Tag Archives | no trash hygiene

Homemade laundry detergent

homemadetergent

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

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

washingsoda

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

epsomsalt

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

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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.

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Natural Home Solutions

coconutdeodorant

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Trash talk

teethexray

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

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

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

2. Placement and removal of mercury-containing dental material

3. Conventional x-ray systems

4. Conventional vacuum systems

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

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

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Details

Backlit bulk bags drying on the line make me smile.

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Shampoo

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

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

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

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Menstrual cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grooming

grooming

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

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Pins

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Life Without Plastic

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

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

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

 

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Pattern play

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

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Dish cloth

A new tool put to use.

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Scrubs

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.

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Hygiene

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.

Castile Soap

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.

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