Archive | January, 2012

Compost

My compost bin never ceases to amaze me. Still gobbling up food scraps even in cold winter temperatures. Can’t wait to use it to plant my garden in the spring!

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Wood storage

Using the fireplace in my bedroom to stack wood for the stove in my living room. The fireplace is so beautiful but it’s not an efficient heat source in the winter because it draws drafts through the house.

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in.gredients

If you haven’t already heard about in.gredients, check out this video! The in.gredients team is busy remodeling their store in Austin, inching towards the grand opening. Meanwhile they’ve been sharing updates, facts, and inspirations on their wonderful blog.

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Sweet treat

Bulk local honey!

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Magpie

This is Magpie. She is not trash-free, but I love her anyway. I took her home from a shelter almost seven years ago. Because she has a very delicate constitution, it has been difficult to make any changes to her diet. I feed her Wellness canned cat food as I was always told that wet food is far healthier for cats than dried kibble. But the waste from the one can a day diet is pretty difficult to accept, especially in the light of this project. The two times I’ve tried to switch her over to a homemade diet she has gotten pretty sick, so I’ve delayed another attempt–hence the cans in the waste crate.

I recently consulted my friend (who is currently studying at Tufts vet school) for advice on home prepared cat diets. She adamantly stressed the importance of consulting my own vet (or even a pet nutritionist) to develop a diet that meets Magpie’s specific needs based on her age, weight, and medical history. She explained that in the natural world, a cat’s ideal diet is whole prey (meat, bones, and organs); so coming up with a well-balanced homemade diet is really tricky for felines because they require taurine and other vitamins/minerals. Most of the home prepared cat food recipes I’ve found online are offered with serious warnings against improvising a recipe, as cats can become very ill without certain supplements. I plan to talk to my vet for recommendations and instructions.

Because I live in the city, she is a strictly indoor cat (though she does go outside when I take her to visit my parents in the woods), which means she uses a litter box. I use Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter. The only two ingredients are wheat and soybean oil. Swheat Scoop claims to be the only certified flushable litter on the market. I flush it and have not had any clogged drains. I buy it in a 40 lbs paper bag at my local pet supply store. I don’t use any box liners. I just wash the box out with soap and water when I change the litter, and compost the used litter. My friend Madeline has a new kitty and she told me she’s been thinking about trying to toilet train her cat with a product called Litter Kwitter.

Since the day I was born, I have had pets in my life. Every one has given me so much joy. When we take a pet home we are faced with the great responsibility of providing the best quality of life possible while they live in this world and the responsibility of determining how they will leave it. We can choose to provide pet care that is environmentally responsible, which often promotes good pet health.

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Waste crate, week two

Week two of waste crate contents looks pretty similar to week one. I received more junk mail this week than last, so I need to make another round of phone calls to get myself removed from more mailing lists. I received a few ‘pre-approved’ credit card offers this week. The ‘opt out’ phone number leads me to an automated phone service that asks for my social security number, which I will not provide. This kind of mailing is harassment. I’m going to go to my post office to see if they can offer me any advise on how to be removed from ‘current resident’ mailing lists… I wonder if you can register your address with a ‘do not mail’ service?

The non-recyclables this week are from organic grocery store produce. Two plastic tags, twist ties, and stickers. Still trying to switch over completely to the farmers’ markets and co-ops.

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Wool dryer balls

I just received these wool dryer balls in the mail today. I’m excited to test them out. They are supposed to fluff up laundry and reduce static, eliminating the need for fabric softener and dryer sheets. I’ve read that they also reduce drying time anywhere from 25 to 40 percent! I ordered mine here. I have been using powdered laundry soap that I buy in a cardboard box or in bulk. I am not using any other softening agent. Since I cut out harsh chemicals from my laundry routine, I’ve really noticed relief from skin irritations, such as wintertime eczema. And while I haven’t had any trouble with static (in part because I’ve been hang-drying most of my clothes), I have noticed that sometimes my towels feel a little stiff and I’m hoping these dryer balls will minimize that. I can’t wait to see if they noticeably reduce drying time.

Next on my list of things to do is to install a retractable clothesline in my living room. I’ve been hanging garments on the backs of chairs, from doorknobs, hooks, shelves and mantels. There is a clothesline in the small garden below my apartment that we will use when the weather gets warm again.

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Hardware

Today I was able to find the washers I need to finish a woodworking project in bulk at The Home Depot. Small victories.

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Thrifty

Picked up a couple more glass jars at Savers the other day to accomodate more dry bulk goods. I spent 4 dollars on the pair.

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Waste crate

Pictured above is my trash and recycling bin after one week. I’ve been using this wood crate to hold all the recyclable paper, recyclable bottles & cans, and the landfill waste I produce each week. Before taking it out to the curb, I photographed it as a part of a new plan to document its contents. Today it held the paper mail that can’t be burned in the wood stove as starter, the cardboard box that the stainless steel container I purchased from Life Without Plastic was packaged in (I reused the larger shipping box), the plastic bag that was inside the cardboard box, a plastic produce tag that came off of some organic Kale (bought from the grocery store between farmers’ markets), a plastic magnetic strip removed from the paper tag on a pair of cashmere gloves given to me as birthday gift, and seven empty cat food cans. The cat food has been a real issue, and I will soon address the problems I’ve come up against trying to reduce pet care waste.

The plastic bag (not stretchy), the kale tag, and magnetic strip are not recyclable so they will go into the large city garbage collection can that we share with our landlady. The cat food cans and all the paper go into two separate recycling bins. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation recently announced the planned switch to single-stream recycling in 2012.

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Life Without Plastic

Yesterday I received a package I ordered from Life Without Plastic. I purchased the items above as a birthday gift to myself. Yes, that’s right, I bought a toilet brush for my birthday! It’s not your average brush.

So far I’m really pleased with each of the items. I brought the Klean Kanteen water bottle with me to work today. I have had a few of these, but none with the stainless steel/bamboo cap. I really love this particular newer model because it is completely plastic and paint free (the logo is laser etched into the steel). The cap seals with a food grade silicone ring. If I manage to hang onto this one (I’ve lost a couple others already), it will last a very long time. I purchased the steel container thinking that I would use it to put together a low-trash first aid kit. The steel seems to be a thicker gage than some of the other stainless containers I have and I love the roll clip design. I used it to carry some leftovers to work today. Because this particular one isn’t watertight it wouldn’t be ideal for wet foods. The handkerchiefs are made of organic cotton. I really want to make it a habit to carry one with me at all times as I still sometimes reach for toilet paper to blow my nose. The toilet brush is made from beechwood, wire, and pig bristles. It will be interesting to see how well it works and how long it holds up.

The whole order arrived in a small cardboard box sealed with paper tape. The handkerchiefs and toilet brush were loose inside. A piece of paper was wrapped around the bottle and the stainless steel container came inside a plastic bag within a cardboard Sanctus Mundo company box. I was surprised to see the plastic because there was no mention of it on Life Without Plastic’s website and they often specify when a product contains or comes packed in plastic. But overall I was impressed with the minimal packaging and have so far been very pleased with the quality of the products I’ve purchased from LWP.

 

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Alternative Food Co-op

Yesterday I took another trip down to the Alternative Food Cooperative in Wakefield to restock on oil, soap, and baking soda. This time I brought my camera along and received permission from Rosemary–the co-op’s manager, to take pictures inside the store. Before the recent opening of Fertile Underground, Alternative was the only food co-op in Rhode Island. Shopping there is a very different experience from the conventional grocery store shopping experience I’ve known most of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, because of the variety of goods available in bulk, this resource has allowed me to take my project to a more thorough level. The co-op’s success is the result of a good business model, excellent management, and invested, conscientious employees. I want to share these images of what alternative food and household supply shopping can look like.

The co-op has the largest dry bulk food section of any store I’ve visited in the Rhode Island/Massachusetts area. Here I can find red quinoa, forbidden rice, and even goji berries. Spices, teas, and medicinal herbs in glass jars line the back wall. Oils, honey, and vinegar are kept canisters next to the spices. There is also a refrigerated bulk foods section. A small produce section offers fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local growers. Hot soup, baked goods, coffee and tea are offered at the front of the store. While I was there, a masseuse was giving massages to customers.

spices, teas, and medicinal herbs

spices, teas, and medicinal herbs

Bulk Tofu!

Bulk Tofu!

 

bulk cleaning supplies

bulk cleaning supplies

 

All of the stations in the store are extremely clean and well organized. Any spills around the bulk dispensers are quickly mopped or swept up. Pans and brushes hang on the wall so customers can clean up after themselves too.

The dry bulk foods supply is kept in a walk-in refrigerator located in the kitchen at the back of the store. I’ve always wondered how the foods that I scoop out of the bulk containers are packed and shipped to businesses. Inside the refrigerator, nuts, legumes, grains, and flour are stacked on simple wooden shelves, mostly in paper bags and boxes.

The walk-in

The walk-in

The back deck can be reached by walking through the kitchen. It overlooks the municipal lot where customers can park if there are no spaces on the street. Beyond the lot lie the Saugatucket River and a bike path that runs along it. Rosemary said that riders headed south from the co-op would arrive at the beach in about 15 minutes. In the summer the deck is set up with tables and chairs and the awnings are rolled down to provide shade.

Before shopping I weighed my containers again at the register. Then I filled up my glass jars, bottles, and bulk bags with olive oil, canola oil, quinoa, almonds, baking soda, and castile soap. I should be well stocked for at least another month, but if Alternative Food Co-op was located in Providence, I would do my daily shopping there. Many thanks to the whole co-op gang for chatting with me and for letting me photograph your beautiful shop.

Trash-free shopping basket

Trash-free shopping basket

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Bike light

I love this new gadget. It’s a USB rechargeable bike headlight. I had been riding around with just a tail light at night (powered by an AAA battery) and I knew I needed more visibility on the dark roads. Being able to ride at night further cuts down on driving. And though the days are finally starting to get longer, the sun is still setting well before 5:00pm. This little light is made by a company called Knog. Though the light is great, the packaging was excessive, (number 1 plastic case surrounded by printed cardboard paper) as are most bike lights that I’ve managed to find so far. It has a waterproof silicone casing that slips off to reveal a USB jack. It also has a battery discharge feature that can be activated when the light is not in use for a long period of time, to optimize battery longevity. I’m hoping it will have a very long life. I’d like to replace my tail light with a rechargeable one.

The bike lights have prompted me to think about the items in my life that still require changeable alkaline batteries. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed a battery in my home… no more remote controls. So it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about buying batteries. After going over my apartment room by room, the few remaining objects I’ve found are the two MagLite flashlights under the kitchen sink (used mostly in the summertime for outdoor after dark grilling, and very rarely during power outages) the smoke detector in the bedroom, and the 35mm and medium format film cameras that require coin cell batteries to power their internal light meters. There are of course rechargeable batteries and chargers available for the flashlights (D for the large flashlight and AA for the small one), and after searching online I found that there are many rechargeable flashlights on the market today. Some can be plugged directly into the wall and some are USB chargeable. There are also rechargeable 9-volt batteries (the kind used in smoke detectors) and even rechargeable coin cell batteries available now. I think it’s time to invest in some sets. 

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Confessions of a floss addict

One personal hygiene product that I decidedly cannot live without is floss. It’s been a part of my daily dental care routine since I finally made it a habit (after my braces came off) in grade school. I credit flossing for my healthy, cavity free mouth. Because floss comes with quite a bit of packaging, when I first began this project I tried to use a rubber gum stimulator in its place, but quickly found that it was not a good substitute–at least not for my mouth. I think my teeth must be very close together because I’m not able to get the tip of the stimulator between them. So, I turned back to floss.

I have searched high and low for simple paper packaged, chemical-free floss and the best product I have found so far is Eco-Dent’s Gentle Floss. When I first spotted it on the shelf at a local co-op (since then I’ve seen it at Whole Foods) I was very excited, but when I got it home and opened the paper box to get the thread end started, I discovered that the floss spool comes wrapped in a small clear stretch plastic bag and that the 100 yards of floss are wound around a hard plastic bobbin. The bag is meant to keep the essential oils used to wax the thread from drying out. While it’s not trash-free, I do feel that this product is much better than the twice packaged floss I bought for years–wrapped once in a #2 plastic box and then again against a paper card with a cellophane or #1 plastic cover glued to the paper.

I try to use the floss sparingly. I keep the pieces that I break off just long enough to wrap a couple times around one finger on each hand with just enough space between to maneuver around my mouth. And though it may sound gross, I reuse each piece a couple of times until the coating comes off, simply rinsing the strand between uses. Lately I’ve wondered about the plausibility of making my own floss. Perhaps I could find a natural fiber thread of the appropriate weight and coat it as needed with minimally packaged oil or wax…

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Today was my birthday

In keeping with the idea of giving surprise experience gifts in the place of physical objects, my friend took me on a day trip to unknown destinations.  We ended up in Boston–at a food co-op, a Japanese restaurant, and the Museum of Fine Arts—in that order. It was a beautiful day and I was happy to be taken along for the ride, watching my path unfold before me.

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Medication

Today I tackled a project that I’d been avoiding for many months–the disposal of old and expired pharmaceuticals. After cleaning out my cabinets at the onset of this project, I had stockpiled the bottles and blister packs full of unused and expired pills that had accumulated in my home over the past several years. Everything from unfinished antibiotics and steroids that were prescribed for the flu and sinus infections, to over-the-counter allergy medications used during some landscaping forays, to painkillers that were prescribed for one of my several broken digit incidents–had all been tucked away in my sock drawer until I could figure out what to do with them.

For medical and environmental reasons it is usually recommended to finish the course of a prescription, but I’ve never been good at taking a pill for a symptom that no longer exists. I’ve had serious anxiety about throwing the drugs away because I know that no matter what approach I take, this hazardous waste will end up in the ground and water. Though it was once common practice, many people know by now that it is not a good idea to flush medication down the toilet. And I’ve read that great caution needs to be exercised when throwing drugs out for trash collection as animals or even people could potentially ingest them after you put them out.

I sat down this morning and separated all the pills from their bottles and packs and put them into a used paper bag. By the time I was done, I had emptied hundreds of pills. The sight of them all mixed up was pretty shocking, as was that of the pile of bottles and packs. I noticed my cat was immediately drawn to the smells in the bag (more on how she fits into this project soon). I filled the bag with ashes from the wood stove and cayenne pepper to make the stash less desirable to scavengers, as recommended by several online sources. I placed the bag inside another thicker paper bag and deposited it in a lidded dumpster at my work that will be emptied in the next couple of days. It felt strange and terrible to throw a bag into the garbage after months of not doing so. I took bottles to Whole Foods where I separated the plastics according to their number and placed them in the appropriate bins.

Since starting this project, my thinking about medicine and healing has been shifting to a more natural approach, and my experience today will have a great and lasting impression on me.

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Happy New Year

I dreamt of big trash-free plans for 2012 on my run today.

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