May 30, 2016

Zero Waste Tenets


If you hang out around the zero waste scene online long enough you are sure to see the 7 R's of Zero waste or some variation of them. The 7 R's are: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rehome, replant, rot.

These are general principles for how to look at your items to either prevent you from obtaining them in the first place, or to figure out the best way to dispose of the item. 

It starts with refuse. Simply, if you don't need an item, don't get it. Whether it is a new article of clothing or a freebie from a store, if you don't need the item, simply refuse. 

Next is to reduce which goes great with the trend in minimalism. Take a good look around you, do you need that many of an item? Do you need a separate cleaner for the kitchen sink, the toilet and the floor? Would one cleaner meet all your needs?

Third is to reuse what you can. I am starting to get quite the glass jar collection and part of the reason why is because rather than throwing away the jar (or recycling it), I add it to the pantry. I then use the jars to store bulk food.

Then is Recycle. This is a big one and one that is highly dependent on where you live. Pay special attention to what you can recycle in your community and what you can't. We all wish we could live in places that recycle like Portland, Oregon, but unfortunately that just isn't the case.

There are plenty of ways to rehome items you no longer want. You can have a garage sale, you can give to a friend, donate to a local charity, put it up on craigslist or freecycle, or donate to a thrift store. 

Replanting is one that we can start doing now that we have a garden. So far we have just planted plants and seeds that we have purchased, but future seasons we can start replanting seeds from our current crops.

Finally there is rot. We haven't really started this yet. I got a nifty compost bin*, and we throw the scraps into one area of the yard, but we aren't actually composting yet. I'm actually thinking we'll go the worm composting route, but more to come on that.

So there you have it! You can see how maybe a favorite t-shirt could be worn, and then reused as a rag, and then finally recycled. But if you've ever wondered how people only end up with a tiny mason jar of trash, they are likely using these principles. 

How many of these do you do?

Looking for some more practical tips? Check out 5 Simple Plastic Free Swaps For The Bathroom.

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The 7 Rs of Zero Waste | Zero Waste Tenets

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May 26, 2016

Review: The Plastic Purge

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I found Michael SanClements's book Plastic Purge while looking for another book at the library. Technically the full name is Plastic Purge: How to Use Less Plastic, Eat Better, Keep Toxins Out of Your Body and Help Save the Sea Turtles*! 

I was not familiar with Michael SanCelements prior to reading this book. He was is known for writing about his experiences trying to go without using plastic for two weeks on Grist.com. However he is also an ecologist and scientist at the National Ecological Obervatory Network. While trying to go plastic free he realized how ubiquitous plastic is and it sparked this book. The book is divided into four parts: a history of plastic, how it is made and recycled, describing the good, bad, and ugly of plastic and then tips on how to purge plastic. 

The first two sections could easily become too technical, but he does a good job describing the processes in ways that make sense and are entertaining. I knew that different numbers of plastic meant they were different kinds of plastic, but I didn't fully understand that I could use those numbers to my advantage. For example, numbers 3 (PVC) and 6 (polystyrene) have the highest risk of leaching toxins particularly during heating. Whereas number 2 (HDPE) has a low risk of leaching.

The author also weaves in many statistics about plastic bag production, recycling and use and encourages you to think critically about the statistics you hear. For example there was a study done by the UK Centre for Environment that found you have to reuse a cotton bag 173 times to match the energy saving of a plastic bag. Which makes one question why we are encouraging people #skipthebag. However, he also mentions that nonwoven polypropylene bags only need to be reused 4 times. Similarly he points out that cotton bags are renewable, hold more items and are sturdy enough to hold up to those 173 uses. 

In the third section he categorizes plastic as good, bag and ugly. He recognizes and gives tribute to the achievements our society has been able to reach due to the advent of plastic. Sterile health care products, refrigerated trucks, computers, cell phones and cars. However he feels we have become too reliant on plastic and it has moved into 'bad' and 'ugly' categories. Bad categories are due to the fact that many plastics leach pthalates and BPA which have been associated with health problems. Finally the ugly has to do with the pollution caused by plastics. 

Part four is full of tips on how to minimize the use of plastic in your day-to-day life. It ranks the tips from one bottle (easy to do) up to three bottles (a little more challenging). He is pretty thoughtful about his recommendations. Take milk for example, he says that glass bottles are best, but the next best thing would be the plastic milk jugs and not the "cardboard" half gallons. This is because the plastic milk jugs are HDPE so are less likely to leach into the milk and are easily recyclable. However the cardboard containers are coated inside and out with plastic, which have a potential to leach toxins and are generally not very recyclable. 

I would recommend this book for anyone wanting to know more about plastic and to get some tips on how to minimize it in your life. And his first recommendation for using less plastic at the grocery store is to #skipthebag

Have you read this book? What did you think?
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May 23, 2016

DC vs NYC: Plastic Bag Edition


New York City Council recently passed a bag fee, however Washington, DC has had a similar bag fee for many years. As you may have in my previous post, the program in Washington, DC, has had a big impact and I hope that the NYC bag fee will have a large impact as well. However, the two programs have some differences.

Implementation:


Washington, DC (DC): The bag fee was started January 1, 2010.

New York City (NYC):  Council passed the bag fee May 5, 2016 and it is set to begin in October 2016. 

Products the fee applies to:


DC: It requires all businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge a fee for each disposable paper or plastic bag distributed with any purchase. Restaurants with seating are exempt from the requirement. So doggie bags are still allowed for leftovers. The law also requires that paper and plastic bags sold have specific requirements such as being recyclable.

NYC: The bag fee applies to carryout bags from a wide range of retailers including grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, apparel stores, office stores and home stores. Mobile food vendors, food pantries or liquor stores complying with the law about selling alcohol for consumption off the premise. 


The fee and where the money goes: 


DC: The fee is 5 cents for each bag. Businesses retain 1 cent. They can retain 2 cents if they encourage the use of reusable bags. The remaining 3-4 cents goes to The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund which has helped with stream restoration, education and outreach and trash collection traps to prevent trash from reaching the waterways. 

NYC: The fee is at least 5 cents per bag. Earlier versions of the bill had 10 cents, but the final bill was passed stating at least 5 cents. So it appears that stores may charge more than 5 cents if they wish. The fee goes to the store owners. 


Exclusions 


DC: There are several exclusions on what constitutes a disposable carryout bag including the plastic bags used for produce or meat, doggie bags from restaurants, and bags from pharmacies. There is no exclusion for those with a low income, but the law did have provisions for them to be given reusable bags. 

NYC: The law has similar exemptions on what constitutes a carry out bag including meat/produce bags and those from a pharmacy. Patrons on WIC or SNAP benefits are exempt from the fee as are food pantries and restaurants who deliver food. There is also a provision allowing low income households to be prioritized in receiving reusable bags. 

The goal: 


DC: To clean up the Anacostia River and move DC residents away from plastic bags to reusable bags.

NYC: To minimize environmental impact of plastic bags and to get New Yorkers to use reusable bags.

Do you think the NYC bag fee will have New Yorkers using fewer plastic bags?



May 19, 2016

10 Tips For An Environmentally Friendly Closet

The closet is probably one area that you don't think much about the environmental impact you can have, however it is estimated that the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year! I have created this list of 10 ways to minimize the environmental impact of your closet on everything from getting the most out of the clothing you have, to better ways to obtain clothing, to how to make sure they are recycled when you are done with them.

zero waste closet

  1. Remix your closet. Remixing is where you wear items in different combinations to create more outfits. Audrey from Putting Me Together has a great tutorials on this. 
  2. Create a capsule wardrobe. This is a slightly different approach than remixing. With remixing you could have 1000 articles of clothing and thus have the possiblity for something like 8000 outfits. Capsule wardrobe is where you try to limit the number of items in the wardrobe and you can use principles of remixing to help you get the most number of outfits out of that limited number of clothing. One popular version of capsule wardrobes are 30 x 30 where select 30 articles of clothing to wear for the next 30 days. You can see examples from Kendi of Kendi Everyday here and Kelly from Modern Camelot here. Other people create capsule wardrobes to last a season (Summer and Fall examples). While others only have a capsule/minimalist wardrobe and live that way forever
  3. Repair clothing. Lose a button? Sew a new one on! Have a seam rip? Mend it back! Shoe soul get a whole? Take it to the cobbler. Get a whole in your shirt? Turn it into a work out shirt or a rag! By taking good care of our clothing we can extend their life.
  4. Skip the trends. Focus on obtaining classic clothing that you can wear for many years and won't look outdated. The clothing industry has increased the turnover of clothing so much that buying the hottest trend right now means that next year (or even just a few months from now), that item may seem very outdated. By sticking primarily to more classic clothing choices you will ensure that you will want to keep wearing your clothes rather then donating them. 
  5. Be smart about trends. Patterned patchwork is apparently in style right now. Maybe get a scarf or one shirt in the trend that compliments the rest of your wardrobe rather than replacing your entire wardrobe.
  6. Buy quality. Clothing stores, particularly those who primarly market to trendy items tend to create poorer quality items. The thought is that the neon tank top isn't going to be in season next summer, let alone 3 years from now, so why make it with sturdy enough fabric to last? Buying quality items means you can have it in your closet for longer, even if it costs a little more upfront. It also makes it easier to repair if you need to. 
  7. Buy used. Whether you buy from a thrift store, garage sale or consignment shop giving a second life to an article of clothing will help minimize impact on the environment.
  8. Swap with friends. It's easy to organize a clothing swap. Get a group of girlfriends together and bring clothing they are tired of. Then let everyone come 'shop' for what they want.  If you are worried about people leaving with more than they came with you can give each person a tag for each item they brought and make sure they only leave with that number of items. Don't have a bunch of friends who are the same size or general taste in clothing? Have a shoe swap, or accessories swap or a purse swap!
  9. Buy natural fibers. Cotton, wool, silk, cashmere, hemp and linen are all natural fibers. Nylon, rayon, polyester, spandex, and pretty much any other fiber are synthetic. It has been estimated that 19,000 microfibers are rinsed out of a single piece of synthetic clothing each time it is washed. Microfibers and micro beads are a huge source of pollution in our waterways.
  10. Donate clothing. Donating clothing helps provide a steady supply of clothing to buy used. I used to be worried that the clothing I was donating was slightly below the quality they would sell, but then I found out about Wear, Donate, Recycle. That company gets the clothing and textiles that thrift stores cannot sell, they then repurpose them further by either selling them overseas, repurposing them into things like rags, or recycling them into fiber for home insulation or carpet padding. It's estimated that 85% of textiles end up in the landfill, with this company I have no hesitation about donating my less than perfect items. It's far better than sending it to the landfill.
Which of these tips do you use to help minimize the environmental impact of your closet?

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May 16, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure: Zero Waste Edition


Each day we are presented with a number of decisions that have an impact on the environment. You may not think any one of the decisions are particularly damaging, but when combined together they can have a huge impact. Let's take a look at how this might play out during an average day.

You wake up bright and early on this beautiful Monday morning. You get ready for work where you:

A. Take a 20 minute shower. Wash your hair with the latest shampoo and conditioner. Use body wash and a plastic puff loofah for your body. 

B. Take a 15 minute shower. Skip washing your hair because you washed it yesterday or wash using a shampoo bar*.  Use bar soap with a washcloth to wash your body.


You get to work and it is time for lunch. What do you have? 

A. Take out from a nearby restaurant. It is packaged in Styrofoam and a plastic bag. You eat it with plastic silverware and drink from a plastic straw.

B. Last night's leftover dinner. You carried your reusable lunch bag filled with glass* or metal* storage containers and metal utensils to work this morning. 


It's quitting time! As you are leaving work you realize you need to pick up some food for dinner. What do you do?

A. Go to the grocery store. Buy a bunch of packaged food and get 5 plastic bags to carry it home in and then throw the bags away.

B. Go to the grocery store with a bulk section. Purposely select items that have recyclable packaging (glass, or cardboard) or no packaging at all. Use your own resusable produce bags*, bulk containers*, and reusable grocery bags* to carry it home.


The Results: 
Mostly A: You have some work to do. There are simple swaps you can make during the day to help minimize waste and plastic consumption.

Mostly B: Congratulations! You had a zero waste day and made a huge impact in helping the environment.

What are some zero waste habits you have adopted recently?
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May 12, 2016

Planting Our Garden

We finally planted! You can read what we learned about in our gardening classes, and what our garden looked like before we put on mulch. However we finally laid down the mulch and got some plants in the ground.

gardening zero waste less waste no plastic
Our garden. Hay and wood chip mulch

The cardboard helps to kill what is currently growing and provide a weed barrier. Next we put on our mulch. We bought some bales of hay from the local feed store and put it on approximately 6 inches thick. We went to a local tree trimmer to get wood chips. In theory they are supposed to deliver, but we wanted it that day so we went to their office and loaded it up into the trailer for free. A helpful hint, use a mulch fork* to help, it goes much faster and shovels are nearly useless.

Since we wanted to get a jump on things and it is about mid-season for us we purchased seedlings.
We purchased 2 kinds of tomatoes, 2 bell peppers, a jalepeno, field beans, garbanzo beans and a couple of different kinds of squash to plant. 

To plant you simply push the mulch aside from where you want to put the plant and cut a hole in the cardboard. Add some good mushroom compost in the hole to fertalize your plant naturally. Then water well and make sure the mulch is surrounding the plant. 

To protect the plants while they are getting settled in the ground we put edging* around them. If you've got some plastic bottles with a wide bottom you can use that instead. Just until the plant roughly doubles in size or gets larger than the ring.

You can see we started a second row. We've started cantelope, corn, eggplant and pumpkins from seeds that we'll start in that row. Wish us luck!
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How we got our garden started with cardboard and mulch.

May 9, 2016

Skip The Bag, Save the River

If you have searched for Skip The Bag, you may have run across Skip The Bag, Save The River, the law passed in Washington, DC. It is important to mention that this blog is not affiliated with that law in any way other than we happen to share part of a name.

Skip The Bag, Save The River

The law requires all DC businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge five cents for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag. In general the business retains one cent of tax, but can keep two cents if it offers a rebate to customers who bring their own bag. The remaining three to four cents goes to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund. That money has gone to creating trash traps which has prevented 3 tons of garbage from entering the Anacostia River as well as other education  and conservation projects.

The law took effect January 1, 2010 and a follow up study in 2013 found that 67% of residents reported seeing fewer plastic bags littering the area. 80% said they had reduced their use of disposable bags going from about 10 to 4 per week on average. 79% said they carry a reusable bag with them while shopping at least some of the time. It appears that in a relatively short period of time the bag tax had an impact on the number of plastic bags being used and the number of reusable bags being used.

I haven't lived anywhere that has had a bag tax, but I have lived in Hawaii when they passed their plastic bag ban and currently live in Florida which has a ban on plastic bag bans and taxes (why I started #skipthebag to begin with!).

Unfortunately if you read about the ban you will see there are several articles criticizing the law saying it is forcing people to get sick. They are claiming that the reusable bags become contaminated with e.coli and salmonella which results in food poisoning. Some of the articles want to repeal the law due to the risk of getting food poisoning. I do not doubt that there are some people who have fallen ill, I urge people to get educated on how to minimize the risk of food poisoning rather than to end a program that seems to be helping to make a positive difference.

Here are some suggestions on how to minimize your risk of getting food poisoning using a reusable bag:

  1. Use separate bags for vegetables and meat. Many times the bacteria is present on the meat and then is transferred to vegetables which may remain uncooked. Using produce bags for produce and other bags specifically for meat will help prevent this cross-contamination.
  2. Regularly wash your reusable bag. Your bag gets exposed to all sorts of potential contaminants. By washing it regularly you will help minimize potential for it to get on your food.
  3. Wash your hands regularly. Proper hand hygiene is always helpful in reducing the risk of food poisoning.
  4. Cook food to the appropriate temperatures. Cooking food helps kill the bacteria that causes food poisoning.
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Washington, DC's plastic bag fee plus tips on how to minimize risk of food poisoning using a reusable bag.


May 5, 2016

My Husband Does Better: A Zero Waste Bathroom

I thought I was doing ok after reading 5 simple ways to minimize plastic, but then I read an article with suggestions on how to minimize packaging waste in the bathroom. I realized that my husband does just about every one of their suggestions while I do almost none. So gold star to the hubby!

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What does he do? How can I improve? Lets take a look.

Shampoo

He gave up on shampoo. His hair is so short that he found he didn't need it. And when he does he just uses soap. I, on the other hand, have both shampoo and conditioner bottles. Over the years I've tried a number of alternative products to get my hair clean (like apple cider vinegar and baking soda), with varying success.  However I between the moves I've just gone back to shampoo and conditioner as a default. I am trying to stretch out the time between washes and use cornstarch as a dry shampoo. I probably will try a no poo regimen or try something like a shampoo bar, but I want to use up the shampoo I've got now first.

Soap

Hubby uses bar soap exclusively. A while ago, like maybe a year or so we bought a huge case of bar soap from a place like Costco and we still have some. I use body wash and plastic loofah. I bought the body wash in bulk so it is probably saving in the amount of plastic, but it's still not the best option. When it is time to change out this loofah I will probably change to using a washcloth. I have some seeds for a natural loofah, but from what I remember they are too hard and stiff to use on my body. I should also probably make my own body wash. It wouldn't be hard, probably just some castile soap diluted down.

Razors

Hubby uses a refillable metal razor with a boar bristle shave brush and uses a mug for his soap. He buys the soap from a local vendor at Palafox Market, the local farmer's market. I use a disposable plastic razor. I don't use shaving cream, just the lather from the body wash. Now, I am able to keep the disposable razor for quite a while. Probably far longer than I should, but I don't get cut and the shave is close enough for me. I keep asking to try using his razor, but haven't yet. I intend to try it out before my pack of disposables is done and then I can just buy a refillable safety razor rather than buying disposable parts. I've watched a few videos about techniques for shaving armpits and knees using a safety razor. You have to be careful because they definitely require you to shave differently.


Hair Products and Make Up

I feel like I'm a pretty low maintenance woman when it comes to hair and make up. However, I do have the full foundation, powder, blush, eye shadow, mascara, eyebrow powder, lipstick routine I wear pretty regularly. I generally just blow dry my hair and leave it down. I'll maybe add one or two products in while my hair is still wet, but no mousse or hairspray. Hubby, of course, neither styles his hair or wears make up.

Moisturizer

I apply body oil when I get out of the shower, which unfortunatley is from a plastic container. My usual face moisturizer is coconut oil. I usually do it alone, but I do have some almond oil and castor oil I sometimes mix with it. This is probably the one non-traditional thing I use. Although I do still have other moisturizers particularly ones with sunscreen for my face. Skin cancer is no joke!

Toothbrush

This is finally one area where we tie! We both had been using standard plastic toothbrushes. Well after reading about bathroom options that use less waste I purchased some bamboo toothbrushes for us. The ones we have are bamboo handles with nylon bristles. Still some plastic waste, but far less than a standard toothbrush. The only true waste free alternative is a bamboo handle with boar hair bristles. I seriously thought about buying them, but they had a harder bristle than I wanted and they ship from Germany. I figured the shipping pollution might outweigh the pollution from the bristles. Although I might try them in the future.

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My Husband Does Better: A Zero Waste Bathroom | There are many ways to reduce waste in the bathroom, my husband appears to have me beat.

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May 2, 2016

Our DIY Chicken Coop

Our DIY Chicken Coop. How we built and set up our coop

Since we got chickens we knew we would need to build them a coop (Of course, by "we" I mean, "my amazing husband"). We live in Pensacola, Florida which gets very hot and humid summers with mild winters. So we knew we needed an open air coop to keep air moving. We took the chicken class from East Hill Edible Gardening we learned that we didn't need a coop and a run, that we could build them together. 

We wanted a fairly simple design. So we went with an A-frame roof going from roughly 6 feet tall in the middle and 3 feet tall on the sides. That's so we can easily stand in the middle and easily reach all corners of the coop. Here is the base of the coop with 3 sides built.

Base of our Chicken Coop
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Hubby put on corrugated metal flashing for the roof. We tested the roof to make sure the seams were water tight and to see where the water would drip off at with the hose. I was worried because it was really loud. I was afraid it would be annoying to hear or scare the chickens. However, during a rainstorm you couldn't hear it and the chickens did just fine. Besides, our coop is under a tree so it won't get too much direct rain.  We added some extra flashing on the bottom of the roof to ensure rain runs off the edge of the coop and doesn't just flow back inside to the birds. 

Roof and Sides of the Coop

Next the door was framed in and hardware cloth was applied to all sections of it. Hubby dug a trench around the bottom of the coop to bury the hardware cloth. This helps stabilize the coop, but primarily is so would-be predators would have to dig down quite a ways to get into the coop.

We went with hardware cloth rather than chicken wire for a number of reasons. First the holes are smaller which would make it more difficult for predators to get in. Second, because of the smaller holes and thicker wire, the hardware cloth is much sturdier. This has come in handy because our dog takes a fancy to the chickens. Occasionally she has butted and nipped at the wire and it doesn't budge.

Door of the Coop

Finally we put a lock on the door to keep predators out. It is a typical fence lock with a pull so we don't close ourselves in the coop and a carbiners to lock it shut. You have to be careful because apparently raccoons are tricky characters and can open simple fasteners.

Lock for the Coop

These are the happy chicks hanging out in their coop. We started out by just letting them spend the days in the coop and taking them back inside at night. However as it has gotten a little warmer and their head feathers are coming in we have left them in overnight. We keep the lamp out there because it can still get quite chilly. 

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Our DIY Chicken Coop. Perfect for warm weather chicken raising!

This photo shows their roost (the bar the lamp wire is wound over in the front of the picture), their feeder and waterer. Their feeder is a standard 12 pound feeder. There is a large whole on the top where you can easily refill the feeder. Some people have made or purchased all sorts of contraptions to cover the whole, but right now we are happy with 2 pieces of scrap lumber. We will also be feeding them scraps from our garden. Their waterer is made of plastic (boo!), but it is AMAZING! Most other chicken waterers (also known as founts) are made with a vacuum seal. This means the bucket basically needs to be empty or you have to open up and unscrew the entire thing to refill the water. This waterer uses a float to prevent water from overflowing the moat. I can at any time remove the lid and add more water. It also has a trash plug to prevent leaves or dirty water from getting into the basin of water. If you looking for a chicken waterer I highly recommend this one. I just wish they made a version that was less plastic! 

Chickens in Coop


When our chicks got older we turned that five gallon bucket into their nesting box. It's perfect because we don't need to enter the coop to get their eggs.