You Win Some, You Lose Some

When I started on this journey, I had really high hopes for our progress. And I kinda thought it would be a fairly easy transition because we already do a lot to cut waste in the first place. I use rags to clean, we buy things in bulk and in the largest size possible, we refill soap dispensers, turn old towels into rags, etc. But it definitely has not been as easy of a transition as I had imagined.

The good news is we have done a few easy swaps that we don’t really notice.

  1. We started composting. When we lived in Multnomah County (Portland) we composted and the garbage people hauled it away in our yard debris can. So, the only real change for us is learning to manage our own compost bin in our back yard. Which, I admit, we really have no idea what we are doing. But we are attempting to learn.
  2. We stopped buying paper napkins and started using the cloth napkins I had for holidays. We’ve done this before, but I made napkins out of quilting cotton. But I kind of got tired of having to clean the cat hair off of them even after they came out of the wash. The napkins we have now are some I bought at the store a few years ago, and miracle of all miracles, cat hair does not stick to them.
  3. Straws. Ok, I admit. I like to use straws. I had no idea how harmful or terrible they were for the environment until the recent turtle video that has been floating around the internet. I just never even gave it a second though. I’m guilty of throwing away millions of straws in my life time, I’m sure of it. Hey, I’m not the only person on the planet that has created millions of straw waste over the years, so don’t get all mad at me about it. If you really want to get mad at someone, get mad at the person who invented the plastic straw. So, I switched to reusable straws.
  4. I’ve been trying to buy produce that doesn’t come in plastic and not using plastic produce bags when I go to the store. We put a pause on our Imperfect Produce for a couple weeks because we were out of town for a weekend and we already had let some of it go to waste because of this.
  5. For showering, we switched to bar soap that comes in paper. Although, I still have approximately 8,000 gallons of liquid hand soap that I use to refill our soap dispensers.
  6. I’ve been trying to buy things that come in glass and not plastic.

Here’s where we’ve failed.

  1. I love me some Darigold Mexican Sour Cream. No, I don’t know what makes it Mexican, but it’s one of the most delicious things on the planet. It comes in a plastic container.
  2. We went to Costco today and my husband snuck in a giant box of Otter Pops. I rolled my eyes and continued along. And then when we got home, I realized, all it is, is a box full of plastic tubes that can’t be recycled. So, I might accidentally return them before we open the box.
  3. Bread and tortillas. Ok, I like to pretend I’m all Suzy Home Maker because I quilt and want to be a Stay-at-Home-Cat-Mom and hang my laundry out to dry in the sun, but. I actually kind of hate cooking. And I only like the end result of baking. So, I’m not quite at the stage of making my own bread and tortillas yet. However, I do try to buy these items in bulk and I try to reuse the bags they come in.
  4. Using bar soap to wash your dishes totally sucks. Yes, I tried it. Yes, I tried it for several weeks. So, It may take me a while to convert fully to this one. We usually just buy a giant jug of liquid dish soap at Costco and refill the container we keep at the kitchen sink. So, I don’t feel too terrible about that one.
  5. Ziploc Bags. We still have a ton because we buy them at Costco. I try to put things in glass if possible or a reusable container, but we still reach for the Ziploc for freezing meat and after we open a block of cheese. I did, however, buy one pack of silicone reusable bags, but I haven’t actually tried them yet. I’m getting there, ok?
  6. Cheese. I’m not gonna lie. We love cheese. I think I’ve only met one cheese that I didn’t like in my lifetime. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t like its attitude. I don’t even remember what kind of cheese it was. So, I probably just imagined or dreamed that I found a cheese I didn’t like. Forget I said anything. Anyway, most cheese comes in plastic. And we don’t own any cows or goats and even if we did, I wouldn’t know how to make cheese if my life depended on it. And I’m pretty sure my life will never depend on that, so I don’t really plan to learn. What can we do about that? Buy in bulk? Ok, sure. Use less cheese? Uh, that seems a little excessive to me, but we could try to use less cheese. And by try, I mean no.  Stop eating cheese? Haha, just kidding. We’re not ever going to stop eating cheese. Unless, the Zombie Apocalypse happens and then I guess we will probably have to stop eating it against our will.

Ok, I’m getting way off track here. My point is, we are doing better and we have really cut down on the amount of trash that goes into our trashcan on a weekly basis. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but we’re working on it.

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The Adjustment and Observation Period

While I want to be 100% on board for this less waste thing, it’s not going to happen over night. Especially since my husband doesn’t completely understand the rules…yet. And we don’t have much disposable income. So, that can seem like it really puts a damper on things.

Yesterday, my husband, Ben, had the day off and he went to Costco. We mother effing love Costco. Except, I am a little less in love with it now that I  am not oblivious of our waste problem. So, I knew a few products he was going to buy that have waste and I was on the fence about it. For example, we can get a 2 pack of GIANT white vinegar jugs for less than $4 and for some unknown reason, white vinegar has gone up in price at the regular grocery store. While I would love to buy our vinegar in those tiny glass jars, we use it for cleaning and cooking. And so, I don’t feel 100% bad that we buy it in bulk and it comes in plastic. I mean. I feel 100% bad that it comes in plastic. But we buy it in the largest size we can. I also knew he was going to buy chicken, which comes in an easy to freeze 6 pack. So, we can just pull out one when we need it. Like I said, we don’t have much of a disposable income, so we do what is most economical for us. STRAWBERRIES. I mother effing love strawberries. Just ask my mom. They’re in season right now and Costco sells them in a GIANT PLASTIC CLAM SHELL. Why can’t I recycle that? I don’t know. But my recycling company says it’s trash. He asked if he should buy them. And while I didn’t encourage him, I didn’t really discourage him either. So, he bought them. Then he went to another store for some salsa/dinner produce. And he brought home plastic bags. Big frowny face. Don’t worry, I educated him on why we aren’t bringing home plastic bags any more if we can help it.

And then I went to the grocery store today. And I brought home a three things wrapped in plastic. Item 1. I needed some dried rosemary and while I was prepared with my new bulk bags that I made, I figured that the rosemary was going to weigh way less than the actual bag I was going to put it in. So, I put it in one of the tiny plastic bags. I was kind of glad I did because the cashier had to CALL someone to get the right price and I was so glad it wasn’t in a homemade bag so that I didn’t have to explain it. I also bought some bulk garbanzo beans. At first I was so embarrassed to put them in my homemade bag. But then I kept thinking about it and I marched right over and used my fabric bags. NO PLASTIC! YAY!  Item 2. The second thing I bought that was wrapped in plastic was mason jars. I bought a set of the “limited edition” blue wide mouth jars. It was an impulse purchase. So sue me. Item 3. Dairygold Mexican Sour Cream. I love sour cream. But I LOVE Mexican Sour Cream. No. I don’t know what makes it “Mexican,” but it is delicious. And I love it and could eat it every day of my life. BUT GUESS WHAT! Those were the only three things I brought home that had plastic involved! Go me!

Then I got home and realized we were almost out of liquid dish soap. I admit, we are so guilty of using more soap than we actually need. We go through dish soap so fast. I know my husband is going to think I am Bat Sh*t insane for this one. But, I had purchased a bar of Dr. Bronners soap while at the store. And I read some people use that for their dishes. So, I tried it. I rubbed the dish scrubber on it and then cleaned a plate. I rinsed it off. Smelled it. Seems fine. I may change my mind on this later, but so far so good. Shrug emoji.  Honestly, if I continue to like it, it will be awesome because it will prevent us from using more soap than we need and it doesn’t come in plastic bottles.

I will update you more on our adjustment and observation period. I hope that you will stick with me.

 

 

I’m Guilty. But I’m working on it.

I admit it. I’m guilty. For my entire life, until this past year, I thought if I put something in the recycling bin, the problem was solved. I would often think before putting something in the recycling bin, “Can I even recycle this? Well, it IS plastic, so I’m sure if I put it in the bin, it will get recycled.” And then magically all of our waste problems were solved. WRONG. It likely went right to the landfill because it wasn’t an item that can actually be recycled. It’s called wishful recycling. I had no idea that China was taking our plastic for all those years, until they stopped taking it. I just thought, if I threw it in the recycling, it then went to the recycling center and BAM they made it into a new product and the whole world was kittens and rainbows. I also didn’t know that plastic products can only be recycled very few times. I just assumed that you could recycle plastic unlimited times for all of eternity. What an idiot.

Over the past few years, I would often be disgusted with the GIANT boxes and tons of packaging that would come with one tiny thing I ordered online. Or even just when buying a product at the store. For example, is it really necessary for a product to come wrapped in plastic, in a box with a plastic window, and then cased in harder plastic? Can’t I just buy a damn box of Q-tips in a cardboard box instead of it being encased in plastic that is glued to cardboard?! I believe you, there’s Q-tips in there. I don’t need proof. Then last month, I was at Target and lo and behold! They now are packaging their Up and Up brand “Cotton Swab Paper Sticks” in a cardboard box! IMG_0724Except that it is wrapped in a thin layer of plastic on the outside. You’re getting warmer, Target! Go you! But also, I could do without that little plastic window too on the fancy make up swabs. But, it was better than the alternative I had previously been buying.

It was this new packaging from Target that got me thinking. So, I Googled “Products with less packaging” and fell down a rabbit hole of “Zero Waste” blogs. “ZERO WASTE? How is that even possible? We’re not rich!” I thought. For us, I’m not sure it IS possible, but I know we can do better.  I’m so glad that that this small gesture got me thinking of what we can do to reduce the amount of waste we “recycle” and simply throw away.  There are other options: eliminating a product all together (straws, plastic loofas, liquid hand soap.) or trying to find a better option (buying in bulk with my own bags VS. something that comes pre-packaged).

Here are some reasons that I don’t think it’s possible for us to become truly “Zero Waste,” although, I’d love to prove myself wrong:

  1. I kinda feel like the whole mason jar of trash is misleading. For example, I read one blog (I don’t remember which one) of someone who just made the store keep the packaging. Sorry. But making someone else deal with your trash doesn’t qualify as you not creating waste. Ok, so, you buy something that comes in plastic and you make the cashier keep the wrapper. That waste still exists, you just made it someone else’s problem. DOESN’T COUNT.
  2. CATS. We have 4 (we didn’t get 4 cats on purpose. It just…happened). One of our lovely little angels has kidney disease. He is on prescription wet food only, in addition to taking two supplements per day, that come in…you guessed it, PLASTIC. And sometimes he gets picky and won’t eat what he’s been eating for months, so I have to get a different flavor or a different brand. To reduce the cost (I’m not made out of money, people), I order online with a “Subscription” from Chewy.com (not getting paid to say that). It’s great! I don’t have to go to the store! It gets delivered to my house! (Sorry package delivery person.) And I can recycle the tins (much easier to recycle than plastic) or reuse them! But, the entire case comes wrapped in plastic and the labels on the only food he will agree to eat (right now) are non-recyclable PLASTIC. Even though it creates more waste, I refuse to put his health at risk (even when he is being a picky little twerp).
  3. Holy Sh*t. SO MUCH STUFF COMES IN PLASTIC!

But fear not, readers! I have already SIGNIFICANTLY reduced the amount of trash/recycling we create (I don’t have an actual number for you) and it has only been a week or two since we’ve been making an actual effort! Here’s what we’ve done so far:

  1. Compost. I admit, when we moved 20 seconds over the Multnomah County border into Clackamas County, I was like “YES! I HATE COMPOSTING! AND WE WILL HAVE TRASH PICK UP EVERY WEEK INSTEAD OF EVERY OTHER WEEK!” Clackamas County is not set up for composting like Multnomah County is and they pick up trash every week. Composting smells (in the summer) and it attracts fruit flies and it’s sort of annoying to think about. Ugh an extra step to adulthood. Our house came with a composting bin. But we didn’t use it, ever. Until this week! We’ve started using it and that has significantly reduced the amount of “trash” we throw away. Did you know that products that are compostable cannot decompose in a landfill the way they do in a compost pile? Not enough oxygen and…other stuff. Look it up, I’m not a science teacher. Can’t compost? Try wasting less food by eating all your leftovers, freezing them for when you’re lazy, buying less produce or making smaller portions (I know, easier said than done).
  2. We tried out Imperfect Produce. IMG_0674It isn’t available everywhere, but they are expanding. All the produce gets delivered to our house in a cardboard box with one strip of tape. It doesn’t come in plastic bags, you can customize your order if you don’t like something and they list on their website if an item comes in a plastic clamshell box or is wrapped in plastic. So, you can opt to not have that item included in your order. It also forces us to think ahead about our meal plan for the week, allows us to get more creative by selecting things we normally wouldn’t buy and causes us to grocery shop less. We are often guilty of buying stuff we want, but may not necessarily need at the grocery store (ice cream). Plus, it’s super affordable and it reduces food waste by delivering perfectly good produce that would otherwise be wasted because it is “ugly” or “too small.” We are going on week 3 of Imperfect Produce and so far we love it (I’m not being paid to say that. Although, if you sign up through the link I provided, we will both (you and I) receive $10 toward our order!)! I am really hoping to reduce our order if our garden ever grows anything we can eat. But until then, this is a great option. An alternative option would be to not use plastic bags when shopping for produce, you don’t need special bags. Just don’t use any at all (just make sure to wash first before use). Choose things that don’t come in plastic, get creative or shop at the local farmer’s market.

I’m not trying to give you a soap box speech or turn you into a granola hippie. You don’t have to do any of these things (I’m not your mom). But if you’ve ever thought about how you wish things came in less packaging or if recycling even actually made a difference, I’m hoping sharing my experience with you will encourage you to make small changes for the better and then, maybe companies will start listening.

I would love to hear about what things you’re doing to reduce your waste or even just your thoughts.

Not Zero Waste, Less Waste

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, I was the youngest out of three daughters. It is joked that I was a mistake or an accident or as my mother says, a joy (That one isn’t a joke. She really thinks that. It is my middle name, after all). But regardless, I certainly wasn’t planned. My parents were always mistaken for my grandparents while I was growing up. They were a lot older than the other parents. My parents were born at the tail end of The Great Depression. So, they grew up learning to use what they had, reuse what they had and make it last. My sisters and I rarely went without, but recently a lightbulb has gone off in my head with what my parents have taught me.

My mom grew up in a one bedroom home off SE Foster Road. From what I remember as a child, it was a tiny run-down shack. My mom slept with her two sisters in the one bedroom, her brother slept on the couch in the living room and my grandparents slept in the kitchen alcove meant for a dinner table. My grandmother use to give me Grandma’s oatmeal raisin cookies and I can remember hating them because I didn’t like raisins and they were stale. But like a good little granddaughter, I ate them. At least, that’s what I think I did. My grandmother, Lucile, would save up pennies in a plastic cough drop tube with a red lid that said “HOLD” on the top. I don’t remember how I felt about this, but I imagine that I was pleased to have someone give me a tube of money.

As an adult, my mom liked to save everything. She hardly had any trinkets from her childhood and she learned to value and save things “just in case.” She would buy several of something if it “was a good deal.” You never knew when you’d need something. As a child and then a teenager, I was mortified. Our house was so messy that the only place to make any kind of meal was the pull-out bread board. And of course, you couldn’t eat anywhere, but on a TV tray in the living room. The kitchen table and counters were constantly covered in recycling, paper clutter, boxed or canned food, items she got on sale. You name it, you would probably be able to find it there. I couldn’t have anyone but my very closest friends over to our house without wanting to die (not an exaggeration). If anyone not in my tiny circle of friends came over, I would say we were “rearranging” and that’s why the house was so messy.

I spent a lot of my teenage years and adult life blaming my parents for the way our home was. I didn’t have a bad childhood. My parents didn’t beat me, I never went without. But my childhood memories are often clouded by the mess we lived in. It was a huge ordeal just to put up a Christmas tree. We had to “clean” and move a ton of stuff out of the way, which just meant shoving it behind the couch. I could go on and on.

What I’ve been learning about myself and my parents over the past few years is that, regardless of the anxiety and dread I have felt over my life about having “too much stuff” or “clutter,” that’s how my mom felt with a lack of “stuff.” For me, if our coffee maker breaks, you shrug, fork over $40 for a new one and throw the old one in the trash can. That wasn’t even an option for my mom while she was growing up. I’m not saying I want to suddenly save everything and that I suddenly don’t feel a giant ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach whenever there are more than two things on our kitchen counter. What I’m saying is, maybe I did actually learn something from this experience, but it took me 37 years to realize it.

Ever since I can remember, my mom has recycled and she taught me to do the same. This was way back when you had to separate everything. Years later, I learned that some states don’t even recycle. At. All. What? The first time I saw someone throw away a tin can, I was horrified. A few years ago, Portland started doing garbage service every other week instead of every week and accepting compost. The idea was that it would encourage people think more about what they are throwing away and try to be more thoughtful. But all it has seemed to do is make people run out of room in their trash can and start throwing their trash in their recycling bin. Like diapers and other non-recyclables. So, why is it that we aren’t getting it? Is it because we haven’t been educated properly? Is it because we are lazy? Or that it isn’t convenient? Sure, it isn’t convenient, but neither is a plastic straw shoved up your nose.

In 2016, my husband and I bought our first house. We started getting monthly mailers from the City of Milwaukie. One month it included a 2 page spread of what you could and couldn’t recycle in your recycling bin. To my surprise, you can’t recycle clamshell containers that salad and fruits come in, even if you wash them out! What?! You can’t recycle food boxes that frozen food comes in? No Pizza boxes either? Paper coffee cups and lids? Nope. What. The. Eff. Come to find out, all that recycling I thought I had been doing over the years is just “wishful recycling.”  For years, we have been sending our recycling to China. But this year, China has stopped taking Oregon’s recyclables because most people don’t recycle properly and don’t clean out their recycling. We dirty, folks. So, what is happening with all of our recycling? I still don’t know the answer to that. I do know, however, that it pains me to throw away a perfectly clean clam shell container, but I do it anyway.

Then I started researching and learning that I can do small things in my everyday life that eventually will add up. I know, it seems like a “duh” moment to me, too. Look, I’m not going to promise that we will become a zero waste household or that we will get rid of or stop using all our plastic. The reality is, we have a ton of crap that is made out of plastic, for example, the mouse to our computer, measuring cups (that I’ve had my entire adult life), the power strip that all of our electronics are plugged into, etc. If we were to remove all of those items from our home, I think THAT would be wasteful because we still use them all the time. But what I can do is be more thoughtful about the products we purchase. I’m not going to throw out all of our products we have that come in plastic bottles, but I can use them up and then make a better choice next time.

Regardless of your political views or your belief in global warming, I hope we can all agree and admit that we are a wasteful society. But we aren’t powerless. We can make better choices. We vote with our dollars. I’m not saying you have to stop buying plastic all together or change your habits completely. But we can all make small changes that add up to big changes overall. That is what I intend for this blog to be about. This blog is the beginning of my journey to waste less. Not zero waste, but less waste.