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Homemade laundry detergent

homemadetergent

I recently ran out of the powdered laundry detergent I buy in bulk at my local co-ops, so I decided to make my own. An internet search for homemade laundry detergent usually yields a wide variety of sources for a basic recipe that calls for washing soda, borax, and grated bar soap. But there’s also quite a debate raging online about the potential health risks of using borax for home and body care. Some sources adamantly claim that the median lethal dose of borax is no higher than the median lethal dose of table salt (about 3 grams per kilogram of weight), making it a perfectly safe laundry detergent ingredient. On the other side of the argument, studies indicate that borax powder is a skin, eye, and lung irritant and if ingested it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and lethargy. There is also concern that high or prolonged exposure to borax can lead to infertility and damage to an unborn child.

While wading through some of this information, attempting to sort out factors like the credibility of sources and the dates of each study, it occurred to me that perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree. At some point I realized that I’d rather err on the side of caution and I refocused my energy to try to find some recipes for homemade laundry detergent that didn’t include borax. As it turns out, there are indeed several borax-free recipes floating around on the web and many are just variations of a few basic elements. Baking soda, washing soda, grated bar soap, citric acid, epsom salt, table salt, and white vinegar were the ingredients I came across the most. I’ve begun experimenting to see what mix I like the best, based on what I’m able to acquire within the package-free parameters of my project. For this particular venture I’ve decided to make an exception for products packaged in paperboard or paper bags that are compostable. But to start I did manage to make a completely package-free batch of detergent from one cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), one cup washing soda (sodium carbonate), and one grated 4oz bar of unscented glycerin soap.

washingsoda

I was unable to find boxed washing soda on any local store shelf so I decided to make my own. In my research of each ingredient listed above, I discovered that it’s easy to make washing soda at home by simply heating baking soda in the oven. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (one sodium, one hydrogen, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (two sodium, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). When heated, the glistening, grainy baking soda gives off water and carbon dioxide, leaving dull, powdery washing soda behind.  I spread a thin layer of bulk-bought baking soda in a shallow pan and baked it at 400 degrees for one hour. I agitated it about a halfway through the bake time. I’ve only done a couple loads of laundry with my baking soda, washing soda, soap mix, but so far my clothes and linens have come out clean, odorless, and not too stiff. An there doesn’t seem to be any soapy residue left on my fabrics. I should mention that I’ve not yet tested this mix on any tough stains, though I’m sure it won’t be long before an opportunity arises.

epsomsalt

I saw some recipes for soapless detergents, which call for baking and washing soda, epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and table salt. Epsom salts are a natural surfactant—a wetting agent that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, allowing it to better penetrate solids. Today, surfactants made from a variety of petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and/or oleochemicals (derived from fats and oils) are used in generic detergents to render water less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with greasy, organic soiling. Considered non-toxic, epsom salts are commonly used in homemade beauty treatments and cleaning solutions. Magnesium sulfate is also used in organic gardening and farming as a soil conditioner/fertilizer. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improve plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfer. And sulfer is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. The other day while I was in the grocery store, I spotted some epsom salts in a paper carton and decided to purchase them. I transfered the salts to a glass jar, then shredded and composted the packaging. I’m looking forward to experimenting with them in my homemade detergent concoctions and I will post about my findings.

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Rolling with the punches

chamomiletoronto

This past week, I took advantage of the quiet University spring recess and used some of my saved vacation days to visit with friends and family. No trash travel has become pretty manageable and routine for me. Armed with a water bottle, stainless steel container, travel utensils (chopsticks and my bamboo spoon/fork), a few reusable bulk bags, a couple mini glass jars and bottles filled with my essential hygiene products, and my wits I am able to adapt to most scenarios without having to make trash. Committing to Zero Waste means having to be resourceful and I really appreciate the challenge of taking my project beyond my usual stomping ground. While the travel kit I described above serves me well most of the time, there are occasional circumstances in which I find myself missing something from home. This time around it was my trash-free herbal remedies I longed for when I found myself suffering from… ahem, acute menstrual cramps. Luckily I was staying in Toronto and as I had discovered during previous visits, the city is full of many great bulk sources. So on a borrowed bike, I took a ride to see if I could find something to ease the pain. At home I have been using teas and decoctions in place of over-the-counter or prescription pain pills to cope with the monthly distress. Slowly sipping on a warm liquid with pain relieving and anti-spasmodic properties gets me through the peak cramps. And I feel good knowing that I am not using medication that can adversely effect my stomach or liver.

strictlybulk

I was able to pick up some chamomile at great little store called Strictly Bulk. The slogan on their very simple website reads, “because you don’t eat packaging”. I filled up one of my hemp bulk bags with enough little flowers to make several cups of tea per day for at least three days, after which I knew I would be feeling much better. Studies suggest that chamomile may work to relieve menstrual cramps. I find that drinking chamomile tea has an overall relaxing effect that helps take the edge off of menstrual pain. And I was very glad to get a hold of this trusty, familiar aid while away from home. Meanwhile the chamomile sprouts on my windowsill are growing taller and stronger.

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Natural Home Solutions

coconutdeodorant

This evening, I’ll be giving a Natural Home Solutions workshop with some wonderful folks at Fertile Underground in Providence. I will demonstrate how to make homemade moisturizing lotion and deodorants. Jillian McGrath is making a raw avocado/cacao edible face mask. Yeah, that’s right, double duty. And the folks from Karma Clean will be there with samples of their raw soap nuts laundry detergent. So excited! If you live in the area, come in and see us from 5:00-7:00pm for some how-tos and free samples!

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Chia seed drink

chiaseeds

This morning I fixed myself a chia seed drink from seeds I purchased in bulk. Chia seeds are considered a “super food” for their nutrient content. Like hemp and flax seeds, they are a great plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Chia seeds can be used like any other seeds you might cook with, sprinkle over a meal, or stir into cereal or yogurt. Because they are high in soluble fiber, they absorb a lot of water and can be used to make a “gel” that can be stirred into  drinks. I decided to give this a try. I mixed 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into 1 cup of water and stirred them occasionally over a 15 minute period so that they wouldn’t clump. Then I made some ginger  lemon tea and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of the gel when the tea was warm, but not hot. I rather like gelatinous foods so I really enjoyed this textured beverage! Chia seeds are said to keep you hydrated and energized so it ‘s not a bad way to start the day. I think I’ll add it to my regimen for a while.

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Hemp milk

hempmilk

A dairy sensitivity I developed in my adulthood led me to kick the cow milk I was raised on. Before starting the No Trash Project, I was purchasing nut, seed, and grain milks in Tetra Paks, which are difficult to recycle. After swearing off food packaging, I still craved some kind of milk to add to my granola or incorporate into recipes so I began making my own non-dairy milks at home. I’m always thrilled by how easy and rewarding it is. Every kind I’ve made has been far better tasting than anything I could buy off a store shelf. Inspired by a reader’s suggestion, I made hemp milk today. It was the quickest and easiest yet! It seriously only took about 5 minutes to make. I used hemp seeds purchased in bulk from Alternative Food Co-op. The ratio I used is one cup hemp seeds to 4 cups of water (the same ratio I’ve used for the oat, almond, coconut, and cashew milks). The seeds don’t require any soaking prior to blending. Because hemp is soft, the seeds and water homogenized very quickly with the help of my immersion blender. I chose to strain it for smoothness, though much like the cashew milk, the meal is so fine that you can drink it without straining. I would describe the taste as sweet and grassy. Delicious. Of course, it can be sweetened or spiced. I saw one variation online with orange zest that I plan to try.

Hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and they offer a very desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3:1. They’re also a fantastic source of protein, fiber, and amino acids—including all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own.

hempmeal

I love experimenting with the strained nut, seed, and grain meal I’m left with when making the milks.  I think I’m going to use the hemp meal to make a “pesto” with garlic, basil, and olive oil. Stay tuned for that experiment!

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Afternoon retreat

browngreenhouse2

Much of North America has been in a deep winter freeze this week. Here in Providence, temperatures never rose out of the teens most days and at night they dropped down close to zero degrees (fahrenheit). January tends to be the coldest time of year here. It’s also a time when the winter blues start to catch up with me. Luckily I’ve discovered a remedy—a little-known East Side gem that works wonders on my state of mind and my dry nasal passages. Brown University’s greenhouse, located on Waterman Street between Prospect and Thayer Street is open to the public daily from 7:30am to 3:30pm. I’m on campus every weekday for work and I like to stop in to warm up, breathe in the humid fragrant air, and gawk at whatever happens to be in bloom.

browngreenhouse3

The conservatory is a resource for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As stated on the department website, “Artists, gardeners, tinkerers, dreamers, readers, thinkers, general plant lovers, and green and brown thumbs are encouraged to visit.” The greenhouse is small but densely packed with a wide range of plant species representing many different climate zones.

browngreenhouse1

Cacti stretch up from a sandy bed toward the roof of the greenhouse, palm trees grow out of the floor, potted orchids adorn a stepped shelf, and alocasia plants spill into one of the pathways. There’s even a tiny goldfish pond.

browngreenhouse4

During most of my visits, I’m the only person there. Each time I enter, an involuntary smile stretches across my face and as I remove my many winter layers and accessories, I feel myself relax and the muscles in my neck and shoulders loosen. I stroll up and down the three aisles observing the specimen. Some days, when I have some time, I sit and read awhile or scribble in my sketchbook. Every visit is restorative, and I leave both mellowed and energized. Each year I grow older, I feel myself grow more intolerant of the cold and weary of the grey winter weather and short spurts of daylight. But I’ve learned to combat the gloom with regular exercise, fresh colorful foods, and heart lifting activities like my afternoon greenhouse sessions.

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Turmeric and ginger tea

turmerictea

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately. I decided to make myself some turmeric and ginger tea. Straight ginger tea is a regular part of my routine. The rhizome is always available to me at the farmer’s market or the store. I love it. The spicier, the better. The volatile oils found in ginger have been shown to have healing properties. Ginger is used to strengthen immunity, ease stomach and intestinal discomfort, combat chest colds, regulate blood circulation, and reduce inflammation. Turmeric is a rhizome of the ginger family. Both are native to South Asia and need warm humid conditions to grow. Fresh turmeric isn’t available to me as regularly as ginger so whenever I do see it grace market stands I pick some up. I can get the powdered form in bulk at my nearby co-ops, but I love the mild mustard flavor of fresh turmeric. Curcumin (a natural phenol which gives turmeric it’s bright orange-yellow color) and turmerones (the plant’s oils) are believed to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal, anticarcinogenic, and beneficial in liver detoxification.

Today I peeled and grated some ginger and turmeric, then strained and steeped both in water heated to just below boiling. The tea is delicious and soothing. I love the bright color. I’ll be enjoying several cups a day until I’m back to tip-top shape.

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New kicks

newrunningshoes

I had a lovely day. It started with an unseasonably warm run. I checked the temperature before I got dressed and it was nearly 60˚F in Providence so I threw on my running shorts and a t-shirt. While working up a good sweat in the warm sun it dawned on me, it’s the middle of January! Crazy. I wore the new running shoes I finally bought to replace the spent ones I’d been sporting for years. Most running and athletic shoes on the market are made from 100% synthetic materials. I really struggled with the idea of buying a new product off a store shelf that costs so much energy to produce and that will not biodegrade once the wearable life has been pounded out of them. I am completely onboard with the minimal running shoe movement for physiological health reasons and the fact that they require less resource material (for instance, there’s no foam in my new pair) to produce than the high stability, bulkier shoes I was rocking before this. So I settled on these of 6oz water-resistant minmal shoes that will get me through all seasons. I felt that they were the best choice of everything I considered at my local running shoe retailers. So far, I really love them. They fit me perfectly, I like the feeling of being in closer contact with the ground as I move over it, and they’ve kept my feet dry and warm even in the slush and snow we had just a couple weeks ago. I believe my old shoes are too damaged in the heel to donate to be worn so I plan give them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

This evening I hung out at Fertile Underground Grocery on the westside of Providence with in-store foodie and event host Jillian McGrath and the rest of the wonderful FUG team. We spoke with interested customers about bulk food shopping and reducing food packaging waste. I had a wonderful time meeting folks from Providence and neighboring cities and discussing my project and ways to take advantage of such wonderful resources as Fertile Underground Grocery. Thanks so much to everyone who stopped to chat!

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Skate date

skating

For my birthday, my friend took me iceskating. I’d never been before! We rented me a pair of skates for $2 and turned teetering circles around a nearby rink. We skated until my toes were frozen through and my cheeks hurt from smiling. It was a wonderful gift. A brand new experience to ring in the new year and to celebrate turning another year older. I look forward to the many trash-free adventures ahead of me in 2013.

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Quinoa bowl

quinoanewbowl

Another quick, easy, healthy, satisfying lunch. A bowl of protein-packed quinoa with roasted butternut squash, apple, avocado, and sprouted pumpkin seeds. This dish fueled many hours of work.

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Lunch

squashsalad

I made this colorful, hearty, seasonal salad for lunch. It was inspired by a favorite Garden Grille menu item. Ooowee, it was delicious! And of course, all the elements were purchased without any packaging.

Ingredients

radicchio, arugula, roasted butternut squash, apple, black quinoa, sprouted pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, olive oil, and black pepper.

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Trash talk

teethexray

At my recent visit to the dentist, I made a lot of trash. My hygienist Gena and I talked about all the garbage that is produced during a single patient visit while she worked on my teeth. Plastic film and paper sheets cover the dentist chair and the lamp handles. Disposable plastic suction tubes (called evacuator tips) suck up saliva and rinse water. Plastic sleeves cover the now digital xray devise that I can never quite bite down on properly. Every patient gets a paper and plastic (coated) dentist bib of course. Gena changes her mask several times throughout the day. And she explained that it’s office protocol for her to remove and toss her gloves every time she leaves the room. She used three pairs during my visit.

Lying in that ergonomically wonderful chair, as Gena diligently scraped tartar from my molars, I wondered if there are any reasonable, hygienic ways around medical waste. Our mouths are a jungle of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, so it’s easy to understand why there are so many precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of germs amongst doctors, staff, and patients. When I got home I did some research to see if I could dig up information on active efforts to reduce the trash produced in a dentist’s office. I came across the Eco-Dentistry Association in an online search. The EDA website is wonderful resource. A list of “the big four” breaks down the processes responsible for the most dental practice waste.

1. Infection control methods including disposable barriers and sterilization items and toxic disinfectant

2. Placement and removal of mercury-containing dental material

3. Conventional x-ray systems

4. Conventional vacuum systems

There’s also a search function to locate an EDA member near you. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be any practicing in Providence. I’ve also been browsing stories of trail-blazing dentists who are committed to reducing waste within their small practices. My friend Kory sent me a video of this fellow.

My dentist’s practice may not be very advanced on the environmental frontline, but until I live near a EDA member dentist, I have no current plans to stop seeing them. I love my dentist and my hygienist and they are taking good care of my teeth. My x-rays look good—so far still cavity-free! And I’m still receiving positive reports about my oral hygiene since switching to baking soda toothpowder, a compostable toothbrush, and essential oil-coated cotton floss in a paper box. So I’ll keep on with my routine. I love my teeth. They’ve done a lot for me over the years.

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All I ever want

We took a break from the ceramic making on Sunday to eat a fantastic dinner at Organic Garden Cafe. My custom dinner bowl was substantial, affordable, and delicious. It fueled many more hours of work late into the night. I was touched by one menu item called the Grateful Bowl, which allows customers to pay what they’re able to on a sliding scale of $1 to $8.50. I imagine I will be returning to this fine establishment in the future.

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Spray deodorant

In September I posted some thoughts on chemical-free and package-free personal hygiene options, including baking soda and cornstarch deodorant. I’ve been using the powdered blend for nearly two months and it works really well. The active ingredient is the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which works as a deodorant, not an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants inhibit the body’s physiology by clogging pores, blocking the natural release of sweat. Baking soda neutralizes odor-causing bacteria that live on the surface of the skin and hair. Some information on the controversial health effects of antiperspirants and deodorants can be found here.

As I mentioned before, I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily, but I appreciate some odor control, especially in the dog days of summer and on days when I’m particularly active throughout the rest of the year. Now that we’re into the heating season in Northeast, I’m readjusting to familiar challenges in temperature control as I move between the crisp outdoors and overly heated University buildings at work. Applying and shedding several layers of clothing throughout the day is a dance New Englanders are adept at. But there are many occasions when I enter a building and start to sweat before I can remove my mittens, scarf, coat, and sweater (usually in that order).

While the powder has indeed been very effective, I find it’s a little messy transferring it from the salt shaker to my hand to my underarms—especially when I’m in a rush (most days). Also, cornstarch is more difficult to find in bulk than baking soda and I’m always interested in using the least amount of ingredients necessary for any job. So I’ve decided to give a baking soda and water solution a whirl, which I’ve read works well for many people looking for a safe alternatives to aluminum and parabens. To start, I dropped a quarter teaspoon of baking soda into a 4 oz glass spray bottle (I could only find one with a plastic spray nozzle), filled it with water and shook it well until the baking soda disolved. Finding the right ratio might take some experimenting—too much baking soda will likely cause skin irritation and too little will be ineffective. I used it today and so far it seems to be working well! I will be sure to post updates.

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Raw lunch

I recently enjoyed an outstanding salad on two occasions at a little raw food restaurant called Raw Aura in Mississauga. The ingredients were so fresh and well coordinated. Romaine lettuce, kale, red onions, red pepper, hummus, avocado, pepitas, sunflower seeds, and a fantastic sesame dressing. The gluten-free, raw “breadstick” that comes with the salad has me daydreaming about getting a dehydrator. The salad itself is large and the seeds, hummus, and avocado make it hearty enough to be a very satisfying meal. I’d like to make it at home. I’ll have to guess on the dressing. I think there was ginger in it… The restaurant is small and comfortable and the service was absolutely wonderful both times I ate there.

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Love everlasting

Can’t seem to get enough heirloom tomatoes.

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Farm and sea

Took a trip down to Little Compton this week to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with my family. I got to spend a day at my favorite beach. The weather on Friday was sunny and clear and the warm ocean current moving past the cove made the water particularly inviting. I first visited this place several years ago with a friend who referred to it as “the magic beach”. Giant pink granite rocks that stretch from the shore out into deep water look like dinosaurs lying in the surf. The white sand that surrounds them makes the water appear aqua, as though this tiny stretch of coast was actually in a tropical zone far south of New England. Cement stepping circles poured in a winding path, aid the trek across the back of one of the rocks to a staircase down to the water. Two diving boards are installed there every summer. Taking the plunge from the high board is like a rite of passage.

I’m always struck by how little garbage there is at this spot. It’s private and remote so there isn’t a lot of traffic. But even the water always seems free of debris. Perhaps the position of the beach on the point and the direction of the currents keep trash from riding in with the tide. Being in a natural environment that feels so preserved and untainted is a rare and special experience. These are the places worth fighting for.

On my way back to Providence I stopped at Walker’s Roadside Stand. An impressive display of pumpkins and gourds was practically spilling out into the road. I had some cash and some bulk bags on me (I rarely have cash but I always have bulk bags) so I decided to pick up some produce.

Good gourd!

I love the purple peppers.

There was a huge selection of beautiful heirloom tomatoes on display. Brought some of these home… well actually only a couple made it all the way home because I ate most of them on the ride back. So sweet and tangy.

Cranberry shelling beans!

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Bike Days

bikeweeks

Today I realized that I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. Biking and walking everywhere feels great, especially since the weather has been so beautiful. This afternoon I ran all of my errands on my bike and still managed to make it to work on time. At certain hours of the day, biking in the city seems faster than driving. I hit the bank, the tailor, the grocery store, and Olive del Mondo (where I received 50¢ off my olive oil refill for returning my bottle to be washed). It’s been a great way to spend more time outside—something I always crave at this time of year as the days get shorter.

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Licorice Root Tea

Licorice is said to ease upset stomachs, aid digestion, and boost immunity. It’s also delicious. Glycyrrhizin, the sweet tasting compound in licorice, is sweeter than table sugar. I got this licorice root in bulk at the co-op and tried drinking it when I had a stomach ache. It was indeed very soothing. It’s a remedy I will definitely turn to in the future.

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Shampoo

Our skin is a coat of armor that shields us from the elements. It also acts as a sensor, communicating important information with our brains about the environments we negotiate. The daily duty of stripping the oils it produces with soap and then replacing moisture with oils and creams seems like an agressive treatment of our bodies’ largest organ. Why have I bought into the cycle for so many years? The notion that we are born equipped with the faculties we need to thrive makes sense to me on a logical and intuitive level. But old habits die hard.

I’ve been buying shampoo in bulk (pumped out of a plastic gallon jug) from the co-op in wakefield. It’s not a trash-free solution but it’s a little better than buying smaller bottles of product. I tried “no poo“—an idea I can really get behind, but a practice I could’t stick with. I have long, fine, straight hair. Washing it with a baking soda and water solution left my scalp dry and without conditioner, I could hardly get a brush through the ends of my hair. I’ve tried bar shampoos, but they all seem to leave a waxy buildup behind.

I daydream about cropping my tresses close to my head or even going Sinéad and shaving them completely. When my brother recently shaved his head and it looked good, I found myself comparing the shape of his to mine, wondering if I could pull it off too. How wonderfully low maintenance it would be. But the truth is I’m pretty attached to my long hair. That is to say it’s been attached to me for quite a while, and in some ways is a part of my identity. So for the moment, bulk liquid (sulfate, paraben, and phthalate-free) shampoo is where I’m at. But my work towards using fewer and fewer beauty products continues…

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Powdered baking soda deodorant

powderdeo

Years ago, a conversation with a family friend (a pharmacist) about the health effects of aluminum—a common ingredient in antiperspirants and deodorants, lead me to switch from Secret brand to a crystal deodorant stone. I loved it. No white smears on my clothing, no swollen glands in my armpits, no stains on my shirts and dresses, I found it to be more effective at eliminating odor, it left no greasy residue on my skin, and one rock lasts me more than a year… so again, I’ve been saving money. The particular crystal I chose came in a rigid plastic container. I’ had been using the same one since starting this project and it’s now worn down to the size of a pebble. There are some stones on the market that are packaged in a simple paper box, but I’ve been unable to find such a product locally. So I decided to try to make my own deodorant.

As I was researching recipes I stumbled across some information that surprised me. My “mineral salt, aluminum-free” crystal is actually potassium aluminum sulfate. Aluminum? What gives? Why then is it sold on the shelves of natural food stores with the claim of being a safe alternative to conventional deodorant? I did some digging and found that the crystal is free of aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide, and aluminum zirconium (it’s also phthalate, and paraben-free). These are the types of aluminums found in conventional deodorants that act as antiperspirants. They are taken into the sweat ducts of the skin, acting as a plug. I always thought that because I still perspired with the crystal, it was aluminum-free. I read that the reason potassium alum is considered safe is because the mineral salts are said to be too large to be absorbed into the skin. Potassium alum sits on top of the skin and it’s antimicrobial properties prevent the growth of odor causing bacteria, which is why it works so well as a deodorant. Okay, maybe… but rubbing aluminum of any kind onto my body just doesn’t bode well with me. So I’ve been test driving my homemade concoction over the past several days and it seems to be working quite well.

The recipe is ridiculously simple. One part baking soda (sodium bicarbonate—the odor neutralizer) and six parts cornstarch, mixed well. I’m able to get both ingredients without packaging from the dry bulk goods sections of several local stores. Too much baking soda left on the skin can cause irritation and itching, but this ratio seems to be a good balance. I put the mix into a salt shaker. After showering, I shake some into my hand, pat it on my underarms and I’m good to go. No body odor to speak of, not even after my run a whole day and night after application. I’ve also been sprinkling it into my sneaks on days that I want to go sockless to keep my feet dry (blister-free) and odor-free. Straight cornstarch works perfectly well for this too. I’ve read that a small amount of baking soda mixed into water, applied with a spray bottle works just as well for underarms. I might try that too.

Going without any deodorant at all is another option of course. I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily. Sometimes I forget to put any deodorant on and if I’m not particularly active during the day it’s no big deal. I find that not wearing any synthetic fabrics also greatly minimizes armpit odor. Diet plays a large role too. But my job sometimes requires some heavy lifting (toting films and projectors) and running from place to place. I find that on those days it’s nice to have a little odor control.

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Menstrual cup

While on the subject of personal hygiene, I’d like to address a question that is regularly asked of me (usually half whispered) by both men and women during conversations about the No Trash Project: “What do you do when you’re on your period?” I think it’s high time to get into it. So to all the squeamish and hemaphobic out there, let this be a warning… It’s about to get real.

In a woman’s lifetime (from menarche to menopause), she is likely to use 15,000 pads or tampons. This amounts to approximately 300 pounds of waste. There are 85 million women of menstruating age in North America. That means that 1.275 trillion disposable pads and tampons (12.75 million tons) end up in landfills, sewage treatment centers, and littering oceans and beaches in just this corner of the world… and wherever currents may carry our garbage to. Growing up on the ocean in Massachusetts, I often saw plastic pastel-colored tampon applicators floating in the water, or in the sand and seaweed along the shore.

Many of you may recognize the object pictured above. It’s a silicone menstrual cup. This product collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. Believe it or not, the commercial menstrual cup has actually been around since the early 1930s but the it didn’t sell successfully until the late 1980s. I’ve been using one in place of tampons since starting my project 17 months ago. I wish I had been hip to the cup since I first started getting my period. I love it for many reasons. There’s no packaging or product garbage to flush or toss. I find it less irritating than even the organic cotton tampons I had been using for years (since reading about dioxin—a toxic bi-product of bleaching the rayon and cotton used in conventional tampons). A menstrual cup does not affect the vaginal flora or have the same risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as tampons do. I have also found that I have less leaking than I used to have with tampons. The cup is supposed to last 10 years—So no longer stocking up on tampons means saving a lot of money.

When I tell friends about the cup, questions about comfort, logistics, and the ick factor come up. Though it took some getting used to (a couple of cycles before I had it down), I now find the cup to be very comfortable to insert, wear, and remove. Okay, so logistics…. First of all, many cups on the market have a greater capacity than even a Super tampon, which means not having to emptying it every few hours the way one would frequently change tampons. Before emptying the cup, I wash my hands (this is important to prevent infection). I empty it into the toilet and then usually wash it out in the sink (unless I’m in a multi-stall public bathroom, but I hardly find myself in that situation because there are private bathrooms in almost all of the places I frequent during the day), reinsert the cup, then wash my hands again. It’s very quick, easy, and simple. I don’t find it to be gross or messy. In fact, I personally feel it’s less icky than using tampons and certainly pads, which hold odor because they are exposed to air.

The cup in the picture is the Diva Cup I just purchased from Whole Foods for a friend. The one I use is a Lunette Cup, which I ordered online before any were available on a store shelf near me. The Lunette Cup is a Finnish product and Diva Cup is manufactured in Canada. Most menstrual cup brands carry two sizes—a smaller size for young women, and women who haven’t delivered vaginally or by caesarian, and a larger size for older women and women who have delivered. The Diva Cup packaging is more obnoxious than the Lunette cup packaging. The box is glossy and has a cellophane window. It also comes with a metal stud pin that says “Diva”… uh, what?! Is this meant to be worn? The Lunette Cup box is just paper. Both brand cups come with a synthetic storage bag, decorated with a cheesy print. The Keeper is another brand of menstrual cup. They carry both a latex and silicone version.

I highly recommend a menstrual cup to anyone who is thinking of trying one. There are other “eco” friendly feminine products on the market like washable pads, but from an environmental, health, and practical standpoint, the cup just makes the most sense to me. I’ll never go back.

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Grooming

grooming

My nearly plastic-free (except for the nylon toothbrush bristles) set of grooming tools. I have been using the Environmental Toothbrush since I purchased it in March and I am very pleased with it. The soft bristles have held up very well and the bamboo handle, which I dry completely between uses, shows no signs of wear.

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Stevia

I harvested some stevia (stevia rebaudiana) from my garden today. This is my third summer growing it and I’ve been meaning to share my experience with this amazing plant. I first learned about stevia many years ago while visiting Logee’s. An employee was growing some in one of the back greenhouses and brought a few sampling leaves up to the woman working the register. I was offered a taste, and having never heard of the plant before, I was completely surprised and delighted by the explosion of sweetness that hit my tongue. At that time stevia seeds or starter plants were still very difficult to find, because it wasn’t until december 2008 that the Food and Drug Administration gave stevia the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) approval. Today it’s not uncommon to find it among other herbs at greenhouse nurseries in the early spring. It’s sometimes labeled “sweet leaf”.

Stevia is a small perennial shrub that belongs to the Chrysanthemum family and is native to Paraguay. The leaves contain two “glycoside” molecules, steioside and Rebiana (rebaudioside A), which can be up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar (it varies from plant to plant). Stevia is virtually non-caloric and has a zero glycemic index, which means it has no effect on blood sugar levels. The leaves can be used whole or in ground form in food and beverages. I sometimes add fresh leaves to my tea. Otherwise I cut and dry the stocks, then pick and grind the leaves into a powder to use for baking projects in place of sugar. Many stevia recipes can now be found online. Because it is so sweet, I only use very small amounts at a time. The stevia I grow in a small pot in my container garden over one summer will yield enough powder to last me more than a year. In this project, less is always more.

Powdered stevia from last year’s harvest. A little bit goes such a long way!

Hearty Jumble Cookies made with only 1.5 teaspoons of homegrown stevia powder. These gooey treats are gluten-free, dairy-free, and of course trash-free. All the ingredients were obtained without packaging. As with most of the recipes I post, this one is very simple and pretty loose. There’s plenty of room for experimentation and substitution…

2 cups rolled oats
1 large apple, finely-diced
1 cup of raisins or currants
1 cup of nut butter (your choice) 
1 cup pecans (or any nut)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup carob chips or chocolate chips
2 whole eggs
1 cup water
2.5 tsp stevia powder

Combine rolled oats, eggs, water and oil in a mixing bowl. Stir in nut butter and remaining ingredients. Form into balls and place onto an oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy them warm out of the oven, room temperature, or fridge chilled.

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A healthy addiction

Mustard greens from Arcadia Farms.

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Rituals

lavendarmint

This morning’s package-free herbal tea—mint and lavender.

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Soap finish

I love this chair for it’s design (beautiful lines and joinery) and craft, but also for the materials consideration that went into it. In addition to choosing recycled upholstery, Reed chose to finish his chair with soap—a natural finishing option I mentioned a few posts back. I got to see first hand what it’s all about and now I have finish envy. The process is so… well, clean. Mix soap flakes and water, lather up wood with a saturated rag, then buff suds. The rag used to apply the soap can be rinsed and dried and used for each consecutive application (the idea is to build up the finish on the surface of the wood) and because the process is self-cleaning, that same rag can be repurposed for another job afterwards. The soap looks and feels great too. Matte and silky—a surface that asks to be touched. I love the idea of the soap being the only thing between you and the wood. No chemicals, no skin irritants. When it’s time to refinish, just wipe it off and reapply. I can’t wait to try it on a project of my own.

Unfortunately, the flakes come in a stretch plastic bag. But a little bit goes a long way. The polymerized tung oil finish I used on my table comes in a steel can (pictured a few posts back). A spoon in the drill chuck makes the soap frothing go much faster. A fork would work even better… and an immersion blender would be perfect too.

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Non-toxic options

I went back and forth on what to use to finish my piece. My teacher and I discussed a number of natural, environmentally gentle options. At first I really considered trying a soap finish—which is just what it sounds like. Soap flakes whipped with water to a frothy consistency can be applied straight to wood surfaces to seal the pores. It’s a popular floor and furniture finish in Denmark. Over time, a patina will form and the finish can easily be refreshed by rubbing the soap away and reapplying it. So appealing.

But for a dinning tabletop that is being spilled on and wiped down regularly, soap might not the best choice. I also thought about using a “salad bowl finish”—straight walnut oil perhaps… But in the end I went back to Tung oil, which is what I used on my bench. It’s harder than walut oil and maybe a bit more durable. I’m using Sutherland Welles Botanical Polymerized Tung Oil. My teacher is a fan and when I read about the company’s mission and the product details on their website, I decided to go for it. The Di-Citrusol thinner speeds the drying time. So far I have two coats applied. I’ll report back on the results.

My teacher also turned me onto Old Brown Glue—a non-toxic, organic animal hide and bone glue modified with urea. My classmates and I each received a free bottle (the first plastic bottle I’ve accepted in quite a while… can’t remember the last product I got in plastic) to try on our projects. My table design left me with little to glue up but I did have to join the four legs to the apron stretchers that run along the length of the table. I loved using it because it has a 20 to 30 minute open time that allowed me to carefully position and clamp my work. Yellow glue (Titebond) expands a lot and sets up quickly, which stresses me out a bit. Old Brown Glue is also bond reversible. From a restorer’s point of view, this is preferable when repairs need to be made. Yellow glue is stronger than wood and we’re not sure how it will behave over a great amount of time. PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glues have only been around since the 1950s.

So as I continue to reconcile my desire to be a maker of things with the responsibility of the waste that’s created in the process, I’m grateful to learn about products like OBG. Thanks Tim.

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Respite

Hot plate dinner on the steps of the CFC studio building. A healthy and delicious meal to end a day of work. And a little lawn gymnastics to go with it.

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Avena

While working in the woodshop this past week, I had a strange allergic reaction to something I came in contact with. The skin around my joints and on my torso became inflamed and and swollen—like a really bad sunburn. It’s difficult to determine the exact cause of this reaction because there are a few variables at play, like the foods I ate and the materials I was working with, but I suspect it may have been a result of working with MDF (medium density fiberboard) to build a jig to cut some mortises. It hadn’t occurred to me that the binder used in most MDF is a formaldehyde resin.

It took me a couple of days to identify the MDF as a possible cause and then limit my exposure to it. Meanwhile I looked for ways to ease my discomfort without using oral or topical medication. Besides the obvious concerns about packaging waste and further exposure to chemicals my body has long gone without, sedative antihistamines and power tools don’t mix well. I mentioned my condition to my teacher Tim at lunch and he asked me if I was aware of the botanical farm just up the road from the school. What? I’ve been here this whole month—how did I miss that one? I headed straight to Avena Botanicals at the top of a steep hill exactly one mile from my classroom.

When I entered the main visitor building, a young woman named Jill appeared from the back to greet me. I introduced myself and explained my predicament. She asked me some questions about my symptoms, recent activities and food intake and then suggested that I start a nettle tea regiment to flush my system of toxins. Nettle tea is also known to be a calming agent for inflamed skin. She also recommended turmeric and ginger root for their anti-inflammatory properties.

I didn’t have a container or produce sack with me so I purchased a brown paper bag full of dried nettles. The bag is labeled with a company sticker that also indicates the contents. I sipped the tea throughout the days and evenings this week and it really helped to sooth the burn. I’ve also been using a salve purchased in a small tin that contains calendula, lavender, and beeswax. I am through the reaction at this point and my skin is healing.

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Maine adventure

Foraged wild blueberries picked on a hike at the destination spot.

Destination spot.

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Wood school

The last two weeks have been fantastic. My weekdays are filled with studio work—learning to sharpen hand tools and cutting dovetail and mortise and tenon joints. I’m working amongst some really inspiring people here and I’m making friends. Breaks from the work are filled with adventures on land and in water. Hiking, biking, swimming, and sailing.

Getting package-free food in this new setting is going really well so far. There are a couple great dry bulk grocery store options (one of them even sells bulk spices) and for the most part I’ve been able to get what I need. For the sake of research and curiosity, I plan to check out a couple recommended co-ops that are a bit farther (one 7 miles and the other 25 miles) away at some point. I may need to refill on cooking oil before I leave Maine and I’d also like to get some bulk tea.

I’ve been making dinner at home for friends and myself and saving the leftovers for lunch the next day at school. There’s also a business not too far down the road from campus called the Market Basket with a great prepared food selection and the employees have been so nice about filling up my stainless steel container on the days that I arrive to school without lunch. The picture above was taken on such a day. I enjoyed a meal of wild rice with walnuts, roasted potatoes and stuffed grape leaves at my workbench.

I had one fail at a fish market in Rockport called Graffam Bros. Seafood Market when I went to get a piece of Arctic char to cook at home. I introduced myself to the woman at the counter and proposed my special request. She happily agreed but then laid two pieces of sheet plastic on the counter to cut my piece to size. At the register I asked her if there was anyway around having to use the plastic and she explained that she needed to cover the counter surface to make the cut. Understood. The next time I went back, I was shopping to make dinner for myself and two others. The young man behind the counter that day was able to tare my container and put one large uncut fillet directly into it. The piece ended up being the perfect amount for the three of us. It was super fresh and delicious.

For sustenance, I’ve been toting stone fruit, carrots, almond butter, nuts, and energy cubes to class. Yesterday I snacked on wild blueberries while out on a hike with a friend. My land people have been extremely generous in offering me sugar snap peas and berries from the property and when the grapes on the deck are ready, I will help myself. I’ve been eating like a king.

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Great escape

I’m currently in Maine. I’ve been here since Sunday. I’m enrolled in some woodworking classes at a school in Rockport and I will be here for the entire month. Being away from home for this time means having to make adjustments to keep my No Trash Project on track. Luckily, I’m finding I am surrounded by resources that support my lifestyle.

I’m staying with a couple that rents their garage apartment to students of the wood school. They have the most beautiful home with spectacular gardens. Eric and Laura live on about six acres of land, much of which they’ve cultivated into a community garden that’s shared with and cared for by about 10 of their friends. They’re growing so much food! I am so inspired by the work they’ve done and the systems they’ve established. The scene above is what I wake up to every morning. The deck off the apartment kitchen overlooks the vegetable garden, berry bushes, orchard, chicken coop, compost pile, and solar panels. A grape vine is growing on the deck railing, and a clothesline runs from the exterior of the garage to the trunk of a pine tree. There’s also a modular greenhouse in the side yard. The enclosure sits on tracks and can be moved to house different crops at different times of the year. Their Labrador, Moxy is hanging out in the apartment with me, sitting on my feet as I type this. Basically, I’m in heaven.

I’ll be in class full time during the 4 weeks that I’m here. Right now I’m learning how to hand cut mortise and tenon and dovetail joints. I hope to come out of the courses with two functional objects. Some of my posts this month will be about the property I’m living at (fruits and vegetables will be ripening while I’m here), shopping for food and hygiene goods in a new community, woodworking waste, and conservation. It’s going to be a good July.

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Good morning

Breakfast this morning. Peaches with sweet and purple basil from the garden and balsamic from Olive Del Mondo.

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Calendula

My first calendula flower is starting to open up. I’m always amazed at how vibrant colors look under an overcast sky.

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