I have always considered myself a pretty "green" person. I'm concerned about the environment, conscious of what my family puts in their mouths and on their bodies, worried about where all that stuff in WalMart is going to go (where does it all go?). No, I’m not that girl who waves Brewer's Yeast under your nose while I twirl barefoot in my skirt made of organic wheat grass, but I make a conscious effort in the interest of the Three R’s (recycle, reuse, repurpose). I even make nifty little scarves out of old T-shirts and happily my biggest clientele are those who want to preserve their own shirts as memories, without keeping the clutter of 1000 T-shirts. So I seem pretty environmentally hip, right? But recently I started feeling a little funny every time I gathered the plastic off the kitchen counter to transfer it to the larger recycling bin in the garage… I just could not believe how fast that bin filled each week. We are not talking about a small bin here; in its former life this was a large curbside garbage can, the kind with wheels because it is assumed no mere mortal can actually lift a full one. (They are right). Each time I tossed an empty Diet Coke (by which I mean purified water of course) bottle across the garage only to watch it bounce off the plastics already overflowing the bin, there was that funny little feeling again.
I find it easy to think I'm doing all I can, all things considered. We have 3 (sometimes 4) kids still at home so life is full and, seriously, a lot of eating happens here. I create many homemade meals, but I probably "make" nearly as many that require removing pre-cooked food from a package of some kind. I think of that as a better than going to the drive-through, so I’ve never really considered the impact of all that packaging. Busting out the paper plates and plastic-ware when we have extra people is a step better than Styrofoam takeout containers so I avert my eyes at the fact that we fill an entire trash bag in one meal that way. I’m very proud of knowing 101 ways to RE-use a Ziploc freezer bag. We recycle everything we can, and it’s not like we live in Portland, we are responsible for collecting and sorting our recyclables and hauling them to community recycling centers all by our busy little selves, so until that nagging funny feeling happened I looked at those big bins in my garage as confirmation that we are responsible people. Then somewhere in the midst of the package-opening, cooking, tossing and recycling I came across an article online about a girl who hadn't created trash in 2 years. I was like, wait, what? NO trash? Ppppffffffffft. In a contentious spirit I immediately began to find all the ways this can’t be possible, or at least not if you want to have a life, much less a family. But whatever my internal snarky response, I swear I heard a little "poof" that was the sound of my grandiose delusions disappearing. One minute I was proud of my Herculean efforts at saving the earth in the form of a bubbling-over container of clean plastics, the next minute all I could see was a giant bin full of bio-hazard.
That's how it began. Thirty minutes later my Amazon cart was full of non-plastic, permanent-vs.-tossable alternatives; a stainless steel Bento box for kid lunches, lightweight cloth produce bags, stainless steel straws for the new mason-jar "sippy cups" I was going to make, exotic-sounding bamboo cloths to replace paper towels, 2 Luna cups (get over it and read my reviews below)... the list goes on and I will report my experience with these things as I receive and use them. I also ransacked my own house... for whatever brilliant reason, I have a plethora of plastic containers and Ziploc bags at the ready at all times, yet hiding in the darker recesses of my cupboards were long-forgotten glass jars and containers of various sizes that would have made perfect reusable food storage containers. Really? In my stock of gifts-yet-to-be-given I had two adorable Envirosax grocery bags that I promptly threw in the front seat of my own car, happy birthday to ME. I began an obsessive frenzy of researching alternatives and discovered that a dish-washing brush was an effective answer to disposable sponges. Then to my horror I found three of them (that's right THREE) under my own sink, still practically new. As my oldest daughter once said, and hence the title of my new green-themed FB group, "What the Garbage?!"
It is still only couple of months since my paradigm shifted and I have a long way to go, but there is already a marked difference in our house, along with an air of purpose. At first I worried that I was scaring our second-born when she disappeared into her room for longer than usual, but then she reappeared with a hand-crocheted scrubby for washing dishes. She improved on that by creating one with rough hemp at one end which replaces the “scratchy” side of the sponge I’m so used to using. The littles love their mason jar cups and their homemade Marvel-themed snack bags, and my husband is helping me convert an unused garbage can into a compost bin. Best of all… this rather large family has reduced our trash output to the point of having one kitchen-size bag per week, which I fully intend to lessen even more. In the spirit of the optimist I can happily say that my cans are half empty, and if this keeps up we'll be able to reduce or eliminate our garbage service. In terms of the bigger picture it may seem like nothing much, but I am happy knowing I’m making a sincere effort not to be part of the problem. The more people who get on board and the more noise we create in the process, the better chance we have of rescuing ourselves from ourselves. Here are some of the things our family is doing and our personal reviews, I will continue to update as we discover new ideas that work.
* Reusable produce and bin-food bags: I purchased two types: 1. The organic cotton ones by Simple Ecology have the bag weight printed right on the tag so the cashier can deduct that from the weight of your food, but they weigh so little that I would not encourage holding up the line for a few pennies if this creates confusion at check-out. A lot of cashiers prefer to just take the food out of the bag regardless, don’t sweat it. 2. The little nylon mesh ones by IDYLC Homes are made entirely in the USA, weigh almost nothing and they breathe, so they are actually more effective than disposable plastic bags for storing produce in your refrigerator.
* Reusable grocery bags: I initially bought Envirosax because they are so very cool looking and they fold up into a neat little ball-ish that would fit nicely in a purse. I never use that feature, but otherwise I love them; they are extremely durable for how lightweight they are. Some of them incorporate plastic materials but they just introduced a line of Organic Hemp bags as well. I like the sling sack style (see picture) because I can make them whatever length fits me best. You can get them on their home site or on Amazon (my favorite online store for their super fast, free shipping and their great return policy). Envirosax are just one brand, there are hundreds of of bags on hundreds of sites and now they are available at most stores as well. Or, make your own! Go pull that cute shirt out of your closet that you can’t seem to rock but have refused to let go of and make it your new grocery bag.
* In addition to grocery-size bags, I've found it convenient to use a cooler (either hard-side or soft-side work) to insulate cold items, particularly for trips to Costco. Just make sure you check it at the door so they don't try to charge for it again.
* Abeego cloth covers: Now, this little thing is weird. I got these to replace Saran wrap and aluminum foil. They are somewhat moldable but nothing like we’re used to, they don’t cling per se. So far I have used them effectively to cover bowls and to store cheese as long as I incorporate a rubber band to keep it tight. I love the fact that they are reusable and entirely organic and plastic free, but here is the big bonus… because they incorporate beeswax, they smell like honey. When I’m putting food away after a meal and I get out an Abeego, it’s like being transported from the messy kitchen to a dewy meadow spotted with little flowers, birds chirping and fairies flitting about…. Enough said, these are so staying.
* Update; I recently wrapped a brick of cheese in an Abeego and a week later it still has not started to form that white-ish mold that typically happens under plastic wrap. I am impressed.
*The Lunette Cup: Men, if you know and love a woman, then you know she has a monthly period... here is your chance to skip this review if you are squeamish about the subject. (Review pending)
Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towels - replacements for paper towels. I love that these come on a roll and rip off just like a paper towel, so I just popped them on my wall-mounted paper towel holder. These are meant to do the jobs we usually leave to paper towels, except they can be washed up to 100 times. (Naturally they don't go back on the roll after washing, so I just hang them over the top of the existing roll). I have used these for all things I normally leave for paper towels such as bacon grease and sopping up spilled Olive Oil. They work GREAT, and all I've done so far is use a little dish soap and hot water wash them out, although they can go in the washing machine. They can be used dry or damp, either way they absorb more and hold up far better than paper towels and I've currently been using just one for over a week.