottles and soda cans to big green dumpsters when we think of recycling, and while that is an awesome way to reduce your trash output, there are other ways to recycle things around the house as well. If you’re just getting started, check out these tips on recycling.

Composting is the ultimate green recycling. Home composting can take your kitchen and yard scraps and turn them into glorious dirt, perfect for growing your own organic veggies. There are plenty of ways to compost and I’m sure you can find a system that works for your household. (Foods that can’t be composted can usually be sent through the garbage disposal instead of doing in the trash bag.)

Return food packaging to the producer when appropriate. Local egg farms usually love for you to return your egg cartons as they can be pretty pricey to buy new. Some companies will take back their glass bottles to refill them (many companies stopped this program some time ago, but there are still some accepting bottles, check with any local bottling plants).

You can do it!
We just took our trash can to the curb to be picked up for the first time in over a month (maybe about six weeks). It took us that long to fill the can up. It may seem cumbersome at first and it can be trying, but if you just take it one step at a time, you can significantly reduce the amount of trash your household produces.

Here are some Pinterest boards to help you find tips and tricks to reduce your trash output:

  • Tips to Reduce Waste:
  • Reusable items:
  • Composting:
  • General “green” tips:
  • Canning Info (great way to keep food from being waste!):
  • Cloth Diapering:
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
  • Earth Day Activities for Kids:

Domestic Wednesday: Homemade Laundry Detergent

In my pursuit of making small changes towards a more sustainable life as well as learning about cloth diapering, I started hearing a lot about homemade laundry detergent. Conventional laundry detergents can be filled with all sorts of harsh chemicals and can leave a long trace of chemicals in our water.

We had been using scent and dye free detergent which was a step towards a more sustainable and less chemically-filled lifestyle, but after hearing everyone rave about making their own detergent, I gave it a shot!

I used my friend’s recipe that you can find here. Many recipes use Borax, but her’s does not. She explains about some of the sketchy effects Borax has had in some studies and links to some good resources. Her recipe is as follows. Use 1-3 tbs per load (about 2 per load of diapers):

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup oxygen cleaner
  • 1/2 baking soda
  • 1 bar castille soap
I used Fels-Naptha soap instead and made a triple amount. I don’t currently have a food processor so I had to grate the soap by hand. I did use my blender’s ice crush feature for some of it, but it got gunked up in the bottom. :-/
Other than having to grate the soap, it was really easy! We still have some conventional detergent that we’re using up, but I’m excited to get to try our new homemade soap!
My homemade laundry detergent! It smells great!

10th Simple Step to Sustainability: Buy Local

Our next few steps will focus on where and what you buy what you eat. We’re going to start with the “where”.

Buy Local 
Simon checking out a tomato from the Farmer’s Market

There are two ways to buy local: First buy from any local shop. This includes small business and national chains. Buying online might be more convenient (maybe even necessary sometimes) but buying locally saves on the environmental cost of shipping. The second way to buy local (my focus for today) is to buy local foods. You can buy local food from Farmer’s Markets or from your grocery store. A lot of produce stickers now say where the item originated from. If buying from a grocery store, try to find produce and other foods that are made in your state or region. Buying pumpkins from New Mexico is better for Texans than buying pumpkins from Maine. (I don’t think they grow pumpkins in Maine, but you get the idea.)
How It Helps: It takes a lot of gas, and therefore oil, to ship our food all around the world. Not only does that shipping process use up gas and oil, but there’s also the issue of pollution from the vehicles that transport our food. By buying locally, especially from Farmer’s Markets, you get fresher produce that caused less pollution and used up fewer resources. As a bonus- when you buy from Farmer’s Markets, you’re often buying straight from the farmer helping them to earn more for their produce and giving you the chance to ask questions about the product that grocery stores can’t answer (What kind of chemicals are used, if any? When was it picked? What type of cleaning process? etc.)
How To Do It: Buying locally doesn’t really take much effort on your part. You just have to plan your list a little better and read some labels. If you’re going to buy from Farmer’s Markets, you might have to get up a bit earlier or do some research about which one is closest to you. All it takes is for you to be a bit more mindful about the things you are purchasing.
Cost: Farmer’s Market produce can sometimes be more expensive (usually because it’s organic or better quality) but it can also be a bit cheaper. The above tomato cost me 50 cents. I’ve found that animal products are usually a bit more expensive, but they’re more humanely raised and often organic. Buying locally in your grocery store won’t cost you much more than you’d pay for other store produce.
Ask around for your local Farmer’s Market or call your city hall to see when it is, and brush up on your local geography! Start buying locally and you’ll get hooked.

9th Simple Step to Sustainability: Tips to Start Recycling

Today’s Step will be a little different. Today we will look at several tips if you would like to start recycling or take your recycling routine to the next level.

Here are some tips to help you start recycling if you don’t yet. (I’m not going to go into why you should recycle, as that info is pretty much everywhere. If you have questions or need some convincing, please message me or leave a comment. Id’ love to help!)

  • If you are just getting started, start with just one type of recyclable such as paper, plastic, or cardboard.
  • Locate your local recycling center. They have them at a lot of major supermarkets, SAMs Clubs, and Wal-Marts. Take a look at what they accept. (It will be written on the dumpster.)
  • Contact your local waste management office to inquire about curbside pick up. Many cities offer this service as part of your city fees or for a small additional fee. There are some lucky (and smart) cities that even offer discounts on your garbage fees if you recycle!
  • My suggestion is to start with items that don’t have to be rinsed or cleaned. Cans, bottles, and plastics should be rinsed of all food particles and cans and glass need to have labels removed. However, paper and cardboard tends to be an easier start: just dump it in.
  • Find a container and a spot in your house for your recycling. My paper goes in a canvas bag that hangs on the slider door. Other recyclables are sorted into old laundry baskets on our porch. 
If you’re a seasoned recycler, there’s always room for improvement. Here are a few tips to make recycling a bit easier and help you to recycle more and throw away less.
  • Get a good system in place. Once you’re recycling many different types of materials and ones that require cleaning, it can be a little hectic, and let’s face it, we’re already busy enough. To get your juices going, our system includes all recycling that needs to be rinsed going next the the sink. I then rinse them when I do dishes (great for using the water while you wait for it to warm up). Afterwards, they go out to the porch. If it’s hot, raining, or snowing, I might leave the recycling by the slider door until I can get out. (Makes a great kitten jungle gym!)
  • Pay attention to what recycling receptacles are at your recycling center. I started recycling glass when they added a glass dumpster to the center by our Wal-mart. 
  • Add one material at a time to your recycling routine. This helps to make one habit at a time which helps you to keep the habit going longer.
  • Build recycling into your schedule. Whether you load it up on your way to the store, or on Sunday night to take out Monday on your way home from work. Make it a part of your family’s schedule to take the recycling out. It’s easy to pile up the recycling on your porch, but it’s got to make it to the recycling center it’s just keeping a bunch of junk. (This is one of the hardest things for us to do!)
  • Watch packaging of unusual purchases for recyclable materials. It’s easy to get into the habit of recycling your cereal boxes and soda cans, but that new toy for Johnny might have recyclable plastic casing and those inserts in your video games and DVDs can be recycled as well.
There it is. Step 9- ten tips for recycling. Don’t know why I didn’t make that step ten, but step ten will be awesome as well. (Yep, just looked at my cheat sheet and step ten is awesome!)

Comment Below With Your Recycling Tips!

7th Step towards Sustainability: Cloth Cleaning Towels

In keeping on theme of green cleaning, let’s work on reducing paper waste in the cleaning process. Often when you go about your routine cleaning, you’ll use paper towels to wipe down your counters, your fixtures, your bathroom mirror… Just about everything. How many paper towels does that add up to? Well, I haven’t done the math, but it’s a lot! Even the most absorbent paper towels get used up and tossed out for new ones. Cloth cleaning towels solve that problem!

By switching to cloth towels for your cleaning tasks, you can stop the never ending cycle of using and throwing away paper towels, saving countless amounts of paper waste and tress! Back in the “old days” before paper towels, cloth towels were used for all cleaning tasks. That’s just what you had. We invent paper towels and out go the cleaning rags.

How It Helps: Paper towels might be convenient but they require many tress to die and are really only usable once. Then, they go to that ever-so-hated place, the landfill. By using cloth towels, you reduce the needs for paper, and therefore trees, while also keeping our landfills a little bit more empty.

How To Do It: Use old washcloths or buy some cheap towels and set them aside to use for your chores. Once they’ve gotten all yucky toss them in the wash and do it all over again. We have a stack of towels in the linen closet reserved just for cleaning. Now, in all honesty, we do still have some paper towels in the kitchen, but  I go through a roll maybe every two months, probably closer to three or more. (I’m considering going to un-paper towels, but that’s for another day…)

Cost: If you want to just use some old washcloths that you have lying around, they’ve already been paid for so there’s no new cost! If you want/need to buy some towels for cleaning, you can get a good bundle at Wal-mart or any other store for $5 or less. Remember: you’re using these towels to dust your furniture and clean your toilet, they don’t need to be anything fancy.

There you have it. Another very simple and easy step to help make your life a little bit more sustainable.

6th Step towards Sustainability: Phosphate-Free Dishwasher Detergent

To follow up on step five, step six applies the same concept to your dishwasher routine. Phosphates in our cleaning products wreck havoc on the water-based ecosystems, especially amphibians. Those cute little frog legs suck up the chemicals in the water and create all sorts of trouble for their little froggie bodies.

Phosphate free dishwashing detergents are becoming more popular and common. The above pictured product is what I use. Palmolive’s phosphate free is available at Wal-mart and other national stores and costs the same as regular dishwasher detergents. That being said, this is just what I use, there are many other options available. Seventh Generation also makes a dishwasher detergent. I’m sure there are plenty others out there as well. Look around the next time you need dishwasher detergent, most phosphate-free brands advertise it pretty loudly.

How It Helps: Phosphates in the water are linked to major issues with our amphibian populations. Not only do they create issues with amphibian reproduction but can create all sorts of deformities in other amphibians. Phosphates also effect the plant life in the water ways which then changes the entire ecosystem and not for the best. Changing just one cleaning product to phosphate-free can help reduce the amount of phosphate put into our water ways dramatically and can help make the world a little more froggy-friendly.

How To Do It: This is another really simple one. Just buy the phosphate-free. Whenever your dishwasher detergent runs out, just take a little more time to choose your dishwasher detergent.

Cost: Some phosphate-free versions cost the same as their chemically loaded counterparts. Others can be a bit more costly. If you can afford dishwasher detergent, you can afford to go phosphate-free.

Once again, another really simply change to make that can make a huge difference!

5th Step towards Sustainability: Scent and Dye Free

Ok so… it was a great, but long weekend. The kids had a great time at LTC. Then I got sick. But, I’m feeling better and catching up on the Sustainability Series. We’ll continue today with step five: switching to scent and dye free laundry products. Homemade and “green” laundry detergents and softeners are great options, but often they’re expensive and hard to find. However, scent and dye free versions of national brands like Tide and All can be great middle grounds.

The dyes and scents in traditional products get washed out with the wash water and seep into the ground and our water supplies and reservoirs. By using products that don’t have these additional chemicals, you can make a great environmental impact without having to make a huge change in your laundry routine.

How It Helps: The dyes and scents added to laundry products, like I said above, end up in our water supplies and reservoirs. This includes many lakes and rivers. The impact of these and other chemicals on our waterways is tremendous. These chemicals change the pH balance of the water creating a hostile environment for many water dwellers. While an all natural “green” detergent is likely to have a smaller impact on our water ways, going dye and scent free is a great start!

How You Do It: Buy your favorite laundry products in the dye and scent free version. Pretty much all of the major national brands offer a dye or scent free version. If you can find and afford a phosphate-free or green product, that would be an even better option.

Cost: The “green” detergents can be pricy. Making your own detergent can be cost saving. However, if you just go with the dye/scent free products, they cost the same as the scented and dyed version.

Don’t worry about products that don’t have scent leaving your clothes “smelly.” When properly washed, your clothes will be clean and therefore won’t smell. I was worried about clothes (particularly husband socks) being smelly when I switched over, but it’s never been an issue. Further, the scent and dye free products are less likely to create allergic reactions! All around, a great option!