Archive | December, 2011

Antipasti

I brought my ‘no trash gear’ with me to visit with my parents over the holidays. While out shopping for food, I put appetizers from their local grocery store’s antipasti bar straight into my stainless steel container. My dad and I share a taste for olives, especially Sicilian Castelvetrano olives (the dark green ones). I’ve found it’s been pretty easy to practice trash-free shopping and eating while traveling as long as I remember to bring a couple containers and bags. I don’t mind asking store employees if their policy will allow me to use my own. Even if initially there is some confusion over the request, I find that most of the time people are willing to accommodate me.

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Giving

So far this holiday season, gift-giving hasn’t been the completely trash-free picture I envisioned several months ago. But this year my family and I managed to make less waste than we’ve made in years past.

The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas, birthdays, mother’s and father’s day runs deep in my family. When we were kids, my parents gave me and my siblings toys in big boxes that spilled out from under the Christmas tree. My mom refers to those years as our pink plastic Christmases, as my sister and I would often receive dolls and doll accessories packaged in pink cardboard boxes with cellophane windows. As we grew older the spectacular gift display under the tree diminished and my siblings and I assumed the duty of giving back to our parents and to each other. Now that we’ve become adults with our own many financial responsibilities, the pressure to give several things has dissipated. This year we all pooled our money to get each person one thing that they wanted. I was in charge of coordinating my mom’s gift–a pair of English leather boots that she can wear hiking in the woods near my parents’ house. I felt good giving this particular gift because I know that if she takes care of them, she’ll have the boots for the rest of her life.

For many years now I’ve been wrapping gifts in unbleached craft paper from rolls I’ve bought at art supply stores. This was in part an effort to save money on gift-wrapping, but also to use a material that was less taxing on the environment than glossy wrapping paper. I also prefer the look to most patterned papers. This year I had grand plans to wrap all my gifts in fabric with different furoshiki techniques. But I ran out of time and decided to use a large piece of craft paper that my friend Kara had used to wrap the beautiful gift (two ceramic hanging planters) she made for me this year. The piece was just large enough to wrap my mom’s boots in, but because it had been used to wrap the planters, it was creased in many places. So I decided to give the paper a more deliberate, even texture and I crinkled it all over. I used paper tape in a few select places instead of plastic scotch tape. I finished it with a white ribbon from my ribbon stash–a jar full of fabric ribbons I’ve collected and re-used over the years.

Stockings are also a part of our tradition, but this year I didn’t give any stuffers. Mindful of my No Trash Project, my mom didn’t fill my stocking with packaged goods. Instead she gave me the wool running socks I had asked for and an olivewood spoon for my kitchen.

I’ve been making hemp cloths for friends, which I will give without any wrapping when I see them. I have many loved ones with birthdays coming up in January. I plan to give homemade and home cooked gifts. Homemade granola in glass jars wrapped in furoshiki cloth is what I’m imagining. I also love the idea of giving an experience as a gift–particularly surprise experiences, which I’ve been doing lately, even though some of my squirmy kidnapped friends find the trip to an unknown destination torturous. The looks on their faces when we arrive at a special place or event is totally worth it.

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Plastic

I have been avoiding the topic of manufacturing and recycling plastic goods and packaging. There is a part of me that would rather focus on the wonderful things we can do to take ourselves out of the plastic consumption equation. But of course the problems with plastic are a driving force behind this project, so I think it’s important to address this complicated and messy issue.

There are those who will argue that processing plastic food packaging is better for the environment than processing metals or glass. As a lightweight material, less fuel is needed in the shipment of plastic goods than those made out of metal and glass. Because it can so easily be molded and manipulated, while still possessing great strength and durability characteristics, plastic holds extraordinary potential from a design and engineering perspective. But while there may be many conveniences in manufacturing and using plastic, the environmental and heath impacts of our reliance on plastics can’t be ignored. Though the technology exists to recycle most plastics, many recycling challenges remain. Plastic recycling requires a greater amount of processing than glass and metal recycling. Plastic products cannot be returned to their original state, so they are downcycled. Bottles are turned into plastic lumber, carpeting, synthetic clothing, and furniture stuffing. Eventually those products end up in a landfill where they may take decades or even centuries to biodegrade.

Growing evidence has revealed that petroleum based products can be harmful to our health. Chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), styrene, and Diethylhexyl Phthalate(DEHP) can leach out of plastic containers into our food and beverages, and as we consume these contaminated foods we are taking the chemicals into our bodies. The health risks posed by exposure to these leached chemicals are all over the anatomical map. Most are carcinogenic and have been shown to adversely affect the endocrine system. Some may impact the behavior of cardiac cells.

I think it’s important to know how the things we use are made. This project has led me to spend a lot of time looking at the objects I encounter with new curiosity about their life from the earth to the factory and eventually back to the earth. I recently stumbled into an online video vortex that inspired me to search for videos on the processing of plastic bottles. Made from Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) #1 plastics are pushed as a safer food grade plastic. But recent studies show that PET may leach phthalate–a plasticizer shown to be an endocrine disruptor. Above are two well-made videos–each under five minutes. The Discovery Channel produced the first video–it illustrates the process of manufacturing new plastic bottles. The second is made by a plastics recycling company to demonstrate the process of recycling used bottles. After watching both clips together, I am left bewildered by the amount of energy and resources required to bring consumers single-serving beverages.

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Farmacy Herbs

The No Trash Project has rather naturally led me to a territory previously unknown to me–medicinal herbs. How can I treat illness, heal injuries, or relieve pain and discomfort without making trash? This past weekend I finally visited Farmacy Herbs in their Providence shop. I mentioned the business in an earlier post about trash-free medicine, at which point I had only ever seen their products at my local farmers markets. The shop is in a small one-room building across from North Burial Ground Cemetery. Mary Blue (Farmacy’s founder) helped me find the herbs I was looking for on the shelves and gave me some recommendations for herbs that may help relieve menstrual cramping. At the self-service table setup next to the wall of dried herbs, I scooped my selections into my own glass jars and weighed them. I was surprised to find that my purchase of nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, cramp bark and ginger root (3oz or about 85 grams total) only cost me $6.00. In the half hour I spent in the shop, many customers came and went. I was excited to catch a glimpse of what seems to be a community of people taking advantage of this wonderful resource. I spoke briefly with a woman named Suzie who is enrolled in Farmacy’s Herbal Education and Training Program. She was helping to tend the store as a part of a work-study arrangement. She told me that classes take place in the shop. On their website you can see a list of topics covered from herbal terminology to wild fermentation techniques. Browsing these topics motivates me to learn about growing, harvesting, preparing, and using medicinal herbs.

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Home heating

So far the weather this season has been mild. But with temperatures dipping down close to 10˚F last night, I have home heating on the brain. In September I moved into a beautiful apartment in the back of a late 18th century brick house. The brick certainly seems to act as a better insulator than clapboard–I noticed that it kept the apartment cool while the weather was still warm–but when temperatures plummet outside, this old house can get pretty chilly.

For the fist time since I’ve lived in Providence I have steam radiators, which I greatly prefer to stinky, inefficient baseboard heating. I also have a wonderful cast iron stove in the living room of my apartment. It emits a lot of heat and helps to take the edge off when the steam radiators aren’t blasting. As per my mom’s suggestion, I’ve been putting a big pot of water (sometimes with added herbs and spices) on the stovetop to humidify the room–the heat from burning wood can be really drying. To avoid buying firewood, my boyfriend and I have been gathering it in the woods and collecting discarded scraps from around the city. It’s a nice incentive to be outside in the cold weather. I’m learning how to choose dry pieces based on their weight and the sound the wood makes when you tap it on a surface. The pile of 4-log plastic shrink wrapped bundles outside the grocery store is a bizarre sight.

I’ve wondered about the environmental effects of wood burning so I did some research. With regard to carbon, the same amount is released from a burning log as would be if that log were to decompose on the forest floor. But of course the carbon from a burning log is released in an hour or less, as opposed to the several months or even years it may take for a log to rot. Oil and gas are used to harvest and transport wood, making the carbon impact greater. The particulate matter released into the air from wood burning is also a concern. I found out that my newer Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified stove heats more efficiently and produces less fine particulate emissions at about 2-7 grams/hour compared to old-fashioned wood stoves that can produce 15-30 grams/hour. Conventional fireplaces without inserts or closed combustion chambers may release as much as 50 grams/hour. Burning properly dried wood will minimize the particulate output and creosote buildup. From what I’ve read, it seems that an advanced wood burning appliance can be a reasonable addition to a home energy system. Wood burning is certainly my favorite source of heat. It is beautiful and comforting on raw days and bitter nights.

Weatherizing a home is the number one way to save energy required to regulate temperature in both cold and hot seasons. Luckily the original windows in my apartment have snug fitting storms and so far this season I haven’t thought about covering any in plastic. I would certainly consider insulating fabric window dressings before turning to plastic in the context of this project. I am however thinking about key places where caulk (which I’ve only ever found in plastic packaging) can be applied to stop air leaks–around the windows and where the floor meets the baseboard. Meanwhile, I also invested in some high quality silk and wool long underwear.

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No trash kitchen

More food storage. Purchased in bulk without packaging, plus a couple home grown foods, and some spices with labels that were purchased before starting the project.

From the left: carob chips, flour, rice, fennel seed, cumin seed, sugar, granola, nutritional yeast, raisins, camomile tea, flax seeds, cannellini beans, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, chili peppers (grown), rolled oats, dried apricots, stevia powder (grown), cocoa powder, almond butter, millet, green tea, yerba maté (grown), balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil, salt, pepper

All of the spices on my shelf are available in bulk at the co-op. I’ve been thinking about how long mine have been sitting, and as time goes by, their freshness fades. I may end up giving some away if I don’t find the inspiration to use them. I like the idea of buying smaller amounts of each spice at a given time so that they are more potent.

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Bulk time lapse

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One month of trash-free bulk foods on my countertop.

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Running rubbish

This morning I went for a run in the woods. The sun was shining but the ground was still saturated from all the rain we got over the past two days, so the smell of decomposing leaves was heavy in the air. I prefer trail running to road running because it calls for more focus and coordination, and because there isn’t much traffic out on a wooded path. My run is usually my favorite part of a day. I always say that if I could bottle the post-run feeling and sip it all day long, I’d never have a care in the world. I like that it’s a form of exercise that requires little gear. I can throw on my running clothes and be out the door. But the most important piece of equipment that a runner has (the one that takes the most pounding) also makes the most trash.

Carbon rubber, polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate, nylon, polyester, and thermoplastic urethane are some of the materials used to make modern running shoes. Most spent pairs go straight to a landfill.When I got home today and kicked mine off, I noticed they’re really starting to fall apart. I’ve worn through the foam on the heel of the insoles and the treads on the soles have flattened out since I bought them almost three years ago. I do own another pair that I love–a ‘minimal’ running shoe I picked up this past spring when I became intrigued by the argument that barefoot running is beneficial for joints, but couldn’t imagine sacrificing the soles of me feet. My minimal shoes are not completely sealed on the outsoles, so water creeps in when the ground is wet. I don’t mind damp feet in warmer weather, but it can be unbearable in the cold.

So the time has come to do some more research. I’d like to find a shoe that is made from minimal material, but can stand up to winter in New England. I realize this is a tall order. I’ve started looking into it and while I haven’t yet found a pair that meets my criteria, I have found some information about the recent efforts of some athletic shoe companies to reduce waste in a toxic industry.

Puma and Brooks seem to be taking the lead. Both have redesigned their shoe packaging so that customers walk out with less trash around their new footwear. In 2008, Brooks released a shoe with a midsole that supposedly biodegrades 50 times faster than conventional midsoles. In November, Puma announced that they are working to develop the first completely compostable running shoes. And I came across these leather and canvas biodegradable, blooming sneakers.

I will keep looking for shoes that are right for me. When it is finally time to get rid of my old ones I think I’m going to bring them to the Reuse-A-Shoe drop-off location about 10 miles away from where I live. Meanwhile I daydream about taking up yoga–a truly barefoot form of exercise, but I don’t think I could ever completely kick my running habit.

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Pattern play

Experimenting with different patterns for dishwashing cloths. I’m curious to see if one holds soap better than the others.

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Prep

Getting ready for a trip to the co-op. Empty 16 oz glass peanut butter jars make great containers for loose tea, dried bulk goods, nut butters, baking soda, and even bulk moisturizing lotion.

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Dish cloth

A new tool put to use.

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