June 24, 2010

Six Month Tally

Until six months ago, Scott still took the trash out Sunday evenings.

He would slip into his shoes late at night, and rain or shine, would run the 36 steps down to our curb to set the can out for pick up. Even if all it contained was a couple of band-aids. I could never figure out whether he was doing it out of habit, to retain a sense of "normalcy", or to simply make a point of using the service that we cannot (yet) cancel (our local hauler has trash pick up bundled with recycling and city composting).
But one rainy Sunday evening this last January, as Scott was once again heading down the dark path to the curb, he stumbled upon a mature buck. A godsend. Scott turned around, came back into the house and decided that this whole "taking out trash" business was too dangerous ;). That's also when we decided that it would be fun to see how long it would take us to fill the 20 gallon can. Our "can" has been the paper towel section of a vintage holder since.

Here is our 6 month tally.
It might seem much for those who thought that we were perfect, just as it might not seem much for those who did not think a handful of waste possible. I personally think that our level of waste is frustrating, but it is a challenge that calls for further action:

Food related items:
- 8 beer caps from a twelve pack that a friend brought: In times of financial instability, how can a man refuse the gift of beer? ;)
- 13 white wine plastic wrappers: We still have not found a decent refillable white wine and it is really hard to discern plastic from foil until you open the bottle. It should be indicated on the label.
- 2 cheese wax/crusts.
- 1 heat-damaged gasket of a jar bought at the thrift store: I had no idea the gasket was baked on until I opened the jar at home, had to force it open and had to scrape it with a knife.
- 2 top ends of Starbucks Single packets: From my visiting mother-in-law who must have taken the rest of the 2 packets with her to dispose elsewhere.
- 4 snack wrappers and 3 bubble gums given to my kids without my knowledge: Those probably are the most irritating to me. The Fiber One bar contained 23 ingredients, including high maltose corn syrup. Ugh. The Teddy Grahams contained 19 ingredients, including partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and high fructose corn syrup. Double Ugh. As for bubble gums, they are simply plastic. Triple Ugh. I do not yet blame my eight and ten year-old children for succumbing to temptation and accepting the empty calories. For now, I blame the ignorant adults who buy and feed harmful and wasteful junk not only to their children but also to others.

Plan of Action
- Educate friends and family further about our lifestyle and eating habits.
- Educate the kids further about healthy foods.
- Send emails to winemakers to adopt foil and cork, or glass tops (screw tops are BPA lined)
- Take our friends to Beerworks to refill their bottles ;)

Clothing related items:
- 18 plastic price tag holders: I can't remember the origin for eight of these.
- 2 disintegrated foam shoulder pads from a used coat.
- 2 feet of synthetic thread from an unravelling curtain.
- 6 labels removed for their itchiness: Don't you love the feel of tagless clothing?

Plan of Action:
- Propose a plastic free price tag to the thrift stores that have them.
- Apply glue to the edges of my unraveling curtain.
- Email or write to clothing manufacturers to adopt label-free clothing.

Bathroom related items:
- 8 band-aids: Like I said before, my younger son had a love for band-aids, but we're out, so we won't find those in our trash anymore.
- 2 individual plastic/aluminum wrappers from over-the-counter medication, bought a couple of years ago: A remainder of our once, unconscious purchasing.
- 1 toothbrush replacement head from Terradent: We have 2 left.
- 4 disposable eye drop tubes: Scott took our older son to the ophthalmologist and forgot to refuse...
- 1 packet of petroleum jelly: Again, given to Scott by a doctor, he forgot to refuse.
- 5 plastic cap wrappers: One from hydrogen peroxide, one from eye drops, one from contact lens solution, the three others I don't know.

Plan of Action:
- Email or write to manufacturers to replace plastic cap wrappers with paper or cardboard wrappers or simply bypass them and adopt a sealing cap.
- Remind Scott to refuse at a doctor's visit.
- Purchase compostable toothbrushes.

Miscellaneous Items:
- 1 expired credit card.
- 1 Best Buy gift card.
- 1 expired french version of the Green Card.
- 4 ski lift tickets.
- 7 irrigation system pieces.
- 1 broken rubber band.
- 1 broken pen: the last plastic and disposable one in the house!
- bits of plastic tape from a parcel.
- 1 sticker stamps sheet.
- 1 plastic wrapper of a snowboard pad.
- 1/2 plastic spoon found on the property while landscaping.
- The wrapper of a tiny Lego set, bought by Grandma for my younger son. Somehow the small sets are not fully recyclable, like the bigger ones.
- The plastic wrapper of twine, bought 6 years ago: It's amazing how much purchasing decisions can haunt you for years.

Plan of Action:
- Contact the credit card company about using recyclable cards.
- Contact the ski resort about using a rechargeable and recyclable card instead for their lift tickets.
- Contact Lego about the non-recyclable wrapper in their small sets.
- Find package-free twine.

What's not included:
- The 6 art/schoolwork pieces, laminated by the teachers: We left them at school, and explained to the teachers that parents should have the right to choose whether or not they want to make a completely recyclable/compostable piece of paper, eternal by encompassing it in plastic.
- The candy wrappers from the Valentine's Day classroom celebration: We took them to the school principal to show her how much trash was generated per head in our kids classrooms.
- The few items that I have sent back to manufacturers with a letter of explanation, such as a broken pump to Dermalogica, toothbrushes to Radius, and a contact lens case to Complete.
- The pesky plastic wine corks, the occasional fruit or veggie stickers and the broken drinking glasses, three of which I collect for future art pieces.

What's in your bin?

June 17, 2010

Zero Waste Dog -or Rat ;)

Zero Waste is a family affair... like I said before: in our home, everyone is on board, and that includes our dog.

Meet Zizou. He joined the family about 3 years ago. We wanted a dog that would be small enough to not only fit in our small house, but also accompany us everywhere we go, whether it is by plane, car, bike or foot - we also chose his coat color to match the floor so that his shedding hair would not show :). He now can even sit with us at restaurants with outdoor seating!

We figured a chihuahua would give us just as much love as a big dog. Zizou has been the answer to all our pet needs, and despite a taste for street trash, as a rat would have ("Rat Boy" is his nickname), he has more than exceeded our expectations of the breed. Our biggest mistake was only to give up our search in rescue centers and getting him from a breeder, when 30 chihuahuas showed up at the local SPCA a month later. And although we love our dog, it makes me sick to my stomach that we passed the opportunity: We should have been patient and waited for the right rescue to pop up. Note: We did rescue both of our previous dogs.

Zizou does not need much, and in a society where, despite the recession, sales of pet products and services rose 5% in 2009 to reach $53 billion (sales are projected to reach $72 billion by 2014), we like to keep things simple, minimal and zero waste for him too:
  • He does not have a regular dog bed. He sleeps by the fire gas-insert in the winter, in the bubble chair or on the warm wood deck in the summer, and on the kids beds at night.
  • He has two toys: A tennis ball we found (good for running/exercising) and a rope chew (good for cleaning teeth). Dogs have faves, pick a couple, donate the rest to a shelter (the latter also accepts old towels and sheets by the way). My mother-in-law makes one out of old socks tied together for her dog.
  • Once a month, we wash him with castile soap (buy in bulk if possible) and clip his nails (compost).
  • We usually buy kibbles in bulk at Rainbow or New Leaf (a 50 lbs. bag from the pet store would take our dog years to eat and we do not have room to store such quantity) and since these two stores are hard to get to, I have requested it from our local pet stores, but it is not yet available. For these two reasons I had to buy a small bag last week (with a feeling of being a total zero waste advocate failure), I emptied it into our dog food container and washed the bag. I am filling it with thrift shop donations.
  • We add garlic powder to his food for flea control, the garlic breath dissipates after a few minutes ;)
  • We occasionally feed him our food scraps, because he is a trim and can afford to do so. He is bummed that our meat consumption is down to once a week, but he approves of the white meat (say "chicken" and witness instant excitement).
  • We buy treats in bulk (Petco or the local pet store) but you can make your own dog biscuits too.
  • On walks, we pick up his poop in paper from the recycling can (that's if we can find it, because his poops are tiny and he likes to go deep into ivy... a prude one this one). For a big dog, I would use a few sheets, for Zizou, a receipt will do;). Note: One does not need to justify their newspaper subscription for the need of the free plastic poop scooper. If you still receive the paper, you probably also still buy packaged products. Frozen veggie bags, cereal liner, meat wrapper, etc... can do the job just fine too.
  • When we can find the excrement in the yard, we scoop it with a metal trowel and flush it down the toilet. For the longest time, I read mixed opinions on the subject, but my local water treatment plant assured me that it was OK to do so.
  • I have yet to try it, but in one of my foraging classes, I was told that a tea of mugwort could be sprayed on pets for poison oak prevention before stepping in the wild...
I told my younger son, I was writing an article about zero waste dog and asked him what made Zizou zero waste. He replied: "Easy, he does not bring anything home" ;)

While it is true that he does not bring any junk into the house, he does however bring in loads of affection. Affection that we reciprocate. After all, what a dog needs most is love... and there is nothing more zero waste than love :) is there?

June 08, 2010

Paper Making

Well, it's that time of the year again... the end of the school year is near, so it's time to make stationary for my kids' teachers, from the stack of papers that they've sent home from school.

Last year, the gift was a hit and the news went around the school. It ended up coming handy, when in the fall, I had to warn the new teacher about our special home paper requirements (reduce)...she already knew. Giving homemade paper, I hope also makes them think about paper consumption in our school.
In the middle of the stressful week, there is nothing better to relieve stress. Some like to jog, I like to make paper ;)

For those wanting to give it a try (and for those of you not familiar with the process), here is what to do. You can listen to my podcast interview on "More Hip than Hippie" while doing it ;)

- Tack window screening or mesh tight onto a frame (picture below, down) . You can also slide a used nylon sock over a smaller frame and knot is tight (picture below, up). The size of frames will pretty much be the size of your paper and they need to fit flat into your tub, so plan accordingly. I use two 3.5x5 frames (one with nylon and one without for neater edges) for small cards and postcards. I use an 8.5x11 for letters or envelopes.


- Line the table with felt squares:

- In a tub (yes, mine is plastic... it serves for paper recycling, extra curbside pick-up, and paper-making), tear the papers in small pieces and fill with water (I like to let it sit overnight to give paper time to soften...),

-Using a hand-mixer or blender, blend the soaking paper into a pulp (this time, I ended up with a dark purple, which means a light purple finished product ) :

At this point you have the option of adding seeds (for "plantable" paper), lint from your dryer, dried flowers etc...

- For small cards with neat edges (which I will be demonstrating here), stack the 2 matching frames (nylon frame at the bottom), dip flat into the pulp, let drain a bit, and lift upper frame off gently:

- Remove the upper frame:

-Flip it onto a felt square:


-Absorb as much water as possible with a sponge (a remainder of our previous home car washing days...):


- and delicately remove the frame. The paper pulp should stick to the felt.


- Line dry over your plants (the felt will drip on them and no water will be wasted ;)

- When dry, peel off and iron as needed:

- et VOILA!

Now, all I need to do is to make matching envelopes (with the larger mesh frame, and an envelope stencil to cut the dry sheets) and then "gift-tag" and tie the whole thing with compostable string. I think the teachers will be quite pleased.

Note: When you're done (pulp too thin to make paper), you can compost the leftovers.

I am afraid to ask... what did you think of the podcast?

June 02, 2010

Up and Downs of the Week

...Or the rambling diary of a zero waste advocate ;)
This week I spent a bit of time revamping my blog: Notice the new categories, the tips, and the new logo... these drawings were Scott, Max and Leo's suggestions by the way.
But I also had some time to tackle a few junk mail bugs, among other things. So, here I am again tackling the same old ghosts.

DOWN: Last Wednesday, I received yet another adult education catalog. And since writing "refused" on the catalog, was no longer making it disappear from my mailbox (I even exchanged a few notes with my mailman), I went to the post office manager. And I was told to "give it up, because this is the way it is, you can't change it." (Ugh) or can I?
UP: I got hold of the person responsible for sending out the bulk mailing.
DOWN: All she could say was: "I do my share... I have been a vegetarian for 20 years, the cows are the ones destroying the trees" Ugh.
UP: What the??? Although her super lame response was a big downer at first, I can't stop laughing at it now... Seriously, who goes around, saying that their vegetarianism can redeem them from sending out 34 page catalogs to 6000 households every six-months.

DOWN: I also received the local community college catalog that day. Ugh.
UP: I don't know if the woman that I contacted there is a vegetarian, but she was incredibly sweet, head on her shoulders and from my planet... She gave me the great news that they will be sending out a post card to opt out of the catalog soon. YIPPEE! She even agreed to be a source of inspiration to the vegetarian.

DOWN: I saw yet another salon open in my town (it feels like we have about 25 per square mile)...
UP: Beerworks which will soon allow refilling bottles with their brewed beer, root beer and apple cider just opened a couple blocks away on Thursday. YIPPEE! This is the best thing that's happened to the town in a while!

DOWN: On Friday, during my weekly grocery shopping trip, I was told by the deli counter that they would not allow me to fill my jars anymore due to the "Health and Safety" rules... My jaw dropped, and I cried on the way home. Ugh!
UP: I got in touch with the manager later, who said it was not true. A scare for nothing... It makes you realize how much you rely on things when they are taken away from you.

DOWN: Guess what I found waiting for me upon my return from the grocery store? An AT&T phone directory (1 big, 1 small, double bagged). And I had even cancelled this one a ways back. Ugh!
UP: I called customer service (the number can now easily be found inside the directory for opting out) and they nicely apologized at least a 100 times. The distribution center also later called to apologize another 100 times, and they let me know that they would be picking it back up. WOW. Impressed with these guys.

UP: On Saturday, I found out about Aveda Cradle to Cradle certification.
DOWN: I went to Aveda to investigate and found out that Cradle to Cradle certification is not exactly what the book described. A packaging that is recyclable can earn the certification.
UP: the book still describes a great ideal of what our manufacturing world should be, and inspires change.

UP: We had some of our close friends come over for an improvised dinner Sunday night.
DOWN: They brought "biodegradable" water balloons and started the fight before I could stop it. Ugh.
UP: The kids had a blast and the plants got watered.
DOWN: The next morning I had colored plastic all over the yard - it had not yet biodegraded ;) how long does it take anyways?
UP: We got the kids to pick all 250 of them... we'll give them back to our friends to test their true biodegradability themselves ;)

DOWN: On Monday, I found yet another "compostable" spoon (which was found to not really compost) from my local ice cream shop on the ground.
UP: After sending a notice to the owners, I found out that they are willing to work on making their "green business" even greener and will look into waste reducing alternatives. THANK YOU for considering change!

DOWN: Yesterday, I was invited to tour the new Whole Foods, soon to open in town. I had waited for this day to come for a week (to see the size of the bulk section) and had invited 6 friends to join in…only to be told, after biking there in the cold, that the tour had been canceled... Bummer, it would have been nice to get notified by email about the cancellation ahead of time. Ugh.
UP: I got to pick a pineapple and a glass bottle of olive oil from the goodies bag that they were giving out to the disappointed visitors (yes, I succumbed to a free packaged/bottled product for once).
DOWN: We all know pineapples are not grown locally.
UP: The kids noticed the exotic fruit instantly upon their return from school, and are excited about it (oh, the small pleasures of life).

Today, I am considering Twitter for my daily zero waste rambling :)