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.
Tag Archives | no trash health
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last December I wrote a post about running. In it I talked about my desire to replace my worn shoes. Unable to find a pair that I could get excited about, I postponed purchasing new ones and since then have managed to squeeze nearly another year’s worth of running out of the old pair. These have carried me over my weekly 25-30 miles of blacktop, concrete, gravel, and packed dirt trails for almost four years now. They’ve held up remarkably well under the pounding.
Everyone wears their shoes differently. I seem to always destroy the “heel counter” of mine from the inside out. I think this could be due to the fact that I have a narrow heel that seems to slip around a bit in most footwear. I’ve finally worn these down to the plastic cupped part of the heel under the padding, which is now putting holes in my socks and blisters on my skin. So, to save my feet and keep my running habit, I will indeed need to get a new pair. My search for a shoe that uses minimal materials and will hold up to New England winter running resumes.
Since starting this project, I’ve been more than happy to purchase most of my clothing used from consignment and thrift stores. I make an exception for socks and skivvies. I will also make an exception for the running shoes. Fit is of utmost importance and having an unused instep and sole that will form to the shape of my foot is key. But great amounts energy go into the production of the synthetic materials used to construct athletic shoes, more energy and chemical adhesives are used to produce the shoes, and even more energy is required to ship them to a store near me. So choosing a new pair has so far been difficult for me in the context of this project. When I do find the new pair I won’t throw my old ones away, but rather donate them to one of these organizations. They will probably have to be recycled given their structural damage.
Running is my favorite way to exercise. I can do it any place, any season, in nearly any terrain. It’s one of my best defenses against stress and it’s a time I use to process all of the matters of my life. Since last year’s running post I have taken up yoga (a conveniently barefoot form exercise), which has been wonderful, but so far hasn’t replaced my beloved daily run.
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.
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…
This morning’s package-free herbal tea—mint and lavender.
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.
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.
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.
My first calendula flower is starting to open up. I’m always amazed at how vibrant colors look under an overcast sky.
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.
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.
Today I tackled a project that I’d been avoiding for many months–the disposal of old and expired pharmaceuticals. After cleaning out my cabinets at the onset of this project, I had stockpiled the bottles and blister packs full of unused and expired pills that had accumulated in my home over the past several years. Everything from unfinished antibiotics and steroids that were prescribed for the flu and sinus infections, to over-the-counter allergy medications used during some landscaping forays, to painkillers that were prescribed for one of my several broken digit incidents–had all been tucked away in my sock drawer until I could figure out what to do with them.
For medical and environmental reasons it is usually recommended to finish the course of a prescription, but I’ve never been good at taking a pill for a symptom that no longer exists. I’ve had serious anxiety about throwing the drugs away because I know that no matter what approach I take, this hazardous waste will end up in the ground and water. Though it was once common practice, many people know by now that it is not a good idea to flush medication down the toilet. And I’ve read that great caution needs to be exercised when throwing drugs out for trash collection as animals or even people could potentially ingest them after you put them out.
I sat down this morning and separated all the pills from their bottles and packs and put them into a used paper bag. By the time I was done, I had emptied hundreds of pills. The sight of them all mixed up was pretty shocking, as was that of the pile of bottles and packs. I noticed my cat was immediately drawn to the smells in the bag (more on how she fits into this project soon). I filled the bag with ashes from the wood stove and cayenne pepper to make the stash less desirable to scavengers, as recommended by several online sources. I placed the bag inside another thicker paper bag and deposited it in a lidded dumpster at my work that will be emptied in the next couple of days. It felt strange and terrible to throw a bag into the garbage after months of not doing so. I took bottles to Whole Foods where I separated the plastics according to their number and placed them in the appropriate bins.
The No Trash Project has rather naturally led me to a territory previously unknown to me–medicinal herbs. How can I treat illness, heal injuries, or relieve pain and discomfort without making trash? This past weekend I finally visited Farmacy Herbs in their Providence shop. I mentioned the business in an earlier post about trash-free medicine, at which point I had only ever seen their products at my local farmers markets. The shop is in a small one-room building across from North Burial Ground Cemetery. Mary Blue (Farmacy’s founder) helped me find the herbs I was looking for on the shelves and gave me some recommendations for herbs that may help relieve menstrual cramping. At the self-service table setup next to the wall of dried herbs, I scooped my selections into my own glass jars and weighed them. I was surprised to find that my purchase of nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, cramp bark and ginger root (3oz or about 85 grams total) only cost me $6.00. In the half hour I spent in the shop, many customers came and went. I was excited to catch a glimpse of what seems to be a community of people taking advantage of this wonderful resource. I spoke briefly with a woman named Suzie who is enrolled in Farmacy’s Herbal Education and Training Program. She was helping to tend the store as a part of a work-study arrangement. She told me that classes take place in the shop. On their website you can see a list of topics covered from herbal terminology to wild fermentation techniques. Browsing these topics motivates me to learn about growing, harvesting, preparing, and using medicinal herbs.
This morning I went for a run in the woods. The sun was shining but the ground was still saturated from all the rain we got over the past two days, so the smell of decomposing leaves was heavy in the air. I prefer trail running to road running because it calls for more focus and coordination, and because there isn’t much traffic out on a wooded path. My run is usually my favorite part of a day. I always say that if I could bottle the post-run feeling and sip it all day long, I’d never have a care in the world. I like that it’s a form of exercise that requires little gear. I can throw on my running clothes and be out the door. But the most important piece of equipment that a runner has (the one that takes the most pounding) also makes the most trash.
Carbon rubber, polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate, nylon, polyester, and thermoplastic urethane are some of the materials used to make modern running shoes. Most spent pairs go straight to a landfill.When I got home today and kicked mine off, I noticed they’re really starting to fall apart. I’ve worn through the foam on the heel of the insoles and the treads on the soles have flattened out since I bought them almost three years ago. I do own another pair that I love–a ‘minimal’ running shoe I picked up this past spring when I became intrigued by the argument that barefoot running is beneficial for joints, but couldn’t imagine sacrificing the soles of me feet. My minimal shoes are not completely sealed on the outsoles, so water creeps in when the ground is wet. I don’t mind damp feet in warmer weather, but it can be unbearable in the cold.
So the time has come to do some more research. I’d like to find a shoe that is made from minimal material, but can stand up to winter in New England. I realize this is a tall order. I’ve started looking into it and while I haven’t yet found a pair that meets my criteria, I have found some information about the recent efforts of some athletic shoe companies to reduce waste in a toxic industry.
Puma and Brooks seem to be taking the lead. Both have redesigned their shoe packaging so that customers walk out with less trash around their new footwear. In 2008, Brooks released a shoe with a midsole that supposedly biodegrades 50 times faster than conventional midsoles. In November, Puma announced that they are working to develop the first completely compostable running shoes. And I came across these leather and canvas biodegradable, blooming sneakers.
I will keep looking for shoes that are right for me. When it is finally time to get rid of my old ones I think I’m going to bring them to the Reuse-A-Shoe drop-off location about 10 miles away from where I live. Meanwhile I daydream about taking up yoga–a truly barefoot form of exercise, but I don’t think I could ever completely kick my running habit.
My search for the elusive package-free natural loofah sponge has come to an end. For a while I was hung up on the idea of finding a no trash source for this amazing little dried fruit. I had hoped to use it as a dish scrubber and a shower sponge. But, from bath and beauty stores to natural food stores and even online, every loofah product I’ve come across has been wrapped in some kind of plastic. I was using Twist sponges for a while but most of their products are no longer available without a plastic wrapper. I emailed the company and was told that the initial attempt to package their sponges in a simple paper sleeve had failed because the sponges shrank as they dried on store shelves, causing them to fall out of the sleeves. What a shame to have to put a biodegradable, environmentally friendly product inside packaging that ends up in a landfill. So, the time has come to rethink the kitchen sink.
What about hemp? A friend of mine suggested knitting my own washcloths from hemp yarn. I thought this was a nice idea. I figured I could knit some small dish scrubbers while I was at it. I visited my local yarn shop and discovered that they do not carry it. I found some suppliers online but the yarn is more expensive than I had imagined and it’s all imported. Oh, that’s right–isn’t there some kind of movement to legalize industrial hemp in the United States? I started to do some research. I’ve learned a little about why so many are looking at hemp as an alternative sustainable resource, and why it’s a touchy subject in our country.
Because of its long fiber and strength characteristics, hemp is a versatile material that can be used to make paper, rope, fabric, and building materials (particle board). It is a 120-day crop that grows well with little more than rainwater in a variety of climates, and its root system actually improves soil quality. New growth tree farms harvest wood on 20-35 year cycles, depending on the tree species. Hemp pulp is naturally whiter than wood pulp and requires less chemical processing to turn it into paper. Unfortunately, because it is a non-intoxicating variety of cannabis sativa (the same species of plant that marijuana comes from), it has been illegal to grow it in the USA without a special Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) permit since 1970. So far, it is still extremely difficult to acquire this permit. ‘Hempsters’ from coast to coast are working to change that. Progress is slow.
After much deliberation, I finally decided to order some hemp yarn from an online supplier. I bought 900 yards of fair trade, organically grown, unbleached yarn that is imported from Romania. The knit square pictured above is meant for dishwashing. The fiber is naturally mildew resistant and can be thrown in the washing machine. I’m hoping that when paired a stainless steel mesh sponge, the hemp scrubbers will make dishwashing a synthetic fiber-free cinch. Slightly larger knit squares will replace the cotton washcloths I have been using in the shower. Though it’s only a small square, I find that the cotton cloth is cumbersome when saturated with water and it’s not the most effective exfoliant. Time will test the durability of my cannabis cloths.
Many people have asked me how I deal with medicine in the No Trash Project, and as cold and flu season descends on New England, the issue becomes more pertinent. The truth is that there are no ‘quick tip’ solutions to filling medicinal needs without making trash. Over-the-counter drugs come packaged in number two plastic bottles or in plastic and aluminum foil blister packs inside paper boxes. Though I’ve looked, I have not been able to find a single glass bottle on a drugstore shelf. Orange tinted prescription bottles are made from number five plastic and you can’t refill your refills in bottles that have been used (however, many pharmacies will take your bottles back to be recycled-not reused). Of course there are strict health codes at work here. Recently, while visiting a friend in the hospital, I was struck by how much trash is made in the effort toward maintaining a sterile environment and toward making caregiving more efficient.
I want to be careful in the discussion of this particular topic because I realize people require many different kinds treatment to fight ailments and diseases of varying severity. I understand that there are instances in which producing trash cannot be avoided to meet individual healthcare needs. I feel that the best way to address this issue is to present my own personal experience regarding health and wellness in the context of the project. I don’t want to suggest that mine is a system that should be adopted by others, but rather share some of the questions and discoveries I’ve come across.
A reoccurring theme of these posts is my goal of simplifying my lifestyle to become more efficient. As with all other aspects of this project, the search for trash-free medicine has led me to reevaluate my needs. By now we’re all familiar with the idea that fortifying our bodies with a healthy diet and regular exercise is a fundamental form of preventative medicine. Growing up, I was relatively active and my parents raised my siblings and me on well-balanced meals. In the summer we ate vegetables from our garden. As an adult I have continued to focus on taking care of myself. But since I was very young, I have used prescribed and over-the-counter medication for both the prevention and treatment of illness. I could not name all the different antibiotics I’ve taken in my life if I tried. And there was a time when I would not hesitate to take a pain reliever to ease even mild discomfort. I feel now that those tendencies were largely based in habit. The idea of straying from systems that work reasonably well can be unsettling especially when it comes to healthcare.
The project has led me to become more interested in ‘alternative’ medicine. I’m drawn to naturopathy, which is centered on the belief that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. The idea of using diet, exercise, lifestyle change, and natural therapies/remedies to enhance the body’s ability to ward off disease makes a lot of sense to me on an intuitive level. I’ve been trying to incorporate more natural healthcare practices into my life.
The no trash effort naturally supports eating a healthy diet of whole foods (I imagine it would be challenging to get junk food and processed food without some kind of packaging). I’m very sensitive to the way that the foods I ingest make me feel. I eat a mostly plant-based diet supplemented with some seafood and poultry. I have been experimenting with all the whole grains in the bulk section. My meals are colorful and delicious and I am never left wanting. I run almost every day. I sometimes notice the mental health benefits of running even more than the physical. It’s the best way I’ve found to manage my own stress.
I haven’t filled a prescription in nearly seven months. I stopped using oral contraceptives as a means of regulating my cycle, and have begun to look at herbal remedies to relieve cramps, treat colds, ease headaches, settle an upset stomach, etc… Chamomile tea for instance, can be used not only as a mild sedative, but also to relieve stomach and intestinal cramps, menstrual cramps, and headaches. I purchase it loose in bulk at the co-op. I’d like to learn the medicinal uses of all the fragrant herbs and teas stocked on the shelves. It wasn’t until starting the No Trash Project that I took notice of another wonderful resource in Providence called Farmacy Herbs. They come to the local farmers markets but they also have a store location here in town that I’ve been meaning to visit.
My medicine cabinet still contains ibuprofen, acetaminophen, some over–the–counter cold and flu medicine, and an inhaler-all of which were acquired before starting down the no trash path. I’m hanging onto it for ‘just in case’ reasons, especially because I tend to get sick more in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer. It’s a schedule that seems to be directly related to working at a university. I have not sworn off western medicine, and I don’t intend to put myself through any unnecessary suffering in an effort to avoid using over–the–counter and prescription drugs. But I am interested in learning about many different healing practices and I hope to be able to lean on those that are more environmentally healthy when I am faced with illness.
The first few posts have mostly been about the already established systems of the No Trash Project, but every new day offers potential to further the effort. This week I finally got a bike. I had been looking for one that would fit me for quite some time. I needed a frame with a shorter stand over height and length. This past summer I checked out a number of bikes through craigslist but couldn’t find any that were appropriate for my proportions. Finally I decided to seek help to build one up. A friend of mine who works on bikes happened to have a smaller frame set aside. He put the bike together with mostly used and a few new parts. I am now the proud owner of this tangerine beauty. I recently moved into an apartment that is only four blocks from my office. I’ve been enjoying walking to and from work and to nearby businesses. Though it’s late in the New England biking season, I look forward to using my new ride to further cut down on driving.
On the day I went to pick it up, while Tom was helping another customer in the shop, I perused the parts and accessories hanging on the walls. I noticed there are a wide variety of material choices to consider when putting a bike together. Tom and I spoke about some of the things that can be done to reduce the waste involved in keeping a bike.
There are some fundamental common sense measures that can be taken to lengthen a bike’s life. Luckily I have the space to keep mine inside while at home and at work, and both spaces have reasonably dry air. I once kept a bike in the basement of a Providence house thinking it would winter over well, but the moisture in the basement caused the frame and the chain to rust. Of course I’ll need to consider the way in which I lock it outside to safeguard the parts and the bike itself. It seems obvious I know, but it’s easy to get careless. My friend Kory recently made instructional booklets on how to properly lock a bike, which can be seen here. I will certainly think of these tips every time I lock mine up.
Beyond the basic care of the bike, I’m also interested in the range of sustainability of materials used to make bike parts. Mine was cobbled together from available used parts and some of the components are on the not so environmentally friendly end of the spectrum. The seat (saddle) for instance is foam and vinyl. The derailleur has some plastic components and the handlebar tape is foam with an adhesive backing. The tires are probably the least sustainable part on the bike, but as far as I know, there really aren’t many options here. Some saddles, handlebar grips, and pedal straps are made of genuine leather. Cotton cloth grip tape is also an option. Some of the plastic parts on my bike are also available in different kinds of metals, but may weigh more.
In general, I think I’ve always been interested in how things are made and how they work. The No Trash Project seems to have heightened my curiosity. I find myself looking at objects, breaking down their parts in my mind, wondering about the life of a thing before I came in contact with it and the life it will have beyond me.
It’s no secret that maintaining cleanliness supports health. Being clean is considered virtuous–cleanliness is the tenth of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues to live by. Hygienic standards and practices vary across cultures and have changed throughout history. The Romans had their bathhouses and scented oils. Soapmaking became a popular trade in Spain and Italy during the Dark Ages. The toothbrush as we know it today was invented in China in the late 1400s. Before that, chewing the twigs and leaves of plants thought to have antiseptic properties was common practice.
Contagion and germ theories led us to the notion that we have more to worry about than visible filth. In 1854 John Snow discovered that cholera was transmitted through contaminated water. His findings led to the widespread development of sewage systems. In the twentieth century, industries sprang up to deliver products that would serve us on our quest for cleaner countertops and whiter toilet bowls. Advertisements goad us to buy products that support health and that will spare us the judgment of others about armpit odor.
The continually increasing attention to hygiene has meant an increase in pressure on the natural environment. Today we’re starting to see a push away from the use of harsh chemical cleaning agents because of growing evidence of their threat to our health and the planet. “Green” cleaning agent production is becoming big business.
I’m interested in finding ways of maintaining personal and domestic hygiene without making trash and without using any chemicals in/on my body, or on the surfaces in my home. We all have a different standard of cleanliness, so the system I’ve mapped out so far is of course personal. This zone has been slightly more complicated than the food zone, but the approach to tackling the problems is the same. I ask myself what I need. What do I need to sufficiently clean my dishes, my laundry, and my floors? What do I need to feel clean, smell good, and stay healthy?
As I mentioned in the last post, the discovery of the Alternative Food Co-op in Wakefield has helped me enormously in the No Trash Project. They encourage membership but it is not required in order to shop there. Not only is the store stocked with a wonderful bulk food selection, but they also supply many cleaning and body products in bulk dispensing systems. Below is some information about the non-food products that I buy in bulk and their important roles in no trash hygienic practice.
Baking Soda–not just for baking!
Currently, baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, has numerous uses in my home. Because it is weakly alkaline and acts to neutralize acid, baking soda has long been used for many first aid applications. It also has mild antiseptic properties. A simple paste made from baking soda and cold water can be applied to burns, bug bites, bee stings, and poison ivy. It can be diluted in water and used as an antacid. As a mild, gentle abrasive, it can be used in place of toothpaste or as an exfoliating skin cleanser. A friend of mine recently explained how she mixes it with a bit of conditioner and uses it in place of shampoo.
For the same reasons it works to cleanse the body, baking soda is an effective household cleaner. Its fine, gritty texture works as an abrasive agent and is safe to use on most surfaces. It can be added to the washing machine to help remove stains, neutralize odor, and acts as a fabric softener for laundry.
I’ve been using liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s)–an olive oil based soap that is a mild but effective cleanser. I use it in place of dish soap, as a body wash, and occasionally as a surface cleaner. It’s available to me in bulk dispensers. I fill it up in jars at the co-op and once I’m home I pour it into glass oil cruets (like the one pictured above). The soap pours easily from the metal dispenser.
Powdered laundry detergent, bleach powder, moisturizing lotions, shampoo and conditioner are also available in bulk at the co-op.
There is another natural household cleaner that I’m attached to, which I have not been able to find without packaging. White distilled vinegar is effective in killing mold, and bacteria. I find it neutralizes odors well and clears drains when combined with baking soda. I have resorted to buying it in a glass bottle. I’m careful to use vinegar sparingly and dilute it with water to make the supply last longer. Again, the system is not perfect. The vinegar bottle becomes a part of the recyclable waste I make. And I haven’t forgotten that the goods we buy in bulk are delivered to the grocery store and co-op in packaging/containers (more on this soon).
Hygiene accessories are an important part of this discussion. Many cleaning and grooming tools are made of plastic and are meant to be disposable. I’ve tried to focus on choosing tools that are made of more sustainable materials that will stand up to the test of time and use, or products that are compostable. Microfiber cloths have replaced paper towels, plant-based compostable sponges have replaced plastic and cellulose sponges, and a high quality stainless steel safety razor has replaced the disposable plastic version.
While writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the number of plastic bottles, jugs, aerosol cans, plastic spray nozzles and pumps, sponges, and paper towels that before starting this project, I threw into the trash and recycling on a regular basis. Though I’ve only been working toward no trash for six months, today my old routines seem to be rather unnatural. It’s bizarre to package goods that may be used in one hour, day, week, or month in containers that will be on this earth for hundreds of years after they’re emptied. Stranger still is the fact that we are consistently encouraged and even pressured to take part in this unsustainable system.