Archive | No Trash Hygiene RSS feed for this section

Wicked waters

eggwalk

Living in a part of the world where waste is (for the most part) carried away from our immediate living spaces by municipal services, it’s easy to maintain an out of sight, out of mind attitude about our unwanteds and castoffs. In an attempt to kindle a relationship with such materials, I’ve spent much time over the past couple of years trying to track object byproducts—such as food packaging, that result from the goods I consume, but little time investigating the pathways, destination, and management of the bodily wastes and greywater that disappear down my kitchen and bathroom drains.

I recently took a tour with my studio class of New York City’s Lower East Side. Our guide described the area surrounding the famous Five Points as a cesspool before basic plumbing was introduced. Garbage and excrement was tossed from the windows of early tenement houses into the street gutters below, where it remained until rainwater carried it into lower lying land and the surrounding waterways. Cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid were rampant. In an attempt to mitigate the disease, odor, rodent infestation, mosquito swarms and other problems associated with living amongst coliform bacteria (found in fecal matter) and other harmful pathogenic organisms, initial steps were taken to pipe waste material through hollowed out logs into receiving waters.

Though the topic wasn’t the main focus of the tour, the problem of maintaining  sanitation in densely populated urban environments has been heavy on my mind ever since. As I move through this city on my way to and from school and work, and as my bus is regularly detoured around sewage construction, I wonder more and more about the vast infrastructure and systems in place to bring water into our homes for drinking, cooking, and hygienic practices, and the separate systems that take our soiled water “away”. So, when a fellow student hipped me to an Open House New York event, I jumped at the chance to visit The Newton Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant in Greenpoint—the largest treatment facility in the city.

Since the plant was renovated, the site has become a destination for curious NYC residents and tourists who are drawn to the strangely beautiful glinting vessels jutting out of the shore of Newton Creek. The visit is divided into two parts. First, we were treated to an in-depth information session and slide show about the history of New York City’s wastewater management and the current operating systems and facilities. I learned that before treatment programs were established, the waters surrounding New York City were so filthy, that ship captains used to dock in the toxic harbors and rivers just to kill the barnacles and shipworms that clung to the hulls of their vessels. In 1887, when human feces floating in the surf at Coney Island threatened commerce, several small sewage plants were erected, making Brooklyn the first city in the United States to treat its water. But it wasn’t until the federal government passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 restricting the release of toxic substances into water, that living organisms started to return to the the dead zone that enveloped the city. Today, 7,400 miles of sewer pipe, 135,000 sewer catch basins, 95 wastewater pumping stations, 14 treatment plants, 4 sewer overflow facilities, and 3 sludge vessels all humbly do a job that New York City can’t live without. There are also 74 checkpoints located around the 5 boroughs where analysts test turbidity (a measurement of suspended particles) and oxygen levels of the water in the canals, rivers, and bays that surround us.

Wastewater that flows into the treatment facility undergoes five processes before it is allowed to flow back out into the waterways. Preliminary treatment is essentially a screening process to remove large floatables (trash and other debris) from the influent water, which pose a threat to pipes and facility equipment. Primary treatment happens in the first sedimentation tanks. Here, the water flow is slowed so that heavy solids can sink to the bottom and lighter solids like grease and small bits of plastic float to the top where they are skimmed off. Secondary treatment is also known as the activated sludge process. “Seed” sludge collected at the plant is added to the wastewater to help break down harmful pathogens. Air is pumped into the tanks to stimulate the growth of oxygen-using bacteria. These organisms feast on remaining water pollutants and then sink to the bottom of the tanks once they are full. Some of this settled secondary sludge is re-circulated back into the activated sludge process and the rest is removed from the tank for further processing. Even after primary and secondary treatments remove 85% to 95% of pollutants from the wastewater, disease-causing organisms may persist. So before the effluent can be released back into the environment, it must be treated with sodium hypochlorite, the same chemical found in common household bleach. This is the disinfection phase. Wastewater spends a minimum of 15-20 minutes in chlorine-contact tanks before it is flushed back into waterways. The final processing stage is the sludge treatment. The sludge collected from the sedimentation tanks during the secondary treatment is digested for stabilization and is then dewatered for easier handling. The resulting material, known as biosolids, is applied to land to improve vegetation or processed further as compost or fertilizer.

eggtalk

The second part of the plant was the tour of the plant’s digester eggs. Eight stainless steel-clad digester eggs rise out of a highpoint on the plant property. We took turns riding the elevator up to the observation decks. There, our guide described the biomimicry of the oxygen-free tanks, which act much like our own stomachs. Inside, anaerobic bacteria feed on organic material in the sludge. We were able to peer down into the belly of the tank to see the churning, bubbling contents, which was at once so awesome and so gross. The digestion process converts much of the material into water, carbon dioxide and methane gas. The methane is converted into energy to power the plant.

eggview

The view from atop the eggs was lovely at sunset.

An important takeaway from my visit to the plant is a a new understanding of the combined sewer overflow (CSO) phenomenon. During a heavy rain or snowfall, stormwater entering the system can raise wastewater to levels that exceed the amount of influent water our sewers and treatment plants were designed to handle. To protect infrastructure and facilities and to prevent flooding in the city streets, the excess water is discharged into the open waters. CSOs are a concern because they raise the bacteria count in our waterways. These bacteria consume and dissolve the oxygen that marine life needs to survive and as I’ve discussed, pose a threat to our health. CSOs also wash other pollutants such as litter, and motor oil into the surrounding rivers and bays.

So what does this mean to NYC residents? There are some very simple things that each of us can do to help reduce our personal contribution to the surge water in the sewers during a storm, like being conscious of how often we flush the toilet—“if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” as they say. We can try to plan showering, dishwashing, and laundering at times when water is not falling from the sky.

Furthermore, green infrastructure initiatives implemented by the city and by property owners can greatly reduce CSOs. Rooftop detention (a.k.a. blue roofs), rainwater barrels, landscaping in place of blacktop and concrete, and streetside swales are just a few examples. And of course, making sure that our garbage and recyclables don’t make their way onto streets and into storm drains is hugely important. It’s incredible to think of the work, money, and resources that go into providing plumbing to well over 8 million people who live in this city. Since visiting the treatment plant, I have a heightened appreciation of the reliable inflow and outflow that occurs daily in my little apartment. I am more determined than ever to try to conserve my water usage and to do my part to minimize overflow into the waterways.

Read full story · Comments { 9 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 13 }

Cream deodorant

cremedeodorant

I’ve written about homemade deodorants in previous posts. By now it’s no secret that name brand deodorants/antiperspirants containing aluminum may pose health risks. And no matter what your stance is on the Alzheimer’s link, most rational thinkers can at the very least agree that clogging up our sweat ducts with product to prevent a natural function of the body probably isn’t good for us. So in the interest of healthy bodies and a healthy environment, I have been experimenting with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) deodorant concoctions. Baking soda is alkalizing and it neutralizes the odor causing bateria found on the surface of skin and hair. I tried a very basic powder version and then switched to an even simpler spray. I’ve been very happy with the spray, but I decided to try making a cream deodorant for some friends who were interested in finding a healthy alternative to store-bought products but weren’t totally sold on sprinkling or spritzing. The cream is closer in consistency to the stick deodorants that we are all familiar with, and therefore perhaps more appealing to some folks.

The recipe I used is very simple: one part coconut oil, one part baking soda, one part cornstarch. I’ve seen some recipes that call for arrowroot in place of cornstarch but haven’t been able to find it in bulk nearby (though I did see some in bulk at Good Tern). I decided to start with a small batch and measured out 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of each ingredient. In a double boiler setup (a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of boiling water) I liquified the coconut oil. While the oil was melting, I mixed the cornstarch and baking soda together in another bowl. I then poured the coconut oil into the powder mix and whisked it well. Finally, while it was still somewhat runny, I poured the deodorant into a couple small jars and allowed it to cool and set up completely before capping them. Not including the setting time, the whole operation took less than 10 minutes. My friends, who are are all very honest when it comes to giving me feedback on my No Trash experiments, seem to really like the stuff. And they each have varying levels of perspiration and body odor due to their unique body chemistries and levels of daily activity. I sampled some myself and have to say it’s quite lovely. The coconut oil is very moisturizing and I personally enjoy the aroma. Like the powder and the spray, it works great! And I think it’s better than the other versions for travel because I can put it into a tiny salve or lip balm container.

Note: some people are sensitive to baking soda and can experience irritation when applying it directly to the skin, so it’s best to err on the side of caution when trying a baking soda body product for the first time.

Read full story · Comments { 19 }

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!

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Plot twist

twist

So, it turns out you don’t need clothespins to line dry laundry. I gleefully stumbled upon this ingenious technique during a meandering internet search. How is it that I never thought of this? It’s so simple and efficient. The twisted line seems to hold garments even better than my wooden spring clothespins. And I like the snapping sound it makes when I pluck the dry clothes from it’s grip. This method is especially good for my indoor setup, which I hang up and take down with each load I dry. Outside in the garden, the line I share with my landlady is a more permanent, untwisted setup. I imagine that in an open air situation, a twisted cotton line might be prone to growing mildew after a rain. At any rate, the pin-less approach will be my new indoor jam for the remainder of the cold season.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Homemade lotion

lotion

I love getting snowed in. It’s a rare event I always welcome. I love that it’s a collective experience shared by everyone in the affected region, but also private as we’re each marooned in our own homes. As highways, businesses, and schools close, time seems to slow down. I’m feeling very lucky that I didn’t loose power and heat in the storm, as that can quickly take the pleasure out of the experience. I took advantage of being confined to my apartment to get into some projects that my work has been keeping me from. Today I made moisturizing lotion based on a very simple recipe a friend recently shared with me. It was remarkably easy and I’m so pleased with the result. I’ve made salves before with a similar process but I love the texture and “slip” of the lotion—perfect for dry elbows, knees, hands, and feet. It absorbs into my skin well and has a pleasing, mild scent. Here’s the recipe I ended up using…

4 tablespoons grated beeswax

4 tablespoons coconut oil

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup grape seed oil

1/3 cup sweet almond oil

8 tablespoons water

In a double boiler setup (I use a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of water) melt beeswax. When beeswax is almost completely liquified add coconut oil. Pour in slightly warmed remaining oils (one cup total) and whisk with a hand whisk, fork, or immersion blender. Remove the mixture from heat and slowly add water while stirring. Continue whisking for a minute or so until the mixture is homogenized. While hot, the lotion will be very runny. Allow it to cool, mixing it periodically as it sets up. 

The recipe makes about 16oz of lotion. Store in a glass jar in a cool dry place. I scooped some into this little 3 oz jar to give to my friend to sample. Many oils could be substituted in this recipe. And you don’t have to use more than one. I chose to mix the three together because I had them on hand. The oils are available to me in bulk at a couple nearby sources. I’ve seen beeswax sold in brick form without any packaging before but when I went to purchase it for this project I could only find plastic wrapped bricks. So instead I picked up a 100% beeswax package-free candle and grated that. Once I’ve gone through all the beeswax I’ll be left with wick, which I can compost or burn in the wood stove. The one ingredient that did come in packaging is the coconut oil. It came in a 14 oz glass jar. I only use the coconut oil for homemade hygiene products and it lasts a long time. Once it’s empty, the jar will be used again and again to store bulk goods. But the plastic seal that came around the jar lid when it was purchased is landfill waste.

I’m always interested in using less personal hygiene products. Caring for skin from the inside out is something that appeals to me very much. Of course diet, hydration, and exercise all play a roll in skin health and texture. I’ve been trying to drink more water in these dry winter months, but my skin appreciates a little extra help from a topical source in this climate.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

My bathroom

bathroom1

I live in a beautiful space. I smile most times I enter my home. The apartment is located on the second floor of a house that was built more than 220 years ago. Of course there are many features throughout that are more modern, but some of the original details remain intact. It’s easy to see where the building has settled over time and the crooked lines give each room so much character. This place has great bones and shows signs of the many who have loved it before me. The few carefully curated things I’ve chosen to fill it with make it mine for now.

I love my bathroom. I love the old built-in medicine cabinet and the large 12 pane window. It looks out over a small alley and across to the siding of my neighbors’ house. None of their windows are visible from this spot so I don’t have to hang any curtains or blinds and all the natural light that reflects off the pale yellow clapboard floods into the room. My plants love it.

bathroom2

I’ve written a lot about how beautiful food looks when it’s stored in glass or stainless steel. I think the same is true for personal hygiene products. Bulk shampoo, liquid castile soap, baking soda, and package-free bar soap sit on the shelves of my shower. My linen bath towel and hand knitted hemp washcloth hang beside it.

bathroom3

In my medicine cabinet I keep my homemade spray deodorant, bulk carrier oils (sweet almond and grape seed) used as skin moisturizer and hair conditioner/detangler, homemade salve, bulk cornstarch for sockless sneaker wearing, bulk body lotion, an eyelash curler, a terra cotta body buffer, and bar soap. A ceramic dish holds my barrets, bobby pins, new razor blades, and a spool of floss that was once in a paper box dispenser—but the box got a little crushed and ended up as firestarter for the wood stove. The floss is wound around a small plastic spool, which will become landfill waste. The paper and cotton swabs are leftover from before the start of this project. I use them very seldomly because I just use gentle soap and water to clean my outer ears.

bathroom4

A cup of grooming tools (my toothbrush, gum stimulator, safety razor, tweezers, cuticle trimmer, and nail brush) sits on my windowsill next to the jar of baking soda I use to clean my teeth. I use the small stainless steel spoon to scoop a tiny bit onto my compostable toothbrush.

It has taken me some time to pare down the products in my routine to a few package-free essentials that work for my individual skin, hair, nail, tooth and gum care needs. But my space has become very functional and I love my daily rituals.

Read full story · Comments { 8 }

Indoor clothesline

indoorclothesline

I completed one of my household projects today. I installed a clothesline in my living room and wasted no time putting it to use. The indoor line has been a long time coming. During the spring, summer, and autumn months I line dry my clothes in the small tenant garden below my kitchen, but of course that’s not an option in the winter. Until now I’ve been hanging garments and linens from every hook, chair, towel rack, doorknob, and drawer pull in my apartment. I had the hank of rope sitting in a drawer for a while, and yesterday I finally purchased the screw hooks I needed to string it up. The hooks are strong with a screw thread deep enough to handle the weight of wet laundry. I drove one into the wood doorframe of the kitchen and the other into the bedroom doorframe, each 75 inches up from the floor. I then just tied a loop or rope from one to the next. Piece of cake. The clothesline is much more efficient than the doorknob method. Strung through the middle of the room, air can circulate around the dripping fabrics and and I don’t have to worry about flipping garments around to dry all sides. With the extremely low humidity level today and the radiators going in the apartment, this laundry was completely dry within a few hours. In the meantime, I didn’t mind ducking and dodging as I passed from room to room. When the laundry was dry I folded it all up, unhooked the line, coiled it and placed it in a drawer. It’s a simple system, and that’s what makes it wonderful. Not using the dryer saves so much energy (and energy costs) and line drying my clothing linens will help them last longer than if they were regularly tumble dried.

indoorclothesline2

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

The perfect thing

linentowels

My new lightweight, unbleached linen towels will replace my old heavy terrycloth cotton towels. The cotton towels are the only items in my laundry that I find sometimes need to be machine dried. They are quite thick and dry very slowly on the line, especially if there isn’t a lot of air circulation, which means that line drying them inside my apartment during the winter months doesn’t work very well. If they stay damp for too long they grow mildew. They also dry scratchy and matted down when hung on the line.

I’ve read a lot about linen and it’s many wonderful properties. Linen is made from flax fiber and it has the ability to absorb water and dry very quickly. This stack of four standard size bath and four hand towels takes up about the same area as one of my terrycloth cotton bath towels. I’ve used the linen towels after showering now and I love them. I really notice the incredible absorbency when I wrap one around my hair. The linen draws out so much moisture and my hair air dries so quickly afterwards, which is great on cold winter days. And I’m amazed by how quickly the saturated linen dries on the towel rack or on my indoor clothesline.

My cotton towels are a little ratty but still quite useful. I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet but found some great ideas here. I love the suggestion of donating old linens to a local animal shelter, so I plan to make some calls to see if any near me could use mine. I also know some artists who would appreciate a donation to their studio rag pile.

Read full story · Comments { 7 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Warm up

Hang drying wool garments from the fireplace mantel in my bedroom. I’m using the fireplace to store wood for the cast iron stove in my living room. As long as I’m able to stay warm, winter is a breeze.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Line Drying

The air smelled like fall today. A prefect day for laundry. Sunny, dry, and breezy.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Details

Backlit bulk bags drying on the line make me smile.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

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…

Read full story · Comments { 5 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 3 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Shaving

I get a lot of questions about grooming and hygiene in the context of the No Trash Project—particularly about hair removal. For reasons beyond the desire to make less waste (including the desire for a low maintenance routine), I often wish I could just rock the all natural, fully grown in look from brows to ankles. But alas, my partial Italian heritage has rendered me with plenty of dark hair, which if left untouched, can leave me feeling less than feminine. So I choose to shave.

I use the beautiful safety razor pictured above. Growing up, both the males and females of my family used disposable razors. When I was in college I switched to a razor with replaceable heads. But even those are usually so built up with plastic and come in excess packaging. At the start of my project, I did a lot of research before choosing a safety razor and blades. I settled on this Merkur brand razor based on reviews I read online. This particular model has a longer handle which makes it easier to hold in the shower and an open tooth head that provides a close shave with minimized irritation. I chose blades that come in a paper box. I like the weight of this razor and I don’t find myself cutting and knicking myself all the time—which is something people always ask about when I tell them I opt for this old school grooming tool. I have male friends with a similar model who also prefer it to any other electric or manual, plastic handle, multi-blade shaving experience. The only problem I’ve experienced with this razor so far is that I couldn’t fly with the blades in carry-on luggage. I tried to take one with me on a short trip to Chicago this summer and it was taken away. Duh—I guess I figured that would be the case. Not having any time to find a specialty shaving shop in Chicago, I had to borrow a disposable razor from the people I was staying with.

If I dry them between uses, the safety razor blades last an exceptionally long time. Determined to keep them out of the landfill, I’ve been stockpiling the used blades while searching for a place that can recycle them. Because they are obviously a safety hazard, they cannot be placed in the recycling bin. Sharp objects do not belong in the Materials Recycling Facility sorting lines! Today I called American Tin & Solder Co. to ask if they could take them, but I learned they’ll accept any metals (tin, aluminum, pewter, copper, brass, etc…) except steel. So then I called up The Steel Yard and was told that I can come by and deposit them in their recyclable metals dumpster that they fill with scrap metal offcuts from projects. Because these metals are not handled directly by people, but rather by magnets, having the sharp blades in the dumpster shouldn’t be a safety issue. Tomorrow, I’ll take my jar full of double edges and go check it out.

Personal hygiene can be quite… well, personal. We (men and women alike) can spend years zeroing on products and accessories that make us feel good and sometimes the idea of changing or eliminating those items that play a significant role in our routines can seem daunting. I’ve found that paring down and simplifying the products and tools in my bathroom cabinets has not only saved me time and money, it has also made my routine more enjoyable. In previous posts, I’ve written a bit about the satisfaction I get from having a relationship with the objects I keep—relationships that are heightened as I keep fewer and fewer things. I am very fond of my razor and I take good care of it. It works very well at the job it’s designed to do. I think as an object, it’s lovely to behold. I like the way it looks in my ceramic cup next to my bamboo toothbrush.

Read full story · Comments { 11 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Pins

Working on some clothespins from some of the offcuts of my projects.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

My home away

The clothesline at the apartment I’m staying at in Maine is so perfectly positioned. Laundry dries much faster high up off the ground in the sun and breeze than it does in the machine. The air here has been dry and warm during the days and my sheets only need to hang out for about 15 minutes. The apartment is also equipped with a little foldout rack, perfect for skivvies. Check out the solar panels in the back. There’s also a compost heap and a chicken coop below the deck. Property owners Eric and Laura know what’s up.

 

In the garden, raptor silhouettes help deter small birds from the berries. Such a simple form of pest control. So far, they seem to be working—the crop has been bountiful.

The grapes on the vines just a step downhill from the blueberries are coming along. I’m really hoping that some will ripen before I leave. It can be difficult to find grapes in a store without the plastic bag.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Scrub update

I think it’s finally time to retire this hemp dish washing “scrub”. It’s the same one I made and started using back in November. There are holes in it now, which I think resulted from snagging the yarn on silverware, but It has held up remarkably well for the amount of work it’s done. I can’t imagine ever returning to a traditional dish sponge. One of the things I love most about this little knitted square is that it never smells bad. I just wash it with soap and water and hang it on a nail to dry between uses and it stays quite clean. I loathe the smell of a cellulose sponge after it’s picked up billions of bacteria. Hemp is naturally mildew resistant and antimicrobial. Now that this one is starting to fall apart, I’ll cut it up into little pieces and throw it in the compost. I knitted a new scrub to replace it.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

Pest control

Little black forager ants (I believe they’re sugar ants) have been appearing on two windowsills in my apartment. When I open up the screens and stick my head out I can see them scaling the brick exterior. And as I mentioned before, there are tons of ants in the garden too. Amazingly, they don’t seem to have found their way into the kitchen yet, but I have seen some lone rangers crawling around on the floor in the living room and bathroom. I imagine that if I don’t act their numbers will likely grow.

I’ve been reading about environmentally friendly ways to keep ants out of the home and it seems that there are two different approaches. The first is to deter ants from entering by keeping surfaces clean at all times, storing food in sealed containers, and strategically placing natural ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, lemon juice, castile soap, baking soda, or vinegar in the areas that the ants frequent.

The second approach is to actually exterminate the ants by using a slow acting homemade insecticide bate made from sugar, water, and borax (or boric acid—an odorless, non-volatile powder that is considered a safer alternative than more hazardous synthetic chemical pesticides). When the mixture is placed on pieces of cardboard or absorbed into cotton balls, the forager ants will feed on the it and carry it back to the nest where they pass it to the other ants, eventually killing the colony. When an insect consumes boric acid, it poisons the stomach and affects the insect’s metabolism. Every source I’ve found that gives a recipe for this bate cautions readers to keep it away from children and pets. Boric acid can be toxic to humans and other mammals if inhaled or ingested in large quantities.

I’m going to try my luck at deterring them before resorting to the poison. I have all of the deterrent ingredients mentioned above on hand. All of them were purchased in bulk without packaging.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Spring cleaning

Today I washed the screens to my apartment windows. I’ve been meaning to do it so that I can have the windows wide open to let the spring in. The screens will keep the bees that swarm the cherry tree from coming into my bedroom and keep my cat from attempting to leap from the windowsill to the tree in pursuit of the bees, birds, and squirrels. When I replaced them with the storm windows this past fall, I noticed that they were pretty grimy and probably hadn’t been cleaned in years. So I brought them outside with some diluted castile soap (purchased in bulk at the co-op, the same soap I use to wash my dishes) and rinsed them down with the hose. They came clean quickly. No chemicals needed. Now I can breathe easier knowing that the breezes blowing through my apartment aren’t being filtered through so much dust and dirt.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Cherry blossoms

The cherry tree blossoms outside my bedroom window have finally opened. The fragrance is incredible. I can’t think of a better trash-free air freshener. I’m very sensitive to perfumes—especially products with floral scents, but I welcome any floral scent straight from the source.

The fragrance of the tree has led me to ponder the strangeness of products that are designed to mask and “eliminate” pesky odors. Commercials, print ads, and package labels urge us to use these products near the garbage can or on a stinky carpet to cover up mold and bacteria that may be hazardous to our health with sprays and plugins that often contain chemicals that are hazardous to our health.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

The Flu!

On the night of my last post I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. I woke up on Wednesday morning with the flu that I had managed to dodge all winter. Armed with some cotton hankies, herbal teas and elixirs, I hunkered down for what I decided would be my first time dealing with such an illness without taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Luckily my work situation allows me to take the time I need to recover and I’m not under pressure to show up and perform on the job despite illness. My bathroom cabinet is now empty of all the decongestants, cough syrups, and expectorants I used to have stocked, and lately I have been trying to practice more natural forms of healthcare. This bout of the flu has been a good test of my new self-imposed systems.

Back in November, I wrote a post about medicine in the face of the No Trash Project. My friend Kory wrote a comment in which he talked about fever suppressants potentially being harmful to the body’s recovery in times of illness. Since writing that post I made the personal decision to see a naturopathic doctor who I was able to ask about that concept. She explained that in most cases a fever is not something to fear—that it is a normal self-preserving mechanism of the body. Increased temperatures will serve to neutralize and eliminate toxemia brought on by a viral or bacterial infection. What I learned is that instead of suppressing a fever, it may actually be more beneficial to “assist” the fever.

This concept is new and strangely exciting to me. Helping the body in its natural functions as opposed to fighting it makes sense to me on an intuitive level. So when I woke up with a fever on Wednesday I chose not to start popping Tylenol to try to bring it down the way I always used to. Instead I called in sick to work, drank some yarrow and mint tea and simply slept through it.

When I woke up on Thursday the fever was gone. I was still run down but I was already feeling much better. By the end of the day I felt well enough to go outside and experience the remarkable 80-degree weather we had. I took a book to the woods and sat reading on a rock in the sun. Since then the flu is has been running its course and I’m trying to take it easy (though I did go back to work yesterday, which may have been premature). I feel that I am on the road to recovery and my suffering hasn’t been any greater than when I’ve used medication to relieve flu symptoms in the past. In fact, I can say that I really appreciate not feeling any of the side effects that come with so many cold and flu medications.

There’s a rock by the pond in Lincoln Woods that I like to go to—some of you locals may know it. That’s where I went Thursday afternoon. Not a bad place to sit and recover from the flu. I brought water in a bottle, tea in a jar, a couple cotton hankies, and a book (Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record) to this spot and sat reading, sipping, and sniffling in the afternoon sun. I still can’t believe how warm it got this week.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Environmental Toothbrush

For many years, I have used an electric toothbrush. My family had one when I was growing up and I have used one ever since. I always thought of it as an important tool to maintain oral hygiene and health. Since starting this project almost a year ago, I have been using the same replacement head. The brush is becoming pretty shabby and less effective. I knew that I wouldn’t be buying a new replacement head (because they’re made out of plastic and come in plastic packaging), so I planned to transition to a more sustainable manual toothbrush. 

I had read that there are recyclable and compostable toothbrushes on the market. I considered buying a preserve toothbrush, which is made from recycled yogurt cups and will be turned into plastic lumber if you ship it back to the company once the toothbrush is spent. But I struggle with the idea that that a park bench made from that plastic lumber will eventually end up in a landfill. So I set my heart on finding a compostable brush instead. The problem with this option is that currently, there are no compostable toothbrushes being made or even sold in the United States. 

After a lot of research, I found myself torn between two products. The first is a pig’s hair and beechwood toothbrush manufactured in Germany sold on the Life Without Plastic website. The bristles come from longhaired pigs that are bred and raised for meat in China. I’m not sure where the beechwood comes from. The head of this toothbrush is wrapped in a small piece of biodegradable plastic.

The second toothbrush I considered was The Environmental Toothbrush, which is made with nylon 4 and bamboo—sold in Australia. I settled on The Environmental Toothbrush, in part because it is more affordable and because the packaging is 100% paper. I was also very satisfied with my email correspondence with the company’s international sales manager. He provided thorough answers to all my questions about the nylon bristles, materials sourcing, and shipping materials. Still, it’s difficult to for me to determine whether or not this particular product was the best choice from an environmental standpoint.

The toothbrushes are sourced and manufactured in China then shipped to Australia, where they are then shipped to national and international buyers. Of course the fuel required to bring this product to my doorstep is quite problematic. I was told by the sales manager that they are desperately seeking a distributor in the US. I’m also not sure how I feel about the synthetic bristles on this brush, but currently the only other compostable option on the market is an animal product, which presents a whole other set of issues. I was told that in standard composts, the bristles should break down in 12-24 months. Below is an extract from a scientific journal that was included in the email.

Nylon 4

It has been reported that nylon 4 was degraded in the soil and in the activated sludge. The results confirmed that Nylon 4 is readily degradable in the environment. Furthermore, the biodegradability of nylon 4 and nylon 6 blends was investigated in compost and activated sludge. The nylon 4 in the blend was completely degraded in 4 months while nylon 6 was not degraded [90]. Recently, Yamano et al. was able to isolate polyamide 4 degrading microorganisms (ND-10 and ND-11) from activated sludge. The strains were identified as Pseudomonas sp. The supernatant from the culture broth of strain ND-11 degraded completely the emulsified nylon 4 in 24 h and produced γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as degradation product.

Above is the package as it arrived, in a small piece of brown paper (secured with plastic packing tape).

The toothbrushes are packaged in unbleached paper. I bought one package, which contains 12 brushes.

It certainly looks nice. I will provide reviews once I have used it for a while.

Read full story · Comments { 5 }

Co-op bounty

Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

On the line

Today was warm and breezy. Perfect weather for line-drying. First outdoor session of the season. I’m so excited for spring!

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Stainless steel sponge

Along with the wood clothespins below, I also ordered some vintage stainless steel sponges from the same etsy seller. She included them without plastic in the same shipping box. I decided to purchase these because they are packaged in a simple paper box (these days it’s difficult to find steel sponges without some kind of plastic packaging). I plan to store them until my current steel sponge is spent. Hopefully that won’t be for a while––the one I’m using now is really durable. I use it on my cast iron skillet every day.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Clothespins

I just bought some new (old) clothespins to use on the clothesline I’ve been planning to install in my living room. I couldn’t find any quality wood pins in my area so I finally ended up ordering this vintage set on etsy. I contacted the seller and asked her to ship them without any plastic packaging and she was very accommodating. They arrived yesterday loose in a cardboard box with some newspaper filler. I wanted to find an older set because I figured they might be sturdier than some of the flimsy new spring pins I’ve seen for sale. These are great, and I look forward to putting them to use. With a line and pins, not only will I be able to hang my clothes, but also larger items like my sheets.

I happened to have a burlap bag that’s a perfect size for the pins.

This primitive springless pin came with the set. I think it’s such a beautiful object. I might try to make some like it with the scraps from my woodworking projects.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Bed

Trash reduction in my daily routine is becoming more automatic. After many months of problem solving, I can finally say that there is very little waste entering my house with the food and hygiene goods I consume. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about waste reduction with regard to more permanent necessities, like furniture. One way to reduce the waste we make in our lifetime is to choose quality made items that last and then take great care of them. I find it’s easier to care for furniture that I really love.

For several years since I’ve been out of college, I’ve been toting around some family hand-me-downs and a few pieces I inherited from roommates who moved away to tiny New York apartments. I’ve always been interested in making whatever space I inhabit feel like home–something I learned from my mom as we moved around the country when I was growing up. But in the midst of art school and the struggle to steady myself afterwards, carefully curating my belongings was not a top priority. As I get older and less scattered, my desire to live more efficiently grows. For me this means clearing out the broken, uncomfortable, nonfunctional, and the extra. I’ve managed to sell a lot on craigslist and the rest I’ve donated. But it seems that getting rid of things was the easy part.

Since I moved into my current apartment five months ago, I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor. The bed I used to have didn’t fit up the narrow stairwell of the 220-year-old building. Unfortunately I find this mattress to be very uncomfortable—the springs are very pronounced. I’ve wanted to get a different one along with a simple platform to get it up off the floor, but finding the right thing has been a challenge. In my free time I’ve been learning to build furniture through woodworking classes and so far I’ve been tackling a table and a bench. I’m told a bed is a much more advanced project. The classes have heightened my appreciation for the handcrafted and my curiosity in how things are made. Now more than ever, I’m determined to avoid buying from bargain furniture stores, but I do understand why so many people rely on such businesses for accessibility and affordability. While holding out, I’ve gone without.

Yesterday on my run, a Waste Management truck with a trailer full of discarded Christmas trees drove past me. I noticed the trailer was marked “Mattresses”. It prompted me to wonder how many mattresses (and Christmas trees) that truck picks up in Providence each year? Do they all go to the landfill? How long does it take a standard mattress to biodegrade? If I’m to replace it, can my current mattress be recycled? Later that evening while reading an article on ecoRI’s website, I noticed an advertisement for a company called The Clean Bedroom, with a store in North Kingstown. I clicked into their website and found a brief statement offering reasons to choose organic bedding over standard.

“…While we sleep, our immune system recovers and prepares for the day ahead. If your mattress is filled with airborne allergens and chemicals toxins, your immune system will battle these rather than repair itself…

Regular bedding – a standard mattress laden with polyurethane foam, toxic flame-retardants and water- or stain-resistant chemicals

Organic bedding– an organic mattress where materials are all-natural, clean and free of chemicals — the cotton is grown without pesticides; the latex is free of synthetics; for fire protection, pure wool is used.”

Well, that seems to make a lot of sense. But of course organic bedding can be very expensive. Today as I continued to research, I’ve been asking myself: When did a good, clean night’s sleep become so complicated and elusive?

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

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.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }